My girlfriend of two years has an 11-yearold son who is completely out of hand. She and I both are at our wits end trying to help him or figure out his behavior or correct it. Today she got our fourth phone call in two weeks from school.

The problems with his behavior are:

  • outbursts
  • talking back
  • refusal to do school work (both at school and at home)
  • violence
  • yelling/screaming

If you can name the misbehavior he probably does it... he had been like this since I've known him and my understanding from her is this has pretty much always been an issue. My first thought was that there was a lack of discipline, but I don't really think that's it. Other then the fact that my girlfriend gives up after she tells him to do something fifteen times and he does not. In her defense she is a very tiny, petite woman and he is as big as her and quite honestly doesn't respect her or anyone else for that matter.

We have tried everything - punishments including taking away video games, TV, cell phone, made him stand in the corner, grounded him to his room. We've also tried medical interventions. He was on ADHD medicine which didn't seem to help, wet got him into counseling and they switched him to an antidepressant because they said ADHD wasn't the problem. I forget exactly the name they gave it, but basically he is angry all the time, wakes up that way, goes to bed that way had a smart ass attitude, back talking, and complete disrespect all day long.

If it was up to me I would say acceptance but he is like that with literally everyone. I have to control myself on a daily basis not to take him across my knee and give a good ol' fashion spanking, and if I honestly thought that would help I would but think we are beyond that.

After being in trouble this week for putting his hands on another kid yet again he will probably be suspended from school. His mother can't handle him. I can't handle him. Counseling doesn't seem to be helping him, mainly because he thinks the counselor is wrong by telling him he had to listen to the adults, I charge.

Any ideas would help. I don't believe in giving up on a kid but I don't know what else to do. We have tried everything, even risk/reward stuff the counselor had suggested. He is the only kid I know who you can take him places and give him things he wants and he will still be mad at the world and if someone else is having a good time, he tries to ruin it for everyone older it'd seems. He is truly troubled in done way and nothing we do makes it any better.

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    Has anyone really tried to dig into it with him and find out what he is so unhappy about? Unhappy people often act in ways that demonstrate that. Likewise happy people also act in ways reflecting that. Some are good at hiding the way they really feel too...but you don't get happy people acting so aggressively and disruptively. That is a sure sign he is absolutely unhappy. It needs to be figured out in order to find a way through it. – threetimes Oct 5 '17 at 17:31
  • Sorry look like someone took care of the edit for me. Thanks English and grammar was never my strong suit. – Carter Smith Oct 5 '17 at 23:04
  • Yes we ha e set down and talked to him and tried to dig deep into it, but you can't nail down any one specific thing... everything makes him mad... he wakes up mad in the morning... that is the main reason we took him to counseling was in hopes that they could glean some light on it... it's a never ending cycle, we have tried everything the counselor has suggested, everything anyone has suggested... and nothing... he wakes up ticked goes to school that way then storms into the house angrily tossing things around...and so on so forth til bed, rinse repeat... – Carter Smith Oct 5 '17 at 23:07
  • Was just informed by my girlfriend that apparently he punched a kid in the arm at school yesterday.... a kid with a cast on his arm to boot. Supposedly the kid said he could.. but it got teachers attention and the perants attention as there was a police report on the matter in the newspaper today.... so now it looks like he might be getting ho.self in trouble with the law... Was hoping to get it all under control before it went this far.. – Carter Smith Oct 5 '17 at 23:09
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    I have to ask - how long has his dad been out of the picture? Also - does he do any sports after school? – MAA Oct 8 '17 at 0:07

I have a few suggestions/thoughts, and I hope you find them useful.

Sometimes when kids have been subjects in need of "help" over a long period of time, they start to feel like there's something "wrong" with them. This makes them defensive and resistant to help attempts. Maybe try talking to him like this: "We love you, and we want you to have a happy life. One of our jobs as your parents (sub other word if you want) is to help you figure out how to do that. To help you find the things that make you happy, and give you the opportunity to do them. If you can think of something that you'd like to try out - whether it's music, or a sport, or martial art, or something academic - we want to give you he chance to dive into it. And if you don't know, we can help you explore what's out there to do."

