Wednesday, December 2, 2015

5 yr old acts out for no reason

Hi Dr. Dave,
My 5 year old son has anger overload.  I recently purchased your Parent's Manual...the explanation is spot on and your approaches to when to intervene have really helped.  My son has 2 triggers that come together as one main trigger.  He doesn't like to be corrected (fussed at) and doesn't like to lose.  Combined, he easily disappoints himself.  

However, he will sometimes purposely disobey, for no apparent reason, and I will correct him.  It is almost as if he goes into this dark, vindictive world with the purpose of receiving negative attention.  We make a point to praise positive behavior, so the negativity out of left field is very upsetting.  His dad and I have been divorced since he was 18 months and he has never displayed any of this behavior with his dad (we have 50/50 custody and are amicable). Besides me, he had one anger overload outburst at school recently.  The triggers are random and seem to have no apparent reason.  Thoughts?  I should also note that he is very intelligent, well above his peers, and has many friends (no social anxiety).

Hi, It sounds like you identified a couple of his triggers, but there are times your son explodes and it doesn't fit a pattern, other than maybe to get negative attention.  And you mention that this happens with you but not his father.  Keep track of when he has overload the next few weeks, and see if there are any patterns besides the two triggers you already figured out.  Is he tired, frustrated by something else, or wanting attention?  

Your email suggests the latter as a possibility (he wants attention) even though you praise positive behavior.  If that is the case, if you can catch it early, try to use emotional distraction. You could make a silly unrelated comment, or talk about something he likes to talk about. But if he is already in anger overload, try to say and do as little as possible,  If he is wanting attention, you don't want to give it when he is in overload.  When he has calmed down then do a short activity with him, or talk about something he might be interested in.  

I know it must be frustrating since you already praise his positive behaviors. However, sometimes children get bored or feel out of sorts and want to interact with their parents, even when they have been getting attention throughout the day.  We want him to learn to reach out in a positive way.  When he is calm, like at dinner or bedtime,  you may even suggest ways to get your attention if he feels bored.  He could ask you a question, or come give you a hug, for example.  Suggesting this to him won't lead to his immediately doing it. However, over time he may remember how to connect when he is bored.  

The above comments assume he is seeking attention.  But if you identify a different trigger, then your approach may be different.  You might also ask his father if he uses any strategies that help.  You mentioned this does not happen with Dad.  Maybe you are gentler, and he is "experimenting" with this negative behavior.  See if you can figure it out, without giving him too much attention during the overload phase..  Best, David Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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