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how to help a child who is self destructing?

(22 Posts)
autumnnightsahoy Fri 22-Sep-17 13:55:27

Ds is 6 and is being assessed for emotional attachment type issues (not adopted but due to a period of significant emotional difficulty for him). His behaviour since starting year 2 has really deteriorated and while generally he is a lovely, happy, gorgeous and funny boy, a small thing can trigger a disproportionate emotional reaction which snowballs. For example (it can happen with any type of scenario)

- Ds getting ready for school and jumper gets in a tangle as he's putting it on. Gets really frustrated and throws everything off his bed and strips off all his uniform
- I tell him (nicely!) that he needs to get dressed so we aren't late for school and we don't throw things on the floor so please tidy your bed up once dressed.
- he gets even more angry and says things like 'I'm not. You tidy it. I'm not going to school. You WILL tidy up for me' - really angry and vicious tone of voice
- I tell him I'm not going to argue with him, he knows what he has to do and to speak to me once he's calmed down and I walk away. He knows the rewards system in the house as well. We reward good behaviour not punish bad as that makes him spiral into 'I've got nothing to lose'
- then he might sit naked on the stairs shouting that I hate him etc until eventually calms down and the red mist lifts and he realises what he's done, gets dressed, makes his bed and apologises. He then feels quite sad for a long time that 'he's bad or naughty' - even though I tell him that's not the case.

He's like it at school as well and there's a plan in place for rewarding good stuff, he's in nurture groups and has daily support with emotions etc so the bigger picture of social communication and emotional behaviour is being understood and addressed.

I just can't hit on a strategy that diffuses that red mist when it happens. It's such an extreme reaction and he just wants to self destruct so quickly.

Please give me any tips or advice you can!!
Sorry for the essay!

SweetThames Fri 22-Sep-17 14:25:59

Hi – I work with a child with attachment difficulties who has exactly this problem. It's really hard to watch, so have a hand hold from me.

Things that I have found that have helped at least sometimes are:
1) Unless you are angry yourself, don't walk away to let them recover. Stop responding to shouting etc, but sit with him, so that way he can know that you're still there for him even when he's being (from his point of view) bad and naughty.
2) Try to ignore as much negative behaviour as possible. In your example, when he became frustrated when his jumper wouldn't go on, then telling him off for throwing his clothes on the floor just compounds the fact that everything is going wrong for him. Instead, closed choices ("Shall I help you with your jumper or would you like to have another go yourself?") can help him keep control over the situation while getting what you want (i.e. him with his jumper on!).
3) Avoid problem situations before they happen wherever possible. I.e. if getting dressed is tricky for him, why not start the process 10 minutes earlier so he has time to go at it slowly. Or try a cardigan instead of a jumper.

Try using the PACE model with him if you aren't already:

Apologies if this is all stuff you're doing already; the subject is close to my heart today... Hope he feels better soon, poor mite!

TheNoodlesIncident Fri 22-Sep-17 14:29:23

What would happen in the above scenario if, for example, you focused on the one part that was non-negotiable, which is the getting dressed? You've deviated from that to tidying the mess he's made, but would it be any easier on him and you if that was sorted out later, after school?

I'm just thinking that a situation can escalate - the cascade effect - and that will really only make things worse. Perhaps if you could try to minimise the discord to just the one issue, it might make it a bit easier for him to handle?

I know how you feel, my ds has autism and can react in a similar way when things go wrong; we use a combination of humour and gentleness to try to diffuse the rising tides of emotion. In your scenario I would probably say something like "Oh dear! Do you need any help or can you manage?" (I try to keep it mild in the morning because a dramatic start to the day can lead on to similar events at school, I don't know if his resilience is at a low ebb afterwards but I wouldn't be surprised).

It IS difficult, more so when they just can't seem to handle their anger. There are self help books available with strategies, some here

Stompythedinosaur Fri 22-Sep-17 14:39:28

I'm a mental health nurse working with kids.

He sounds like a nice lad who's having difficulty regulating his emotions. You can support him to learn ways to sooth himself when he's angry or distressed - I would also recommend being present but unreactive to his behaviour (neutral face and voice). Singing a particular song (e.g. rock a bye baby) and if he will let you might work. Or he might sing or repeat something to himself, rub a part of his body maybe. But it needs to be something consistently used and you need to give him plenty of time to calm down with no further requests. When he is calmer (and ideally have had a hug) ask "What shall we do?" and I bet he will do some of what he's been asked. Give praise for calming down.

NoMoreNotToday Fri 22-Sep-17 15:01:47

Read the explosive child, playful parenting, Margo Sunderland's books (for kids and adults) and try love bombing.

Try to concentrate on the emotions underneath the actions or words- don't get caught up in an argument about how you won't do things because he's demanding you will just look at the feelings (&needs) underneath this and try and address these. I know that's hard (my dc have pda &it's beyond exhausting) so take as many breaks as you can.

