Unhinged Kid

3 Feb

Letterbalm Tantrum BoyDear LetterBalm: My lifelong friend has a three-year-old deranged child. I don’t say this lightly. The boy runs amok. He runs around screaming, jumping on furniture, throwing anything in reach, pulling down chairs, until somebody grabs him. Then, he screams until his mother gives him a treat. I have seen him tease and choke the family cat, shriek at other kids, hit and scratch them and throw tantrums in public. He has explosive, uncontrollable anger and is rarely quiet. Through all this, my friend is oblivious. She acts unconcerned, even when I try to keep calm and say something about his behavior. It’s gotten to the point where other parents have made excuses not to hang out with her and her kid. She’s a single mom, so maybe she’s overwhelmed. How can I reach her without coming across as judgmental or a know-it-all?

–Terrified of Tantrums

You must take a deep breath and wade into a dicey situation likely to bite you. Ms. L.B. is talking about parents who don’t take kindly to friends who criticize their children. (You didn’t say if you’re a parent. If you aren’t, be prepared for even more pushback.) But you have one asset: your long friendship with the little terror’s mom. Consider how unhappy your friend and her child are. He doesn’t understand his anger, and she cannot rein him in. His anger can affect his ability to make friends and thrive in school and, eventually, in work and adult relationships. The time for worrying about hurt feelings is over. Invite your friend for coffee, without her son, and tell her something like this:

Heidi, you and I are friends for life, and we’re both glad of that. We’ve been there for each other. Because of this, I am going to level with you, and you won’t like it. Dennis is a smart, active child, but he’s got real problems. You do him no kindness to ignore them. His anger is out of control, and he needs intervention. Think how terrifying it must be to him to be so furious he can’t control himself. If his problems aren’t addressed, he’s going to be in real trouble making friends, succeeding at school – even doing well in life. Dennis is only three, so there’s time. But you can’t delay. He needs to see a good child psychologist right away – and you need therapy to deal with all this. I’ll help you find a good counselor and be with you every step of the way. I know you’re scared, but you and Dennis have people who love you and care about you. Talk to me, dear.

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