Challenging Behaviour – Anger, Violence & Destruction.
Challenging, angry violent and destructive behaviour has been a big problem for us over the years with huge meltdowns. Someone recently asked how I had managed to get things under control. I quipped a reply that ‘We haven’t!’ However, the question did make me reflect on how this kind of behaviour has actually improved at home.
Please don’t think I am being smug. We still have regular meltdowns, that sometimes last for two hours. These tend to be caused by things outside my control. Things that happen at school, at brownies, in the park, siblings saying the wrong thing, sensory issues, hunger and tiredness are all triggers that sometimes I can’t control.
So here are some of the steps I have taken over the last few years to work towards a calmer home…
I read a brilliant book called ‘The Red Beast‘.
The Red Beast is an angry monster who lives inside everyone. Sometimes he is small, but when he gets big, he takes over. The Red Beast has small ears (so he can’t hear) and a big mouth (that shouts very loudly). The book explains anger in a very uncritical way and helps children tame their own Red Beast. There is also a really helpful section for parents about how to help and some fabulous tips and techniques.
It describes in a really child-friendly way how anger can take over and how to stay in control. We implemented some of the techniques suggested, including making a ‘red beast box’. The box contains a small snack and a drink. Children are often thirsty after a meltdown and the food helps raise blood sugar in case hunger has been a trigger. It also contains: bubble wrap for popping, squeezy stress balls & a room spray (a calming scent).
We made a safe place. A kind of secret corner or den and explained that this was a safe place to go to if she felt the angry feelings coming. She was allowed to go there whenever she needed and that she would not be forced to come out. An egg timer was used for her to choose an amount of time that she felt she needed to calm down. We role played coming out and re-joining everyone else. I stressed that she could join back in with no fuss and no comments from anyone, which was reassuring for her. I also used some small lights, like stars that project on the ceiling to watch. Some people put in lava lamps or colour changing ball lights. The ‘red beast box’ went in the safe place den.
I have read somewhere that you are the child’s mirror in how you react after a meltdown. If you are very sympathetic and fuss, you reinforce the behaviour. If you are angry with them, this makes the child feel bad and affects their self-esteem. I have found the best reaction is to check they are o.k., a quick hug (if that’s tolerated), maybe a comment like ‘well done for calming down’, then carry on with what you were doing. The time for discussing the behaviour is later.
She needed to ‘get the angry out’ somehow, so a punchbag with karate-style (softer) boxing gloves is now installed in her room. Using this has helped (although not entirely succeeded) in preventing the destruction and throwing of anything in her path during meltdowns. She has also stopped deliberately scratching gloss paint off around the house when angry.
During a meltdown it is so important to remain calm yourself, no matter how much you feel like crying or shouting. I found that talking in a very quiet voice helps to minimise sensory overload and using very few words was better. When hitting other people does happen, I simply say ‘hands/feet down, no hitting/kicking’ and prompt her (take her!) to go to her safe place.
Sometimes it takes two days for her to be able to discuss an incident without being instantly angry all over again. It takes a great deal of time for her to process what happened. After a meltdown we are all walking on eggshells as the most minor thing can trigger another. Comic Strip Conversations are a great, visual way of explaining what happened and other people’s points of view, when the time is right.
We are working through the anger management book ‘Volcano in my Tummy’ which has some very useful anger rules. These are:
It’s ok to feel angry BUT..
- Don’t hurt others
- Don’t hurt yourself
- Don’t hurt property
DO talk about it
We also work with the book ‘The Incredible Five Point Scale‘. In in simplest form, it is a visual chart going from green to red which we all stick our names on at various levels to let everyone else in the house know how we are feeling. Green is ‘Everything is ok, I feel calm relaxed and happy’ Orange is ‘I am starting to feel as though I might shout or hurt someone. Angry feelings’ and Red is ‘I have lost control. I am shouting and hurting people, a grown up will help me get to my safe place so I can calm down’
More recent strategies to help her feel calm at home are a visual timetable, which lets everyone know what they will be doing, and when. There are also several charts around the house showing everyone the order that things will happen. For example, in the bathroom there is a chart with various stickers showing our names and whether ‘hair wash’ is needed. I add the stickers in the order of turn in the bathroom and add hair wash stickers if necessary.
We use a traffic light system to help talk abut the school day. She has a small notebook, with various sections of the day listed. (before school, going into school, 1st part of the morning, playtime, 2nd part of the morning, lunchtime etc) At the end of the day she puts a red, orange or green dot next to each section. Doing this helps her to separate all the feelings about her day, then we talk about the bad bits and the good bits (This afternoon was green because we have an I.T. lesson and I sat next to ‘X’). It also helps to clear her mind before bed.
As with all things, I can not simply say, ‘we have this sorted now’ and forget it. As she grows, new challenges present themselves which require new techniques. Two things I am planning to try in the near future are:
To make a Glitter Jar together.
And to try a Tae-Kwondo classes. I am in two minds about this. I am scared that Tae-Kwondo may be used when she is in a meltdown to really hurt someone. However, she is also very rule-orientated and it is firmly enforced that Tae-Kwondo is for self-defence. I am hoping it will help to get rid of anger in a constructive way!
Finally, the best thing I have done, is to help educate my daughter about her condition. Once she realised that Asperger’s Syndrome described her, she has been happier, calmer, less angry and with fewer meltdowns.
We still have good days and horrendous days and days in-between. We still have big long meltdowns and mini-meltdowns, but slowly as she learns control, the anger, violence and destructiveness is fading. I will address the causes of meltdowns in my next blog.
What other techniques do you use to help calm your child, both during meltdowns and in the long term? Let us know, new techniques are always appreciated…..