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We have 4 kids, aged 9, 6, 4 and 20 months. boy, girl, boy girl. The nine year old boy is in general a delightful, well-behaved, kind and considerate boy. Sometimes he becomes so overwhelmed by his emotions that he spirals out of control and becomes inconsolable.

It sometimes begins with some kind of mild but disrespectful remark which my partner or I let him know is not tolerated. This often escalates immediately into him being flung into a rage complete with stomping, etc.

In other cases the raging fit is triggered by one of his siblings pestering him.

In either case we normally send him to his room until the rage turns into crying. That usually signals that he has become consolable. Because it seems so obvious to us that he is having feelings that are just beyond his capacity to handle we try to let him know he's not in trouble it's just that the rest of us aren't going to be around the raging fit.

This happens a couple of times per week, and has been for some years. His teachers do not report this behavior at school. His report cards and conferences indicate positive behavior.

My questions are: Can I stop this? Should I? How do I get to the bottom of it? Should I do something differently? Does anyone have a magical spell that will fix this?

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4 Answers 4

up vote 8 down vote accepted

Sorry, no magic spell. Sending him to his room until he can be spoken too is great. Once you can speak to him give him the words for his emotions. 'I know you are frustrated because..." "I know you are upset because you feel bad for your behavior" etc. Different behavior at school and at home is common (I find that both as a teacher and a parent). It may be that he is holding it together at school until he gets home and feels comfortable enough to express his feelings (does he do it more often after school?) Have you spoke with the pediatrician? It seems that this has been going on for a while so I recommend that as well.

Good luck at keeping YOUR temper. Love him, care for him, and, when appropriate, discipline him even if you know what is coming afterward.

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I found the book The Male Brain helpful for understanding my sons' behavior.

One thing I remember in particular is to expect a behavioral shift around 9 years, as a boy starts asserting his own authority (by making decisions and accepting consequences, a marker of self-confidence). He stops identifying as a little kid, wants to join adult or older child groups, and rejects associations with smaller kids in an attempt to demonstrate that he is ready to be an adult.

Because of his inexperience, his choices are sometimes wrong, but now he knows he is responsible for his decisions. At this stage in his life, he must learn to deal with disappointment, anger, and embarrassment as a result of his own choices ("All the kids are laughing at me for wearing this stupid shirt") where in the past, he may have been able to pass that responsibility off on someone else ("Mom made me wear this stupid shirt, so it's her fault the kids at school laughed at me").

Because asserting his will means asserting his independence, this time of life often means conflicts between father and son, as a boy simultaneously models his father's behavior and rejects his father's authority in favor of greater autonomy. In other words, the boy wants to act like a man, and can feel like his parents' rules treat him like a baby who can't make his own decisions.

It sounds like you have done a great job raising your son, and the most likely trigger for his rages are embarrassment and feeling childish. It may help to explicitly tell him that you know what it is like to feel enraged sometimes, and explain what you do to help tame that behavior. If he hears from you that even grownups must deal with feelings like his, and that it is not an easy thing to do, it may help him feel less like a "baby" for getting upset. At the same time, it will give him tools for communicating his feelings and coping with them.

Lastly, spending some one-on-one time with him may help, particularly if you can help him feel that you respect him and are proud of the man that he is growing into. It may be that he is upset because he is treated like a kid (even though he is one) since he is the oldest and always has to do baby things because none of the other kids is old enough to do real grownup stuff.

I think it is very good that you respect his feelings, even when he is raging, and I hope your communication after the fits is equally respectful and loving. It sounds like you are a very kind and considerate parent, and that goes a long way toward having a kind and considerate child.

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It's hard to say what could cause it. Hormones. Stress. Tired. Frustrations at school. Lifestyle changes. Or perhaps a chemical imbalance of some sorts. A trip to a psychologist might be worth it just to get a professional opinion.

FWIW, our youngest does this when they are over-tired.

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You may want to consider taking him to an expert for some therapy. My son, who is generally loving and well-behaved, was having similar problems (albeit at a younger age). He benefited greatly by seeing a specialist once a week.

One of the big benefits of working with a professional was not only what he got out of the sessions, but also that we were able to get advice on what we could do as parents for his specific case. Lastly, because in my son's case his issues DID bleed into his school-life, we had a great advocate when it came to dealing with a difficult administrator.

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