The Cycle

bombHe’s a live wire. An exposed nerve. Raw and throbbing.

I’m talking about my 11 year old, Javier. My big kid with expressive eyes the color of molten chocolate and long, tapered fingers that coax startling detail from pencil and paper.  My high-achieving boy who has ADHD sprinkled with mild anxiety.

Something has changed. Perhaps it’s a rush of hormones (puberty has reared its head). Maybe he’s angry (at his sister, at me, at the unfairness of life). He could be normal (but none of his friends are perched to attack the way he is).

We try to defuse Javi’s explosions. We remind him that he’s over-reacting. We tell him to take deep breaths. We redirect his sister so they have as little direct, unsupervised contact as possible. We shelter him from her, her from him. We shut him off, we tuck him away. Somewhere safe, somewhere we think he’ll be happier (outside with a football, upstairs with a video game, on the couch with a parent and a book).

But still he goes off like a bomb. Words and rage and stomping feet, slamming hands, a body tensed for fight. Javi is perpetually coiled like a snake, ready to strike. This morning he screamed into his sister’s face that he would shove her to the ground, tie her hands behind her back, and kick her over and over again.* Her offense? She sprayed his Axe cologne. Last night.

I don’t know how to defuse him. I’ve tried and abandoned all the weapons in my arsenal. Our family has retreated to four corners. No, three corners: Him, Me, his father, and his sister hiding behind one of the adults (perhaps sticking her tongue out at him).

And so I’ve called in a referee.

We are back at the beginning, back in the psychologist’s office to pour out our pains. It’s both today and four years ago. I know everything and nothing.

But there’s a difference. This time, I am aware of my resources. I know to ask for help. I know it’s not him, not us, and not him versus us. Four years of diagnosed ADHD and eight years of various therapies have prepared me to be okay with not being the one with the answers

So begins another turn through the cycle.

*Note that he has never been overly physically aggressive with his sister. He’ll pop her if she pops him. Often, he hits her before we can get to her to punish her bad behavior. It’s an issue. We’re tackling it head on.

Anyone been through this? Can someone promise me we’ll survive it?

Kelly Quinones Miller is the mother of an adopted son with ADHD, inattentive type. She works from home as a freelance writer and designer while trying to teach her son the strategies and skills he’ll need to succeed. Kelly blogs about family issues, casual environmentalism, backyard chickens, and more at The Miller Mix.

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adhd and outbursts, adhd and social problems, adhd and stress, adhd behavior problems, comorbid conditions, impulse control, Kelly Quinones Miller, parenting ADHD, self-regulation, siblings ·

About the author

Kelly Quinones Miller is the mother of an adopted son with ADHD, inattentive type. She works from home as a freelance writer and designer while trying to teach her son the strategies and skills he'll need to succeed. Kelly blogs about family issues, casual environmentalism, backyard chickens, and more at The Miller Mix.

30 Comments

  1. SM says:

    WOW!  You have described my life to a Tee!  We had the exact same issue with my son, 11 yrs old!  It feels like back to square one for sure!  The issues you describe are mirror images.

    Reply
    • MillerMix says:

      I had a long talk with him yesterday and he told me he’s jealous of his sister and that he doesn’t want to be so loud and violent, he just can’t stop himself until he blows off the steam. That was good information for me to know and I feel like I can work with it. Has your son been able to express what sets him off?

      Reply
  2. Jenny says:

    We are so going through this right now with my 9 year old. The littlest things set him off into an in controllable rage. We have broken screen doors, holes in bedroom doors, and other broken things. Hitting me…it’s been fun.

    I have just started reading the book The Explosive Child. Don’t know if you’ve heard of it or read it, but so far I am loving it and it looks promising. Its not a quick fix, it purpose is to teach us to keep him from going into the rage in the first place. Teach him how to think rationally before going to far.

    It’s tough, and no one who isn’t going through it can understand how tough it is on everyone in the family.

    Reply
    • MillerMix says:

      I haven’t read it. Javi was never an explosive child until … wait for it … the hairs started growing under his arms. It has to be connected, right? But, I’ve reserved this book at our local library and will definitely be reading it!

      Reply
      • Sunni says:

        and how old was he when the underarm hair started?  our son’s started when he was 7!  what the heck

        Reply
        • MillerMix says:

          It’s been a good 9 months since he found the first little sprout of hair, so right be he turned 11. I just said a prayer for you — 9 is so young!

          Reply
      • adhdmomma says:

        You have to read The Explosive Child, I am surprised you haven’t (it is good parenting advice for all children, I wish he had titled it different). As you can tell from my comment above, it doesn’t fix things altogether, but it has definitely taught us how to spot oncoming issues and try to head them off. It is full of great advice. A lot can be seen on his website too: http://livesinthebalance.org

        Reply
        • MillerMix says:

          Maybe the title? We’ve never had to deal with anger/aggression. Javi’s brand of ADHD is impulsivity and it brings over-reaction, but never this screaming rage. It’s brand new to me.

          Reply
    • Burnsy103 says:

      My son is almost nine and VERY explosive over tiny things as well. Also reading ‘The Explosive Child’ and am at the moment doing my best to keep MY calm when he loses it. This is such a challenge. Nice to read that other people relate.

