My now 8 year old son J went through a stage of hardly expressing emotion of any kind. It was hard to even get him to crack a smile. Even when he was hurt he would try to hold back his tears. It was really heartbreaking to see him repress his emotions in this way.
J also has a speech and language disorder, so he generally has a very difficult time expressing himself. He went from showing very little emotion, to being angry all the time, which often resulted in him being disrespectful, defiant and aggressive. Which was completely different from the quiet, well behaved little boy I had always known. Occasionally he would lash out at me, whilst it wouldn’t be anything too serious, I would pretend to cry, to give him a bit of a scare, to try to make him realise that his actions could really hurt someone, but he would never show any feeling or remorse. At this time J didn’t really show any kind of empathy for anyone an in any situation.
This went on for quite a while. It was an incredibly stressful time, especially as I didn’t really know how to deal with it properly. I tried the usual consequences of confiscating toys and time outs but this didn’t have any positive effect in regards to his behaviour, in fact it only made things worse. I would sometimes lose my temper and end up shouting at him, which again made everything much worse, as it would only escalate his outburst, and make me feel guilty and a failure as a parent.
After months of dealing with this I managed to speak to a paediatric psychologist and they suggested I go on a parenting course. This really annoyed me at the time, as the way I saw it was that it was my child who needed the help, not me, and I took it as a criticism against my parenting skills at the time. I didn’t see how my parenting was the problem, as my other child wasn’t having these issues. The course they referred me to is called The Triple P Positive Parenting Programme and whilst it is for parents, I would describe it more as a behavioural course. I was prepared to give it a try, as any help was better than no help at all. I have to say it was the best thing I ever did.
The course really changed my mindset, it made me look at the behaviours and the causes behind them. It gave me a real understanding of J’s difficulties and to what was really going on for him. It also gave me techniques on how to deal with his behaviour and outbursts. Not everything I learnt on the course worked out for us, and it won’t because every child is different, so I just took what I needed from it and used what I felt suitable for J and our family and it seems to be working.
Since doing the course, I have become a much calmer, patient and confident parent with both of the children and it seems to be having a great effect. (I will do a follow-up post really soon on the techniques used in the course).
In the last few months, J’s whole demeanor has changed, he is hardly aggressive at all anymore. He has the odd spat with his sister but no more than the usual sibling squabbles. He might impulsively react, when she is winding him up, but afterwards he gets really upset and is really sorry, he even tries to hug and kiss her, this is such a positive change in him. He is rarely ever disrespectful to me and I couldn’t even tell you the last time he lashed out. He’s putting his dishes in the sink, he’s picking up after himself. He is now generally a much better behaved and happier child, and a real joy to be around.
The anger and frustration J had before, appear to be replaced with tears. He gets tearful quite easily over little things, but I am pleased about this because he is letting out the emotion instead of letting it build up to explode into aggression. The violent outbursts were really hard to deal with, and most of the time, I would have to leave him in his room on his own until he calmed down. At least now I can comfort him and help him through the tears.
Mine and J’s relationship is much better now, he is opening up to me a lot more and is looking for hugs, kisses and general affection which something he hadn’t sought since he was really little.
These changes did not happen overnight in-fact things got worse before they got better, but it was worth sticking with it. I have been able to gradually withdraw some of the systems I had in place as J’s behaviour improved.
I can’t be sure what has caused such a dramatic change in J, but I really think the change in my demeanor and the way I am dealing with his frustrations have a role to play. It is hard to be told that something in your parenting needs to change, to help your child’s behaviour and it can feel like a criticism, but I have learnt that just because something needed to change, it didn’t mean I was a bad parent or that I was doing anything wrong. It just meant that I needed extra tools and ideas to help my son through the difficulties he was experiencing.
As mentioned before I will do a follow-up post on the techniques used on the course, but If you would like to find out more about the Triple P course in the meantime here a few links:
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