I have a 9 year old boy and a 6 year old girl. All my life I have had terrible, terrible ways of dealing with frustrations large and small. A good example: if anything makes me angry–trivial or truly important, I might put on a wild, embarrassing, very inappropriate, and very unhealthy display of rage. I never physically attack another person, but I’ll start hitting my own head–hard, repeatedly, with both hands–sometimes open hands, sometimes fists. Not in a “stupid me!” kind of gesture like slapping one’s forehead–these flailings have no intended expressive meaning. They’re the exact same as an angry guy punching a wall or a piece of furniture. (Actually I do that plenty too–usually if I’m hitting myself, it’s because there’s nothing else nearby that’s “safe” to hit–safe for the thing itself, or safe for my hands.)
My two children have both adopted the hitting-themselves-in-the-head thing, and other wildly inappropriate ways of dealing with unpleasant things that happen. That was one of my biggest fears, and now it’s come true. How, how, how, do I steer them away from this? I’m beside myself with sadness and self-loathing that they have adopted the habit, and I fear that it will stick with them forever and harm their adult relationships. Of course I know that improving myself is a big part of any hope of helping them, but so far nothing has been effective on me for more than a few months. But I’m still trying. My psychiatrist has been suggesting Depakote which frightens me a little because I do make some money from artistic works and he says that that drug sometimes makes people feel they have fewer ideas / moments of inspiration. But maybe I’ll try it. But in the meantime, what about my kids?!
P.S. one thing I’ve wondered about, especially since a big worry about possible treatment for my kids is *effectiveness*: are there treatments that have been PROVEN to help children who’ve witnessed severe interpersonal violence, like war-zone or severe domestic violence? I know my modeling has to changes, but maybe my idea above is also relevant?
Thank you for any insights. I’m desperately unhappy with worry.
It’s good that you’re seeking help. It shows that you’re open to change. With the right help, you can change your behavior.
You mentioned medication but not counseling. Counseling could be the missing component in your treatment program. Not having tried counseling could be why you’re not seeing an improvement. Cognitive behavioral therapy is an effective treatment for anger problems, as are certain types of targeted anger management therapies. Medication could help, but it may not be enough. You should try counseling.
You might also try family counseling to address the problems with your children. Clearly you are influencing their behavior. Your behavior has become their behavior. Family therapy can be quite effective in changing these dynamics and behaviors. It could help a great deal.
Regarding your specific question about children exposed to traumatic experiences, there are several effective treatments. Two models that have been shown to work include: Child-Parent Psychotherapy and Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Finding clinicians who specialize in these specific types of therapy might be difficult. Generally speaking, choose a mental health professional who has demonstrated success in treating children who have experienced trauma. Ask your psychiatrist for a referral or click the “Find Help” tab at the top of this page to locate a therapist in your community.
When trying to pick a therapist I always advise calling at least 5 to 10. Speak to them on the phone about the problems with which you would like help. Ask questions about their success rates and how they’ve helped other people with similar problems. Choose the one with whom you best connect with, over the phone, and meet him or her in person for a more in-depth discussion. This will help you find the right therapist for you and/or your children. Good luck and please take care.
Dr. Kristina Randle