      Reply
      • MillerMix says:

        Yes! Part of my learning process for helping him is to stop my own over-reaction. When I respond calmly and with presence (versus yelling from the other room), I notice the negative energy dissipates more quickly.

        Reply
  3. Janel says:

    Sounds so familiar.  I have a 9 year old son with ADHD and a 7 year old daughter who loves to provoke the explosive reactions of her brother. They seem to have a love/hate relationship but every day I feel like a referee. It’s exhausting. I hope you find something that works and if so, please post a follow up!

    Reply
    • MillerMix says:

      Yes – she’s (little sister) such a big part of the problem. I don’t know how to teach her to ignore the power she has to ignite such a huge reaction from someone else. They love having that control, you know?

      Reply
      • Janel says:

        It is MADDENING! My daughter is a “teaser”.  Anything she can do to provoke. ARGH and we try to talk to my son about letting her have that power over him but I don’t think he is at the point developmentally to be able to see that yet.

        Reply
        • MillerMix says:

          I had to have a “come to Jesus” with myself about that one. I can’t expect him to think rationally or react maturely. We have to help him, even if he is six years older than she is.

          Reply
  4. Caroline says:

    I definitely know that puberty has a big part to play in it. My 11 year old with ADHD has been historically happy and bouncy, and now is sullen and grumpy most of the time.

    Caroline
    lifeunfocused

    Reply
  5. Sunni says:

    Sounds very similar to my life…except he is 8 and has a 3 yr old brother.  I hope and pray ALL of us make it through!

    Reply
    • MillerMix says:

      Ah – the dread 5-year-span. We have it here, too, and it’s killer. I thought we’d be able to avoid the sibling battles with such a large span in ages. Not so much!

      Reply
  6. adhdmomma says:

    That sounds like our house, except we have a big sister instead of a little one. She tries to stay away from him, which breaks my heart, but sometimes they have to be together. Our worst time lately is getting ready for school in the mornings. Ugh! They’re tired and grumpy AND arguing is inevitable. I am not sure how to diffuse Luke either – he seems to have an incredibly short fuse too.

    Reply
    • MillerMix says:

      Right now we’ve amped up separation. Bella is now in an after-school program and will only be home after 5pm in the evenings, leaving Javi 2 hours of no-sibling time after school. Day 2 and it seems to be helping a little. We’ll see if it’s a honeymoon period.

      Reply
  7. Danette says:

    My son is 8 and his 11 year old sister provokes the heck out of him!  She has a lot of anger issures herself.  She is a straight A student and doesn’t have any problems with school or learning, but sometimes I think she has ADHD too!  All of the sudden my son started getting upset about everything and calling me names when he’s mad.  He’s even started doing this with his Dad and he NEVER does that!

    Reply
    • MillerMix says:

      It’s weirdly comforting to know it happens with siblings close in age, too. I mean, I hate it’s happening with any of our kids, but I’m also grateful to know I’m not alone.

      Reply
  8. OMG – that’s exactly what we’re experiencing as well. My 11 year old boy says why doesn’t his sister get in trouble for hitting and I answer because you hit her back before I could do anything, and he’s 5 years older that her.

    Reply
  9. aj says:

    This is also my life ( times two) my 7 year old and my 5 year old both have ADHD, pediatric bipolar disorder, ODD, and anxiety.  Though most days my 7 year old is able to control himself, the 5 year old has not gained all of the skills necessary to that.  Its been 3 years of therapy, social workers and psychatrists, medication trials and hopes and prayers that something will help.  I am actually relieved to know that there are other parents/mothers who understand.

    Reply
  10. The_sweet_syn says:

    You so described my life….My little guy is 5 and is diagnosed with severe ADHD and severe ODD. At his age I am shocked as to the strenght he has, I am the target of his outburst and aggression. I have been to the local emergency twice in one week cause of injuries I have sustained while trying to defuse him, i am so scared of whats to come once he gets stronger. We are lucky in a way he is the youngest and the only child at home so just dad and I get the aggression. I am going to have a look into the book lord knows I need some help 

    Reply
  11. CH says:

    I have been looking for months for a website like this.  Just to know there are others that are going through the same exact thing and to have a place to vent is amazing to me.  My otherwise incredibly loving, considerate and affectionate son has explosions as well.  Right now we are having the issue of helping him keep his self esteem up.  He seems to get embarrassed very easily and that just triggers the snow ball effect.  I will be picking up the Explosive Child this weekend.  I just heard of it last week.

    Reply
  12. Annette Gumm says:

    I cannot recommend The Explosive Child enough – and I refer back to it often. Greene uses a method called Collaborative Problem Solving that is just priceless although hard to do when you’re a Type A control freak (like me). You can also look at Kirk Martin’s techniques for keeping the peace. His biggest focus in on helping us learn to keep our calm and not let our own anxieties feed into what’s going on with the kids.  My 11yo does not have a sibling so I get the benefit of the puberty explosions and it is super hard to keep my own reaction in check. You are definitely not alone. Thanks for sharing your story!

    Reply

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The "ADHD Mommas" are not medical or mental health professionals, nor an ADHD coach. Any opinions shared here are just that, opinions. I, and the other "ADHD Mommas," are sharing our experiences with our own ADHD children. Please do not re-post or publish any content or photos without a link back to {a mom's view of ADHD}. Have the courtesy to give credit where credit is due. Copyright protected. All rights reserved.

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