Angry Episodes and Impulse Control Issues

This post was written in June/13
One reader asked :

“How do you coach a child through an angry episode?”  And, “How do you deal with impulse control issues.”

For both of those…. “VERY CAREFULLY!”

When a child is angry and has impulse control issues, things can become quite volatile quickly! The best thing you can do is have a tool box ready for you and for your child that has ample tools to choose from!  The tool box has been the best thing we have ever used and we have been using it for nearly 10 years when our first daughter came home.

The key is teaching them to use tools when they are calm to prepare them for when they become dysregulated.

One of Sweetie 4’s  favorites is the “magic mustache”, and “deep breathing with mom”.  With the magic mustache, you press between your upper lip and nose and it has a calming effect on the brain.  Deep breathing can put you in rhythm together and gets extra oxygen to the brain to help a person calm down.

We had a bit of an interesting week over here with the perfect storm happening that I blogged about several days ago.  Things have calmed, but it was not an easy time for any of us.

Children from Trauma backgrounds can get stuck, or in a rut, and sometimes it is hard to help them out of that place.

If we don’t carefully differentiate between focusing on behavior, vs. helping a child through a crisis, it can be nearly impossible to help our children out of dysregulation.  It is easy to forget this. It is also costly. A child as well as a parent can get stuck in what is called, “A negative feedback loop”.  Negativity feeding off of itself will not bring about regulation, ever.

I learned a few things in the last 2 weeks, that I would like to share.

Communication problems become even more complex when a child is dysregulated.  If English is not a first language and communication seems ok when regulated, this will not be the case when they are dysregulated. All complex thinking goes out the window!  Even for children who are native English speakers, dysregulation causes a shut down when using words to communicate.

Last week, Sweetie 4 said,  “All I’m hearing is blah, blah, blah!”

While disrespectful, there was a message in there for me to pay attention to….

And I didn’t.

Instead, I focused on the disrespect, (which DOES need to be dealt with in the right time)  but I focused on it, using more words! Duh

I was focusing on the behavior and not the child.  This is the hardest concept of all, in my opinion to understand.  If we zero in on the behavior, we are looking at a “symptom” and not a “root”.

Our kids know that they have struggles.  They understand that they are out of line.  They really don’t need us to point that out to them.

Many times they are so filled with shame,  having somebody point out an obvious wrong, tips the already full, bucket over.

So the dysregulated child who already told me I was using too many words,  shut down!

It wasn’t until my sweet husband said, “You are talking too much.”  “Keep it simple.” He was right.

I was being kind, I was being gentle, and I was talking too much which was causing her more frustration. I was also focusing on a behavior and not what was behind the behavior.

I love it that my husband  and I can be a team together.  Sometimes he can point out the obvious that I don’t see, being in the moment all the time.

I needed a fresh perspective, and my dear husband was able to provide that for me.


I was reminded of the scene from Amadeus where the core conductor criticizes Mozart’s music saying it had “too many notes”.

For me, instead of “Too Many Notes”, it was “Too many words!” 🙂

Rubbing a person’s back and simply being present, is helpful. Waiting for a child to calm themselves and then just sitting with them can help them be calm faster.

There is always time to talk when you are not “in the moment”.


Our youngest daughter does have impulse control issues when she is dysregulated.  It takes time to work through them. She has been home just 2 years, but has made great strides in this area.

When I see her headed to dysregulation, getting her focused on art work seems to be the most calming for her, or just being present.   But being present does not necessarily mean holding or touching.  Just being in the same room.  I have learned to read her body language pretty well and can tell when she is ready to snuggle and when she isn’t.


I remember in training with Heather Forbes and  Eric Guy, they talked about a situation where a young man was being restrained by about 6 people in a psychiatric Unit.  Eric was there to see him.

He requested that everybody leave the room and allow him to try something different.

He went into a room where a young man was totally out of control, sat down, but didn’t make eye contact.  The young man stopped, came and sat down near him, and when Eric asked a simple question like, “How are you doing?”  The young man broke into tears and calmed down.

His point was, it doesn’t need to  take 5 people to tackle somebody and force them into compliance.

If a situation escalates into restraining or force, we have gotten off of the boat somewhere and are dealing with more than just the other person’s issue.   And this is something I have
had to learn the hard way.

Those words have resonated with me for the last 4 years since I took that training course.  I wish I would have remembered them last week! LOL

There is a lot of talk about “Mandela’s” right now.  I don’t have a clue why they are called “Mandelas”, but saw a picture of one, and found that the art books we have are very similar to those.   They are complicated designs that the girls enjoy coloring.

One book  I have is called “Images: The Ultimate Coloring Experience” by Roger Burrows.  We have several complicated coloring books, not meant for small children.  I really like Burrow’s book though.

I need to get more. 🙂

Just like us, our kids will never stop learning. And I find this to be very encouraging.  Oh how I wish trauma didn’t exist.  But it does, and it is real.  Those of us with children from hard places, live such different lives and realities from typical families.

I have been a mother in both situations, raising 4 boys and now 4 girls.

Trauma doesn’t just go away. It does color a person’s perception of reality.
But that also doesn’t mean it will control them the rest of their lives. They can heal.

Helping them understand ways to cope and move through the stress is a challenge, but so very rewarding when we see them succeed!

Gently, carefully, with great compassion and precision, like a surgeon of the heart, is the kind of parenting  our hurt kids need.

As the children grow and learn, trauma becomes less and less of a trigger, and life skills take over. It is the time in between that can be so hard on parents.

It is important to do our best to take care of ourselves, so we can take care of our children.

I am so thankful for all of the things we have learned through parenting our kids.    I am thankful that our sweetie is back to regulation and love.  She never ceases to amaze me. I have no doubt in my mind that she is going to do wonderful things when she grows up.



2 Responses to Angry Episodes and Impulse Control Issues

  1. Sandee says:

    I’m sure you’ve heard about this utterly horrific exposé on how adoptive parents “re-home” their no longer wanted internationally adopted kids:

    Would you be willing to write about how you sanely, legally and ETHICALLY adopted a couple of your girlies from disruptions? Because there are indeed cases where a specific adopted kid is needs a new adoptive family and enlightening folks about how to legally go about doing so would be a wonderful public service.

    (It is hard to pick which of the 5 part series is the most horrific and heartbreaking, but I’m going with Part 5: The adoptive mom says she “bought” a “pig in a poke” (adopted a Russian girl who was not the perfect, healthy kid she wanted) and filed a CONSUMER. RIGHTS. CASE. Because filing a case about a supposedly defective child is just like filing a complaint about defective toaster.

  2. Karen says:

    I’d love a more detailed post on “tools in the toolbox” (Ha, I think I asked this the last time you posted it…and I think you replied with some…but I’m asking again since I can’t go back to that one). 🙂 I’d like them in printable format to post on my fridge. 😉

    Sometimes our child refuses to be redirected. Almost like he desires a fight and is determined to figure out a way to provoke one, and that without a fight of some sort, he will not re-regulate. Obviously this is not healthy. And of course we’ve been doing everything we can to “not pick up the rope”, but sometimes it is so hard to figure out a way to help him regulate.

Comments warmly welcomed!


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