Helping a 10-year-old to control his temper at home and in school

PARENT Q & A

September 26, 1999|By Dr. T. Berry Brazelton | Dr. T. Berry Brazelton,New York Times Special Features

Q. My 10-year-old son gets along with his peers and has always been an ideal student in terms of behavior at school. His teachers often comment on what a good boy he is.

At home he is quite different and can become explosive. He gets angry if he doesn't get his way -- screaming, crying, slamming and kicking his door. I have tried teaching him the difference in controlling his temper and holding it in. He says that if he doesn't express himself, it feels like a bomb is going off inside him.

I realize he has a problem with anger. He lets it build. Then, after he calms down, he apologizes for his behavior.

I am concerned because I have three male relatives who were like this at his age. They all grew up to be unemployed drug addicts. I am concerned about the hereditary risk.

He has a bed-wetting problem, a hyper reaction to sugar and a severe response to insect bites. If his body reacts so strongly to external stimuli, could his temperament be likewise disposed?

A. Your boy indeed sounds as if he has difficulty with self-control issues and that it costs him a lot to be so good at school. The lack of control at home must be frightening for him, as it is for you. Perhaps there is even a hereditary factor about this poor control system.

I'd surely have your son evaluated by a child psychiatrist or psychologist. Such a person could help him and you understand how to handle some of this anger.

Perhaps his bed-wetting and the volatile reactions of his body are tied in to his temperament. This is surely the time to seek professional help.

Q. My 8-year-old daughter is a great girl, very outgoing and smart. My concern is that she seems to have a difficult time making decisions.

When we are shopping, she can't decide what she wants to buy. And she often asks me to pick out clothes for her to wear in the morning.

This is upsetting for me because decision making has always been a personal weakness of mine. How can I help her?

A. This must bother you, if you have been through it yourself. I hope you share this information with her instead of seeming disapproving of her.

Why not relax and enjoy the decision making together? If you don't take it too seriously, she probably won't. Are these decisions really critical? Go ahead and lay out her clothes. When you do give her a choice about things, give her only two.

Q. I am a 34-year-old single mom. My daughter is 8 months old. For the first six months of her life, her father saw her every couple of weeks and spent long periods of time with her. But when he stopped seeing me, he stopped seeing her.

When he finally came for a visit, she screamed and cried for 15 minutes. That was three weeks ago. Now he wants to know when he can take her to his place for a visit. Honestly, I don't want him to take her. I fear she'll be too upset. She's never been away from me.

I'm also concerned she'll be confused, because he is living with another woman. I don't want to keep her away from him for selfish reasons, but I don't want her upset by these visits.

Can you give me some guidelines?

A. I agree with you that at 8 months she is too vulnerable to separate from you to go visit someone she hardly knows. Eight months is one of the peaks of stranger anxiety.

If her father is serious about wanting her to visit him, he must make regular visits to her and let her get to know him better. She needs you and her familiar surroundings to help her make that transition. After they get to know each other better, she could go to visit him for a part of a day at a time. Overnight visits should wait until she's at least 3 or 4 years old.

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