Scary kid emotions
I went on a home visit yesterday. A mum I work with was having a tough time getting her child into the house from the car and wanted some help to work out what was happening. Her little 3 year old boy would scream as soon as he got out of car, needing the garage door to be put down a certain way. I watched as he went around the outside of the house and garden in a methodical way- mum telling me that he does this every. single. time. He then needed mum to take her shoes off when he told her and for her to place them in the correct spot. I was only allowed to come into the house when he told me I could. I watched as he got frustrated at his mum for getting the juice box and demanded her to put it back, so then he could get it in his way. It seemed like he had a way for doing everything and wasn’t able to tolerate any change to his plan from anyone or anything. No wonder mum was exhausted- she felt like she needed to comply with every instruction and direction her son gave- otherwise world war III would erupt. Surely complying with his directions to avoid meltdowns would help right? It certainly seems that way and makes sense, but in actual fact when kids are in control most of the time, it’s very anxiety provoking because they’re left at those times without a secure base which they can rely on to make decisions and keep them safe. Instead they’re in charge and they use this control as a way of coping in the moment. Of course, we discussed all the possible things that could be happening at the time including sensory factors; but mostly we talked about what it’s like for her and for the little boy and reflected on that. The drive up to the garage when they both become increasingly anxious about the guaranteed meltdown that would soon ensue, the feeling of needing to walk on egg shells around her boy and follow his every word. Mum then started to speak about how underneath it all, she is actually afraid of her son’s big emotions. Why though?-you might ask how could the emotions of a 3 year old scare her. It’s because of the emotions that then are awakened within her. When her son screams at her, she unconsciously remembers how her parents used to yell at her for doing something wrong, leaving her feeling helpless and numb. When he gets angry, she feels small and loses the ability to think about what to do. So yes I could have given this mum strategies to support her son’s sensory processing differences, we could have written social stories or made visual routines to show this boy how the journey from car to home would go- but none of these would have worked in the long term, because we weren’t working on the really nitty gritty difficulties that was happening. Reflective work isn’t easy, and isn’t quick. It’s a process and one that’s so needed to make effective and long term changes. When mum feels supported, she’s able to think and reflect on her own and her child’s experiences from a new light, being curious and kind to herself as she makes changes and learns how she can be the secure base her child needs. Tough work right?