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#1 of 7 Old 01-07-2009, 12:20 PM - Thread Starter
 
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DD will be 5 this month. She has always been intense and emotional and I understand that about her. However, we are really getting worn down by her tendency to launch into shrieking fits at least once a day. It's hard to predict what will cause them--sometimes it's something like getting hurt or losing something, sometimes it's about us setting a limit. The frequency has gotten less as she's gotten older, but the intensity has not diminished--if anything, it's getting worse.

I don't mean to tell her she can never cry. Of course that's unrealistic. But these fits are VERY LOUD, with very intense screaming, not just crying. I can't overstate this. When we were staying with friends in an urban, densely populated neighborhood, someone actually called the police. : She had one yesterday about leaving the park and I could hear her all the way down the block as she and DH approached the house.

It is worth noting that I have seen her stop crying in a millisecond if distracted. I don't think she could do this every time, but at least some of the time I believe the screaming is partially in her control. Also, she does not do this at school. Only at home.

I don't really believe in "consequences" for something like screaming, but this is making us miserable. We do send her to her room sometimes if she won't stop, but she will not stay in there. We have to hold the door closed. We have also tried completely ignoring her. I am considering making this the go-to response, but it does feel cold and weird to me.

She cannot be reasoned with when she's in this state. I have read "The Explosive Child" and it's very applicable to her, but once she gets to this point (and she can get there VERY quickly) nothing involving reasonable conversation is possible.

Any ideas? I am really sound-sensitive and this is really getting to me. I am also starting to wonder when this behavior becomes abnormal/pathological, for lack of a better word. Should we be considering...I don't know what, exactly--anxiety? Some other psychological issue? I am thinking most 5yos do not do this anymore. No? She is also extremely argumentative and can be very negative. At the same time, she is a bright, loving child (when not in the throes of one of these rages, she is very sweet) who is never physically aggressive and who has many friends and charms adults.

ETA: searching the archives, I see that I have posted virtually this exact post before, when DD was 3.5. Yeah, it hasn't gotten much better.

grateful mother to DD, 1/04, and DS, 2/08

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#2 of 7 Old 01-07-2009, 12:32 PM
 
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Your DD sounds like my just-turned-6 yo DS. His is bad for if he hurts himself. He seems to have no degree of pain, if he stubs his toe, it's the same as him cutting off his arm, from the sounds of it. I'm going to ask the pedi about it next week, but, since he too is distracted easily (when he wants to be), I think it's a behavior with him. He also tends to go into temper tantrums that end up absolute screaming/crying fits for hours on end. We put him in his room, because I don't think it's fair for the family to have to deal with his tantrum (provided it is a tantrum,and nothing else), but he continues to scream, and pokes his head out or asks through the vent if it's time to come out, every few seconds. So, I'm taking notes, too!

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#3 of 7 Old 01-07-2009, 07:18 PM
 
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Originally Posted by loraxc View Post
It is worth noting that I have seen her stop crying in a millisecond if distracted. I don't think she could do this every time, but at least some of the time I believe the screaming is partially in her control. Also, she does not do this at school. Only at home.
Lots of kids hold it together at school, because emotionally school is less safe than home--just think about the embarrassment factor alone, yk? eta: sometimes kids hold it together better at school/other because that environment works for them in some way, there's something about that environment that helps them hold it together (for example, the structure of school may be helpful to a child who thrives on predictable structure). That she does this only at home does not mean that your parenting is the cause and is not evidence that she has no underlying problems/difficulties (nor is it evidence that she does have underlying difficulties).

Also, with my dd there was like this window between starting to get upset and being so overwhelmed by emotion that she couldn't calm down--and during that window, she could be distracted. There would be this period of time, sometimes really short, where we could sort of pull her out of her emotional brain and into her thinking brain--activate those executive skills. Maybe we'd ask her a math question, or maybe she'd see something interesting and ask about it and we'd talk about that, maybe we'd bring up some interesting question. This did not work every time, but it did work some of the time. It was always worth trying.

With our dd, emotional regulation and communication of emotion were skills she really had to work on. She needed to learn coping skills. Remember with The Explosive Child, the idea is to be as proactive as possible. Once a problem has begun, you're not being proactive but engaging in emergency problem solving. For us with our dd, being proactive and engaging in collaborative problem solving meant recognizing that she had difficulty regulating emotion and finding ways of helping her improve that skill. It wasn't about that moment, or some particular conflict, but about her skills in general (and really, her meltdowns were only predictable in that we knew if something didn't go "right," she was likely to meltdown--but "things not going right" is so vague and not easy to predict and prepare for). We found that working with her to help her learn ways of relaxing, calming down, recognizing when she was getting upset, learning to take a break when she was getting upset, learning more words for emotions, talking about our feelings ourselves, taking her "emotional temperature" several times a day, learning skills to cope with anxiety, learning better self-awareness--all this helped her learn to better regulate, cope better, and put feelings into words instead of screaming. This was a lengthy process. And sort of multi-faceted.

