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Terrible Tantrums With A 10 Year Old Boy

by Lisa

Hi Annie,
My son has been diagnosed with learning disability, Global Delay, speech delay, ADHD and currently epilepsy. I have no issue with all the diagnosis above.

My son is a very sweet and caring boy. But there are times he has such a terrible tantrums that I can't get control of. My son does not know when to stop. And at times this tantrums happen in the public place, if it at home I'm ok because I can control the surrounding.

The problem I have when he has tantrums, he hits me, and he throws things. In the past I would slap him just to give him a wake up call, but that does not work anymore and raising my voice as well is not helping anymore, even if I try to comfort him, hug him, kiss him - nothing seems to work anymore.

This problem escalates - when he does not want to leave in the playground, the camp and if he says to me "I don't want to go to school" then he will throw tantrums so he gets what he wants. For some reason, if my husband dealing with him he comes around. But for me nothing works anymore and I am really frustrated and it feels like I am such a bad mother and have a bad parenting skills.

Sometimes my husband tells me that "I just love him too much and he gets away with a lot of things" but for me I don't think that he gets what he wants all the time.

I just want to understand him and love him because of his disability. And I don't want to be angry with or slap at times because he is a big boy now and I don't think being angry or raising my voice or giving him a slap at times will help with the problem.

I'm just frustrated to know what to do anymore.

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Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part One
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Lisa,
It certainly sound like you have your hands full. In some respects your husband has a point, in that you maybe hesitating to be firm with boundaries because you want him to feel loved.

Slapping Does Not Teach Children Better Skills

Firstly, slapping does not work to change a child's behavior. It may have at first as a shock factor, but in the long run you are simply modeling aggression and violence to dominate.

You are NOT a bad parent. Parenting any child can be a challenge, all parents get to the end of their tether at times. But you are dealing with a child with behavior and difficulties way harder than most parents. Clearly you love him dearly and that is the number one priority in being a good parent.

Tantrums and aggressive behaviour are pretty typical for kids with his kind of developmental issues. I am not sure how far behind he is compared to average, so if I make my suggestions too simple or too complex just adapt my ideas to the level of complexity he can deal with.

The more he gets his own way when he throws a tantrum, the more it reinforces to him that it works. However, negotiating with a child in the midst of a meltdown is simply not going to work.

As you say, at home you can control the environment better and keep him and yourself safe if he is loosing it. It is much harder when you are out, and you will be much more conscious of what you think other people's reactions are going to be.

Setting The Scene

The bulk of the work you need to do with him to help him learn better coping strategies is preparation. He needs lots of preparation to transition to another activity or to finish something, and he needs lots of preparation to prime his behaviour before heading out.

Part Two Follows . . .

Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part Two
by: Annie Desantis

When he is having a great time, say at the park or doing something he loves before school, he sees no reason why he should stop. So your job is to make the change just as exciting. That is not always easy when it might be he has to wash his hands for dinner or tidy up something.

Engage His Interest

But make it a game, have a race, give him a challenge - do it while hopping, counting, get him patting his head three times then pick up three pieces of Lego etc. All those kinds of activities will engage his brain and help it to grow and build some neural pathways, at the same time as distracting him from the fact that you have interrupted his fun time.

He also needs routines and familiar rituals that he gets used to and builds success around coping with. So develop little rituals that you can do with him that he gets some control over so your focus is on encouraging his success.

Choose Events To Practice New Skills

Choose some typical events that he is likely to loose it when you want him to come home, pack his bag for school or tidy up, and build a ritual around it. It might be something like every time you walk to the park you take a timer. You talk about what happens with the timer goes off and tell him he is in charge of it and it is up to him to remind you what happens next.

Try to make the basis of what happens next generally pretty much the same each time so he builds the park ritual up and starts to have success at leaving the park without a meltdown. On the way to the park have things he has to do - find a pink flower, how many blue cars are there, how many steps from the gate to the corner etc. Then the ritual coming home is for him to tell you in advance what the items or tasks were in reverse so he can do it on the way home. So when the timer goes off, he comes to tell YOU it is time to go home and what the first task is.

Part Three Follows . . . .

Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part Three
by: Annie Desantis

You can have a reward chart he earns stickers or builds up to something special and when he comes in the door after the park without a tantrum he can put a sticker up. Lots of praise and lots of affirming that he has done a great job.

Games To Learn

Developing games is the best way for kids to learn and to get their attention. It means he gets your full attention, and it means he has to focus on keeping control and making decisions. You can turn anything at all into a game. The more parents engage in their kid's sense of humor the more kids co-operate. When we come down heavy handed and start bossing and demanding, kids tend to react and are much more likely to rebel.

You do need to make it clear what kind of behaviour you expect. Rather than focusing on telling him he has to be "good" make it very specific and make it very clear you know he can reach a goal, or achieve a new sticker. So things like, "today I know you can do a great job of being the time keeper at the park. When it is time to leave you are in charge of telling me the timer has gone off and making sure we do all the right things on the way home. If you do it really well without any fussing, you get the next sticker on your chart."

Most older kids who are throwing tantrums, have a problem with transitions. As parents we have already thought ahead to what needs to happen, we are planning all the time in our heads. Kids are in the moment. They are having a fantastic time and suddenly we expect them to stop and do what we what. And what we want is usually boring! Packing his bag for school is not nearly as much fun as the game he is playing.

Part Four Follows . . .

Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part Four
by: Annie Desantis

Transition Time A Key To Coping Better

Building in some transition time is really important and the timer also works well for that. The first time it rings is for him to let you know there are five more minutes. Then help him reset it, and at the same time reinforce what his job is when it goes off the next time.

It will take a while and he will test and he will keep on challenging you. You will loose it sometimes, so will he! When you are tired and wanting to get other stuff done it is really hard to stop and be patient and come up with ways to engage his better side.

