Wednesday, June 1, 2016
9 yr old erupts during games at home
My husband just stumbled over your article on Anger Overload in Children and it really describes my 9 year old son.
My son has been having anger outbursts since he was around 4 or 5. When he was in first grade we took him to a therapist. She had us read 1-2-3 Magic which we began using but it did not really help alleviate the tantrums. In first grade we saw another therapist and he honestly did nothing. My son would not talk with him and really could not express his emotions or even discuss what happened when he had an outburst or why. The therapist basically stopped seeing us.
Then at the beginning of this school year I took him to a psychologist and then did some testing on him. It was minimal testing and she said he was borderline ADD and ODD. She offered no direction for us so we have been trying to work with him on our own.
Our son does not have any behavior problems at school. He is always described as a great student who is happy and social. The problems all occur at home, mostly at home and really never in public. He is a moody child, and if he does not get enough sleep it seems to trigger him. He is extremely disrespectful and can be very difficult when asked to do the simplest routines (i.e. brush his teeth, take a shower). It's like walking on eggshells with him and we are never sure when he will react this way. Sometimes he follows directions and can be sweet and loving, other times the smallest things will set him off. My husband is in the military. We have 3 children, 2 boys and a 19 month old daughter who we adopted at birth.
Last night he was playing checkers with his younger brother. One of the checker pieces fell into the AC vent on the floor. He completely lost it screaming, crying, saying ugly words. He could not be calmed and there was no rationalizing with him. He could not let it go, "my life is horrible." We try to ignore the ranting or put him in his room, but he screams all sorts of things in his room, slams the door, throws things. He will eventually calm down, every once in a while the tantrum will last a while, but they are usually over in about 15-20 minutes or so. I have to be very careful not to engage with him, but when he is breaking things and throwing things it can be difficult. After he calmed down and my husband got him in the shower, my other son and I began playing Life. We asked him if he wanted to play but he grumbled no (he was still going on about the checker). He did come out and ask to play. Everything was going fine until something in the game did not go his way. He began screaming and crying, saying it was not fair. He quickly became enraged and out of control, especially as I told him that was not how to play the game. I gave him a chance to calm down, but he would not, so he was asked to go to his room. We had to physically put him in his room where he acted as I described above. My other son is pleading with me, "Mom just let him have his way." But I don't want to do that. That will teach him if he throws a fit he will get his way.
We have tried behavior charts, incentives, consequences and all of that, but now I honestly am not sure what to do. I wonder if some of the things we have implemented have caused harm. I want my son to feel safe and loved and I am not sure if he does. He sometimes seems detached about it. He is remorseful most of the time, but he does like to blame others for his mistakes. We just feel lost and are unsure of how to help him.
The ironic part is that before I had children, I was a special education teacher and spent some of that time as a behavior specialist. I had success with other people's children but now I am at a complete loss and really feel heartbroken and desperate for my child. I just purchased your books but have not received them yet.
I know my husband and I need help with him. I am sick of constantly second guessing myself and my parenting with him and blaming myself. I want to find a therapist for him, but am hesitant about choosing one. I don't want to bring our son to someone else who is not going to be able to help us. Do you have any suggestions on the type of therapist we should see? Are there certain things I need to ask the therapist to see if they are a good fit for us?
I feel better after reading your article because it gives me some hope. Any insight or suggestions you may have to help us with our son and to help our family would be greatly appreciated. Thank you so much.
Hi, It sounds like you have been through a lot of tantrums with your son, and you have tried a number of tactics. I like that you try to ignore the tantrums. Unless something important to you is being broken, it is usually best to ignore tantrums. The key to changing the problem is to intervene at the earliest stages of upset, because once your son is in overload, it will be difficult to reach him until he calms down. When you get my parent's manual and children's workbook, you will see a number of strategies to try to prevent an upset, or to interrupt an upset in the early stages.
First, make a list of some recent triggers, for example, you noted when the checker piece fell into the vent or when something he felt was "unfair" (in the other board game) had occurred, he erupted. One strategy then would be to talk with him before starting a competitive game and to develop a mantra, or saying, to remind him before he starts the game what could go wrong and how he might handle it. One kind of mantra would be "things don't always go our way in games; mistakes happen, or sometimes we lose. Get ready for something to happen, Remember if you always won every game, you would get bored. Games wouldn't be exciting then." Now that is really too long for a mantra. You would want to shorten it to come up with a sentence that fits best for your son, one that he can relate to. In my anger overload workbook (written for children and teens ages 8 and up) I try to involve the child in planning the mantras. The parents' manual on anger overload coaches parents on what to do, even if their children are not ready for the workbook.
There are other strategies, such as emotional distraction. For this strategy you could come up with a funny or exciting saying that might help distract him, for example, "I think our dog just farted". Children around age nine love jokes about going to the bathroom, but your son may have other kinds of jokes he likes. Another possible emotional distraction is a song, movie, or activity your child loves. If you can ask him about one of his favorite things, or sing a verse of one of his favorite songs, or imitate one of his favorite characters, it could get his mind off the missing checker piece. The idea is to grab his attention by evoking an emotion other than anger, and thereby distract him from having an upset.
You will see other strategies to try in the parents' manual and children's workbook. You want it to be a collaborative effort if possible. The more engaged your son is in the process, the quicker the strategies will help him. The strategies do take time and practice, often several months to be effective on a regular basis. And you won't always be able to stop a tantrum in advance. I explain in my books how to review tantrums and plan for the future when everyone calms down.
As for finding a therapist, you could share with him the manual or workbook and see if he or she uses some of these strategies. Many of the strategies fall under the heading of "cognitive behavioral" therapy. They work better than incentives and consequences in most cases, because when a child is upset, he is not thinking rationally and won't care at that time about incentives.
Also, you want a therapist who works with the parents as well as your child because therapy will go faster if you are acting as your son's coach, and the therapist can advise you how to help him work on the strategies at home..
Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb