Monday, January 25, 2016

Avoiding 5 yr old tantrums

Good morning, 
I have a 5 year old son who is loving, generous, sensitive, loves to laugh and out of my 5 children is my biggest cuddle bug.  He loves to help with things, especially helping his dad build things, changing batteries in toys or cooking. He thinks himself much more capable than he actually is. Yet he hates to be alone or even be in another room by himself.  He has always been a physical child, tends to play a little rough and has a hard time calming down and understanding when it's time to stop. When he was younger he would have what we thought were night terrors and he has always had the ability to throw outstanding tantrums!  With all of our children we prefer to avoid spanking.  

We have, what we call the Stick. They can earn sticks for good behavior and lose sticks for bad behavior. At the end of the day they use their sticks like money to buy stickers and collect 20 stickers for a reward of their choosing, baking a treat, money for piggy, etc.  If they lose all of their sticks for bad behavior and they have no sticks we move to time-outs.  If they refuse this they have to take a break in their room and then come out when they are calm and take their time-out.  

This seemed to be working very well and it does for the other children. However my son, recently, has become straight up defiant at times.  Will tell us no to anything he does not wish to do, from picking up his toys to getting ready to leave. Refuses to sit in time-out or stay in his room. 4 times it has escalated to him hitting, biting, scratching and saying the most horrible things. As a last resort he received a spanking, this did nothing!!! Not knowing what to do, myself or his father restrain him on our lap and hold him in such a way that he cannot hurt himself or us. He continues to fight, spit, blow snot out his nose, say horrible things, he even peed his pants once. I continue to stay calm and tell him as soon as he calms down we can let go and that we love him. Then it stops as quickly as it starts.  His whole body relaxes and he cries and says how sorry he is and that he loves us and didn't mean anything he said. It is heart-wrenching. 

Other days, like yesterday he is an absolute angel. I taught preschool for 10 years, I have 5 children of my own and we are youth ministers.  We have dealt with ADD, ADHD, Hyperactivity and Sensory disorders.  I have never dealt with something like this before and I am at a loss. My husband and I both agree that this more closely resembles Anger Overload than anything else we have read about.  The way I understand it, it is important to find out if there is more to it, which could be medical, chemical or behavioral.  Is this correct?  What can I do, what is our next step?  I have ordered your book, but it will not be here for a week or two. Please, any advice would help.

Hi, My first thought is to ignore him right away when he refuses to do what you ask.  I realize this can be a problem if you need to go somewhere, but otherwise you might be able to "become deaf" until he is sorry or until he cooperates.  With anger overload, incentives often  do not work because the child gets so emotional so quickly that he is not thinking rationally about rewards or consequences.   The more you talk, the more your child is likely to escalate.  Initially, when you try to ignore him, your son may get angry that you are saying nothing, but over the next few weeks he will likely realize that you are not going to talk with him until he calms down and cooperates.  

Another strategy I write about in my parent's manual is to re-arrange the sequence.   What I mean by this is to ask him to do what you want before he gets to do what he wants.  In other words, if something he is looking forward to comes after he does what you ask, then he is more likely to cooperate.  You just don't start the activity he likes until he cooperates.

In volume two of my manual, I write about using mantras (short amusing sayings) in order to focus a child on dealing with something that has been challenging for him in the past.  For example, if he is slow to get ready to leave, you could say something like "chug along choo choo.  It's the train.  We have to get on it."  He will hopefully smile and stop what he was doing.  Or another way to change a child's mood is to say "Big hug time. (hug him) I really need your help now"  Then ask him to help you get ready.  Another option is to have something fun to do in the car.  Make sure he only gets to play with it in the car.  

Each child reacts a little differently, so you would try a strategy and see if it helps.  The main idea is to avoid a power struggle when possible and use a strategy that helps before an outburst occurs.  Once a child is in anger overload, you wait it out or bear hug him if he is hurting someone (like what you already do).

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb 


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