Tuesday, April 24, 2018
Dear Dr. Gottlieb,
I am so glad to have found your blog today and look forward to reading your books (I just ordered on Amazon). Your definition and explanation of anger overload (from the greatschools article) fits our twelve-year old boy very closely. We have been working on this with him on this for about three years. We have been seeing a child pshycologist for the last two years and feel like we’re making progress. Initially he barely passed the threshold for ADHD but that diagnosis didn’t fit for us and an attempt at trying the traditional stimulants was disastrous (several severe angry outbursts in a short period). We then switched to SSRI’s on the view that he has underlying anxiety and together with cognitive therapy we think he’s much better at coping and avoiding outbursts. As an example of our cognitive therapy, an angry outburst at home that involves swearing results in $1 fine to the swear jar. This has dramatically reduced the swearing incidents. We also try to talk thru the events afterwards, try to help him understand triggers, what he might have done differently, other’s perspective etc.
At school, he has only had a few outbursts and never been punished beyond a call to us (twice). The real problem I’m concerned about is avoidance and withdrawal from “society” in the aftermath of these outbursts. This has meant withdrawal from team and group activities. For example, he was kicked off a team 2 years ago for two big outbursts. Then after one season a second team would not invite him back due to another outburst. This week he had another swearing, angry incident with a third team that he has been with for about two years. He is one of the “stars” of the team, plays well with teammates, shares the ball, is normally kind and considerate etc. This is not a high-pressure team and the environment is generally positive, he usually enjoys practice and games very much. He is indeed a risk-taker and plays with passion and bravery. However at practice this week he felt slighted by two of the other boys (he said they were tripping him on purpose), had the typical loss of control and angry outburst, and needed to be taken home to cool off. He is now determined that he will not rejoin the team. I am confident that on his own accord, he will not go back.
Do you have any advice? He’s now 12 and I’m afraid we’re at an inflection point where letting him quit delivers the wrong message and won’t help him. He loves soccer, loves playing, but I believe is now sad, embarrassed and doesn’t want to “face up” to the situation that led to the episode. He did not want to go to school today (where he would likely see the same boys) but he didn’t protest too much and he was angry but did not lose control and made it to school From experience, I know that if we try to talk through it, with the aim of getting him back to the team, he will likely become angry and defiant. Bribery might work but probably not. I doubt forcing him will work. Punishment doesn’t seem to be the right approach either.
I would welcome any thoughts!
You've done a great job trying to help him understand his triggers and helping him understand the perspective of others. It's a shame he was kicked off two teams and now does not want to go back to a third. The first two incidents set a pattern unfortunately which your son now is continuing of his own volition for the third team. You mention the trigger for the most recent incident was that he felt slighted and felt he was tripped on purpose. Do you think the boys were doing it on purpose, and were there other reasons he felt slighted?
Once you have determined what else (if anything) he was reacting to, you would want to help him re-frame these incidents. Try to help him look at "being slighted" and "being tripped on purpose" in a new way. For example, you could talk about how even in professional soccer players get tripped, sometimes by accident when everyone is going for the ball, and sometimes on purpose to prevent the opposing player from making a good shot or good pass. Which does your son think was happening in his game? By giving him a choice of explanations, you are giving him a chance to say how he felt, and then you can do some re-framing that takes into account his feelings.
He will probably say it was on purpose, and then you can explain why that happens in soccer, even at the professional level. Name a soccer star if he knows any, and explain that he gets tripped too. The ref is supposed to call a foul, but if he doesn't the player would try to get the ball back when he was able, so that the opponent does not get the advantage by tripping him. You could practice a mantra (I explain more about mantras in my blog and books): "fouls happen in soccer." and/or "When they trip you, it's because they can't keep up with you. It means you're the better player." Another possible mantra: (Name a pro player he knows) and say: "He gets up and uses his anger to try to get the ball back. You can do that too." The basic idea is to help your son see that tripping happens a lot, that he is the better player, and that he can do something about it in the game to help his team.
Once you know the trigger, you can re-frame what happened and develop a mantra. By the way, it's great you got him to go to school. He will see by going to school that he can deal with what happened, and any anxiety will then decrease. Whether he plays for this team or not, practice the mantra several times a week so that it will be in his head when he does participate again.
One last thought: if possible would the coach call him or have a couple of teammates reach out to say they miss him and need him? Since he feels slighted, if he were to feel wanted, that would be the opposite feeling, and might help him feel like returning.
Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb
Wednesday, April 18, 2018
I read your November article in Greatschools and found it helpful. I will order your parents manual and the workbook.
