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Agression to sibling - how to manage risk?
  • Hi everyone, I would like to ask for a little advice about managing my 5 year old's aggression.

    My son is a very smart PDA/Asperger's boy and has a very gentle 4 year old brother. He is still waiting for a diagnosis but luckily we got CAMHS involved because of his aggressive meltdowns and they worked at home to make a Positive Behaviour Support plan. School have not really engaged with it and most of the interventions in the plan are for ASD children, but we have adapted them to work a bit better for PDA and for things not to appear directive to our very resistant boy.

    His main problem is emotional regulation: he feels angry very quickly and hits and hurts others, especially me (his mum) and little brother. This is usually when we don't follow 'rules' or take part in the games he has set up - but has forgotten to tell us about. It also happens when we disrupt his escapist activities like watching tv.

    Anyway, today he gave his younger brother an uppercut jab to the chin that made his little jaw slam shut - luckily no tongue injuries- because he had taken his little toy car.

    When he does something like this I ask that he go to think somewhere and hopefully apologize, but he was resistant to this and, as often happens, would not go and started to shout. We have a system of escalating calming-down places at home, first a step, then the utility room and then the patio as a last resort (usually when he is hurting, punching or shouting too much) so he can calm himself down safely without hurting or of breaking the house.

    CAMHS have instructed us to tell him he has to calm himself down and then will get what he is asking for, but in his meltdowns he continues to demand that we a) hug him b) let him calm down with everyone around or basically do as he says, and THEN he says he will calm down. The point is to enable him to see he can self-regulate, but this has not worked at all for us and he gets really, really distressed when we hold back the contact he is asking for (starts to headbutt, grab my clothes, cling to me, jump on me, etc.).

    After around 50 min today he was exhausted and under 'threat' of going back to pre-school to learn to play, he eventually stopped the screams and gave his brother an apology.

    My questions are: how do you manage the risk of an aggressive child to siblings? He has no notion of hurting others by accident or on purpose or any remorse, and CAMHS system of losing favourite items if he hurts and gaining them back through good deeds is too delayed, in that ten minutes after the episode he has forgotten what it was all about. Do I never, ever let them play in their room unsupervised? We have tried this but eventually stop because its, well, very hard to never let them out of our sight, but I wonder if that's the only solution?

    I feel very afraid for our other child, who loves his brother and wants to play with him all the time, as well as for us, since in only a few years time neither my husband nor I will 'win' the physical confrontation.

    Any advice would be appreciated - sorry if the story and intervention are a bit jumbled, ask any questions if its unclear!
  • Hello,

    I would love to offer you advice, but i don't think i have any!

    I can relate to your story however and feel for your family - if anyone has more advice for helping siblings to cope, please come forward and let us know.

    Here's my experience...

    My PDA son is 9 with an older brother 11 and a younger sister, 2 and a half.

    Like your son, he cannot handle his emotions, will lash out in an instant, has irritating and sometimes mean behaviour and seems to feel no remorse - the victims deserve it.

    He attacks me, his brother and more recently his dad too. His sister will be used as a pawn in his meltdown to get to me - either taking her stuff, encouraging her to do and say naughty things, or blocking her access to me when she is clearly terrified of her brothers behaviour.

    The jealousy between my two boys is just awful, but i know quite often that my pdaer just wanted to be like his big brother.
    His big brother, who being very rigid in his way of thinking, but neuro typical, refuses to accept his younger brothers diagnosis, insisting just that he is a retard or a psychopath. He feels a huge injustice as often i will intervene in the arguments and fights, but try to calm, distract and de escalate rather than punish, but my 11 year old in his wisdom just thinks i'm being weak, despite my continued explanations of trying to protect him.
    Unfortunately he has been subject to extreme violence, sometimes provoked , sometimes not, has seen his brother destroy the house and attack me repeatedly and often has to barricade himself and sister in a safe place until the meltdown subsides.... things that no child should have to witness.

    Recently, he's decided enough is enough, and is almost trying to imitate his brothers behaviour, 'if he can get away with it, so can I', and his new found aggression breaks my heart. I'm afraid he will never forgive or accept his younger brother, who i think would maybe calm his violence if he showed him a bit of understanding.

    Of course, we all try to walk on egg shells to not offset the anxiety, but most of the time we don't see the reaction coming and have found no ways really to stop it except putting myself in the middle, and trying to avoid the situation arising next time.

    I also worry about leaving them alone, even though they are much older. Sometimes it can't be helped, sometimes with disastrous consequences, but sometimes i'm surprised and it's ok! I try to reward my pdaer when there is no violence, and my oldest one too for being accomodating.