Once he picks something (which hopefully he will do), set him up with a 3 month (or one season if it's a team sport) trial period so he can get a sense of whether it's really for him. But in exchange for you guys paying for whatever it is and driving him etc, he's not allowed to quit until the 3 months are over :)

I would strongly suggest that you encourage him towards some kind of physical activity - they say it again and again, and it's really true: regular exercise massively improves your day-to-day emotional state, as well as your sense of self-worth. If he's got friends who play a team sport, see if he can get on their team (soccer and basketball are great at that age). If he's not a team player, try showing him some cool videos of people who do individual sports (diving, freediving, track and field stuff, gymnastics, parkour, martial arts...)

On a different note, while it may not seem relevant because his dad has been out of the picture for "a long time," I will say that my son's dad was absent for some months recently, and he (my son) had occasions where he displayed signs of pent-up rage, and I don't think he really understood why. I can't imagine that any competent psychotherapist would have failed to talk about that being a possible source of his behavioral problems, but from your description it sounds like it is possible after all that it hasn't come up. Maybe he's primarily been seeing psychiatrists, not psychotherapists? My suggestion: therapy is a good thing, but NOT if the focus is "correcting" the child's behavior. The focus should be helping both the child and you understand the behavior - what is the cause of his negative feelings? What "reward" does he get by misbehaving? (Because when there is no reward for a behavior, you stop doing it - ergo there is some kind of reward. It could be an increased feeling of control, for example.)

Final thought: I was about his age when my parents got divorced and my new step-mom moved in. To be fair, the situations are completely different because my mom was still in the picture (just not at my dad's house), and my step-mom was bat s*%# crazy. But I will say that she never took the time to build a relationship with me, or to earn my trust. She just started right in making rules and edicts and expecting them to be followed. The result was that I battled her on everything for five years before I finally walked out and never came back. Kids need to have the adults in their lives earn their trust by being fair and consistent and reliable, and by having those adults take an interest in them as autonomous individuals, and not just as subordinates that they have to manage as part of their job.

I don't know how much of this you have tried already, but I hope I've given you something new to consider/try. Good luck :)

  • You are right and that is what his counselor and psychiatrist has been trying to figure out and that is what we have been trying to understand for me for the last two years for my gf much longer... – Carter Smith Oct 10 '17 at 2:47
  • Maybe he really feels like a total failure. Could you just leave him be for a while. It would release pressure from all of you. Maybe just a week or two. No rules. No punishment. Maybe when there are school holidays. – Korinna Oct 13 '17 at 9:00

I have to partly agree with @pojo-guy about the neurologist but I would first advise you to see a psychiatrist.

I am a psychiatrist and although I don't dare to offer any advice in this context, since the symptoms you describe can be the result of numerous pathological and psychological issues, I believe a psychiatrist can steer you in the right direction.

A psychiatrist (not psychologist) might be a bit on the pricey end but they can really help shed some light on your problems.

  • Many psychiatrists are also neurologists – pojo-guy Oct 9 '17 at 12:26
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    @pojo-guy - What country are you in? This is absolutely not the case in the US. The training is similar to a certain degree but they veer off in wildly different directions, and to be both would increase one's residency by at least two years. Most psychiatrists refer even the most minor aspects of neurology to a neurologist. Neurology is not their field. (Frankly, I can't think of a good reason to be both, what they do is so different.) – anongoodnurse Oct 9 '17 at 14:52
  • USA. The neurologist I am visiting is also a psychiatrist, for example. What they do is deal with malfunctions of the brain, so it is a very natural fit. – pojo-guy Oct 9 '17 at 15:18
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    @pojo-guy - No, not really. Psychiatrists deal with disorders of the mind. If the disorder of the mind is caused by a physical problem, it's off to a neurologist they go. In addition, neurologists earn their bread and butter from migraines, epilepsy, dizziness, strokes, entrapment syndromes, Parkinson's, Alzheimers/all types of dementia, tremors of all kinds, MS, ALS, sympathetic dystrophies, neurogenic syncope, etc, etc. I know many psychiatrists. I know some neurologists. I know MD PhDs. I know MD JDs. I know not one - nor have I ever known - a psychiatrist who was also a neurologist. – anongoodnurse Oct 12 '17 at 16:53
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    @pojo-guy - I'm not sure you really understood the article. In any case, there is a specialty called neuroscience. Perhaps you're thinking of this. – anongoodnurse Oct 13 '17 at 2:55

