Raising a child who acts out violently is many things simultaneously: Stressful, sad, exhausting, terrifying, embarrassing and hopeless. But, unless the child is sociopathic or somehow beyond repair, a parent’s or caregiver’s love and effort can heal the child and create a stable home life.
1. NEVER respond with violence. Never. Most children who act out violently do it because they are behind developmentally, not because they are bad. Responding with violence will inflame the situation, injure relationships, and confuse and devastate the child further. Show this child constant and unconditional love while keeping clear boundaries and discipline.
I learned early on to keep my husband away from an explosive event. He’s naturally nonviolent, but the length of time our child could rage — up to 45 minutes at a time — pushed my husband’s patience to its limit. I had a better hold of my ego and anger so I took the reins of my child’s care during explosions.
2. Have a plan in place for the child’s outbursts. Devise a safe way to protect everyone from the child’s violence that also protects the child’s physical self and emotional dignity. The child doesn’t choose to explode; the child explodes when a situation is beyond what they can handle.
My safe place was a futon on a floor of a small room, where I could safely hold my child without anyone getting hurt. When he got older, I put him outside in our fenced-in yard and monitored him. As time went on the violence significantly lessened. Whenever the violence was finished, I held him close to communicate my love and support.
3. Ensure that the child is as physically healthy as possible. Strictly limit processed sugars, processed food and provide the best diet possible. A healthy brain can’t develop from food carrying no nutritional value, and a poor diet exacerbates bad behaviour. Whole, organic fats and best-quality fish and flax seed oils are believed to support a healthy brain. Limit screen time and be strict on a healthy sleep routine.
The evidence on whole food vs processed food for brain health is incontrovertible. I don’t allow junk food, processed food, or processed sugar in my family’s diet. It’s a drag. I hate organizing, preparing and cooking, but the role of processed food in all chronic illness can’t be ignored.
4. Don’t leave the child at a school where teachers or students don’t support her/him. All the love at home can’t counter peer or teacher bullying, destructive discipline by the school, or teacher neglect.
My child was variously bullied by a peer and neglected by a teacher. I decided to homeschool him, which I hate and devastated our family income, but gives his future a fighting chance.
5. Make sure this child gets lots and lots of quality exercise. Concussion-prone sports (football, hockey, soccer, boxing) are a bad idea for a child whose brain is struggling to develop.
I chose karate as my son’s sport. I like that it’s a whole-self sport that demands concentration and focus while being a physical outlet.
6. Don’t rely on diagnoses (ADHD, ODD, etc.) and psycho-pharmaceuticals to further the child’s actual development. Diagnoses and meds are not magic bullets, and are subject to the whims of psychiatric fashions and the for-profit drug marketplace. There’s no getting around it: This child needs real, human support in order to develop properly. Check and see if you have a CPS-trained therapist (http://www.livesinthebalance.
I didn’t have my son diagnosed because the evidence didn’t demonstrate that behaviour labels would effectively alter or improve his situation. I didn’t medicate him because the pharmaceuticals are prescribed off-label in a best-guess manner, have not been tested in children over the long-term, and include serious side effects. And I never lucked out with a CPS-trained therapist, so I avoided the rest.
7. Be patient and aware. This child may have overlapping issues, such as sensory hypersensitivity, which can be a trip wire for outbursts. Know your child well: This child isn’t making up hypersensitivities to touch, taste, sounds or sights. The child isn’t trying to be annoying. Hypersensitivities are very powerful.
My child was hypersensitive to certain clothing and clothing labels, certain sounds, certain light, many foods, and more. I regret now that I was insensitive, unaware, and easily irritated by what I wrongly viewed as his behaviour choices.
8. If you don’t have human support, then listen to the always-available online radio programs that Ross Greene, PhD, does with call-in parents just like us. http://www.livesinthebalance.
I was completely isolated in my experience, so I found massive comfort in listening to Greene’s online radio programs where I heard other wits’-end parents dealing with all of my same issues. Those programs saved some of my sanity!
9. As a parent or caregiver, you need to stay sane, well and healthy. Raising a child like this is a bit like being in a war zone. You need to know how to take good care of yourself and find methods you can rely on for your stress.
What keeps your brain from exploding? I watch dumb TV shows; I drink wine in moderation; I take lots of vitamins; and I need time alone. Need mani-pedis, nights out with friends, or jogging? Do it, whatever it is!
10. Hug this child all the time. The child is regularly humiliated, terrified and saddened by his or her own behaviours and by the reactions of others. You must be a safe island of love, warmth and hope for the child’s present moment and future.
I love, love, love, love my child. I say and demonstrate it all the time (to both my kids). I wasn’t raised like that at all but recognize that love is truly the best teacher and healer. I have one chance, in these few years that he’s under my wing, to fix this kid. I won’t lose my chance.