We did find it very helpful to work with a psychologist. Partially, it was helpful to identify and rule out underlying issues--if you know what's going on, you can be more effective. Dd has been diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and has Tourette syndrome, and recognizing and addressing that was necessary in order for us to effectively help her. Partially it was helpful to work with someone who could give us new approaches, who we could bounce ideas off of, who we could talk with about what worked and didn't, who could listen to us and offer support, and who could gently point out what we should consider changing wrt our own behavior.

Dd is 9 now, and she is still intense and often challenging to live with. But I cannot tell you how much easier life has become now that she is better able to regulate and communicate her emotions, and has developed some better coping skills.

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#4 of 7 Old 01-09-2009, 12:41 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Magelle, I was hoping you would post.

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We found that working with her to help her learn ways of relaxing, calming down, recognizing when she was getting upset, learning to take a break when she was getting upset, learning more words for emotions, talking about our feelings ourselves, taking her "emotional temperature" several times a day, learning skills to cope with anxiety, learning better self-awareness--all this helped her learn to better regulate, cope better, and put feelings into words instead of screaming. This was a lengthy process. And sort of multi-faceted.
I know this is the key. But I need to work harder to find ways to do this. We've been talking lately about ourselves as "cups" and talking about how upsetting things make our cups feel empty and happy things make them feel full. I will mention how my cup is doing throughout the day and ask about her cup. DD seems to respond to this pretty well. Do you have any other ideas like this?

DD has also told us that once she gets upset she doesn't know how to calm herself down. We have suggested things like finding a stuffed animal and cuddling, stomping her feet or hitting a pillow, etc etc--I even have a list of these things on her wall. But once she "goes there" she will not respond to suggestions to try these things. I guess I need to suggest them earlier, but it seems like when we are at that "about to blow" stage I am usually desperately trying to get us out of that stage verbally, and she is sparring with me verbally.

I have also noticed that if we manage to avert a near meltdown she almost seems to go looking for something else to melt down about. It's almost as if she NEEDS to "blow" periodically. Any thoughts on that? It's frustrating. FWIW, she usually is calm and cheerful pretty soon after the meltdown. She also does not hold grudges and even recalls days with major meltdowns as good days as long as *we* did not lose our tempers during the incident. It's the parents who stay in a bad mood!

Also, while I think we have gotten somewhat better at collaborative problem-solving via Explosive Child techniques, DH still struggles with feeling like we need to be able to get better "compliance" and feeling like constant negotiating teaches her that she never needs to take no for an answer. I see it a little differently, but I also understand his POV, especially in safety situations. Thoughts?

ETA that we have considered consulting a psychologist or therapist but have no idea how to go about finding one who wouldn't put us in classic carrot/stick behaviorist mode.

grateful mother to DD, 1/04, and DS, 2/08

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#5 of 7 Old 01-09-2009, 03:42 PM
 
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ETA that we have considered consulting a psychologist or therapist but have no idea how to go about finding one who wouldn't put us in classic carrot/stick behaviorist mode.
This was a huge concern of mine, too--to the point that I really put off seeking help for a long time. Our experience was that the behaviorist carrot/stick approach was not the focus with either of the psychologists we worked with. With the first psychologist, we addressed only the anxiety and not any behavioral problems b/c when we started treatment dd was in a good behavior mode. This psychologist did create a sticker chart for dd, but only when dd began having a really stressful (for her, and for us) compulsion. Dd really liked this idea, and she was rewarded with a sticker for just trying a new coping skill at her trigger time. We did this for 2 weeks, and it really helped, and we then we let the sticker chart go. With the second psychologist, her first recommendation (addressing behavioral issues this time) was daily one-on-one time. Her second was a reward system (a rather, to me, elaborate one), and we tried it because we were desperate (and dh really wanted to try it). It turned out to be a very positive thing, once we got going--but then after a few weeks this psychologist wanted to go to a sort of "second phase" of the reward chart where we took away points for undesireable behavior. And this is the really important part of my story: I was not comfortable with this for a few reasons. I shared my concerns with the psychologist, and explained that I was really looking for a more proactive, skills-teaching approach. And this psychologist listened, respected my goals, and worked with us to find an effective, proactive approach we were comfortable with. We kept the reward system for awhile, never did take away points for undesireable behavior. Point is: find a professional who listens to you, who respects you and your goals, who respects your knowledge of your child, and who is flexible--this is what's important. Our experience of cognitive-behavioral therapists is that the approach is not as heavily carrot/stick as I'd imagined. And you can, if need be, find a new professional if the first doesn't work for you. Interviews are good, and I think Roar has posted here or in Special Needs some very good questions to ask a mental health professional when interviewing them. I'll see if I can find links later if I have time.

