Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Behavior charts do not work well with 5 yr olds

Hello, I am in desperate need of advice. I have a 5 year old son and over the last year we have had many issues with his anger. He got kicked out of 2 day cares last year. Towards the end, we found a great daycare that would take him aside when he would get angry and take him away from the situation and take him on a walk outside. The director really took him under her wing and he started doing a lot better. But school ended and I was at home all summer with him and my other 2 year old son. We worked on a behavior chart and spent a lot of time together and he seemed to be doing well. We saw a therapist who suggested no yelling or spanking him and implementing the behavior chart w rewards. He started a new daycare this week. The first day he was okay, the second day he got upset and pushed his chair at his teacher. Then yesterday he had a very good day and he was very proud of himself. Then today he scratched another kid and hit him in the face for not playing the way he wanted to and then was hitting and kicking the director. So now he has been kicked out of the daycare. He was supposed to start Kindergarten on August 24th. I have no idea what to do. The therapist I took him to said he's too young to tell if he has ADHD and that he should do fine at school....well obviously not. And now when I call back, they tell me he was only an intern and is now gone. I need help.

Hi, With anger overload, the outbursts happen so quickly that behavior charts are not often very helpful.  For a reward to work, the child has to be thinking rationally and be ready to try to earn the reward.  But when a child is in overload, he is not thinking rationally and is not thinking about the rewards.  Sometimes charts can help if they target early signs of frustration and help a child choose a calming technique in order to avoid overload.  But this requires early recognition of anger arousing situations, and young children will need adults to help them recognize their emotional triggers.  

So first it is important to keep notes of what is going on immediately prior to an episode, and see over several weeks what triggers emerge.  Then you (or the teacher in day care) can either "change the sequence" or "lower a child's expectations" in advance in order to prevent anger overload.  Or if you can pick up signs that your child is getting frustrated, then you (or the teacher) can also use "emotional distraction" or "relaxation activities". (I explain more about the above strategies, the strategies in quotation marks, in my original manual on anger overload in children and in other posts in this blog.)   Basically, the adult is helping to catch and re-direct a child before he reaches the overload phase.  It is unrealistic to expect five year olds to monitor their own emotional states, and that is why it is important for the teachers and  parents to implement strategies.  

Last year's day care director who took your child out of the situation was on the right track. Avoidance and distraction are key strategies.  I explain how to implement all these strategies in a school setting in my second recently published volume entitled Anger Overload in Children:  Additional Strategies for Teachers and Parents.  Both the original manual and the second volume with additional strategies for teachers can be found on online book stores.

ADHD can lead to impulsive behaviors, and can contribute to episodes of overload. Psychologists who specialize in working with young children can help you diagnose whether this is a contributing factor in your child's case.

Best, David Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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