Is Your Kid a Jerk? You’re Not Alone
Sometimes, there are just no answers to children’s behavioral problems. I’d love to tell you a story about my preschooler and his history of acting out by hitting, kicking and biting … and then wrap it up with a nice, educational ending about some miracle intervention that made him stop. But I just can’t. I hope, though, that anyone having similar issues with their kids will at least take away from this the notions that 1.) You’re not alone and 2.) Kids can, sometimes, simply just be jerks.
When my younger son was 2, he got kicked out of preschool for biting. Turns out, nine bites in nine months is about six bites too many. His teachers really liked him and believed that each time would be the last, and did what they could for him. But no matter how many times he was sent home, made to apologize, acknowledge his wrongdoing, put on a time out or rewarded for using his words, he just couldn’t stop himself. The trigger was generally the same – he wasn’t getting what he wanted, be it a seat at the table, the spot at the front of the line or a toy.
Around this time, my husband and I began culling advice from friends, the Internet and, eventually, a family counselor. We tried everything, including lectures, time-outs and positive reinforcement — all to no avail. Things seemed a bit better, though, for a little while. But then, shortly after his 3rd birthday, the violence began again. Thankfully, the biting stopped. But, in its place, was hitting, kicking, hair pulling and spitting. He’d do it at school and then have a meltdown when they tried to discipline him by giving him a time out. The whole situation would escalate and become out of control. The school director would call and make me come pick him up. This meant leaving work and incurring the wrath of a boss who was obviously not happy.
It was suggested to us by several people that maybe he was not ready to be away from home full time. Unfortunately, there was no way to work any less than I already was, and the idea of quitting was, simply, unrealistic. Besides, we reasoned, he was almost 4 and would be expected to learn certain things to be ready for kindergarten, things we knew would be best taught at a high-quality preschool.
At our wits’ ends, we consulted our pediatrician, who referred him to a child psychiatrist. For a couple months, we worked on all the behavior modification rituals and tried our best to avoid power struggles. The psychiatrist was reluctant to diagnosis him with any disorder because of his age, but simply labeled his problem as “impulse control.”
After a couple months with no change and rocketing stress, we took the big and hard step to medicate him. This was not a decision we made lightly and it tore me up for weeks. The first prescription we tried was a patch used for children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. We put a lot of hope in that little sticker he wore daily. At first, it seemed to work. Incidents decreased, happiness increased. But, after about a month, we were back to where we began.
The psychiatrist tried a second prescription – a very powerful anti-psychotic drug called Risparadol. Over time, we built up his daily dose from the miniscule to tiny, barely filling the medicine dropper’s spout.
He’s been on the drug for nearly six months now and I can’t say enough about how amazing the change is. I can’t say for sure the cessation in violence is completely due to the drug … I’d like to think learning and development played roles, too. Recently, we even began talking about weaning him off the drug.
But then, you have days like today, where you’re just getting cozy with your cup of coffee and your tasks for the day at the office when the preschool calls demanding you fetch your child, who has hit, pinched and kicked his friends and teachers. I thought back to the moment less than two hours before when I said good-bye, and all seemed right with the world. He gave me his ritual two hugs and two kisses before joining a teacher and friend on the floor to play with plastic animals. What happened between then and the outburst? All I know, based on what his teacher said and what he sputtered out, was something to do with his friend taking his toy.
We’ve gone through all the things to say: “Hands are not for hitting,” “Use your words,” “Ask a teacher for help.” He’s old enough to know he’s done wrong and I believe he is truly sorry and contrite.
I just wish that were enough to ensure this won’t happen again.
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