Velvetbee Fri 22-Sep-17 15:49:44

I have a teen with BPD and situations can deteriorate very quickly for her too. What has worked for us is stepping in very early as pp said. Offering to help at the jumper tangling stage, whilst saying soothing things 'It's ok, we can sort this out.' Put yourself on his team rather than an opposing one.

autumnnightsahoy Fri 22-Sep-17 17:35:00

Thank you all for the hints and tips. Lots to go away and look at and read. Thank you.

We've had a terrible day. He can have good days at school but when there are bad days, they are epically bad and he just spirals into total destruction and despair. I actually burst into tears this afternoon at school with how bad it's been. Total shift from last year where he loved school which makes it so much harder.

School are pretty good with interventions and when I said he was being assessed it is more informal info gathering from school but actually I'm wondering if I need to get him some more formal assessment and help - from who though??

I'm at my wits end at the moment. He's saying he wants to be expelled because he's bad and hates school and nothing I say will change his mindset.

Stompythedinosaur Fri 22-Sep-17 17:41:30

If you want extra help then I'd recommend Family Therapy. Look on the AFT website for local therapists.

Isadora2007 Fri 22-Sep-17 17:43:15

Have you got an Educational Psychologist for him via the school? They would be your first stop for more formal assessment and support for both in and out of school.
Definitely look at PACE as linked above and stop being on oppsote sides and get onto his. So he is feeling like he wants to be expelled and feels like he is bad. Get to understand how that feels, really. Stop trying to "change his mindset" and get alongside his mindset... see his way of thinking and feeling. Let him feel really understood and accepted- as he is. Love bomb him, don't even notice the "bad" and in fact stop labelling bad and good etc at all. Imagine he is an actual baby- they're not bad when they pull all the stuff out a drawer- they're learning. Maybe he needs to revisit some of his baby stages to overcome this... think of his needs which weren't met as a baby or toddler that may have led to this attachment difficulty. Now try to meet those needs even now... cuddles, cosleeping even, touch, play, singing etc.

lizzieoak Fri 22-Sep-17 17:48:27

Just a thought as while I don't have anger issues I do get panic attacks. Would conscious breathing help? If you could teach it to him when he's calm, maybe he could use it when he's losing it? Breathe in while counting to 5, exhale while counting to 7, repeat for a couple of minutes (or however it takes to feel calm).

autumnnightsahoy Fri 22-Sep-17 17:58:13

Thanks all.

Isodora - thank you for the tips. Reading them definitely makes me feel I need more help to really understand what's going on. The event in his past happened a few years ago and there haven't ever been any problems up to now. I don't know why now? Is it age and maturation? Is it change of class?

I don't really know what stages he missed out on. Possibly social interaction with peers but it's difficult to work on that when children are giving him a wide birth because of his behaviour which perpetuates the negative cycle.

I just feel massively out of my depth. Maybe an ed psych is the way to go to get some ideas of why this massive change has happened.

autumnnightsahoy Fri 22-Sep-17 17:59:47

Also - how do you deal with getting on his side when he's doing something that he really shouldn't, like ripping something off the walls or smashing something up? And then what I could do at home might not be what they can do at school??

iamUberA Fri 22-Sep-17 18:02:00

Just wanted to say you are not alone.
My dd has an attachment disorder, she's 8.
I don't have much advice that's not been said already.
Take time for yourself, you need it.
Mine is having therapy through camhs and they are great with her.
Her school is also amazing, I think it's good to have a good support network.
Look into therapeutic parenting they have some good tips and a active Facebook page.

iamUberA Fri 22-Sep-17 18:04:37

Have you tried naming his feeling for him, e.g. I can see you are angry (because of ...)
When we are angry we can (come up with a short list of calming activities)

Maybe write the list and stick it up.
On ours we have
Hitting a pillow hard
Stomping feet hard on the fooor
Breathing exercises
And a specific song/ massage routine thing

TheSmallClangerWhistlesAgain Fri 22-Sep-17 18:20:23

You really need to pick your battles, at first anyway. In the situation you gave, getting dressed and going to school is the priority. The bed sheets and mess can wait until that has been achieved.

DD is adopted. She hasn't experienced problems like your DS, but she has had some difficult times. When she was still very young, comforting her or helping her without speaking or reasoning worked best. Or gentle silly talk - "where's his head gone? Oh, it's up his jumper. Out it pops!" - that sort of thing.

autumnnightsahoy Fri 22-Sep-17 18:54:53

What's interesting in the replies is how gentle and comforting we need to be. At home this is fine and actually is probably what I've been doing more so lately. But what about school? There it's very 'you just follow the school rules' and they certainly don't comfort, pick battles or get on side with him - he gets punished like everyone else because he's disrupting the learning of all the other children no matter why he's doing it and with the first 'punishment' the cycle of destruction starts at school.

