Thursday, December 8, 2011

Brutal Instincts

Things have been going really good, in fact pretty great this week. I thought that would be the topic for my post, but this afternoon my son had too much stress and couldn’t hold it in anymore. Whether it was the fractions in math, the late start to homework due to an after school activity or the hurt feelings between school friends, whatever it was, I became the target for his meltdown.

It seems to be instinctual for my son. When he can’t take it anymore and he feels he’s lost all control of the moment, he tends to react by threatening to hurt me or damage his brother’s stuff. It seems to be his desperate attempt to regain control. I laugh now, but today he even used his aromatherapy sprays to spray my eyes, something we bought to help him relax became his “weapons”—yes he had more than one bottle in his hands! During this moment I can see a glimmer of happiness on his face as he terrorizes his brothers or hurts me, but it’s fleeting when he realizes that it doesn’t rescue him from his awful feelings inside.

The end result is me holding him on the floor for 30 minutes as he kicks and tries to wrestle away, waiting until he returns to normal. I tried to offer solutions such as taking a shower or leaving the room to decompress, but for him, he seems to desire a fight, if I let go, he immediately rushes to throw something at me or break his brother’s stuff. It’s obvious that his “fight or flight” response is fully activated. Unfortunately for me, there’s more “fight” than “flight”.

Other than meds that are used to prevent these situations, I don’t know what to do when we’re in the moment. The therapy of “practicing going to your room when you’re NOT upset so it become more of an instinct when you are” doesn’t seem to work for my son. And the ironic thing is that, the more stable he is, the more unprepared I am when these situations arise. I really feel at a loss tonight.

Can anyone share how you redirect your child when their instinct is to harm you?


  1. I recommend Dr.Ross Greene and his books.

  2. Pray and hang on till the rage is gone. Hugs Kay

  3. There is no redirecting my son when he becomes like this. We just lay on him and ignore everything he says and does. The more we talk the more angry he gets. Eventually it passes and he is better. Sometimes we lay on him for an hour but we just hang in there. He will tell us if we get off him he will just stay but he does not, it is a game he plays.

  4. Hugs Mama Bear! I'm so sorry you had to go through that last night. You are right...when there is a period of stability and then a rage comes on it's like being socked in the gut. It seems worse then....instead of when you are kind of used to it.

    My sons fight or flight instinct is also fight. It's automatic for him. I don't know what causes that and why some people choose flight and some fight. All you can do is do your best to keep him from hurting someone or something.

    We had to stop restraining our son a while back because it made him madder. And he resents us for those times. But if your son will eventually calm down and see that you were only restraining him to keep him and everyone safe then that's what you'll have to do. It's hard as a mom to do that to your own child. And it becomes harder as they get bigger.

    I hope today is a better day for both of you!

  5. try ABA therapy ,it works for most of children under an aspectrum ,and ignoring mama bear the more you talk the more he will get agressive,even kids without behaviour issues likes attention.
    Take all the weapons around the house ,make it safe and let him throw his tantruns around ,just ignore him you will see in a week he will learn that to get your attention the tantruns will have to stop ,and believe he will learn!

  6. I wish I had some good advice for you. I think this might get better as your son gets a little older and his brain matures. Your son knows in the back of his mind right now that nothing really terrible will happen if he comes at you. This will change as he gets older and you are no longer able to restrain him. I know with my son he could get violent in the past towards things but not towards me. This past week when my son raged it manifested itself in threats (I'm going to steal your car, I'm going to run away, I'm going to destroy the house, etc.). However, when I confront him and tell him to go ahead and do what he needs to do as he is the one who will have to endure the consequence, he backs down. If my son came at me physically now it would be all over as he is the size of an NFL football player. And he knows that and does not want to hurt me. Your son does not want to hurt you either but he feels safe in that place right now. I think this will pass for you guys as your son matures and the natural consequences of his actions become more substantial.

  7. I'm sorry Mama Bear, hugs. Yes dealing with a rage is much harder when things have been stable. I think it is emotionally harder because it feels the whole tower of good will that took so long to build has been knocked down in an instant.

    I like Dr. Ross Greene, but while "Plan B" works great at other times, it doesn't seem to do much in a rage situation.

    I think keeping everyone as safe as you can is the best bet. And I agree with Meg, he comes at you because he knows you will keep him safe and help him manage it. Maybe talking to him when he's calm that you are worried you will get hurt will help him move towards the brain maturity as he grows?

