Thursday, December 17, 2015

5 yr old has daily outbursts

I just found your blog while doing a "google search" about anger management/tantrum issues in 5 year olds.  I guess I'm just looking for a little insight.
At first reading about anger overload, it sounds very much like it describes my son.  I have two boys, an 8 yr old and an almost 5 year old.  It's my youngest son who is having the anger outbursts.  He's in preschool 3 days a week and will be starting Kindergarten next September. 
He usually has more than one but less than 5 outbursts of anger in a day.  He is very physical and loves to have wrestling time with Dad or with his older brother.  There is usually lots of competition between the two brothers.  Older son usually escalates things and feels the need to compete with the younger, which generally makes issues worse. 
When he becomes angry it is escalated very quickly and he can become irrational.  A typical instance would be he was playing with older brother and decided he didn't like something, so he kicks, punches or hits him.  I try to reprimand to send him to his room for a time out but am met with him yelling at me, telling me I'm a mean mommy.  He wishes he had another mommy.  It could even be something more simple such as me asking him to eat another bite of his dinner and he might start yelling that I'm a mean.  Sometime he can get over a bout of anger fairly quick and other times it takes awhile or escalates.
He does have tantrums sometimes that result in extreme bouts of crying where nothing we seem to do helps him.  He doesn't calm when I hold him, yet he'll still want me to be with him.  Usually tantrums happen from him not getting some item he thought he'd get or when he has just woken up from a nap.  He is still usually taking daily naps of about an hour.  This morning he started yelling at me about a candy cane that he couldn't have until after school.  Then the candy cane broke and it quickly turned into a crying, full blown, tantrum.  Tantrums with him usually last anywhere from 10-40 minutes depending on the situation, or if he's tired.  Occasionally he'll hit or motion to hit me or his father when he's very upset.
Once he's calmed down from an instance he'll usually apologize on his own accord and be very calm and caring.  But it doesn't take long until his next outburst.  We talk a lot with him about taking a time out for himself to gain control.  About how hurting people is never okay and he's allowed to tell us how he feels, rather then hurting to express himself.  He's stated that when he gets upset that he's really frustrated and lot control.  We also tell him how he can do some deep breathing or just walk away instead of letting something upset him to the point of anger.

He has had some issues with hitting, yelling at or kicking kids at school.  He seems to be a little better now than he was at the beginning of the year, however the teacher said he still sometimes has some problems, but she won't tell us about it unless it's more of an extreme problem.  She has a theory that my son, along with a select other number of boys in the class which are also younger siblings, have an extreme sense of needing and demanding to be "top dog" since they can never be top at home.  I can see how this may be an issue with my son.  He does always want to be the "leader" and ahead of big brother and recently went through a phase where he kept asking, "when I'm 8, can I do ... too?
I'd appreciate any ideas or tips you might have to help me deal with his angry outbursts.  Thank you.


It does sound very frustrating.  You mention several triggers:  1) things not going his way in a game with his brother, 2) not getting an item he thought he would get, 3) waking up from a nap.  It helps to know some of the triggers because then you can anticipate when he might have an upset and try to avoid the situation, if possible.  If you can't avoid a situation, you would try to lower his expectations in advance.  For example, in games with his brother you would tell him just before he starts that he is probably going to lose because his brother is older, or you could say everyone loses sometimes.  For things he expects, you would lower those expectations.  For example, you could say we only have candy at _____time.  You do this every time you think he is expecting something, or every time he is about to play with his brother.  

If he still escalates you could try emotional distraction.  You would say something amusing, silly or captivating to your son in order to try to change his mood.  I write about this more in my parent's manual.  But if he tantrums, you say as  little as possible so long as everyone is safe.  At that time, do not talk about consequences because your child will not be rational when he is in overload, and will likely escalate the more you say at that point.

For waking up for naps, you could do a warm up activity that he likes, whether it is reading a story, watching a short video, eating a snack--something that is not likely to trigger an outburst and something he likes as he is becoming more awake. 

You mention he might want to be the leader, in which case, try to think of ways he can be a big boy and help you--maybe in the kitchen he could  help set the table.  It has to be something he wants to do, and something you make a big deal over how much you need his help and how much you appreciate it after he helps.

I know this just scratches the surface with the number of tantrums you face daily.  But if you can make some headway with some tantrums, it is likely to help everyone feel better, and he will begin to see the benefits of having self control, i.e. you praise and listen to him more when he has self control (and ignore him the best you can while he is in overload).  

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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