6 Ways You’re Wrong About My Violent Child
by Liz Sydney
I’m the mother of a son, 11, who started to explode with violence in late toddlerhood, as soon as most other toddlers start to fall into line with adult requests and demands. I’ve worked with him for eight years now, to teach the behaviors that his brain was late to develop.
Violent kids are one of the last remaining social taboos, and they suffer tragically as a result. Violent kids are not one single monolithic type; they need to be separated by what’s motivating their behavior. We all benefit when myths are discarded and awareness increases about the realities of these kids. I’d like to dispel some popular myths about the type of child I have, one who is simply lagging in some key areas of development:
1. You think my son is probably violent because he came from a home of prenatal substance abuse, violence, substance abuse, and neglect. Wrong.
We are a healthy, normal, fully functioning family with an older sibling who developed normally. We have a nonviolent home, marriage and family and clear boundaries. We are expected to treat each other with love and respect. When I saw that my second child’s behavior was amiss I began to read and research. He had no other issues except intermittent, explosive rages tied directly to moments too stressful for him to handle. Over time, I understood that his rages were directly related to brain development. He was behind in developing the abilities to be flexible, to be patient, to handle frustration, and to solve problems. So I began to work on his issues with him.
2. You think my son is a sociopath who might torture animals and may one day murder people. Wrong.
Kids like mine are not secretive, sadistic, unemotional or manipulative. My son is in every way the opposite of those tendencies. These kids rage and explode impulsively. Some can bottle their frustration until they are home; others explode everywhere. None choose to explode. Sociopathy is an extreme pathology with nothing in common whatsoever with my son’s developmental issues, which are expressed very openly and spontaneously.
3. You think my son is stupid and mean. Wrong.
My son has developed normally in every way except in how he reacts to his frustration and real-life problem-solving. He is a smart, funny little boy with his own talents and quirks, just like your child. He is kind, highly empathetic, oversensitive, and very social.
4. You think my son should receive corporal punishment to teach him the acceptable way to behave. Wrong.
I am committed to nonviolent parenting and nonviolent education. Violence against a child teaches nothing and injures further. Schools and institutions with destructive discipline methods do great and lasting harm to these children, who do not rage purposefully but out of lack of impulse control. Corporal punishment and brutal discipline do not further a child’s development; these barbaric methods only succeed in devastating a child’s dignity and emotional health.
Children who are slow to develop impulse control and self-regulation are more saddened, embarrassed, and angered at their own overreactions than anyone else. They don’t choose to rage and are full of regret and shame. Society does great harm by treating these children like criminals for reactions they can’t control.
5. You think I’m a terrible parent when you see my son rage in a public place. Wrong.
A child raging openly in public is simply a child who cannot deal with the demands of the moment, just like you or I might curse out loud at the driver who cut us off in traffic if our nerves are already frayed. Out in public the parent and child are at their most vulnerable and miserable. Please suspend your judgment and your accusatory glances.
6. You think my son is probably a school bully. Wrong.
Just the opposite. Kids like this are often sensitive to the slightest humiliations and can be set off very easily. As such, they make perfect targets for bullies, who enjoy a hypersensitive child’s overreaction and the havoc that follows. My child is acutely sensitive to his own feelings and to the feelings of others. He hates to be hurt and to hurt others.
Two of my favorite references for this subject are: The Explosive Child by Ross Greene, PhD (Harper 2010), and Calm, Alert and Learning: Classroom Strategies for Self-Regulation by Stuart Shanker, PhD (Pearson Education Canada 2012). My favorite website is Ross Greene, PhD’s non-profit website full of hands-on help, information and even a library of pre-taped, call-in radio programs where he helped parents one-on-one over the phone: http://www.livesinthebalance.org/
Liz Sydney blogs at OurViolentChild.wordpress.com