How do you teach a four-year-old to calm down?
I think anyone who knows an autistic person can tell you how crazy he can go when dealing with negative emotions, especially when he is completely angry. My son was no exception, he was quite scared with rage … he wanted to hit, kick, throw things … he threw himself on the ground and screamed with rage for hours.
The time-outs helped a bit as he would have nothing to do but sit alone and calm down, but in the end it didn’t calm him down enough. What are we going to do? Give it a 2 hour break? A few minutes here and there just weren’t enough to get out of so much anger.
For Christmas, we bought Cameron the new Super Mario Bros game for Wii that he loved the moment he saw it. However, it would bring out the beast in it every time we told it it was time to turn it off. It was the worst we had ever seen of him, you wouldn’t know that Cameron was in that wild child at all … it was like watching a domesticated dog go mad.
The first thing we did, which was also the easiest, was the time-out method … which eventually led to him being sent to bed. If a 5 minute rest time doesn’t even take a bit of a head start on you, then they would send you to bed until you either fell asleep from exhaustion or finally got you out of your system.
This was not really a solution and in a month or so, it was already proving to be a failure. He wasn’t getting over it, he wasn’t going to sleep. I had to take a more practical approach, which meant fighting my own overwhelming desire to rage like him. I won’t deny it, I’m only human. And even when you know it’s mostly autism at heart, you can still get very easily upset when your child has a completely wild tantrum. And having to deal with it head-on was going to be a huge challenge for me, as well as for him.
After a couple of months of doing everything I could to deal with tantrums like they told us to do, I instead started following him into the bedroom where I was literally holding him to his bed … now if you can imagine this he would be crying , kicking, screaming, red-faced … letting out a ton of rage in one go … and I’d be there, holding him and talking to him calmly the entire time, trying to reason with him.
I think at first he didn’t hear a word I said and rather knew that I was holding him against his will. It probably just infuriated him more, especially since autistics don’t like to be held back in the first place. But over the course of a couple of weeks, he started to realize that he wasn’t stronger, that he wasn’t coming out, and even though he was still angry, he was beginning to hear my voice. Maybe not the things I said, but he could say that despite everything, I was calm. And it was difficult, he couldn’t fake it … He really had to be calm, despite being angry.
I decided to use that in my reasoning, once I knew that I was starting to get his attention through it all, I explained that I was angry because I was acting like this … which I know is better than that. I explained that even though I am angry, I remain calm because being angry only hurts you and others.
I don’t think it mattered much … at first. But again, a couple of weeks after this, he started answering me when I asked him if he understood what he meant. Keep in mind I was only 4 years old right now … and I speak to him like he’s a teenager getting into fights at school … but he had to try anyway, I knew I could make him understand.
So again a couple of weeks keep going by and I only hold it for a few minutes at a time and then we’re sitting on the bed talking … I start to get more answers, I start to understand more. . I ask him if he knows I’m angry and he says yes. I ask him if I’m calm and he says yes. I ask him if he’s calm and he says no. I explain to him that the hardest thing he may have to do is stay calm even when he’s really angry and looks at me … calmly.
Eventually his tantrums turn into him yelling at me “No, I don’t want to keep calm!” Frustrating, but he’s succeeding! This was my sign that he was learning what it was that helped him calm down … break the anger. And that rage was broken, in an ever shorter time.
In April, four months after receiving that Christmas present he loved so much, he finally turned off the game when asked to do so, in peace, in silence, on his own. I don’t think anyone thought it would be possible, and certainly not in just 4 months, yet I had beaten the odds and figured out how to stay calm in the face of uncontrollable anger.
He still gets mad sometimes when asked to turn it off, but it doesn’t last long. He still loses control sometimes, but now he knows he can get it back. I know very well that this is something that will never really master, most short-tempered people never do, but it is something that is manageable. However, not all autistic children are so lucky, there is simply no way to get there.
However, in any case, you have to try. Don’t just give your child time out, send him to bed, give it to someone else to take care of … you have to improve his game. You are not just a parent, you are THE parent. Stop listening to how your parents were raised, how your aunts, uncles, grandparents, or anyone else did. His methods were his methods, not yours. In fact, I say that even though I described what I did, that may not be your answer. You have to do what you have to do to reach your child because maybe … just maybe … there is a way to break the anger. Maybe, just maybe, there is a way that they can learn from you, feed off you, grow from you … maybe they can beat this.
But it won’t be easy and it won’t happen overnight. It may not be possible at all, but even if it takes you a year, 2 years, 20 years to find out that it is not possible at all, you have to keep trying. One day you may find it, one day your child may surprise you.
I couldn’t be prouder every time my son turns Mario off and walks away and someone in my family says “I never thought I’d see the day.”