Tuesday, February 28, 2017

10 year old runs away at school

Dr. Dave,
I am in tears as I write this. I have my 10 year old grandson living with me because of his anger issues.  His Mother is in trouble at work for missing often to go get him due to running from school or trying to hurt someone.  My grandson is in trouble with the law - AT 10 YEARS OLD! - because he tried to get away from the cop and bit him when they forced him to get in their vehicle.

Then he comes to live with us. Most of the time he is so much fun.  He is kind and caring and smart and funny.  But when he gets that "look in his eyes" be careful.  He is going to blow. When he got here, we had so much to overcome.  He was scared to do anything because he would make a mess or fall or break something. He had a lot of anxieties. When he would go into the anger overload he would want to run.  We got that down to running to his room.  He slammed the door a couple times but we got over that.  Then it was down to yelling and running to his room (in the basement), then down to running to the top of the stairs.  He sits down and puts his head in his arms and works to get through it.  Now we are to the point of him doing that in his chair next to me.  Seems like great progress but suddenly school is a mess.  

We are two weeks from being off probation and now he is suspended.   Last week he ran out of the school because he got all the questions wrong on a math assignment (and I hear he is doing so well!).  Then some kids got candy because they did well.  The anger came quickly!  Yesterday they were playing a game in the gym with jump ropes.  His team lost and a kid says "See, just ANOTHER game you loose to".  He lost it.  Took the jump rope and hit the teacher in the legs.  The principal took him and held him down in front of everyone and then had them leave.  My grandson could not calm down needless to say.  They called the cops.  I was 1 1/2 hours away at a doctor appointment.  They don't help kids like this.  They go to juvenile detention or a mental hospital.  They are put on probation.  This just adds anxiety to an already anxious child.  

I am at wit's end.  My husband lost his job of 27 years and I have to work.  We were left with taking him home and he can't come back "for at least 3 days".  We don't know what that means.  Are they going to kick him out? What can we do? This boy is such a great kid 95% of the time but the other 5% is what defines him as a person.  And the family is blamed for him acting like this and being a small town....well, no friends for him and ours are falling away.

I found your information last night and would welcome your advice to move forward.  We moved so far back yesterday that I don't know if we can move forward.  Too many dead ends and brick walls for him.Thank you for listening.

Hi, You are doing a good job, as evidenced by the changes in his "running" behavior at home when he is angry.  Your calmness and your positive attitude toward him comes through to me and must come through to your grandson.  He does not feel put down by you, so his anger does not spiral further at home. 

It sounds like at school, your grandson is easily hurt when he is teased or when he feels like a failure.  Maybe the teachers can help him feel better about himself by intervening quickly when he makes mistakes on an assignment and reassure him that it is okay to make mistakes and they will help him.  Similarly in gym if he loses a game, the coach could be ready to intervene right away and compliment him on his efforts, reassure him everyone loses sometimes, and give him a job to do in gym so he can feel like a leader.

Also, it would be a good idea to try to find a mental health professional in your area who works with children and families (and/or see if the school has a psychologist who could work with your grandson).  The goal would be to work on his self-esteem and help him learn to cope with mistakes and with negative comments from peers.  This seems to be one of the main precipitants of his angry outbursts.  One idea would be to practice a mantra with him each night, such as "Everyone makes mistakes, and you are still a smart boy even if you make mistakes."  Then help him see some of his strengths.  And if the teachers could point out positive aspects to his work at the same time that they point out mistakes, that might also help him keep things in perspective.

Once he is in overload, is there a safe space he can go to in school, like he does at home? Work with the school staff to see if there is an alternative like this at his school.

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb

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