Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Will children improve over time?

My son, who is now 12, appears to suffer with anger overload.  I am wondering what the general prognosis is for children who have this issue.  I can see that over time his ability to self-regulate and his rationality and self-knowledge about his anger issue increases.  So I see hope for the future.  But how do kids with anger overload – but no other mental health problem – fare over time?  Do most of them stop being so angry as their brain fully develops. or at least are they able to live normal lives after they have the maturity to handle their anger?  Thanks much. 

Hi, Over the last few years several parents have asked this question and it is a good one. Here is what I have found:   Research studies, looking at groups of children, show that there are significant changes when children learn cognitive behavioral strategies, like those I present in my anger overload manuals.  The studies compared using these strategies with groups that did not receive therapeutic intervention, and the studies found that the group of children taught to use the strategies handled their anger better.  

What hasn't been studied yet is seeing what happens to these children over many years, in other words, a longitudinal study.  Do the children maintain their gains over a long time period, and what percentage are still having anger overload many years later?  We do know that the brain keeps maturing throughout childhood and early adulthood, and we do know that practice using these strategies is beneficial over the short term for most children, so we believe that most children will continue to improve as they get older. 

Keep in mind that these studies have been for children as a group.  We can't make predictions for any individual child. 

A question we can't answer yet is why do some adults have anger management issues.  Did they have anger overload as children?   Did these adults receive help as children?  Is there something about their biological or emotional development that interfered with their learning better self control?  We know that adults with anger problems do have subtle differences in parts of their brain.  But we don't know how this happened. Were there other life events that impacted them in a negative way?  For example, we know that if there are serious mood problems or drinking problems, there often are anger problems as well.  But we don't know if the drinking or emotional problems caused the problem with anger, of if there is some other underlying cause.

I hope this is helpful, David Gottlieb, Ph.D.

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