Tuesday, March 22, 2016

6 yr old hates to lose and hates to make mistakes

I found an article you wrote on Anger Overload, and it describes my 6 year old son to the T! Since preschool his teachers have been concerned with his lack of emotional self control. Now he is in first grade, and it is really starting to become a major problem at school. According to his teacher, he frequently has anger outbursts if he makes a mistake, is embarrassed, loses a game, or feels rejected. His outburst often seem inappropriate to the situation, and it is difficult to get him to calm down. Lately, the outbursts have gotten worse. He is banging his head and fist on the desk, kicking the wall, and screaming at other children.

He has been attending a social skills group once a week at school, but so far I haven't seen any improvement. They also have a color chart at school which is their from of behavior modification. Again, I am not sure how effective this system is for my son. We were doing small rewards when he came home on good colors, but lately we have been having so many issues at school he hasn't been able to earn anything.

At home, we rarely have any issues with him. He is a sweet little boy, and very affectionate. He is also extremely smart. He tested above the 95 percentile in Math in the school standardized tests!

Everyday before school I remind him that he needs to have control, but at least once a week I am getting a phone call from the school. I don't know how to help my son, and it breaks my heart. I want him to have a positive school experience, but the past few months have been extremely difficult for him.

Do you have any recommendations for how to talk to his teacher/school about Anger Overload? Does my child need to be evaluated for this? How can I get a couple of our Manuals ?

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

Hi, First, the manuals are available online at book sellers like Amazon.  Search for "anger overload" on Amazon, for example, and my original parent's manual will appear as well as volume two (that has additional strategies for parents and teachers).

The manuals will help the teachers focus specifically on anger overload, because a  more general behavior modification chart will be less effective..  One approach I would strongly recommend that you and the school try is to develop "mantras" (short memorable sayings) for his triggers.   You mention four triggers above: losing a game, feeling rejected, making a mistake and embarrassment.  For embarrassment and rejection, you would want to keep track of when specifically he feels embarrassed or rejected, before you develop a mantra for those issues. But for the other two triggers, you could develop mantras now.  Here's how: 

For losing a game, you would talk with your son about someone he looks up to and explain how that person loses games as well.  In fact everyone does sometimes.  You would then work on a mantra, or saying, to express that fact, and then practice the mantra each day before school and again at school.  He could even draw a picture of someone losing a game, and you could post it on the refrigerator to help him remember the mantra.  The mantra could be something like "everyone loses sometimes" or "everyone, even ____loses." Fill in the blank with someone he respects.  

Another related idea would be to tell him you are going to give him a hug if he comes home and tells you he lost a game, or he could earn points for a special dessert if he loses three times in a week.  The idea is to normalize losing.  You are helping him develop a new perspective on losing.  

You would do something similar for making mistakes.  The mantra could be something like "it is good to make mistakes because it means you are learning new things" or "everyone makes mistakes."  You would pick words that he finds easy to remember, and practice the mantras each day at home and school.  Use no more than two mantras (for two issues) at a time.  Once he masters one problem, you could switch to another issue and develop a third mantra.

This is one of many strategies I outline in other blog posts and in my parent's manuals. Hope this helps you get on the right track.  Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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