Thursday, January 3, 2019

Grandma worried about 8 year old

Dear Dr. Dave,

I was just reading your blog and so many of them describe my grandson.  I am so worried about him.  He is an 8 year old boy who for the past 3 years has shown outbursts of anger.  It has gotten worse over the past year.  My daughter is taking him to a psychologist for the past few months.  She has suggested several different ideas to help him work out his anger.  Glitter jar to shake, or go to his bedroom, or make a fort to go to into when he is angry, but he does not do these things. When he gets angry he sometimes gets physical.  I notice that sometimes before it starts, he makes a growling noise.  He cannot tell us why he is getting angry.  There have been problems in the home at times.  His parents argue in front of the kids.  It is breaking my heart to see him going through this.  He tells them sometimes in this rage that he wishes they were dead.  

Does this sound like anger overload?  Need help to understand and help him!!!!


Hi, What I would recommend is writing on some paper what is going on each time before he explodes.  Has there been a disagreement among his parents?  Is he disappointed that something did not go his way?  If you can keep track of what happens first, then you might notice a theme or pattern.  You might be able to see what kind of issues precipitate his anger.

Then, you can try to head off an outburst by using one of the techniques I describe in my parent's manual.  You can use "emotional distraction," or lower your grandson's expectations before he gets upset, or use a calming technique with him. I describe these strategies in my manual and in other blog posts.

One thought I have is to use his growling noise as a sign that he is close to getting into the overload phase.  See if you can use emotional distraction or a calming strategy  at that point, before he explodes.

The reason why the strategies you describe above (like going inside a fort) do not work well is that once a child gets to the overload phase, he is not thinking rationally.  So the child will not usually follow advice at that point.  Then you have to wait it out and walk away (unless he is doing something dangerous).  I know that this is a difficult time for parents, and it's hard to walk away, but if you pay too much attention or try to reason with him during an outburst, he is likely to get more angry.

If there are family issues, then having the parents work on those issues with the psychologist will pay dividends for the whole family.  Also, you will need the parents' help to keep track of what goes on before an outburst, so having them involved in the therapy is important.

Best, Dr. Dave Gottlieb