Wednesday, November 15, 2017

7 yr old throws things in anger at school

I have a 7 year old son who is having problems at school.  He did fine in kindergarten, but started 1st grade and explodes in anger on several occasions.  He gets angry if children are looking at him, he gets angry if he can't be the first person in line, he gets angry when he is told to stop talking.  Recently he got so angry that he crumbled up his work at school and threw his math book in the trash.  He also swung at his principal.  This led me to remove him from the school.  It was a private school.  He is now in another private school.  A couple of days ago he got angry because he wanted a certain eraser and the teacher told him someone else was using it.  He threw the eraser at the child, threw a pen at the teacher and ran out of the school into the street.  He tells the teacher that they can't tell him what to do and only his mommy can tell him what to do.

      I returned from a deployment a year ago in the military.  I was gone for about a year.  After a year, I came back for my son and he spent the duration of my deployment with me.  This is when the behavior started in school.

      He does not display this type of behavior at home or with my alternative babysitters. If he does get angry at home, it is only for a second and he changes his behavior.   He is a straight A student in school.  This new school is more challenging for him.  However, I feel that it is only a matter of time before this school dismisses him.  Any help would be appreciated.

Hi, I have a few thoughts.  One is I would consider convening a meeting with his teacher, and include your son. You could then say in front of your son that the teacher is the boss in the classroom and that it is important that everyone listen to her.  The teacher could send home a daily sheet with smiley faces if your son followed directions and if your son was respectful to others. Then you could praise your child for showing respect and self-control.  In a sense, what you would be doing is making the teacher an "extension" of yourself.  Since your child respects you, maybe this would help him learn to respect the teacher.

The theme of many of the triggers for your son's outbursts have to do with not getting what he wants or expects at school.  It is a tough developmental task for many young children to accept that they are just one of many students, and they cannot have everything they want.  At home, it is different.  Your son may be the only child, or one of a few children, so his needs are more front and center at home.  I would suggest telling nightly stories (you can make them up or ask the local librarian for suggestions for appropriate books for young children) about going to school and following directions, and how happy that makes Mommy.  Or draw pictures together at home about what to do when you don't get to be first in line, or don't get to use the eraser you want.  Stories and pictures are a good way to transmit behavioral expectations to young children.

The last thought I have is whether underlying your son's behavior is his need to be "first" because he missed being the center of your attention for a year, and in a sense wants to make up for lost time.  This can happen despite everything you have done to attend to your son. This is only speculation, but if your son does not make progress in self-control at school with the behavioral suggestions above (or with the additional suggestions in my parenting book on anger overload), then I would consider psychotherapy to examine possible underlying separation issues.

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb