I was very happy to receive the most eloquent and intelligent comment by a reader who said he works as a licensed clinical social worker working with vulnerable young people. He asked very pointed and specific questions about how I handled the particulars of my child’s violence. Nobody has ever asked me those questions, nor ever engaged me in a conversation about it.
So I thought I would revisit my “Post 3 — Ages Three-to-Five…Rages Three-to-Five”, which was about how I controlled (to use a term loosely) and experienced my son’s violence when it first emerged, and continue that thought.
A Child’s Dignity
My guiding instinct has always naturally been to protect my son’s dignity. Firstly, he’s deeply wounded by perceived humiliation — perhaps a feature of the sensory hypersensitivity — and, secondly, I knew at the base of my being that he wasn’t wanting or trying to hurt anyone, or manipulate us, or act out; all the psychology/psychiatry industry clichés. So, if he wasn’t deliberately wreaking havoc then he was swept up by his own absence of self-control. How humiliating for him!
When he was small, I restrained him as gently as is possible under such circumstances, and then tried to safeguard his shredded dignity with a long and warm cuddle. Love and attachment had to be repeatedly re-established But by ages six-to-nine (approximately) he was bigger and stronger. At a certain point I was unable to restrain him without collateral damage to something or someone, so my default emergency was to exile him, kicking, thrashing and screaming out the door into our small protected, fenced-in yard. We live in a mild, maritime climate, and although he hated being pitched outside it posed less danger than engaging in violence with us inside.
I had long since seen that his rages had a wind-up, motor-driven quality and that he could be safely unwound in 20- to 40-or-so minutes. It wasn’t as simple as it may look in print. War is one thing to read on the page in a quiet room from a comfy chair; it’s another thing entirely to be a soldier in battle. I tried to leave the door unlocked but he would return into the house, still raging. I’d have to force him back out repeatedly and lock him out.
Sometimes he threw garden tools at the big window on the door, or hit the glass with implements. I only cared if he banged his head on the glass, or if he could break the glass and be injured. These years were difficult, but I still searched for the least punitive and safest response.
A Caregiver’s Love
When you LOVE the raging child you have as much interest in protecting him as restraining him. You see beyond a wild explosion and into his future. How to protect a future? How to shape this wild thing into a happy, functioning person? During those years I couldn’t imagine how he would not be in jail by seventeen. So I didn’t care if something got broken or if I got hurt. Ego makes people angry and want to hurt the child in return. My love for him erased my ego. It’s a psychologically/mentally/spiritually simple and complex affair.
As soon as the rage was over, no matter what age he was, I embraced him for a long time in order to communicate my love, so he wouldn’t experience more shame and humiliation in the aftermath of the rage. He was already super-sensitive to humiliation. Safeguard dignity, safeguard dignity. We were both exhausted. Life went on. I hugged him a lot because he needed it. I hug him a lot today not because he still rages violently, but because he just needs closeness, cuddling and love.
My heart breaks for the children who aren’t protected like I protect mine. All other restraints and controls in home or public settings are isolating at very best, and are based on exercising power and dominance at worst. The kid will always lose and always be damaged further, either psychologically, physically, or both.