The vast majority of what we did with the psychologists was just helping dd understand her feelings, understand the signs of her feelings in her body, and learn coping skills. Very proactive, very educational, very compassionate, very positive.

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I know this is the key. But I need to work harder to find ways to do this. We've been talking lately about ourselves as "cups" and talking about how upsetting things make our cups feel empty and happy things make them feel full. I will mention how my cup is doing throughout the day and ask about her cup. DD seems to respond to this pretty well. Do you have any other ideas like this?
We made feelings thermometers: we drew a thermometer with several sections. Each section had a color, and several "feelings words" next to it: blue was low-energy feelings like sad, lonely, bored; red was very high-energy, unpleasant feelings like very angry, very frustrated (the explosive feelings); we had yellow, orange, purple--and feelings words like excited, happy, nervous, tense, calm, relaxed, etc. Also, along the bottom of the poster, horizontally, was physical feelings: lots of energy, tired, low energy, something hurts, feeling sick, feeling good. We put a strip of velcro on the feelings thermometer, and one on the physical-feelings thermometer. Then we made two markers, with velcro on the back, which dd could place on the chart to indicate her feelings. This system did a couple of things: it gave her more words to describe how she was feeling, it drew her attention to how her physical state can affect her emotional state (and vice-versa), and it allowed her to indicate how she was feeling without talking about her feelings (which was difficult for her).

We modeled both identifying feelings and coping skills by not only talking about how we ourselves felt at the moment we were talking to her, but also by making a point to say things like "you know, I was really frustrated today when (x,y,z-not related to dd) happened. So I did (x) to calm down, then I did (y)." This helped her learn, and it helped us talk.

We got a poster full of drawings of faces, each with a feelings word underneath. This, again, helped expand her repertoire of words so that she could better identify her feelings and communicate them.

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Originally Posted by loraxc View Post
DD has also told us that once she gets upset she doesn't know how to calm herself down. We have suggested things like finding a stuffed animal and cuddling, stomping her feet or hitting a pillow, etc etc--I even have a list of these things on her wall. But once she "goes there" she will not respond to suggestions to try these things. I guess I need to suggest them earlier, but it seems like when we are at that "about to blow" stage I am usually desperately trying to get us out of that stage verbally, and she is sparring with me verbally.
We made lists of activities that help dd feel good, for reference--things that helped her relax. We kept handy some things like a small indoor sand box, because running her fingers through sand helped her relax. With a list, she could choose an activity without the added stimulation/pressure that came with our rattling off suggestions. We also made time every day for these kinds of relaxing activities, so she was experiencing them regularly and remembering them as enjoyable. Her list included things like going outside to jump rope; going outside to run; reading; playing with her sand; listening to a guided visualization; practicing her karate; drawing; petting the dog; time alone in her room (and so on, I can't remember them all, she usually chooses reading or alone time now).

Also, part of the entire puzzle for us was to begin talking about emotions only when she was feeling good. This took pressure off of her, and got us in the habit of checking in on her feelings regularly throughout the day--before school, after school, early evening for example. Checking in regularly eventually allowed her (and us) to become aware of tension that was building well before a meltdown--then we could help her choose a coping skill. We identified certain times of day, doing this, that she was likely to be tense and we could build in a calming activity as a preventive measure at those times.

Once she was melting down, we found that changing our response really helped. We went from wordy empathy to single-word empathy. Our psych. suggested literally using one word, and adding some emotion to it. So if she was angry, we simply said "angry" with some angry sort of tone to it (but not mocking). So: "Angry!" pause "you're angry. I hear you." pause, wait. Listen to her. Then, float an idea out there (not say "how about you try...", no suggesting, just floating an idea): "You're angry. I wonder if reading your book might help you feel better..?" (We intentionally avoided words like "relax" and "calm down" because those were kind of triggers for her by this time, too much pressure.) Wait. At this point, we were not focusing on problem-solving at all, but on calming down. (I don't mean stuffing feelings here, but allowing the body to calm so that we can then talk about feelings. Taking time to calm is a healthy thing to do.) We'd wait a bit, then either she would already be calming down, would choose to do what we'd just floated out there as an idea, or we'd float another idea.

Once she was fully calm, we could talk about what happened and, if needed, do some problem solving. She eventually could trust that we'd talk once she was calm, and began to find it easier to calm herself rather than getting more and more worked up.


