Originally posted Oct. 2, 2012, at Joyful Chaos: Loving Four Special Kids. Republished with permission of the author.
Here’s the anatomy of a moderate Rage at our house. Here’s the reason we usually don’t volunteer for anything, have friends over, or make commitments.
Sunday morning. My sweet son rolls out of bed, sweaty, because he sleeps covered in fleecy pj’s from head to toe and with three layers of blankets on top of him. He stumbles into the bathroom with another set of fleecy pj’s. I tell him we have to get ready for church — why doesn’t he put on his clothes instead of putting on more pj’s, since he’ll have to change soon anyway? He gets grumpy and refuses to listen to me. Sweaty, fleecy pj’s are replaced by clean ones.
My son comes downstairs for breakfast. He says nothing sounds good to eat. We finally agree on something, but he refuses to eat at the table. He is comfy lying on the couch so we agree he can eat there. Meanwhile, my hubby and I are trying frantically to get everyone else ready to go to church. We have one sick kid, two who are excited to get ready for the day, and one more who I can tell is going to have a tough morning.
Five of us are ready for church. We have to leave in 15 minutes so my hubby and I can teach Sunday school. My sweet, grumpy, pj’ed son refuses to get off the couch, despite my constant (yet patient) requests for him to get moving, get dressed, take his medicine, brush his teeth, come on! We have to teach, let’s go! He says he has it “under control.”
Apparently his idea of control and mine are completely different.
My son started progressing into his Rage mode. He refused to get dressed. I got the other three kids into the car to wait, and avoid the Crazy that was about to happen. We sat in the car for 20 minutes, waiting for Daddy and Grumpy Guy to join us. Finally I went back into the house to help. Our son was still in his pj’s, now in full-blown raging mode, all because he could only find one shoe. He did not want to wear his sneakers, he would only wear Crocs and could only find one of them. He was on the floor, kicking, screaming, swearing, throwing anything he could get his hands on, and lashing out if we tried to come close to him. He was completely irrational. There was no reasoning with him, no comforting him, no rationalizing. He was too far into the Rage.
We tried all the things that potentially can calm our son down, all the while trying not to be stressed because we had made a commitment to volunteer at church for which we were going to be late. Our son continued his challenging behavior. Screaming and thrashing on the floor in anger. Every solution we came up with for his many complaints was met with swearing and irrational, screamed retorts. Finally Daddy joined the three calm kids in the van, and headed to church, while I stayed behind to deal with the Rage.
We finally got through the Rage, after 45 minutes of intensely challenging behavior. I wheedled away at the Rage that my son was suffering through. I found shoes that were acceptable, although they were his brother’s. (Sometimes it’s very nice to have a twin.) Daddy had found a Bible for our boy to bring to Sunday school that met all the criteria that our son demanded (Not a picture Bible. No writing in it. Not bent.).
I got my son into his clothes. We skipped tooth brushing. We forced some meds into his body with the bribe of a spoonful of yogurt, which comes out when my son is really struggling. I thought we were headed out the door, only a little late, when my son refused once more to go to church. This time because he was afraid of two things. One, that his face was blotchy and red from screaming and crying for 45 minutes, and two, that people at church would find out how he had acted. We got a box of tissues to take with us in the car. We took some deep breaths. We talked about how to calm down, how the cool air outside would make my son’s face look normal again. We talked about how we weren’t going to talk about his Rage with people at church. We never tell people how he acts when he’s having a Rage. Most people couldn’t even imagine this sweet boy behaving in such an out-of-control way. This is a battle we continue to fight in private, at home, the best we can.
My son works on these issues in his many therapies every week. He has worked on these issues in therapies and at home for most of his life, and he has made major improvements. He is much more in control of himself more of the time. He doesn’t act quite as aggressively as he used to. And the frequency of his Rages has definitely lessened. There was a time when he would rage almost all day, every day. Then he would have only several Rages a day. Now we’re down to once in a while. It still takes a whole lot out of all of us, even if a Rage happens only once in a while. We’re all left deflated, emotionally wrung out, prickling with the remnants of Rage.
My son, after a Rage, is like a deflated balloon. He is desperately sad. Tired. Apologetic. Disappointed in himself that he lost control. I always think back over the whole episode to see what I missed. What signals did I lose in the rush of the morning that could have shown me that my son needed help to navigate life today? Even normal parts of life can be filled with mines for him, parts of life that most of us take for granted — like getting dressed. Is my boy struggling with too much sensory input? Are his feelings hurt? Are his clothes bothering him? Is he frustrated? Sick? Hungry? Did he take his meds on time? If I can catch the signs my son unknowingly sends me that he is about to lose control, sometimes I can help him head off a Rage. We dig into his bag of tools that he has learned from years of various therapies, and we find a tool that will help us handle the obstacle he is facing at the moment that seems ready to tip his whole world out of balance. But sometimes life is busy and messy, and Mama misses The Signs. And then my poor boy heads into the Rage, and none of us can get off the ride until it ends.
When our son first started raging years ago, I thought it must be somehow my fault. What was I doing, or not doing, that was causing this? Causing him to be so out of control that the smallest thing could set off an enormous reaction? Over the past few years I’ve learned it’s not actually my fault that he has Rages. But I’ve also learned there are a lot of things he, and his daddy and I can do to help him avoid a Rage or minimize it. We are in a much better place than we were a few years ago, but the Rages still happen sometimes.
It’s unusual that a boy who is 10 years old will have a tantrum about something as small as finding a shoe. It’s taken us a long time to realize there is a difference between a tantrum and a Rage. Tantrums are what toddlers do when they can’t get their way. Tantrums are purposeful. Rages are a loss of control. My son is totally out of control when he rages, and it’s not because he wants to get his way. Rages do not serve a purpose in the way that tantrums do. Rages are just extreme, out-of-control anger. When life is overwhelming for my son, and it’s all just too much, Rage overcomes him. Sticker charts don’t lessen the frequency of Rages. Rewards or punishments don’t either. It’s just a matter of figuring out how to efficiently help him get calm as fast as possible. That’s why our therapies have proven invaluable — now we have tools we can use that actually help our son. Sometimes.
My son spends a lot of time working on not overreacting to life’s stressors. He didn’t realize that most boys his age don’t totally freak out and lose it over small things like he does until his therapist pointed this out to him. She asked him how a friend might react to something he had recently had a Rage about, and he was taken aback to realize his friend would not have reacted the way he did. He reacts to everything with anger, and everything is a 10 on the anger scale. It’s a work in progress. And he has made a lot of progress.
So we all did make it to church, and we were able to teach Sunday school. We all felt a little shaken, and we were late, but we did make it. But this is why we seldom volunteer for things or make commitments. It’s not that we don’t want to be involved in our community or have friends. It’s that we never know when a Rage will rear its ugly head. We never know if we’ll be able to make it somewhere on time or if some tiny little thing will summon a Rage and we’ll be stuck dealing with it for an hour.
Life is a whole lot calmer than it used to be, thanks to meds and behavior modification and therapy tools, and I try to focus on that. I also try to help my son figure out what went wrong after he has calmed down from a Rage. We talk about what he could have done differently. We talk about not overreacting. We also talk about how no matter what, Mama and Daddy will always love our boy. Nothing will ever ever change that. All I can do is hope that he lives every day of his life knowing with all his heart that I love him more than anything. Maybe there will come a day when our sweet boy doesn’t have to suffer through Rages anymore. That’s our hope for him.
Find a link to Carrie Newsom’s entry on the blog Joyful Chaos: Loving Four Special Kids at Lutheran Blogs.