I need some insight into how to best help my son and I was hoping someone here might be able to help. My son G just turned 4 a few days ago. He has had an incredibly low frustration threshold his entire life. From the time that he was a baby, if he would get frustrated he would lash out at whatever he could reach around him. He would also hit himself when he would get frustrated. No amount of gentle talking, explaining about gentle hands, hands are not for hitting, and taking privileges away as he has gotten older has changed it. We've read story books about keeping hands to ourselves. We've made up stories. Drawn pictures. You name it. He still will kick, hit, bite, pinch, etc. He can go from being super happy and cheerful one second to screaming and flailing minutes later if someone frustrates him. We also have an 8 year old boy and an 11 year old girl. They are very patient and good with him (especially the 11 year old). I feel bad because if he and the 8 year old, C, are playing and G doesn't get what he wants he will start whacking his brother or pulling his hair and C knows that we don't allow being rough so he's sort of limited to trying to defend himself without retaliating. I always make sure I step in right away and remove G from the situation so that it's clear his behavior won't be tolerated. After sitting by himself to calm down, he needs to talk to his brother (with my help) and try to make it right. He also loses a privelege. This has never changed his behavior in any way, but I feel like I need to at least be doing something. He absolutely adores our dog and delights in her and talks about her constantly but if he gets mad (not mad at her or about her or having anything to do with her) he will lash out and kick at her.
I don't know for sure how much control he actually has over any of this. When he is calm he can verbalize that he shouldn't hurt people. We talk about coping mechanisms that he could use for when he gets frustrated. When I see him getting wound up, I try to talk him through it and help him use the coping skills. But as soon as he's mad, it's like he hits a wall and talking to him is completely pointless. I just have to pick him up and remove him from the situation and let him get his screaming over with.
What's especially frustrating is that he is extremely verbal. He has been talking in full sentences since well before two. He can read and write and he makes advanced observations and asks questions at above age level. That's partly why I can't understand what the disconnect is. If it's helpful to know, he does have some mild sensory issues. When he was a baby he needed feeding therapy to tolerate any kind of food in his mouth at all but now he will eat anything. Because he wouldn't do anything but nurse for almost two years, he did have iron deficiency anemia for a while when he was about 18 months old. He has also had two concussions (the throw up and lose consciousness/muscle tone level of concussion). I worry that the anemia/concussion issues are contributing to his impulsive behavior.
How best can I help this little guy? He can be the sweetest thing on the planet at times. He tells me he loves me and gives me lots of kisses and hugs and picks me flowers and tries to think of things that will make his brother and sister happy just to be nice. I want to spend more time enjoying that aspect of his personality rather than reacting to the negative sides.
Should I have him evaluated for ADHD? Explosive child syndrome? Is he just being an out of control monster? Thank you in advance for any help or advice that anyone can offer.
Could you enroll your older kids in some form of self defense/martial arts courses? There are many ways to defend yourself without really hurting your attacker and they need those tools right now. (It's also just a good idea to have the knowledge of how to defend yourself) I wouldn't frame it like that when introducing the idea, though. A self defense course for kids would probably be better, they focus on defense and tend to cover all the material in a few sessions, but talk to the teacher to make sure it matches their needs.
Hugs...btdt and I know how hard it cm be...my son was the same...
Does he go to preschool, and if so, does he have the same issues with low frustration tolerance in that environment? If so, are they able to help him manage that environment successfully?
If you know he has sensory integration issues, is he currently in OT, and has he been provided with a sensory diet?
You have gotten some good advise above. I would take him to a neuropsychologist. My son, who ultimately had an ASD, was also disregulated at that age. You are absolutely right to want to figure this out. You want to know what techniques would be most helpful to provide a safe environment for learning at school and for having a safe home life.
My son also had feeding issues and I was told it is usually always a soft sign of other developmental problems. He was an only child at 4 and had a difficult time regulating himself at home with me but did well in preschool, modeling his play and his behavior on that of others. He did not do well in Kindergarten when the challenges of learning and socializing became too much for him to manage without behavioral problems to discharge frustration and anxiety.
He was eventually diagnosed with an ASD (and is doing beautifully now, by the way, at 12!) and the usual parent techniques did NOT work for him at all. Discipline and consequences after the fact were punitive because he just couldn't stop himself when he got that far "gone" and it made him more anxious. He learned nothing from them other than to distrust adults. I used an "if, then" approach. If you do this, I will let you do that". Everything had an external incentive. I also didn't expect him to manage certain things well, that traditionally had proved difficult, even without knowing the exact reason why it was difficult yet. If it was hard, we just wouldn't do it, because why set him up for failure. He couldn't go to the market, he couldn't go sit in Temple, he wouldn't go out to eat. After school was a particularly hard time for him. Instead of interacting and playing games, i'd have him relax for an hour to "decompress" listening to books on CD....long interesting ones, like, the magic tree house series, or Junie B. Jones. He'd engage his mind and calm his body to be better be able to manage dinner and bedtime as a result.
I'd suggest, without even wondering why at this point, you just look at your day together, and take out the parts that have proved too challenging for him. Avoid them for now. Then, manage his time with his siblings VERY proactively. If you play without using rough hands, you will get to pick the tv show later for example. Give him an immediate reward, not, something that he earns a lot later. No delayed gratification. NO hands with siblings and you get a gummy worm...or something like that. And, please, keep you dog safe. Apply the same "If, then" approach for the dog. If a certain time of the day proves too difficult no matter the structure, give him time alone with out punishment or embarassment, but, tell him he needs the time to stay relaxed and easy going. Pick things for him to do that he likes during that time....books on cd, play with a favorite toy, snuggle with his animals, jump on a trampoline etc.
In this way, you are structuring his time, in ways that have a greater likelihood of success for him. I would also as another poster suggested, do an elimination diet, seeking to find out if he has any "food triggers"...foods that increase sensory disregulation, for example. Off gluten and dairy, my son did not need OT and much of his anxiety also melted away. I'd also suggest you take out all food colorings and preservatives from your diet if you haven't already.
My son now is in the 6th grade, doing incredibly well and has a "mostly good" relationship with his little sister. It does get better. :) This is the starting point, wondering, how to get there. You can do it.
Thanks for the advice! We are a home school family (in response to the question of whether he goes to preschool), but he did attend a playgroup for 3 and 4 year olds at the local early intervention building. He loved it and had a ton of fun but I think it's fair to say that the instructors had to spend more time than would be considered average managing his behaviors. That was true for a lot of the kids there so I don't think he negatively impacted the class, but he required more intervention than say my older kids would have at that age.
He had early intervention for sensory issues until he turned three. It was mostly related to food issues. We did do therapeutic brushing on him and that helped some. Around the time that he turned three he would have tested out of needing therapy anyway because his food issues disappeared. He just seems wonky in his response to touch and his touching of other people. If he gets excited he is SO rough and is genuinely puzzled when other people don't enjoy being jumped on or having their face frantically tickled. He jumps around all over the place when he is excited. I *assume* he seeking sensory input when he is doing this but I don't know for sure. He is very handsy in that if he sits next to a complete stranger on the floor he automatically puts his hand on their knee or will rest his hand on their back. I just don't know what to make of this fellow, I really don't.