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The Family Project: Helping eight-year-old boy manage his temper

Q. My son is eight-years-old and has a very hard time working through frustration. He will cry, throw or break things and then he shuts down. I’ve tried to talk to him or help him with what he is frustrated about, but he refuses help and just sits and sulks. How can I help him?

“When a child is acting out this way,” panelist Chad Stefanak said, “parents want to step in and tell the child ‘You’ve got to calm down.’ But that is going to make the situation worse.”

“In the middle of an episode,” panelist Mike Daniels said, “there isn’t much the mother can do. If she tries to intervene, one or both of them might get hurt.

“The boy doesn’t have a lot of coping skills, but eight-year-olds know how to use physical power,” said Daniels. He recommended following up with the boy later when he is calm and they can sit together and talk.

The follow-up could begin by acknowledging that the boy becomes frustrated, and asking him if he is feeling better and why he did what he did, panelist Pam Wallace suggested.

Stefanak said he liked that suggestion because it is putting words to how the child is feeling, and it is a way to help the boy monitor himself to recognize when he is getting to a point of frustration.

“Sometimes the underlying frustration is the child’s belief that he needs to be perfect,” panelist Joanne Raftas said. “The conversation can explain that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.”

Raftas also recommended helping the boy to develop a strategy to recognize when he feels frustration coming on, and find alternatives to crying or throwing things.

“Another piece of that,” panelist Denise Continenza said, “is to reinforce when the boy doesn’t get frustrated.”

Continenza recommended doing activities with the child that help cut down on frustration: “Do a puzzle, for example, that purposely encourages him. As he works on it, tell him, ‘I like the way you are trying to work this out,’ or ‘You’re making good progress.’”

Other suggestions included doing a functional behavioral assessment that looks at what is going on in the child’s environment. Has the boy always acted this way or is it something new? What is going on that might be lowering his tolerance? Who is there when he has one of his episodes? What are they doing? If the behavior persists, the panel advised seeking counseling.

This week’s panel: Pam Wallace, program coordinator, Project Child, a program of Valley Youth House; Mike Daniels, LCSW, Psychotherapist, Denise Continenza, extension educator; Joanne Raftas, Northampton Community College, independent counselor, and Chad Stefanyak, school counselor.

Have a question? Email: projectchild@projectchildlv.org

The Family Project is a collaboration of the Lehigh Valley Press Focus section and Valley Youth House’s Project Child.

The Times News, Inc., and affiliates (Lehigh Valley Press) do not endorse or recommend any medical products, processes, or services or provide medical advice. The views of the columnist and column do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Lehigh Valley Press. The article content is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician, or other qualified health-care provider, with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.