    Have you thought about having a baby monitor to listen in when they play on their own, maybe you could hear the anxiety rising and intervene before disaster strikes, but they still get to be alone together sometimes. Of course, sometimes, i know, we don't hear the reaction coming!

    The explosive child is a good book to read, but i have never been able to communicate with my son about what may cause his outbursts or aggression, if there is an underlying issue to address, as suggested in the book.... could be worth a read for you though as he's still quite young.

    My little girl has started watching frozen, so after repeated nightmares , i have explained that her brother is a bit like Elsa.... a lovely boy, (and he really can be) but who lashes out when he is frightened and can't control his reactions, like the ice queen with her ice, but that he doesn't mean to hurt anyone and can be helped with our love! Soppy i know, but i think something registered even though she is so young!

    On a positive note, i believe my pdaer loves his siblings, he can play so well with his little sister and is often more anxious when his older brother is not there!

    We floundered for a long time with my sons meltdowns and behaviour, and probably caused damage in our ignorance. I just hope with time and us now understanding his condition that the violent outbursts will calm. As much for his interior peace as for his siblings... i do believe he feels bad, scared and lost at his reactions ... he knows they are wrong, and although can justify them, i think he wishes he could react differently.

    We have a CBT therapist now with us and we are going to try and brainstorm an appropriate consequence for the violence... nothing works yet and generally adds fuel to the fire... but she believes, and so do i, that anxiety may be even higher if he feels we can't contain him. At help 4 psychology, they said to chose your battles and let the others slide, and that the violence is the one we need to address, unfortunately, even they didn't seem to have all the answers... just the calmer the child is, the more in control, and therefore the less damage control we'll have to do!

    I hope you don't mind me sharing our experience. I too live in constant worry about everyones physical and mental safety!

    I guess we can just be there, be as strong as we can and hope that's enough.

    Take care


  • RhanHRhanH
    Posts: 1,151
    Hi 5marvels. Have you seen our Siblings pages they may offer some help:

    Personally I found it necessary to supervise my PDA daughter at all times and not leave her alone with her older sister or friends so I could manage the situation. It’s only been in the last 6 months or so (she’s now 9) where I have begun to try for a while but to be honest it’s not been very successful. She gets excited playing, then finds it hard stop and this tips her into the VCB.
    Although I don’t want our family to do separate things it’s often the calmer and easiest solution!
  • June67
    Posts: 812
    I totally agree and sympathise; having a volatile PDAer and an Asperger's child both boys, 11 and 13 respectively, myself it can be scary and a living hell for all of us. At times they sometimes can't stop setting each other off as neither knows when to stop. I too get accused of playing favourites/being to soft/being unfair and it's hard for the Apserger's one to understand and regulate his emotions yet alone deal with his brother. Mr PDA obviously has no understanding of how his demands and reactions to those of others impact on others or choses not to care.
    When they were younger they were quite closely supervised as they found play tricky as they developed emotionally at a different rate to others so learned emotional self management, turn taking etc later than normal. Your five year old could be around two years behind (or more) in this area despite looking and sounding more developed. This is something to consider when allowing play out of sight of adults with others with siblings younger or older; younger ones just can't yet understand how they may set their sibling off whilst older ones can find it draining to deal with or sometimes wind them up. It has been hard for us but there is hope, we do occasionally get times now when they can be left alone in a room together for a while to either do something individually or even more rarely cooperatively. I have even on occasion been able to pop out of the house to the corner shop. It's just about gauging their mood and engagement in what they are doing so they can be left for a while and build up gradually. We still have many days where I feel like I'm taking a risk going to the kitchen to get a glass of water but it doesn't always last the whole day.
    My way of coping is to try to remember that when they do meltdown it isn't naughty, aggressive wilfulness it is a complete loss of control and panic either through anxiety, fear and or frustration. It's scary to deal with but the first priority is keeping everyone safe and reassuring them it will be ok soon. If possible I move them apart reassuring the one not in meltdown and occupying them with an activity e.g. videos etc so I can keep an eye on the other and try to support without crowding until he is at a point where he can be distracted, calmed and or comforted. If he's ready we may talk about what has happened but this might not be for quite a while if ever. When we do talk I try to keep it non confrontational to see what we could change to make things better next time. It doesn't always work and you do have to keep thinking about the 'iceberg' and sensory stuff as what starts things off isn't always obvious. We need to forgive ourselves for not getting it right all the time, when things go wrong look at it as an opportunity to learn from and move on you might spot the warning signs earlier next time a similar situation happens.
    Yes, there are also many times when I am not able to cope myself and shout or get cross making things worse and then have to spend even longer fixing things and mentally beat myself up over not staying calm, I'm human after all and living quite a stressful life at times. I hope this helps a bit.

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