I have a 9 year old and a 5.5 year old, both have significant anger overload issues, at home. At school they are model students. My daughter is a high performer and probably has some stress related to that, she is also very shy so would never speak out at school. She is a nail and lip biter, so some evidence of anxiety. My son probably has dyslexia- we are working on that with a speech pathologist, and I think it affects him emotionally a little bit, but we talk about it and he seems fine at school. But in general at school they are incredibly well balanced and teachers say of both of them, that they are real carers always looking out for other students. They are popular with kids and have lots or friends, polite etc. No anger issues at all.
At home it's a different story. They are VERY active children and fight each other for sport. Sometimes this leads to major conflict between them, sometimes violent, biting, hitting, etc. I would say with pretty good frequency, daily? or almost daily.
Even without fights between them, they fly off the handle wildly and frequently. My son, if he struggles with legos will scream, really scream. He will throw things, damage things around the house.If he's really angry at me, he might pull all the bedding off my bed, or take clothes out of my cupboard and throw them on the ground. My daughter gets angry before school every morning because it's difficult to get my son out of the house. She shouts, at the top of her lungs and threatens him with toys she will never let him play with again. If he is in her vicinity she will trip him or push him.
Last week, we were watching a family movie and the children were bickering. I separated them. It continued. I reminded them that the consequence for yelling and out of control behavior was to lose the movie. So finally I switched the movie off. He took two wine glasses off a counter in the kitchen and threatened to smash them together. He kept threatening, until finally he banged them lightly and they shattered.
Then I lost my temper. And here I think is the root of the problem. I don't lose my temper very often, but occasionally. And I think it's enough that they see this behavior modeled by me, and then they model in the same way.
I had a similar anger problem as a child and as a teenager. My parents could not manage me. I don't think I have ever lost my temper in public, and it's very much a 'fight or flight' anger related to feeling as though I cannot control a situation, feeling disrespected or humiliated.
So I usually try to remain calm and speak calmly and try tactics to help the kids avoid outbursts, but when I've been doing it for days on end I'm totally at the end of my own coping rope, I feel backed into a corner, because I cannot control this chronic daily problem, of screaming, back talk, and fighting. And then I explode. I shout. No hitting or throwing things. This solves the immediate problem, because the kids are scared and they stop. But I know it's a completely wrong tactic.
I am consistent with consequences, but there aren't very many in our house. Just ournight movies. We don't have any other TV etc. I have also canceled playdates as a consequence. We have a 'house rules chart' that indicates behaviors that are not allowed. We made that chart together. Maybe we need to remake it. And I always make a point of praising them for good behavior, or managing themselves through situations that sometimes cause stress (like a lego problem, or solving their own conflict).
There are other things too of course. We are going through a stressful time in our life. We have lived abroad for eight years and are supposed to be leaving this year but we don't know where we will move or when. So there is ambient stress in the household. That said, they have more or less always been like this, it just happens to be worse right now.
Apart from the manual and the workbook, do you have any other suggestions for resources?
I would be grateful for any additional advice.
Hi, you are doing a great job in a difficult situation. I like that you have tried a chart and that you praise your children for good behavior. One idea is to use a catch phrase (that suggests how they should behave) either before they misbehave or when there is the slightest sign of a problem. So if you know they get into fights when they are doing a joint activity, such as watching a movie, explain beforehand that "movie time is quiet time" so we can all hear it. At the slightest bickering, take away the movie. Have in mind a go-to-place for each of them. Tell them where that is ahead of time, and explain that if they both go to their places if you turn off the movie, they will get to watch the end of it later (mention a time), but if they don't go when you direct them to, the movie will be lost entirely. The idea is to plan in advance, catch any problem early, and take action. If they fail to obey, there is a significant consequence: no movie. They may test you on this, but if you hold firm, they are likely to behave better the next time you show a movie.
With other situations, use the same principles: catch phrases in advance, early intervention, and take action (using as few words as possible when they are misbehaving). For example, with legos, say in advance that "legos break easily," in other words, predict what sometimes happens that frustrates your son. You could add: "when they break, say 'I knew you would break.'" Then you model the words by making something out of legos, say the catch phrase before you start, and then say "I knew you would break," when a piece breaks off. After you model the behavior, then he is to say the catch phrase and then he can build something. Praise him if he tries to follow your example. When a piece breaks, if he does not say anything, you say "I knew you would break Mr. Lego."
Another idea is to use humor and emotional distraction. If you say something that makes him giggle or laugh that will interrupt his anger. So you could talk to the legos: "You silly legos, why don't you stay together? I'm going to give you one more chance, or I'm going to tickle you." Now we don't normally talk about tickling legos, but the idea is to say something strange to get him to laugh.
For your daughter, predict that her brother will be slow getting ready in the morning, and explain her job is to play in a different room and give him no attention until he is ready. Explain that her brother probably likes making her mad because he has gotten her attention then. If she does not understand this, that is okay, but try to have her play where he can't see her, and praise her later for ignoring him.
Hope this helps. When you move, you might also want to meet with a therapist who works with children and their parents. Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb