The *real* problem with the tantrums
I rang our RDI consultant tonight. We haven't worked with her for a while but I've been really disturbed by the unrelenting anger Bright Eyes has shown in his (fairly frequent) tantrums in recent weeks. The insults have been coming thick and fast and the ferocity of his words have been really difficult to deal with. I figured I needed some extra help.
It always helps to have another pair of eyes.
First up, we decided that we needed to take a few steps back. As she says, 'tantrums don't just come out of nowhere. There are steps you take before you lose it completely.' I realised that I can usually tell from his face when he gets out of class at school pick up time what kind of afternoon it's going to be.
I need to spend a lot more energy and time affirming his feelings and modelling more appropriate ways to express them.
For example, when he says, "I wish that person would just be evaporated off the earth," I can say, "Wow, you look really angry. I can hear that you don't want to be around him right now. Your feelings are big right now."
Second, minimising tantrum triggers is important, of course. One thing I have done this week since we started to talk last week was to realise that my voice telling him that his computer time is over, was causing a lot of problems. When I started to set the timer, I was amazed at how quickly and responsibly he took himself off the computer once his time was up.
Third, one of the major problems is not what he's saying to me in mid-tantrum, but the fact that he is not self-regulated enough to control his words when he's angry. Basically, he doesn't have an off button.
I was running through what a typical set of insults might be when our consultant started laughing. "But didn't you want to say all that to your mum when you were a kid?" she said.
"Of course," I said. "Everyone does."
And then the penny dropped. He's just saying what every kid wants to say but doesn't, because they have internalised some self-control when their extreme emotions are triggered.
"So the problem is really self-regulation," I said.
"Well, actually, the problem is co-regulation," she said. "You don't self-regulate before you co-regulate; that is to say, you regulate with someone else. Once you can do that, self-regulation begins to emerge."
We talked about his (in)ability to have a conversation with decent amounts of give and take, and how he'll always bend someone's ear on his favourite topic, given half a chance.
The solution? Really work on having small proper conversations with give and take, thoughtfulness and genuine interest in the other person. I need to pull him up when he doesn't respond well, be very thoughtful in my responses and speak using declarative language. Basically, I need to put more energy into engaging well, not just placating his need to control me with his conversation.
It's funny how the main thing he's struggled with all the way along has been co-regulation. He's made a *lot* of progress and taken some great steps in other areas of his life, such as getting over anxiety and trying new things. But it's becoming more and more obvious that he still lacks severely in his ability to co-regulate. So that's where I'll be focusing my efforts right now and for the next few months.