Tuesday Topic: What do You do about Destructive Behavior?



I missed writing yesterday and I have so many things I want to say, but I’ll hold off because it is Tuesday and I have a good/hard question for all of you. Tomorrow I’ll write about family, some old challenges resurfacing, and maybe a little about Advent (because it makes me so happy).

Today’s question comes from Lori who asks,

What you do to stay regulated when your home is being torn apart? Do you step in to stop the destructive behavior? I  am getting to the point where I get hurt if I try to intervene. I know the best defense is a good offense, so I try to intervene when the signs first appear and move in close to mitigate any damage or hurtful behavior that might occur, but sometimes it seems that is just has to run its course, then deal with the damage afterwards.

This is a heavy question and one I hope you’ll weigh in on because I don’t want to answer it alone.There are really two parts to this question:

How do you stay regulated when your child is raging?

How do you calm your child and stop the destructive behavior?

So many of us have been right in the middle of situations like this. What seems to work well with your child? Have you been given professional advice? What about the other children?

We commonly deal with the really tough behaviors in the seclusion of our homes; often even family and friends have only a vague sense of just how tough it is. Here is an opportunity for us to come together and say, “Me too.” I know how scary it can be when a child is out of control and there you are – by yourself – with all of your other children.

Please take a moment to leave a comment for Lori, even if it’s just a word of encouragement. We don’t have all the answers here, but we do have loads of combined experience and wisdom from actually living the life of parenting children from “hard places.”

I hope to hear from many of you.

Encourage one another,



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Let me introduce myself. Russ and I are the parents of twelve children by birth and adoption, and sometimes more through foster care. I'm the creator of One Thankful Mom which has been as much of a gift to me as to my readers. In 2011 I became a TBRI® Pracitioner* and have lived and breathed connected parenting ever since. I'm deeply honored to be the co-author, together with the late Dr. Karyn Purvis, of The Connected Parent; it is her final written work. I love speaking at events for adoptive and foster parents. I'm also the co-founder of The Adoption Connection, a podcast and resource site for adoptive moms. I mentor and encourage adoptive moms so you can find courage and hope in your journeys of loving your children well.


  1. Cindy
    December 9, 2014

    Thank you for your willingness to broach this subject. Two years later, I am still suffering the effects from physical aggression my adopted son displayed during a moment he describes as "blinding rage". Yes, we suffer in the seclusion of our own homes because we want to protect our children from those who wouldn't understand their behaviors. Sometimes we don't even share it all with those in the home because we don't want it to add to the picture they have of their son/sibling. Oh, this is one that I struggle with and am looking forward to reading the responses, if only to be reminded that we are not alone and that my God is bigger than all of this.

  2. Elizabeth
    December 9, 2014

    It's hard. And scary. And hard. And yucky. My son has come a long way and we haven't had a destructive rage in over a year, but I have more experience than I want to have with them. During those bad times, there is not much you can do. If I tried to do anything to mitigate the situation, it just escalated it. I could only sit back and stay close and watch it happen and pray, pray, pray. (This was after making sure all the other children were safe in another part of the house.) I had to keep reminding myself that it was just stuff and could be replaced. Oh, and I usually cried, too. It is just a horrible thing to have to go through. The worst was when I had to have another child call 911 to bring the police and ambulance. It turned out to be a blessing in disguise as it was a sort of wake up call for my son and he was marginally more cooperative in therapy. Things are better now… he still has a long way to go… but he is in a much better place now. Practical advice? Find a friend you can confide in. There is no way you can navigate this all on your own without any support. Find a therapist if you don't already have one. Put away anything (maybe even at someone else's house) you own that would devastate you if it were broken.

  3. Laine
    December 9, 2014

    Each child /situation is so different. It is draining and discouraging, heartbreaking and gut wrenching. It's taken me many years of practice to get to the point where I can disengage myself from my own fears and emotions and take a step back during these times. I do a lot of self talk to keep calm. When I can do this, it helps them calm. I try to do something for each child that I know helps them calm themselves. For one, he needs to go sit in his room at the end of the bed away from everyone else. I don't try to reason with him except to say "remember, the sooner you calm yourself, the sooner you can come back." In the past I had to sit with him and hold him. I tried singing, taking, rubbing his back, etc. The other day I had him sit next to me while petting the dog to calm him. I spoke to the dog quietly. My son calmed down much faster this way. For another we remind him he is choosing whether he has consequences he'll be happy with our consequences he won't like. Usually he can stop himself. But it has taken years of practice, patience, prayers, tears, thinking and re-thinking, learning, etc. Don't be discouraged. Change is possible. Healing is possible. Hang onto hope. Pray like crazy. Talk with others who struggle with this. You. Are. Not. Alone.

