Stop Child From Hitting

fistshadowHi Annie:

I am looking for advice on how to handle my 10 year old grandson/son with ADHD, as he loses his temper in the evening after he is coming off his meds and lately hits me.  We are grandparents raising grandchildren through adoption.

His pediatrician says kids can get ugly coming off their meds. At a meeting we talked about how they know he can control his temper, as he does with other family members and at school.  It's a power struggle with him.  When I say XBox goes off, it's homework time, and I turn around I get kicked in the back.  It's now happening in the car and not just in my back. We tried to up his dose of medication and he did not feel well at all. Any advice? - Signed Caring Mom/Grandmom

Dear Mom,

You and your son have some extra challenges going on. I am glad that you are seeking help for this issue because, given your son's age and yours, it is a serious concern. Angry tweens can become even worse with more growth, more hormones, and lack of practice with alternatives to violence. And though clearly his meds add to the problem, since he is able to hold it together with others, this as also a power struggle/relationship issue. So there are 2 parts to this answer:

PART 1: The power struggle. The first issue is to take violence off the table.
Step 1: The BIG Conversation to separate out two messages: Anger is OK, hitting is not.
At a time when you are not fighting, with calm, firm (alpha dog) strength, you need to explain:
While you know it is tricky when he is coming off his meds, AND that his XBox is certainly more fun than homework, AND that it is understandable that sometimes he is upset, disappointed, frustrated or angry, AND even that he thinks you are the bad guy for making him do things he would rather not, - HE CANNOT GET PHYSICAL! This is an absolute and the purpose of this conversation is to make sure that he understands that. The message is that YOU have far too much respect for yourself to be treated that way. (And that goes for verbal abuse as well!)
To be clear: when I say alpha dog it means speaking from a place of strength. You are not trying to convince him that hitting is a bad idea or implying that the empathy you give him can be used as excuses for hitting. Hitting is not an acceptable option for dealing with his stress. (This is also why I don't believe parents should hit their children.) Again - This is not meant to be mean - it is meant to be matter-of-fact.

Step 2: Alternate Solutions.

Now at this point it would be great if he were at a place where he agreed that he would like to do things differently. But this is up to him. Beyond the not hitting, we are hoping for genuine (unmanipulated) remorse for how he treats you. However he may not be ready for that yet - so if not, let it alone. That is a different goal and I don't recommend confusing the two.

If you feel he understands the line he cannot cross and is genuinely remorseful, you can add some balance by reminding him of all the great things about him too. Though be careful not to minimize the seriousness of his behavior by softening it up too much. This can also be a great opportunity to help him come up with alternatives to violence
(Click here for a great article by Michele Borba with 10 ideas.) Also you may need to look at some ways he can get his anger out. It is possible that his behavior is related to deeper emotional issues.

PART 2: The consequences.

It is almost a given that he will test your new resolve (easier than changing himself). So what happens if he hits you again?

Step 1: You say - "Not a good choice. There needs to be a real consequence for this."
Immediately, you send him away so that YOU can have a cool down period. But this is not the real consequence.
Step 2: Don't discuss what the real consequence will be in the moment (ala Love & Logic: Delay the consequences) because you want to be in charge of yourself and the consequence you hand out. Later when you are calm let him know what you have decided.

Here are my 3Rs for consequencing:

1. Related to the 'crime'
2. Restitution for the 'crime'
3. Rehearsing the skill you want him to learn

An example for your situation might be that he needs to write an essay (can be short) on what upset him, how his behavior was hurtful, and 5 ideas on what he will do differently in the future.  If he can't think of any - when things calm down, ask him to brainstorm with you. and But until he's finished: basic parenting mode: Food, clothing, shelter, safety.

Longer Term: I also encourage you to look at HOW you are asking him to transition. While his hitting is his issue you may be inadvertently feeding his frustration. Remember power struggles go both ways. Consider reading the book, The Explosive Child by Ross W. Greene. Also, can you give him more power as he is able to handle it? Look at what exactly sets him off, and when. Can you work together to come up with mutually agreeable ways of dealing with this? He must do all of his homework BEFORE using his XBox, 5 minute warning? More communication about what his day will be? More control over some of his choices? "I notice that it happens when it involves the XBox or when we are rushing to your sports stuff. How can we do that better?"
Consider looking into mindfulness exercises - that perhaps you can do together. They have been shown to be very effective for children and adults dealing with emotional reactivity.

But once again I stress that you must come from a place of strength when offering to work with him on solutions. He does not get to say: "Well you didn't give me a warning so I don't have to listen to you!" Pay attention to these kinds of shifts in power and kindly shift it back. "Yes I forgot, and you still need to get off now."

If any part of his behavior improves - let him know you notice and appreciate it - though be careful that it doesn't sound manipulative or weak. (And be conscious about who is around - sometimes a compliment about a weakness getting better can feel embarrassing.)

If the situation does not improve, I recommend working directly with a professional to help him change his behavior. There's also diet, exercise and sleep issues, and finally consider how deeper grief issues related to the circumstances of his life may be underlying his actions.

Please let me know how it goes.
Take care, Annie