I reply to many email questions daily from parents with parenting questions. I welcome questions in email, so families can get support between sessions. Turns out, I don’t always understand the questions and offer less than what is expected; however, sometimes the replies have a universal quality. This is a response to a recent email I thought might be helpful to share with you.
I wanted to follow up about that “glee” you experience in your (child) when he is blowing out.
That is a chemical reaction. When he is blowing out, his brain is flooded with cortisol (stress hormone taking his prefrontal
cortex–judgement, caring, ability to respond appropriately–off line), his adrenaline pumps through his body (giving him the feeling of superman like physical power), and endorphins are released because of the over-arousal (giving him a burst of relief and, dare I say it, exuberant satisfaction) which makes him seem to ENJOY a good blow out while it is happening.
What you interpret as “enjoying the negative escalation” is really “enjoying the chemical process” of the blow-out, not the defiant behavior directed at you. To top it all off, this chemical alchemy is ADDICTIVE, so the blow outs become habituated because unconsciously he is seeking that intense feeling.
That said, what is the answer? While you are getting him into recovery from addictive blow-outs, you have to do some therapeutic things that maybe seem counter-intuitive and like way too much energy to be putting into a kid that is old enough to do the basic tasks of getting dressed, taking showers, etc. Remember, his brain is addicted to blowing out. He has been blowing out most of his life; it isn’t just for you. You will have to do the regular, daily, hard work of re-organizing his experiences to replace the blow-out habit with a new positive addiction like relational, interactive play (the language of children).
Keep your emotions light and be playful… Give him the same chemical alchemy in a positive way. Morning pillow fight to get his blood pumping? Game of tag around the house before a shower? Turn on some rock and roll and dance around like an idiot? Tickle fest? Serenade him with I’ve Got a Hammer?
Try it, if you think you can stay playful and tolerate the “up” energy. You can get some replacement neuro-pathways constructed this way.