Children Dealing with Violent Rage
Instead, Zach's rages grew more intense and more frequent. At home, Zach would scream, throw toys and punch holes in the wall. He was particularly violent when playing with his sister, Julia, who is two years younger than he is. In kindergarten, Zach tried to stab a classmate with a pair of scissors.
Much of Zach's rage was directed at Laurie. "I started to be afraid of Zachary," Laurie says. "He would actually say to me, 'Mommy, I love you. I don't want to kill you, but I do.'"
Laurie says she once turned around in the kitchen to find Zach standing before her with a kitchen knife in his hand. "He had his arm poised back and he had a crazy look in his eyes as though he was going to stab me—for no reason, nothing," she says. "I just grabbed the knife out of his hand."
Joe and Laurie were so scared of what their son might do, they started sleeping with their bedroom door locked. "What if I wake up at night and Zach's standing on the edge of my bed with a club?" Joe says. "I mean, you just didn't know."
Joe and Laurie realized how dangerous Zach's rage had become when they left their kids with Amanda, a relative who lived close by and knew about Zach's mood swings. When Amanda told Zach it was time to get ready for bed, he started spitting and screaming. "It was not the little boy that I know," she says. "It was like straight out of a horror movie."
Scared of what Zach might do, Amanda grabbed Julia, ran into a bedroom, locked the door and called Joe and Laurie.
When Joe and Laurie arrived, their house was ransacked. Zach had broken glass and furniture, and smeared feces on the walls. Joe found Amanda and Julia hiding in the bedroom. "It was unbelievable and I didn't know what we were going to do," Joe says. "To be scared of your own kid or what he might do—it's indescribable."
And because raising Zach required so much energy and focus, Laurie says there was rarely ever anything left for Julia. "After the incident with the babysitter, we were sitting at the table with Julia. She looked at me and she burst into tears and she said, 'Mama, it's just always all about Zach,'" Laurie says. "And she went running upstairs crying. In that moment Joe and I realized that we have to do something. We're losing everyone."
Laurie says Zach has a combination of hypersensitivity and hyposensitivity. "He would do things like throw himself on the ground and thrash his body. Where in a normal kid it would hurt, [Zach] would get pleasure, he would laugh," Laurie says. "Sound bothered him. Light, clothing, that sort of thing. Everything was accentuated 10 or 15 times of what a normal person would experience."
* While numerous diagnoses were given to Zach, including those mentioned above, it is not the intention of The Oprah Winfrey Show to attribute any one of these disorders as the reason behind Zach's violence and negative thoughts.
Laurie says these powerful drugs promised to calm Zach's rage, but brought with them a new set of issues. Laurie says her son sometimes has trouble remembering and learning. "And I'm not convinced [the medications] brought calmness at all," she says.
Raising Zach has been a constant emotional struggle, Laurie says. "You feel like a horrible parent. You don't understand why this is happening in your home. I know in my heart of hearts that we were good parents and loving. And this came from outside us," she says. "But you don't want the world to know. You can't participate in everyday life. You can't go to a baseball game without wondering how he's going to be. Nothing's normal."
At his school, Zach has learned a technique called "White Light" for dealing with his emotions. Instead of focusing on negative energy around him, "White Light" helps Zach focus on positive things and avoid the onset of his out-of-control anger.
Watch Zach explain to Oprah how "White Light" works.
Laurie says "White Light" has helped her cope too. "I used to worry a lot and have a lot of conflicted emotions: fear, worry and anger that this is happening to me," she says. "One of the biggest things that helped me was also learning about my own energies and thoughts and learning not to worry, which is huge as a mom because you're taught to worry. It made an enormous difference because every time I worried about Zach, I was actually sending him negative energy. He could feel it when I would get angry at our situation. And I learned not to be afraid of his rages in the end, which was quite a departure."
In 2000, Oprah Show viewers met a little boy named Brit. Like Zach, Brit was full of rage. At just 4 years old, he could rant for hours over his mother telling him to clean his room.
After that appearance, Brit was eventually diagnosed with bipolar disorder and got the right medication. He graduated from high school as a member of the National Honor Society and is on a full scholarship to Baylor University.
Watch Brit's message of hope to Zach and Laurie.
Should you be worried about your child? Learn the warning signs of explosive rage.