Tuesday, April 5, 2016

How to help a 14 yr old

I have now got your book the parent's manual and find it very helpful and reassuring. I and my husband thought my son was getting so angry because I was a bit 'soft' on him.
He has always had what we thought was a very short fuse and difficult to settle even as a baby. My instinct has been to not punish for the anger outbursts as he is so upset when calm about it and cross with himself but my husband believes he is not learning and should be disciplined in case gets wrong message. I do most of parenting as I work part time.
My concern is that we are starting so late. He is a lot better than when he was little but there is still the occasional serious outburst. He is better at telling us now he is angry but it can be hard not to argue when he starts blaming us for his behaviour and saying we provoke him, not that it is a video game making him stressed.
Is it still possible to help him at 14?

Yes, absolutely you can help him at age 14 to continue to learn how to control his angry responses.  The first half of the parent's manual is about strategies you can employ without the direct participation of your teen.  The second half of the manual goes over strategies you can work on together with him.  For children and teens (ages 8 and up) our new anger overload workbook (published last month) has step by step exercises to help them learn better self control.  Keep in mind that studies of the brain show that it is still developing well into a person's 20's and even at age 30.  What the strategies do is help move development along.  Studies show that strategies, like the ones in my manual and workbook, help children and teens learn better self control.

For your son, I would especially look at sections in the manual about using labels for levels of anger, as well as the sections about other points of view and about using catch phrases, or mantras.  If he can learn to label his anger when it is at the low stage, he will have a better chance to use a strategy because once he is in the high anger stage it is harder to stop and think.  Then it is best to go somewhere by himself until he feels calmer.

Once he is calm, or when he is in the low anger stage, see if he can learn a mantra to help him keep perspective.  You want him to learn that there is more than one way to look at a situation, and I explain how to practice this in the manual.  For more exercises about this strategy see the Anger Overload Workbook.  The idea is to pick a situation that arouses his anger (like video games) and help him anticipate that it will be stressful (that the game is made so that people will lose because then they are challenged to play the game more and more).  If he can anticipate a frustrating situation and he remembers to say a mantra to himself to help him think about it in a new light, then he will be less likely to explode when the frustration occurs.  

I explain why rewards and punishments are not usually very helpful for anger overload in my second parent's manual that provides additional information for parents and for teachers about how to deal with anger overload in children.  Rewards for trying to use a new strategy might help, but any consequence you use while he is in overload is unlikely to help because he is not thinking rationally at those times.  Sometimes it can help to use a brief consequence (once everyone is calm) if he does not try to use a strategy, but wait until your son shows signs that he has learned the strategy before you impose any consequences.

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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