Dear Dr. B,
My 7-year old son is growing increasingly agitated. He has good spells where he shows a real desire to improve his behavior that give me hope. But then he will slip into these violent rages where he throws things and hits me, is mean to our dog, and spews the most vile profanities from his tiny mouth. But then he will come back and be sweet within a few hours. I really feel like I’m in over my head.
I have this nagging feeling that something is really wrong, but then when he is sweet I wonder if I’m wrong and wonder if I’m blowing things out of proportion.
I’m not sure what to do.
What would you suggest?
You are a good mother and God has given you good maternal instincts. Take comfort in that.
Unfortunately, there is no instruction guide that gets handed to us when we have children. Even as a professional, I’m sometimes left scratching my head when it comes to parenting quandaries and decisions. So don’t feel like you’re alone in your insecurities.
What you are describing is in many respects normal behavior, but to an abnormal degree. In many ways you are describing what amounts to a toddler tantrum, that is no longer age-appropriate.
Your child is not inherently “bad.” His behaviors are a reflection of some kind of inner turmoil that he has a need to be expressed. Unfortunately, at his young age, he doesn’t know a more appropriate way to express himself.
What’s most concerning is the severity of his emotional expression: violent rages, being cruel to the family pet, and using profanity unacceptable for an adult much less a young child. None of this is age appropriate behavior.
It’s hard to know from your brief description, without further history, what underlies the source of your son’s extreme behavioral outbursts and the best way of handling it.
In situations like this, I’d first recommend that you see his pediatrician to rule out a general medical condition that can have a significant impact on mood and behavior. If he is medically cleared, then I recommend that you take him to see a psychologist for a psychological evaluation to provide additional answers for what is causing the behaviors and how to best manage them.
In the meantime, try to track his behavior to see if there is any general consistent pattern for when the behaviors occur. For example, does it seem to occur when he hasn’t had enough sleep? Or when he hasn’t eaten as balanced meals? Or when he has been around other highly stimulating children or environments? Or when plans have changed and haven’t gone as he anticipated?
When the outbursts are in full swing, don’t try to engage him in conversation or reasoning at that point–you’ll just be wasting your time, energy, and breath. Try redirecting him. Keep your voice as calm and neutral as possible. Yelling will only ecxaccerbate an already escalated situation. What you want to model for him is how to appropriately express his negative feelings in a calm manner.
On those occasions when you make a mistake and get too upset with him, which we all do, you have the perfect opportunity to model for him how to express remorse, ask forgiveness, and express gratitude.
I’m so grateful God’s grace is sufficient for us, aren’t you? It certainly helps make it easier to extend it to others, including our children.
Because of Him,
(If you have a question you’d like Dr. B to answer, contact her here now. Your name and identity will be kept confidential.)
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