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Sweet 9 Year Old Boy With A Short Fuse

by Sandra

My son is 9 years old and in the 4th grade. He's super smart and has always received straight As in his academics, but not on his behavior.
Ever since Kindergarten, his teachers have always reported that he does not follow directions well or get along with the other kids. In his current class, I've been getting reports that he is angry a lot and is always yelling, fussing, complaining, or bothering other students.

I have a 17 yr old daughter as well that he is always fighting with. I think that all of their fighting at home may have spilled over to cause this behavior at school, but I'm not sure. I'm an only child and don't know how siblings are supposed to act. Every time I tell people about how they fight and argue, I'm told that that is normal for brothers and sisters (especially with their age difference).

I would never say that his emotions are out of line with me or his dad. Sometimes he gets mad and then we give him a consequence. We've been very good about not backing down from a punishment so this behavior of being angry at school is kind of blindsiding me. He has a few friends but not a lot. But when I see him interact with the other boys, they all act the same way! I just thought that boys were more aggressive, loud and animated when they play than girls.

I don't know if what we're experiencing is normal or if there is some other type of underlying problem. It was suggested to us when he was in the 2nd grade to get him tested for ADHD, but my husband refused. I'm just not sure what to do anymore. He loves his family and is kind and always feels very badly if he's hurt someone's feelings or accidentally hurt them physically. How do I know if there is a bigger, emotional problem brewing?

Response from Dr. DeFoore

Hello Sandra, and thanks for telling your story here. I can see why you're confused. From what you've told me, it's not completely clear what's going on, but I will offer some suggestions for you to work with in trying to figure this out.

One thing is, your son has good reasons for his anger. Your job is to figure out what they are--and the answer is nothing about "something wrong with him."

One clue is his anger issues at home with his sister. Here are some questions for you to answer, and ponder:

1) How do you and your husband deal with conflict in your marriage?
2) How do each of you express your anger individually?
3) Are there any unexpressed emotions such as fear, sorrow or anger in either you or your husband?
4) Is there an "untold story" in yours or your husband's past that has a lot of emotion connected with it?

The reason I ask these questions is that often in families, children will act out the unexpressed emotions of their parents, or live out the "untold stories."

Another possibility is for you to see if the school will allow you or your husband to sit in your son's classes at school and observe him in interaction with the other students and his teachers. This might help you understand what's going on there better. Sometimes bright children like your son are not fully challenged in the school environment, and need more stimulation--so they provide it for themselves with bad behavior.

You will find a chapter devoted to helping children with their anger in this book.

One final approach is to make sure that you and your husband are spending enough one on one, close, nurturing time with your son. This is very important. Spend time with him doing what he likes to do, watch him and listen to what he says, and he might just reveal to you what is really going on. It is important that both you and your husband do this. You are the most important people in the world to him. Spending time one on one with him doing what he likes to do is a powerful way of affirming him as an individual, and showing that you love him.

I hope this is helpful.

My very best to you,

Dr. DeFoore

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