It Worked: Getting Help to Deal With a Child's Aggression

What felt like a drastic measure to these weary parents, turned out to be just the right approach.

By GreatSchools Staff

Name: Anonymous
State: California
Child's Age: 10
Child's School Level: 5
Area(s) child struggles: Dyslexia, AD/HD, ODD

Describe a challenging incident or situation involving your child's learning or behavior.

In spite of months of work with a family therapist, and a dozen different behavior modification contracts and charts, our 10-year-old son's angry, aggressive behavior in our home was getting worse. He has AD/HD, dyslexia, and Oppositional Defiant Disorder. He had put holes in our walls, thrown and broken furniture, and destroyed several pieces of his own artwork. At the peak of his rages, he would threaten to hurt my husband and me, and we'd had to physically restrain him several times. We were exhausted, our nerves were shot - and we were afraid for everyone's safety.

Describe how you responded to the situation, including the actions you took or strategies you used to support or defend your child in the situation.

Our family therapist had been telling us for awhile that our son needed to know in no uncertain terms that we would do whatever was necessary to keep him and us safe-including calling 911 if he physically threatened either of us. At first, we were horrified at the suggestion. We felt ashamed and embarrassed at the thought of having to call on outside help, especially the police. We felt that we'd failed as parents. But one evening, our son demanded that we go to the store immediately because he "needed" a particular brand of shampoo. We refused and he began to ramp up. When he picked up a heavy pan and threatened to throw it at me, I hesitated for a split second, then called 911. Within five minutes we had three police cars in our driveway.

How did your child handle the situation?

When four police officers entered the house, two asked for our account of what had happened, while the other two went to our son's room to talk to him. The officers who talked with our son for 15-20 minutes were friendly but firm, and asked repeatedly for his assurance that he'd calmed down before they left. One officer confided that they responded to several similar calls every month in our upper-middle-income neighborhood, and that his own son had had problems with anger and aggression. Our son calmed down, expressed remorse to us about his behavior, and did not escalate to that level of violence again for many months.

Describe up to 3 things you learned from the situation.

Describe up to 3 things your child learned from the situation.

What advice would you give other parents in this type of situation?

When you're parenting a child with complex needs, it's easy to become more and more tolerant of what "outsiders" would clearly view as extraordinarily aggressive behavior - thinking all the while that you should be able to manage it. Our therapist's focus on "keeping everyone safe" became the mantra that allowed us to bring the police into our home and our lives. It wasn't comfortable; but when we finally took the step, we wished that we had done it sooner. Individual police officers vary greatly in their empathy and people skills, so don't assume you'll be 100 percent thrilled with their intervention should you decide to take that option.