  4. Emily
    December 9, 2014

    I will do my best to tackle this. My insight comes primarily from younger children, but I hope it can be applicable to a broader spectrum.

    How do I stay calm?
    I tend to do well in adrenaline-pushing situations, so when a child is actively out of control, I tend to go calm through the worst of it. While the child is in a fit, I focus on keeping myself non-reactive. I don't address whatever the professed issue is because I know this isn't really about watching the next cartoon, eating their mashed potatoes, or whose toy that really is. I often wear a sports watch, or have my phone close by, and in the bad times I have actually regularly used a timer for the tantrums. If you know that they can scream and rage for 40 minutes at top intensity, having a physical reminder for yourself that the fit will end, and when it might, helps.

  5. Emily
    December 9, 2014

    Where I really struggle is in the build-up, or sometimes the aftermath of bickering and defiance – where you know the anger is there but can't quite get it defused. I was talking with son's therapist just last week about how when the simmering starts, sometimes I find myself unintentionally pushing his buttons just to get to the blow-up faster so we can be through it, instead of simmering on it for hours or days. I need to find a calmer way of handling this period. I'm trying to be intentional about the things that I can do to stay calm and that help keep me nourished but that I can do even when things are rough and I'm stuck at home. Reading, journaling, listening to good music, occasionally playing good music (I'm terrible at piano, but I enjoy playing) are things that just help me be a better person – and in turn a better parent.

  6. Emily
    December 9, 2014

    For helping my kids, I try to isolate them as quickly as possible. Separate them from the situation, from the other people involved, and then keep them close to me. For my little ones, this is usually holding them tight on my lap – for big ones, this is obviously harder :-/.

    If they are completely out of control and unreachable, I just let it rage itself out. If they are partly reachable, I try get them to self-regulate. We do a lot of deep breathing, "blow the mad/sad/ away", "blow me kisses". I used to keep an empty bubble-wand in my purse b/c all my kids knew how to, and liked to, blow bubbles and it was a good way to get them to calm down. With my oldest now, who is 4, I also ask him "do you want help? Do you want to feel better?" I want him to acknowledge that he doesn't like being out of control or feeling like he does, and that I can help him (or Dad, or grandparents, or his therapist).

    Sorry to be long-winded, but we face a lot of anger that I know if we don't curb now will turn into bigger problems as our kids physically grow. I'm anxious to see other replies!

  7. RussAnita Olson
    December 9, 2014

    me too…although it's been awhile, which is a beautiful blessing. My son came home at 7, evacuated out post earthquake from Haiti. And he raged. And every kid/home/situation is different, but I can share what we found to help.
    How to stay regulated when they are not? Keep an eye on your own reserves. Go to bed early. Eat well. Exercise (whatever makes your body feel good). Take breaks. Find respite care and use it. Be honest with others, express your own anger, disappointment, fear with a safe person. Then it doesn't come out when your child is evoking them in you. In the moment, I would count. I would tell myself, 'just count to 100'. I'd be holding him while he thrashed and screamed, and I would just tell myself to hold on and count to 100. I let myself cry in those moments, to sing worship songs to soothe both of us. I gave him words to what he was feeling, regardless if he understood the language yet. It reminded me he was scared, mad, overwhelmed, etc. After a while we could predict the meltdowns, and would choose to trigger them when Dad was home, so we'd not be alone. I also started to pray over him, and repeat Psalm 116 over and over again. He'd be in the corner, and I'd be blocking the door, inside the room with him repeating Psalm 116. I claimed it for him. That was powerful. I'd pray for healing, for Jesus to come be with us in that very moment and soothe and comfort. I'd keep my voice like I was reading a bedtime story. I gave him clear, simple instructions. You can throw the socks. You will not throw the cars. You can be mad at me. You will not hit me. Often, it was like it wasn't about here/now, but there/then. And we'd have to wait for him to come out of that to move forward. We always told him that while it was scary for him, we weren't scared and would not leave him alone to face those big feelings. When he was disassociated, we'd hold and rock. We'd wrap in a blanket, and rub his head to soothe him. We treated him like an infant who'd just been traumatized. We also helped him work through feelings when emotions weren't so high. Through writing and drawing especially. It's been very good for him to write his story.

    1. Karla
      December 12, 2014

      Yep. It's like reciting a script for them that feels totally unreal and even fake. But saying your intentions for them in this way begins to put into them your expectations of what behavior should look and feel like. It begins to give them that boundary hedge they are looking doe to be safe.

  8. hedvig08
    December 9, 2014

    Lots of good insight above! Put away cherished, breakable things, go to bed and take small breaks through out the day, make other children leave the room, find out how the child best calms down etc.

