“My son does fine in school; no problems there with either grades or behavior. When he gets home, however, all that changes. As soon as he walks in the front door, he becomes upset and angry. He yells and screams at me over nothing. What’s going on? What do I do?”
For certain, the scenario described by the mother sends up one huge, red flag. If he’s completely appropriate in one environment (school), yet out of control in another environment (home), that is significant.
Is this boy behaviorally hanging on by his fingernails to survive the school day only to unravel when he makes it to his front door, or does he disrespect his mother so much he believes he’s entitled to treat her any way he wants whenever he wants?
Like so many things in life, the correct answer to the question lies somewhere between these two extremes.
In the few moments I had with this mother before the facility turned the lights out on us, I shared how it seemed like the coming-home-from-school-and-through- the-doorway scene had worked itself into a dysfunctional “dance” of sorts. At some point, the time, the place and the behavior became something both of them expected to happen. And, sure enough, it did!
Altering the Steps
For starters, I challenged her to interrupt their interactive pattern by meeting her son in the front yard with a cold drink or by walking with him from the bus to the back door of the house. The point of interventions like these would be for Mom to alter the steps that had been leading them both to the same old explosions. Behaviors that had become almost automatic would become less so because the new steps are less familiar. It’s tough to do the same old thing when the dance steps have changed.
Note also that the two suggestions I gave Mom had her meeting her son outside rather than inside. Consider how the boy might not be so quick to blast his mother if they were outdoors.
Extra Eyes and Ears
Even the most obvious interventions to problem behaviors are difficult for parents and teachers to seen when they are experiencing the grief up close. Objectivity and reason are difficult to practice when one is frustrated and entangled in the steps leading right up to the problem. It’s a good idea to discuss it with another person and get input from another pair of eyes and ears.
Like I said, this would be for starters. Even if Mom were to accomplish this “interruption” with positive results, it wouldn’t necessarily mean everything’s going to fall magically in place. There could be deeper issues that will take some time and assistance to address completely and effectively.
A nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters, and his skill for sharing it. He the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet radio program supporting young people and their families, and every month he publishes The Changing Behavior Digest, offering tips on managing difficult children and teens. Both resources (and others) are available at no cost through his website.