Iheartjordanknight Fri 22-Sep-17 19:26:19

I'm afraid I don't have any advice but just wanted to say how brilliant this thread is. Good luck OP

Stompythedinosaur Fri 22-Sep-17 20:13:11

How long will the assessment take? It is reasonable to ask the school to have differeny expectations of and ways to deal with a child with attachment difficulties. That said, you may need to educate the school about his difficulties and the best way to manage them.

If nothing else I'd be asking to collect him if he gets very distressed, calm him down and try again the next day.

whitehandledkitchenknife Fri 22-Sep-17 20:26:08

Some great advice being offered here.
You mention that your little one attends a nurture group. How many sessions does he attend? Is it run by 2 trained adults? Ask to have a look at his Boxall Profile and ask them to explain it to you. It will help to pinpoint the areas in his development that need working on.
It may be that the Ed Psych is already aware of him informally (schools that have well run NGs tend to keep their EP close and well informed). Hopefully the school is already on the graduated response pathway for him and looking closely at what he is succeeding with and what the gaps are.

NoMoreNotToday Fri 22-Sep-17 21:14:09

My dc have pda, and related disabilities not ads but similar approaches can work (and I 'recycle' alot of the techniques I used as a residential social worker with my dc now).

The only 'rules' we have or stick to or 'punish' are safety ones. So intentionally endangering themselves or others or being violent. We do 'time out' but not the super nanny style more calming down time. Just time alone in their room or safe space at school, I offer to stay with them if they want but will walk away for a bit if they are attacking me. Otherwise I try to persuade them to do things the way they 'should', express appreciation when they do, try to model ways to behave but I don't actively address any other negative behaviours with 'consequences' or 'punishments'. School thankfully don't either, my dc in mainstream are allowed to allways stay on the 'good' level regardless and any 'telling off' happens discreetly away from others with gentle careful wording. The teacher chose this of her own accord before echp was even in place. Dc in special school doesn't quiet have the same allowance but their behaviour is more in line with their peers and there is little they are 'told off' for across the school anyways.

The rest I let go. As long as I mind my temper because sometimes I make mistakes and snap alittle like anyone. But conciously we let go of anything else in our house. So I'm definitely that mother that let's their kid eat a giant pudding after not touching two meals they asked for, or who doesn't force them to brush their teeth on the day I know we are fighting a loosing battle. I bribe them far too much also. And do as much 1 2 1 time and confidence boosting activities for them (can not recommend horsing riding highly enough). Play therapy is worth trying also. Like pp said it's alot like thinking of the baby stages, relearning not to sweat the small stuff, and concentrating on the cuddles &giggles. With a child who had a visable physical disability you wouldn't expect them to run around like their peers, that would be unreasonable, so keep that in mind because any mh or nuerological disability is just as real and adjusting expectations is part of reasonable adjustments. Try aha parenting website also, it's easy to read here and there.

Ask the school for an appointment to see the Ed psych. If they refuse look into how to do a parental request for echp which will mean he sees the ehcp. Are you seeing camhs? Ask gp if not. Trauma comes out when we feel safe enough, which is often the further we get from the event. So you are in for a really rough ride the next few years at least. It would be helpful to get counciling in place for yourself to help process it all. The better care you take of your mh the better help you can be for your dc, it's impossible to be emotionally present for them if we don't have time for ourselves, support for ourselves. And it's modeling healthy self care which is important too.

TheNoodlesIncident Fri 22-Sep-17 23:42:12

You say there has been a deterioration this year: what has changed? Has he a different teacher who responds to him in a way that escalates a situation? He really needs staff who are on board with keeping him calm. They must have had strategies last year that worked?

I think you should ask school for a meeting to discuss ways to get him back on track, with members of staff who worked with him last year present. I would ask for them to construct a plan which takes into account the triggers and/or stresses that provoke a poor response and looks for ways to avoid these - they should be providing support for him based on his needs, which is his failing to cope with what he views as adversity. Obviously different factors affect children in different ways - my ds was best left alone if he started to get into a situation he couldn't handle, so if anyone tried to say comforting words to him it just made things worse (I'm the same, so I "get" how this happens) and his self-control would just dissolve. Other children in the same situation might feel better and more in control of themselves with soothing speech. The aim is to find what works for your ds.

autumnnightsahoy Sat 23-Sep-17 20:30:27

Thanks for all the advice.

There were no problems at all last year. Or reception year. It's literally just started since the start of term this year. He's in the same class but new teacher. Unfortunately his previous teacher has left the school but either she knew exactly how not to push his buttons or his new teacher really does. I think it's the latter personally but I'm not in the class so I don't really know.

We've had meetings galore but we just seem to go in circles. They say all the right things and put things in place but it doesn't change his behaviour.

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