Most parents deal with a child’s tantrums and unruly behavior at some point, but imagine living in fear of your own child. For Allen and Cheryl, the last four years have been a nightmare. They say their 9-year-old son, Steve, has extreme rage, and he is terrorizing their family. They say he’s attempted to seriously harm his younger brother three times — twice by holding a pillow over his head and another time holding him under water in a pool — and that he tells his teacher that he wants to blow up his family’s home. Steve’s behavior has become so out of control, his parents have installed cameras in their home and put an alarm on his door in an effort to keep their family safe.
“It’s very hard to look at your boy threatening to kill you, threatening to kill your husband, threatening to kill your children,” says Cheryl, whose sisters criticize her parenting, saying that Steve is over-medicated and under-parented. “Steve goes from super hyper, running around the house, bouncing off of walls to being angry, throwing toys. He uses whatever is closest to him as a weapon. Generally, I end up sitting on the couch with the two younger ones, just to protect them from his antics. My family is suffering. We live a life on eggshells. Everything revolves around Steve. I’m concerned about how life is going to be for all of us.”
Cheryl says Steve has been put on 18 different medications and been placed in three mental hospitals, but nothing seems to help for long. At a loss for what to do and in fear for their lives and the lives of their two younger children, the parents turn to Dr. Phil for help.
Dr. Phil introduces the couple to Dr. Alan Kazdin, Director of the Yale Parenting Center, who offers them insight into Steve’s behavior and suggests ways to help them change his behavior — and their own.
“I think there are two really viable options,” Dr. Kazdin tells the couple in the video above. The first one is behavior analysis. “The overall goal is to try to get control over different amounts of the child’s behavior and your day. It’s not going to be a nice magic wand on day one.” Instead, the parents must focus on changing one behavior at a time, or just a particular hour of the day. The second way to make changes is with parent management training. “It will amount to how you say things to the child, when you give the child choice,” he continues.
Dr. Phil reiterates, “You can’t fix everything at once. There’s no miracle drug, there’s no miracle pill, there’s no miracle injection. You target a behavior and you get that one under control.” Once one behavior is under control, then they can move on to changing another behavior.
Dr. Kazdin explains that the parents will have to create practice scenarios for Steve, so he can learn how to react appropriately when he’s not in the heat of a tantrum. “Each time you practice, you change the brain,” he says.
This episode of Dr. Phil airs Thursday. Click here to see where you can watch.