herald

Sunday 11 December 2016

Parent Zone: 'My child is prone to rages - going from loving to anger in seconds'

Angry child. Picture posed.
Angry child. Picture posed.
David Carey

An angry seven-year-old and a child who has issues with tics

Q: My seven-year-old son is a very bright but also volatile little boy, veering from love and affection to full-blown rage at the drop of a Game Boy. How can this be managed so that he feels better about himself?

These are symptoms usually associated with a child who is attempting to control the parents. Some children pursue their meaning in life by trying to control everything around them. They often develop temper tantrums as a way to get what they want.

Parents can become quite upset about this, especially when it happens in a seven- year-old boy as opposed to a toddler.

Not knowing anything about your child's early development or his birth history I will rule out any sort of neurobiological cause such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), although either could be part of the problem.

Instead, let's stay within the realm of simple control issues. So, what can you do to help your boy cope more effectively with frustration?

Never give in to your child! Stick to your guns. Mean what you say and follow through on what you say. The first time you give in or change your mind, your child knows he can control you and get what he wants by displays of anger and rage.

We prove to our children that we are in control by words and action. Words alone are useless.

Take time to think about what you want to do when the anger begins.

Do you want to exert force to get your way? Force doesn't usually get the child to behave better and only teaches the child that force is the solution to problems.

Stay calm and don't get emotional. The more upset you get the more the child is likely to get upset in return.

By being calm and focused you can let your child know that "no" means "no" and that you are prepared to act on your intentions.

You need to teach your child to use words to resolve disputes. Flying into a rage is not a way to solve problems and will cause him much unhappiness if it continues to happen, especially if it occurs outside of the family home.

It is important to look at your own behaviour. Are you a shouter and screamer at home? Is your partner one? Parents who model these sort of behaviours can expect their child to do the same.

Sometimes it is our own shortcomings that induce troublesome behaviour in children.

Teaching children how to use self-control, how to use words to diffuse difficult situations and frustration and how to negotiate to get what they want is a critically important part of parenting.

Improvement takes time and patience. Be firm and kind, especially firm. Do not shout back.

Do not introduce draconian punishments that you cannot keep. Remind your son that you are willing to talk with him when he is ready to speak to you calmly and reasonably. At seven years of age you can expect him to be able to exert more self-control.

Of course there could be an underlying difficulty such as ADHD or ODD. If your interventions do not result in any improvement in a month, you need to consider getting professional advice on how to proceed.

Q: Our 8-year-old has had 'tics' on and off for the past few years, but they are increasing in number and frequency lately.

His teachers say it's not so unusual, but we're anxious to ensure that we don't let something fester and grow, if it could be treated by a professional now.

Your son's teachers are correct, it is not unusual. About 25pc of all children will develop what is called transient tics.

A transient tic disorder, as it is called in the medical literature, is defined as the presence of one or more brief, repeated movements or sounds/noises. The tics are not voluntary and the child feels an overwhelming urge to perform the tic.

Sometimes they can involve unusual movements of the arms or legs. Most often they are brief and jerky movements of the eyes, face, head, neck, shoulders or extremities.

Vocal tics can include sniffing, throat-clearing, moaning, snorting, squealing or screeching noises. In order to be diagnosed with a transient tic disorder the child must have had the tics for a period of at least four weeks but less than a year. Most transient tic disorders disappear in months.

Do not draw attention to the tics. Do not call them a "habit". None of this is helpful. Children with tics find it difficult to suppress the urge to manifest the tic but can sometimes suppress it for a while. Eventually the tic must appear. Please talk to your GP who will no doubt reassure you about this.

Be patient and you will most likely see that the tic disappears over time. If it persists over many months or seems to get worse, you should consult your GP and ask if a referral to a child neurologist is necessary.

 

David is a psychologist; send your questions to davidcarey@herald.ie

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