Maybe school is the problem. You didn't mention what type of school he goes to but a lot of people are having amazing results with either Waldorf schools, home schooling or un schooling. Maybe he would be happier out of school learning things he is actually interested in. Possibly getting excited about learning and doing things he loves to do. Maybe ask him to really think about what makes him or might make him happy. Hobbies, sports, vacation of his choice etc. Is there anything he is excited about learning wise? If he could do anything in the world that he loved to do what would that be? When you are doing what you love happiness is easy, staying mad or sad or angry all the time takes work.

  • He goes to public school. And the problem seems to be across the board, I would think if it was scho causing the issue in the summer and what. It he would be better but that is not the case... – Carter Smith Oct 8 '17 at 15:01

(Apologies if this would have been more appropriate as a comment)

Some things to think about:

Has anyone asked him how he FEELS about being angry all the time? Or if he regrets how he lashes out? If he WANTS to be less angry and volatile? How does HE feel about counselling? Does he WANT help? Does he know what it is like to not feel angry all the time?

I ask because occasionally I will wake up in what I describe as a "funk". I feel grumpy and "off" all day, lash out at my husband and grouch at those around me without meaning to. Then I'm grumpier than before because I'm now also annoyed at myself for lashing out. I'm generally aware of it when I'm in a "funk" and really dislike it, but have a VERY hard time pulling myself out of it. Thankfully it will only ever last up to a day and a good night's sleep cures it. (on that note, is he sleeping properly? Poor sleep can really mess up a person's mood) I can't imagine what it would be like to live in a "funk". If he has been angry for as long as your question implied, then it is possible that he no longer remembers what it is like to NOT be angry, and that is really sad.

See a neurologist. They will be able to tell you if there is a definite underlying biological cause (or not). Traumatic brain injuries can be asymptomatic for years, then manifest as bizarre changes in behavior (including what you describe). If there is an underlying biological issue, then counseling and punishment in a knowledge vacuum is wasted time because he will not have normal reactions. For example, I exhibit the symptoms of alexithymia (root cause is undetermined as of yet). I am physiologically incapable of recognizing or reacting to normal social stimuli without lengthy analysis. Unless the root cause is determined to be blood pressure relayed, no medications can change the underlying issue.

Likewise, if he is unable to identify a biological root to the behavior, then it validates continuing on the counselling path (although failure to identify a biological cause does not definitively rule one out).

Check into the availability of SPECT brain scan. It will identify if there is a section of the brain that is not functioning. Sorry my only link is a supplier, so it is likely to be self serving. http://www.amenclinics.com/the-science/18-ways-spect-can-help/

  • That may be something worth checking into.. I will talk to my girlfriend about it – Carter Smith Oct 8 '17 at 14:54
  • I don't mind the minuses, but a comment why the minuses would be helpful not only to me but to potential viewers. Thanks :D – pojo-guy Oct 9 '17 at 20:15

I have seen children who are traumatised behave in a similar manner. Very much worth looking into the effect of trauma on childhood behaviour, because the school industry will often recommend drugs, which won't sort out the trauma (if there is any) and merely mask its effects until the child is old enough to really cause damage to himself or someone else, by which point the brain is too developed for a quick fix.

I strongly recommend some therapy to see if there's anything going on. Children don't want to be naughty; there's always reasons. I hope you can get it sorted; the education system too often writes off children who are perfectly fine, but either have trauma or something else is going on and then they spend their entire lives believing they're a failure.

  • Per the OP, the patient is already seeing a therapist and a psychiatrist. Do you have any other advice to offer? – anongoodnurse Oct 12 '17 at 16:58
  • True, however given the quote "Counseling doesn't seem to be helping him, mainly because he thinks the counselor is wrong by telling him he had to listen to the adults" it doesn't seem to indicate the counsellor is trauma trained. The child doesn't want to be naughty, but isn't listening to adults and that's how they are coping with life at the moment. – David Boshton Oct 17 '17 at 9:11

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