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How to Cope When Your Child is Aggressive

Families affected by TS+ often struggle when their child or teen is aggressive. This can be a very difficult experience. It is not predictable and no one – parent or child – likes it. It might surprise you to learn just how common this challenge actually is; approximately one third of people with TS+ have rage episodes or neurological storms. These episodes are uncontrollable outbursts of anger that are not consistent with the person’s personality and are neither goal-directed nor age appropriate (to learn more about storms, click here).

Not sure what to do when this happens? Here some tips on how cope when your child is aggressive:

1. During the Storm, Try to be Clam
Families who have been through this have commented that remaining calm is helpful. Take a deep breath and recognize that the episode will pass. Remember that while you don’t like this, neither does your son or daughter.

2. After the Storm, Use a Calm Voice
Families also say that it is important to use a calm voice when speaking to the person after they have cooled off. This is hard and may take practice. Don’t approach the individual mid-episode unless necessary. Touching the person can make the episode worse. Once your child cools off, yelling at them is not helpful. If it was a rage episode/storm, the person was cognitively flooded and unable to control this outburst.

3. Consider Crisis Services
Some families find crisis services to be helpful. Crisis teams can give suggestions for coping with the aggression or help with services for your child. While it is often traumatic to call the police, families sometimes feel that this is necessary when the individual is in danger of hurting themselves or others.

4. Collaborate with Treatment Professionals
It is helpful for families to collaborate with professionals on issues of treatment. Consider sharing your concerns with a physician and/or professional counsellor (e.g., family doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist, or specialist). Keep a journal with notes about the challenges you experienced. You can bring this with you to appointments. Ask the professional(s) for suggestions on what to do if your child gets aggressive and/or ask for help with making a plan for next time.

5. Get Help for Yourself
It is very challenging to cope with a child who has rage episode/storms or gets aggressive. As a parent or caregiver, you may want to find help to support you in your parenting efforts. We recognize how difficult these moments are. We are here to help you. Tourette Canada has a Support Services Coordinator (Linda) who can assist you with getting the best service for your situation. Email her directly at linda@tourette.ca .

6. Don’t Blame Yourself
Just as the storm is outside of your child’s control, it is also outside your control. You are not a bad parent, you did not cause the storm intentionally. You may want to take notes each time a storm happens to try to figure out whether there are any triggers (e.g., hunger, lack of sleep etc.). You can then try to reduce the impact of the triggers in the future.

7. Work Together
After the storm has passed and you’ve given your child some time to cool down, talk with them. Come up with a plan. For example, if your child threw paper during their episode, you may want to talk about how you can work together to pick up or clean up the paper. Because your child couldn’t control it, punishing them for having episode is not helpful. That said, you may want to explain that certain behaviours are not okay and that you will work together on reducing the storms as much as possible. Re-iterate positive strategies. Encourage your child to reflect with you.

8. Talk to Other Children
When a storm happens, other children in the family could be impacted. Be honest and open about what is going on, if age appropriate. Explain that it is not their fault or their sibling’s fault.

9. Get & Stay Informed
Consider taking a look at reading material on this subject or attending workshops or presentations. Tourette Canada and its affiliates often offer workshops about this and other topics related to family life.

10. Trust Yourself as a Parent or Care Giver
You have a unique relationship with your child. Trust your instincts. You often have a good idea about what works or doesn’t work. Sometimes it may be hit or miss, but remember you know your child best. There isn’t a one-size-fits-solution in every case.

11. Try Positivity
It is difficult to feel encouraged in a challenging situation. While coping with a family member who is sometimes aggressive can be extremely difficult, even traumatic, remember that people often emerge from the crisis stronger than they were before. They develop closer relationships, new coping skills, broader priorities and a richer appreciation of life. Re-framing something in terms of the positive or the hope for the future is certainly difficult but it can be something that you can work on with a counsellor or therapist. Staying positive doesn’t mean you have to be positive all the time and it doesn’t mean denying the problem. It is about hope for the future.


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