Dear Dr Eve,
I am a desperate parent. I feel like an utter failure with my 11 year old
child. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, and Oppositional Behavior
Disorder, and is constantly sent out of the classroom. He gets into
trouble for bullying his friends. At home he is rude to me, doesn’t listen,
and only wants to play video games. I must say he is great at his soccer
game, top of the league. I find myself not liking him, screaming a lot,
and taking away his phone. Just so you know, I did not have a great
childhood. I was placed in foster care and moved around a lot. I am a
single mom and work hard to make ends meet. I need help to be a good
parent to my son.
DR EVE REPLIES:
It makes sense that you may not like your son sometimes. And it’s good
to hear that you respect one part of him, that you notice his skill in online
It makes sense that you are feeling overwhelmed with your life as a
single working mom. And the same goes for your son: he sounds
overwhelmed with his life.
You know kids have this amazing capacity to survive, just as you did
when you were a kid. And so, it is that your son is exhibiting survival
behavior. All his energy is going into survival. He is bombarded by
experiences in his body that make him feel really scared. He anticipates
the world as being unsafe and dangerous. And this is why he attacks…
even when he is not being attacked.
All of your child’s behavior that you describe needs to be looked at by
you, in a serious, nuanced, non judgmental manner. You need to create
a safe world for your son. His behavior indicates that he is not feeling
safe. It is not merely “attention seeking” behavior. It is survival
To do this, you as his primary care giver, you need to look after yourself
first and foremost. This may be difficult for you due to your own
childhood trauma of neglect and abandonment. I invite you to find
support for yourself, someone who can teach you how to manage your
own overwhelm when your son becomes overwhelmed and slips into
Here are some tips to guide you on how to manage your son when he is
acting out his distress:
1. Always regulate your own emotions first. Breathe work is
immediately accessible to you. Breathe before you respond.
2. Observe your son, and say to him: “I wonder why you got so
angry… perhaps because your teacher got angry with you at school.
It makes sense that would make you angry and hurt and unhappy.
It sounds like things got crazy in class. And you found a way to feel
safe—you fought back.”
3. Then offer your child another way to manage his anger in future.
For example, ask him to notice when he begins to lose it… when he
feels it building inside his body, he must breathe and just get
through that moment. And then the next moment.
4. I invite you to take your child to martial arts classes. It is so
important that he feels strong and safe in his world.
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