Halt Word Or Phrase

When he is letting rip, the calmer you stay the better. If you can catch him early before he totally looses it you can act as a reminder to him to call a halt.

Have a phrase you call out that you work out with him beforehand. Talk to him about helping him to learn better ways of handling his frustration and that throwing a tantrum is not working to make him happy. The more you can get him to come up with ideas the more he will feel in control and be invested in trying to change his reactions.

So have him come up with a reminder word for you to say that helps him to stop. Kids that like sports often like the time out sign - holding your hands up like a T shape. Some kids like a word that reminds them of their favorite superhero "Batman!" "Hulk Time" etc. It is much better if it is something he finds funny or he loves rather than you imposing and bossing him.

Talk to him (not at the time of a melt down) about how when you use the reminder word that is the time for him to take a deep breath and just stand still for 10 seconds. The timer can work here too, either of you can pop it on and take some deep breaths together.

Part Five Follows . . .

Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part Five
by: Annie Desantis

Meltdown Time

When you get frustrated with him not doing what you ask, you escalate his reaction by getting angry back. Then it becomes a power battle, and he is learning he can physically dominate you, which you really don't want to reinforce. The older he gets the harder it is for you to physically restrain him.

I have worked with kids that needed some physical restraint to stop them hurting themselves. You basically hold them from behind in a bear hug restraining their arms. I suspect your son is too old for that to work and he would kick so much you would not be able to hold him. The key for that to work, is the parent has to remain calm. If the parent does it in anger the child just feels dominated.

The parent has to stay calm and just quietly say "I'll let you go when I am sure you are safe."

If he is into total meltdown - don't react. This will be a huge challenge particularly when in public. Our first reaction is to stop our kids misbehaving so other people don't think we have an out of control child. Totally TOTALLY ignore anyone else around unless he is is putting them at risk.

Just stand and wait. You can quietly say you know he can get control, that he can take a few breaths and be ready soon. If he goes back to play or thinks he has won, quietly reinforce what is required, saying "I'm disappointed you are not sticking to what we agreed, but I know you are going to get on top of this very soon."

Don't attempt to kiss and cuddle him when he is throwing a wobbly. You are more or less saying his behaviour is OK. It isn't OK to hit you. There have to be consequences when he does. But after he has calmed down you can have a cuddle and a conversation and work out with him what he can do to make amends. You can't attempt to enforce discipline when a child has lost control.

Part Six Follows . . . .

Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part Six
by: Annie Desantis

Gain Control & Make Amends

So the key is helping him to learn to gain control and for him to realize he is NOT going to get what he wants with a tantrum and if he hurts anyone or anything, he will have to make amends or loose privileges. The more he makes a decision about what he can do to make amends the better. It means he is taking responsibility. You can suggest a few things and he can choose if he is not yet able to think about what could fix something.

Most of the time you are putting the ball in his court to remind YOU what is going to happen or what is expected. Of course you have set it up in advance so what is going to happen IS what you want, but giving him the responsibility of reminding YOU, means he is learning control and he is not being constantly told off and being told what to do.

Avoid A Power Struggle

The more you break the dynamic of the power struggle and help him to come up with strategies and frameworks that are happier or win/win the better. Parents often just want their kids to toe the line: "because I said so!" But it is much more productive in the long run if we give our kids processing skills. Help them to think of different solutions.

Even more important when you have a child with developmental delays or other issues. He needs lots of games that help those neural pathways grow, and to develop emotional resilience.

Incorporating games that have both a physical component and a thinking component are the best. The old rub your tummy and pat your head at the same time is not just a party trick. Anything like that that engages the brain whilst performing a physical task is brilliant.

Part Seven Follows . . .

Dealing With Ten Year Old's Tantrums - Part Seven
by: Annie Desantis

Factors That Contribute To Behavior Problems

And lastly I just want to add in a mention of other contributing factors. You may already be aware of the importance of his diet and the environment around him. Kids with these kinds of issues are hyper sensitive. So sugar will send the up the wall. White processed foods probably similar. Gut health has a huge correlation with what happens in the brain.

You can have a huge impact on a child's behaviour just with modifying their diet. You might have already noticed times when he totally looses it, could be after a can of soda or attending a birthday party.

Electronic Pollution

The other factor that also can trigger things is TV, computer games and loads of electronic gear. Kids these days have a constant bombardment of electronic stimulus. Not just playing with electronic gear, but living with the constant range of vibrational pollution. This disrupts all kinds of things in the body, and many of our kids can't tolerate it. Many adults are affected too, but don't realize the cause. It too hard to live low tech, but really limit his interactions with games or TV for special occasions.

Make sure he is not sleeping with a phone or modem or anything electronic in his bedroom that is turned on. Even a digital clock by the bed can be a source of irritation for some people.

The more sensitive a child is and the more health issues they have, the more triggers there will be. The rising rates of ADHD and extreme behavioral issues I do believe lifestyle is a huge contributing factor. And it is something you can clean up fairly easily.

All the best Lisa, you ARE doing a great job under difficult circumstances. Clearly you and your husband are a good team and most importantly you love your son. Keep focusing on building up his strengths and helping him to learn strategies to handle things that challenge him. It is not YOU that has to control his behaviour, it is your son that needs to learn better skills at transitioning or handling pressure.

with love,
Annie D :)

Other Questions Answered
by: Annie Desantis

Hi Lisa,
You might also get some ideas from other questions I have answered or other pages on my site:

Ten Year Old Girl Throwing Tantrums

Ten Year Old With Tantrums

Feel free to post any comments or report back,

Annie D :)

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Do you have a question or want to send a submission to Annie? Simply click here to return to ask-annie.

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