Deteriorating behaviour - increasingly violent

Report content

We adopted 3 siblings approx 18 months ago who are now aged 7, 5 and 4.

7 year old, difficult behaviour from the off, however we can talk to him, we can reason with him, and he has really engaged with his art therapy. Lots of worries for the future, but at present he is manageable.

4 year old, so far easy to manage. Testing boundaries, delayed in speech, poor attention span, but seems to be attaching to us and again, is at present manageable.

5 year old................ very delayed in speech and language, very slow to learn new tasks, can have a lovely sunny temperament, but also an awful temper which is getting increasingly worse. He has recently become concerned about where we will be when he goes to bed which we are taking as a good sign as he has not shown any concern previously on the rare occasions that we have had babysitter's round. He seems visibly relieved when we say that we aren't going anywhere or that just one of us is going out (either one) and the other is at home.

Obviously we have just been through a stressful time of year, and we did our very best to keep Christmas low key. Lots of pyjama and home days, interspersed with bike rides/walks. His behaviour however just fluctuates so much that we are becoming at a bit of a loss as to what to do. A few examples from the last week:

Playing trains with his younger brother. Lovely game, but inevitably 4 year old gets bored and says he's not playing anymore. 5 year old flips and throws a train at his head. Consequence - time in downstairs with me for 5 minutes.

Big bro comes in to tell me that the new fibre optic sensory light 5 year old received has been completely ripped apart. Ask him what happened, he said he threw it on the floor. Asked why he didn't tell us it had broken and he couldn't answer. Fixed it and gave it back to him telling him to go and put it on his shelf straight away, and that it's only to be used from there. Check his room 5 minutes later and he's again just thrown it on the floor so it's all come apart. He cries and says he should have put it away...... Consequence - it's not repaired again and instead taken away.

Big bro interrupts him and talks over him (as 7 year olds do) - he lunges at him from across the room, fists clenched and raised. He was intercepted and when asked what he was going to do he says 'hurt him because he talked over me'.

Today - has thrown his younger brothers car across the room and broken it. Says he did it on purpose but again, doesn't know why. Consequence - time in again.

We have had approval from the ASF for therapy for him, to hopefully start soon. But I'm just after suggestions on how to handle his temper? NOTHING seems to sink in or have any effect. Typing the scenarios out makes them seem more trivial but the general mood of the house is becoming affected by his temper that I thought i'd just reach for help on here.


1 user has supported this.

Hi there. Often trauma affects different children in different ways and in a sibling group you tend to find that each child behaves very differently. It's not necessarily due to their personalities or what specifically happened to them but rather it's a complicated way for the siblings to co-exist. And often you have one child doing all the anger for all of them, and if eg you remove that child from the family then one of the other children can start demonstrating anger instead. This is why, with a sibling group, it is best to have a family assessment for therapeutic interventions and not just work on the presenting child.

Do you think it's possible that the middle child has learning disabilities? Often this goes hand in hand with behavioural problems and it can be difficult to fix.

I guess I would treat the middle child as much younger and not leave him unsupervised at all. If he does sth like throw a train then he is calmly removed to spend time with you - not in a formal time in but eg sitting by you while you are doing whatever it is you are doing. Treat him like a toddler.

I would suggest you get him seen by a paediatrician to check for development conditions and also do some sensory integration work with him. You can see a professional sensory person or diy quite a lot from books and the Internet xx

5 users have supported this.

It's very tricky to manage as you need to be by his side almost all the time - so hard with 3. Two thoughts spring to mind - firstly please do read the book (bible!) The Explosive Child by Ross Green. Whatever the cause of your middle child's behaviour, this book offers some immediate practical (and none punitive) strategies and will also remind you that you are not alone.

Secondly, can you have 'special time' alone with your middle child? Maybe go to a park together etc (Wonderful to do this with all 3, separately, but for now discreetly prioritise time with him). This may allow you to have some precious positive times with him where nothing negative happens (partly because with just one you can spot and instantly divert from any potential issues) and also takes the pressure of sibling living away from him for a while. Therapy sounds like it's needed - really glad you have this in the pipeline.

2 users have supported this.

When I read your post I thought to myself that perhaps the response to seeing things broken or low level violence such as this should be “Aww! Never mind, come in let’s do something else”. Remember he is getting your attention every time he does something that you react to. Why not try picking him up and holding him on your hip for a while and giving him an extra cuddle every now and again when he doesn’t expect it. It makes the attention and an incident separate events.

Sounds a lot like my DS at that age, he was diagnosed with ADHD age 6.

Be the first user to support this

I too wondered about the possibility of ADHD. It would be worth checking this out.


Lily x

Be the first user to support this

Your 5yo sounds very similar to my 6yo, fluctuating between loveliness and explosive temper, and it's a very difficult mix to manage - swinging from love to despair as their mum is hard.

I was really stuck for a while, then recently went to the Scottish attachment conference and it was a huge help to me in managing situations, not least because it reminded me that we're not alone, and that we're not failing at parenting these children or letting them down, but reminded me that it's not behaviour, it's emotional need. Behavioural strategies don't really work for that reason. I find that time in doesn't really work with our boy, because he gets so dysregulated so fast and it spirals quickly, and he gets to a point where he can't safely manage a time in, he can't cope with the closeness of it. He does alot of odd aggressive things at times, breaks things, tantrums etc, and although we're much better at getting to the bottom of things now after 3 years, there are just times when they don't know why they did something, so no point asking - they live in fight/flight/freeze mode and nothing moves to the higher function levels.

I obviously have no idea what the background of your children is, but I'd wonder if there was neglect - according to attachment theory, often children react and respond in this way because they (unconsciously) perceive their needs are not or might not be met, or they might be forgotten about (that's not a comment on your parenting, it's their wee hyper vigilant brains) . And when they become dysregulated, or there's stress, or excitement (which their wee system can't differentiate from fear because it's all just adrenalin) this becomes hyper sensitive and 'normal' interactions are all seen through this scary filter for them.

Ignoring things doesn't work in the way it would for securely attached children. Seeing attention given or time in as rewarding the things he does, I'd try not to look at it that way, because that leaves you stuck - one of the most helpful things that conference taught me was to see it as an inability to express an emotional need/hurt that's been triggered, and that they've gone into their trauma response. So the goal for me then becomes about helping my dysregulated child become regulated again. My goal isn't to punish him or shame him about what has happened, and when they're in a place where they've gone all 'right brained', you cannot reason or rationalise with them anyway - you can't teach them, because they can't learn - the brain chemistry just won't allow it. Once they're calm and regulated, you can talk about what happened, and lovingly reinforce how you want people in your family to treat each other etc. It was a huge epiphany for me to prioritise regulating our boy, rather than the traditional position of discipline or consequences or time in, which are the strategies we're primed to employ.

Interestingly there's a theory that these types of children don't only have attachment issues, but sensory issues too, and they often get misdiagnosed as adhd. Whether that's the case, I don't know, but reframing it the way I've explained above helped us with our child's aggressive explosive behaviour, and it's definitely helped him. We implemented some of the strategies this theory suggests (encourage climbing, hanging upside down, digging, pushing, pulling activities). There are a couple of good books on the brain theory - the whole brained child is a good one,and I got a good one called living sensationally on the sensory stuff.

I'm sorry this has been so long a post, and obviously this is just my opinion and experience. Whatever way you choose to manage it, you'll be doing your best for your children, and you'll be doing a great job.

3 users have supported this.

Thank you all. Some really helpful comments. And thankfully, all things that have already crossed my mind, so they have made me feel a lot less lost!

Be the first user to support this