    What about keeping a bag of "okay to damage" stuff? (maybe brothers would be willing to donate things they don't want anymore?) Do you think he would go and break that stuff when he rages--or that wouldn't satisfy him? We've had some luck with breaking scrap wood easing that need to do damage.

  8. I wish I could advise you on how to cope during a rage like that but I have no kids and I myself never raged like that as a kid. But I can tell you being bipolar and medicated I function very well. But every so often I break and start seeing things and getting extremely angry and agitated. No matter what medicine he is on he is still mentally ill and will occasionally fall.

    Have you considered that the stress of the holidays and seasons changing may have put some pressure on him. It gets darker earlier and there are bigger crowds in the stores. It may have all just been building up under the surface and finally erupted. Just know this is a normal cycle of the ups and downs when you are mentally ill so don't feel like you did something wrong. I am sorry for you guys having to go through this. I hope peace finds its way into your sons mind.

  9. My heart goes out to you! We have been through the same thing! The only thing that has helped our sweet boy is his classical homeopath. It's been a near miracle! We went from a good day being that nothing was broken to being able to work through and problem solve before things escalate. I know there is no "one answer" but if you want more info, let me know.

  10. Thanks everyone for sharing your experience and what has worked for you. I appreciate what "In the Pink" has to share, that this is part of the illness, that there will be symptoms from time to time. I think I sometimes feel pretty discouraged when we have a set back, but he seems to get so much better after an episode that I need to focus on that, prior to his medication, we lived this 24/7, but now we only see it every once and a while.

    Like "In the pink" mentioned, I do believe the excitement and stress of the holidays have brought these symptoms out. The first ones appeared around Halloween, then there was the thanksgiving challenges and birthdays after that. It has been so much, a lot of it really good stuff, but all the excitement and changes in our schedules can be too much.

    There is such a thing as too much good. (I need to remember that)

    In the meantime, waiting for him to mature as Meg mentioned, trying to talk as little as possible when he is upset, and redirecting him is something I will continue to work on, along with checking out the resources mentioned above.

    Thanks for being there for me!

  11. Hi Sweetie - I'm sorry you're going through this. Lily's rages were typically short lived and infrequently directed towards physical attacks. I was so shocked and angry when that did happen, that I think I was able to get through to her. She's not used to seeing me when I'm very angry, so she experienced a bit of shock as well. But she was way smaller than me when that did happen, so I didn't fear that she'd hurt me, and then suffer from the shame and sadness that brings.

    She did enjoy being destructive with household objects though. I like Heathers idea about having go-to items that are OK to destroy. Maybe a bag of things from the dollar store or the goodwill that won't be dangerous?

    You're an amazing mom, so steady and loving. Are you able to talk about what happened afterwards? Can he hear you and empathize, taking ownership of his actions?

    There's a continuum of responsibility, even for the mentally ill, so that yes, they may be victims of emotions that cloud their reason, but learning through very small victories that sometimes they can gain control can be incredibly empowering.

    That doesn't mean they don't feel powerless during a rage, but I could see when Lily was feeding on the event and my reaction.

    If your son is able to feel powerful and proud when he reels in his actions, he may get better and better at it.

    I know you'll make progress here because you're so very dedicated to the well being of your son and your family.
    xxoo xxoo

  12. Thanks Lily,
    I agree that the bag of items for him to destroy is a good idea, but for us, it has never worked, my son has even said specifically that he has to destroy something “valuable”. I wonder if anyone else has experienced this.

    You bring up a good point about the continuum of responsibility, I hope in time he can gain better control.

  13. My don mostly does teh flight instead of the fight... I mean we have had plenty of fights and I think i perfer those to the flights he has run away from school several times.. including last week when they had to call the police and they ended up taking him to the er since the could not get him to descalate. once I restrain him he really does really calm down. it takes a good 10 min. but he hates it when i have to sit on top of him. And he we have been working on the flight action but its tough... so I he can leave out the house and take a break if need be but not go outside. we live in an apartment building so as long as he can sit on the staircase he ok... when he is calm he can rejoin us.

  14. Praying.....wish we had the big red easy button! Just remember,

    Psalm 34:18 (NIV)
    The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

    I have been leaning heavy on this verse over the last couple of months!!

  15. Boy, do I relate! We had a similar situation yesterday, and I tried some of the suggestions mentioned here, but nothing really worked. I offered my daughter a pillow to punch, stayed calm and tried not to engage with her, let her know there would be consequences, came up with a Plan B, etc. The rage just had to run its course. And I agree that the excitement of the holidays coupled with lots of special activities at school is a trigger for these kinds of explosions.