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Originally Posted by loraxc View Post
I have also noticed that if we manage to avert a near meltdown she almost seems to go looking for something else to melt down about. It's almost as if she NEEDS to "blow" periodically. Any thoughts on that? It's frustrating.
Oh, have we btdt. I haven't thought about that in awhile, it's been so long. I do have thoughts on that. For dd, tension and anxiety would build all day--a single trigger was rarely the whole cause of her meltdowns. It was more like the straw that broke the camel's back. So even if we averted the one meltdown by distracting her, if we weren't able to (or didn't think to) address her overall tension then it would just come out again at the next trigger-almost as if she were looking to blow, as if she needed to blow. What she really needed was to alleviate that tension. She could do it through blowing up, or she could do that through learning to relax. We found it helpful to also help her with some formal relaxation exercises like progressive muscle relaxation, belly breathing, visualizing. Again, it was particularly helpful to incorporate relaxation into her day regularly.

Also, dd is one of those people who love written schedules and for some reason she is more relaxed when she has a written schedule of what's going to happen every day.


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Originally Posted by loraxc View Post
Also, while I think we have gotten somewhat better at collaborative problem-solving via Explosive Child techniques, DH still struggles with feeling like we need to be able to get better "compliance" and feeling like constant negotiating teaches her that she never needs to take no for an answer. I see it a little differently, but I also understand his POV, especially in safety situations. Thoughts?
Same here. Again, I think it helps to address things proactively. If I know dd is going to have a problem when I ask her to get dressed in the morning, I need to have a meeting with her and say not just "what's up?" but also "I really need you to get dressed in the morning?" So problem-solving ahead of time helps a lot, and in particular for me and dh it helps ensure that we are getting our concerns on the table as well, and it feels more predictable. There's just a different feel to working out a solution ahead of time, and working out a solution in the heat of the moment and feeling stressed and maybe not actually getting our concerns addressed adequately (or maybe even not communicating them adequately). Really, boundaries are inherent in this approach but it's easier to address that outside the heat of the moment. And, we're going to have more durable solutions, solutions that work for us all better and last longer, if we're doing our problem-solving outside the moment.

Just an example not related to meltdowns: our cleaning routine was all out of whack recently, so clutter was really building up, and we were having daily struggles over getting the kids to pick up their toys and help with chores. Now, one way to approach it is to just aim for making them comply with requests and/or sort of negotiating things right in the heat of the moment when they're saying no and we're frustrated. In that moment, probably someone's going to meltdown (just as likely to be parents) and someone's going to feel as though they're concern was not adequately addressed. Another way to handle it is to sit down at some calm time and say "this is my concern. What's yours? What can we do?" And we create a solution ahead of time. Our solution recently was this: I made written schedules. Then I sat down with the kids and said "this is what I'd like to do. I'd like to try it. What do you think?" And they agreed. And we started using schedules. When they had concerns, we were able to make changes while keeping the schedules. And soon we weren't struggling nearly as much, and the house is less out of control. Now, in this case I didn't follow the explosive child formula exactly because I made the schedules before asking about their concerns (though I had a pretty good idea that there concern was that they hate chores and would rather play)--but when they did have concerns we addressed them.

ETA: wrt safety issues, there are times when there is no time to engage in problem-solving. IMO, there are times when we need to just go with Plan A and impose our will--but then if there's a chance of it happening again, we need to use Plan B to find a durable solution.

Also, it's important to remember that as hard as this kind of meltdown behavior is for us, it's also hard for our kids. We can see the meltdowns, but what we can't see is all the stuff going on inside that leads to meltdowns. No one wants to live like this, and I really think that it's not about motivation but about not being able, yet, to do better but really wanting to. It's along road, it takes more time than we'd like it to take, but we can help and it can get better. I know it's easier for me, and for dh, to continue to engage in problem-solving and all the other really exhausting, effort-intensive, energy-intensive parenting when we remember to look at it from dd's point of view and remember that it's just as hard for her.

I'm off to read stories to my son's first grade class. I hope to have helped a bit.
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#6 of 7 Old 01-09-2009, 05:14 PM
 
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This is our feelings poster: http://bpchildren.org/store/index.ph...products_id=20

We also have the round magnet about anger: http://bpchildren.org/store/index.ph...products_id=19

Also, it helped dd to introduce words like "tense" and "overwhelmed" and talk about what it feels like to be tense, or overwhelmed. Another thing she did with both psychologists was draw pictures of her body (one was a life-size outline) and talk about how parts of our bodies feel when we're scared, tense, angry, worried, etc. and how they feel when we feel happy, relaxed, calm.
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#7 of 7 Old 01-10-2009, 03:17 PM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you so much, Magella. You have given me some great tools. I'm also pleased to hear that working with a psychologist worked for you. It gives me hope.

grateful mother to DD, 1/04, and DS, 2/08

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