    I'd like to add that for us the most important thing is making sure the general stress level of the child is within "limits". A well rested, non-stressed, not hungry son has far less meltdowns than when he is hungry, tired and stressed. We are careful with meal- and snack times, lots of sleep etc and have worked so hard with his school to finally find a dayload that works. We limit guests, extracurricular activities etc and had a turnaround in August when our son finally got access to a special ed class with 2 teachers and 8 boys 10-11 years old. The rages were reduced by 90% in a week after experiencing raging mostly every day since scholl started at age 6.

    My best bet – put a lot of effort into organizing the days to reduce stress levels …

  9. musingsofabarrenwoman
    December 9, 2014


  10. Acceptance with Joy
    December 9, 2014

    Me Too. I've gotten better at it over the last 5 years. . . I have 2 that rage. Used to be for hours and hours and hours… up to 8 or 10, day after day, but now I can count on the rage lasting less than an hour and we don't usually have more than 2 a week. The one child has gotten quite violent as he tries to be intimidating. It happens at the most unexpected moments for the most bizarre reasons. I have a smashed kitchen window right now. I have a dent in the body of my suburban. I have taken a lot of punches and kicks and I'm am learning to restrain him under certain circumstances to protect myself and the others. I haven't always handled it right or well and I regret that. The part I am struggling with now is not IN the moment so much anymore, I know the drill…. it's after. I have a lot of anxiety and flashbacks and ptsd. I worry about the future when I can't manage his size.

    Having said that, I think that I have found something that is helping… I'm cautiously optimistic. I see a difference when I consistently give the one twin hydroxpcobalamine- a type of B12. I have given it to him and then not given it to him and I see a difference. So, then I sent off some tests to 23andMe for DNA testing. The kiddo does have a MTHFR mutation (as well as several others) and from my research I am seeing that there could be a B12 connection with his mood swings and bi-polar like behaviors. I have appointments set up to explore this with a doctor and I'm hopeful.

  11. Carly
    December 10, 2014

    At this time, we have three who rage… We have had two glass doors broken, car door dented by a river rock, beds, dressers, chairs, broken, books torn apart photos taken from the walls and thrown across a room. I have been hit with 2x4s, rollerblades, bricks- all thrown when my back was turned. Yes, we are in the trenches, and sometimes I wonder if the trench is becoming deeper or if we are actually coming to the end of it, only to find my world rocked yet again by another outburst I didn't see coming from a different kiddo. Over the past nine years of our adoption journey, I haven't always taken the time to care for myself. That has changed this year- especially because of 5 different hospitalizations between May and Sept, of two different kiddos, one bio, one adopted. As I began looking at our overwhelming journey, ugliness and beauty surfaced. Also what surfaced was the trauma our family was experiencing at the hands of our adopted kiddos. We lovingly call it our Current Traumatic Stress Disorder due to 5 kiddos' PTSD and the host of other 'credentials that they have accumulated after their names…So much of the above suggestions work for us as well. Send other kids to watch a video or jump on the tramp, make world smaller, not engaging the violent one- breaking glass is a HUGE trigger for me- being the human shield to keep kiddo contained in room if needed. I usually have older kids at home, when one rages, the bios know to come sit with me, to witness and video the rage or to call 911. We are currently working with a therapist who comes to our home twice a week and that has been good for us- and, yes, another hoop to jump through to have a RTC placement for our almost 11 year old. We have been role playing and I have been drawing mustaches on the inside of their index fingers to remind them to use their magic mustaches. I am seeing a conscious effort on my littles' parts to practice coping skills BEFORE something happens. When I see a situation that could escalate quickly, I begin breathing deeply and shaking out my arms or whatever, drink water, and talk to kid about why I am doing whatever it is. Sometimes the rage hits so fast there seems to be nothing to do, but when I think back, there were warning signals, I missed them. (Or ignored them hoping it wouldn't happen this time?) Back to self care! VITAL, Friends- ABSOLUTELY vital! And, it can look like many different things- but, done with the purpose of caring for and strengthening me (husband, bios etc…) I am able to care for my kids from hard places much better if I am better rested, hydrated, feeling connected with the LORD in quiet time, have had adult conversation with someone that has NOTHING to do with my kids, and time with a friend who absolutely knows what I'm going through and I know what she's going through and we don't have to apologize or make excuses for anything. Self care can be just being REAL when someone asks how it's going- harder than I ever imagined! Reading things for PLEASURE instead of researching the next round of credentials my kid has received… It is sometimes hard to remember to care for myself, so I really try to purpose breathing, drinking water, eating every three hours myself… Blood work to check my hormone and vit D levels as well as thyroid etc… also made a difference as I am now taking 5,000-10,000 IUs of Vit D3 each day, my outlook is lighter and I have hope again. Blessings, friends!


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