Intense emotional outbursts in 13 y.o. boy

My son has always struggled with infrequent (every 6 -12 months) very intense emotional outbursts (primarily anger and frustration).  Over the last year they have become more frequent and intense - throwing things, breaking things that are important to him (a set of ear buds he had saved up to buy), yelling.  He just had the worst one yet, screaming for 40 minutes, throwing things, curling up into a ball in his bed with the pillow over his head for over an hour.  There is a history of mental illness in my family so of course I'm trying to manage my own fear.  Two questions 1.  can behavior like this be in the realm of "normal" (as loaded and absurd as that word can be), have you experienced this with a child and seen them grow out of it?  2.  We did work with a child therapist for many years but need to find someone else, any suggestions of a professional we could work with (we are in Marin)?  Thanks

Parent Replies

New responses are no longer being accepted.

I'm so sorry your son experiences this. It has to feel frightening and awful. I'm so sorry you are experiencing this.

This behavior is not healthy and it's important to work toward understanding the underlying cause of the behavior. Start with a good physical exam, then a neuro-psychological assessment. Consider parent or family therapy, in addition to whatever therapy may be recommended in the assessment. I'm sorry I do not have anyone in Marin to recommend. I'm in Silicon Valley. Well regarded organizations here are The Children's Health Council and Jewish Family and Children's Services (don't need to be Jewish to take advantage of their services). You can look at their websites for an idea of what to look for. You might also reach out to your local Parents Helping Parents support group for local support and recommendations.

Do something kind for yourself today - you'll be better able to care for your son.

Sadly for many kids adolescence brings on these emotional dysregulation episodes. I would find him a therapist as soon as possible. Additionally Family Therapy can also help. Just know you are not alone even though other parents are not talking about it it doesn’t mean it not happening. 

That is rough and I have been there. My sister and I (we are 6 years apart in age) both went through something similar in middle and high school. Our outbursts were much more frequent though, and the triggers are still a mystery to this day. They were pretty intense. My sister once missed a flight because she was having a meltdown. Looking back, I have no idea how my mom handled this, but we did both grow out of it after a few years. Around age 14, my son started having occasional outbursts that were very intense and pretty of out character - one time he tried to get out of a slow moving car. It got a lot better around age 16 when he got his license and had a lot more control over his social life. Looking back, I think there was a lot of teenage hormonal stuff going on that he absolutely would not talk about, plenty of social anxiety, too much time online (socializing), anger, and his yearn for more control over his own life. He just had a meltdown for the first time in forever last week. It only lasted about ten minutes, nothing was damaged, and afterwards he told me “that was long overdue and I feel ten pounds lighter.” So I would say there is light at the end of the tunnel. Hang in there!

Yes, our son has had some really scary outbursts over the years. I’ve worried for his mental health (and my own). At 14.5, he has much better control of his emotions.

He still blows up, but it’s less frequent and he recovers more quickly. Therapy was somewhat helpful for him, but super helpful for us as parents. Wishing u and your son the best

My kid sounds similar but if yours feels fine in between the 6 month outburst, maybe not. We avoided drugs (and it wasn't bad enough that anyone was suggesting it). Then, someone said to me that mental health issues should be addressed with the same seriousness as physical pain and I asked to try some meds. He started taking Zoloft a couple of years ago (maybe 10 or 11) and once it kicked in he said "I want to take this for the rest of my life." He used to say to me out of the blue "I feel angry for no reason." I can't imagine how terrible that feels, even if he wasn't having a major outburst everytime. I don't care if it's "normal" - I care that my kid feels ok. 

I am so sorry you and your child are dealing with this. I’ve been there...... Given that you mentioned there’s a history of mental illness in your family, I would get him in with a good therapist and psychiatrist ASAP. Make sure you find someone who both you and your child feel comfortable with. Really research the psychiatrist. We have found someone absolutely amazing here in the east bay but I can’t make any recommendations for Marin, unfortunately. Sometimes if you find a therapist you really like, especially someone who does CBT and/ or DBT (which may be really good for helping him build skills to better regulate his own emotions), they will have some good psychiatrist recommendations for you. 
wishing you peace and resilience


It's really hard to tell what is "normal" in teens, but the good news is that most teenagers can benefit from the right therapist, whether they have mental illness or not. Since you are in Marin, I highly recommend that you check out two excellent clinics that offer Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT) for adolescents there. You are luck to live in an area that has these resources. DBT can help with emotion dysregulation, which sounds like what you have described. I have talked to the clinicians at both DBT Center of Marin, and Mindfit DBT. I did intakes there, and if my kid had been more willing to commute from the East Bay, we would have used their services. We ended up with a great DBT practitioner in the East Bay. It does require quite a bit of committment from both the parent and the teen. Good luck!