Wednesday, 30 May 2012

The healing power of plasters!

I’ve written before about how sometimes a well-placed plaster makes all the difference to Mini at times.
You might remember that Mini is not good at letting us know when he’s got a real, genuine, full-on painful problem. But he’ll often wail for an hour after bumping his head on a cushion, scream if he drops a toy on his foot, or cry for an age after falling over. Plasters have allowed me to acknowledge the ‘hurt’, whilst not dwelling on the (lack of) pain. We’ve done that automatic thing of brushing the ‘hurt’ aside, so as to make it hurt less, that many parents do, and indeed something I remember my parents doing with me too.

Now I’ve learnt more about attachment and trauma, I understand that Mini isn’t really hurting physically when he does these things. But he’s hurting on the inside, and crying out for a cuddle, or attention, or love. Brushing it aside is brushing his feelings to one side too. It says ‘Mummy doesn’t care that I’m hurting, it’s not important to her’ and ‘I’m silly for feeling like this because daddy isn’t interested’. That of course isn’t true, but that’s how it feels to Mini when we don’t look at what he really means when he tells us something.

At my recent Theraplay course, I learnt about noticing the hurts (even just tiny scratches or bruises) and using them as opportunities to rub moisturiser (or magic cream as we call it here) into those areas. This enables touch which is vital to connecting with our children and reinforcing our relationship. In the first edition of the Theraplay book, Ann Jernberg talked about how we should ‘Take every opportunity to make physical contact with the child’. And Field (1993) said ‘Physical touch can relieve stress, decrease anxiety and depression and increase comfort’.
Mini lets me do this sometimes when he’s really up for touch. On occasion he enjoys a weather massage. Recently, he’s even begun to touch me – stroke my face, or my arm, which is really positive. But other times, when he’s feeling a bit sensitive, the touch is too much for him. Sometimes even a tap on the elbow to try to get eye contact is too much. On these occasions, Mini will quickly spiral into a meltdown.

So anyway, plasters. I’m not sure the therapists would agree with me that this is useful, but I see this as a compromise, and certainly a step in the right direction. It’s a way of me showing Mini that I’m accepting his ‘hurt’, appreciating that it must hurt, but also acknowledging that he doesn’t necessarily need or want cuddles, kisses or any other form of physical affection. I tell him that I love him, and I put a plaster on his ‘hurt’. It’s one thing saying ‘I love you’, but I’m following it up with a plaster that proves to him that I really do love him and I’m looking after him.

So I now own a variety of plasters – with bugs on, monkeys on, zips on, blood and guts on, see-through, waterproof, coloured, fabric, Pooh bear on, Mr Bump on, big ones, little ones, teeny tiny ones, huuuuuge ones.
How do your children react to ‘hurts’? Do they tell you or hide them? Would a plaster help…I’ve probably got one to suit!

Sunday, 27 May 2012

A weekend of two halves

This weekend really has been hard-work! A brilliant day, followed by a difficult day. Let me share it with you....
What a lovely day. It’s been really hot, so we headed down the road to the seaside where we’d recently had a break with my mum and step-dad.
We didn’t tell Mini til we were almost parked; in fact, we didn’t have to tell him because he recognised where we were.  We found a lovely spot, near enough to the car park and toilets, but no amusements, chip shops or ice cream vans for the kids to craze for.

Sandcastles were made, names and declarations of love were written in the sand, and seaweed was pulled off the rocks and heaped into buckets. Half the stones on our particular section of the beach were removed and heaped in piles by the groynes by Dollop. And Mini ran back and forth from the sea to various shallow holes he’d dug, so he could fill them with water. He worked out that the water drained down and probably soaked back down to the sea, so he kept running to the water’s edge to see if he could see ‘his bucketful’!

After playtime and a picnic, we headed to the touristy end of the beach for a quick ice cream. Then we headed home where we all chilled out and rested (some of us more burnt than others).

Total contrast. From the minute Mini came downstairs he was in hyper mode, completely unregulated. Nothing was right or good enough for him. He wanted every toy that Dollop had, and then discarded it the minute he got it. He disagreed with everything that was said or offered. He told little lies about all sorts of minor things. He had toddler style tantrums at every opportunity. He made demand after demand. We could tell it was just going to be one of those days.

Unfortunately, today was also the day we’d been invited to a Christening. Not just any Christening, but that of the son of our good friends, and the NC was invited to be Godfather. There was absolutely no question that the NC should and would go. Although not remotely religious, he was really chuffed to be asked. Much thought had gone into our gift too, and we had both been looking forward to it. 

So we had to make the difficult decision of whether the children and I should also attend or not. Mini clearly was not in a state where he would be able to sit quietly – or at all – in a church for an hour. With little sense of danger, would he be able to make the short walk from the church to house on roads with no paths? Could he manage to avoid jumping into the deep deep, yet inviting garden pond? Could he stop himself from running down the long driveway into the road? With other children present, could he manage his feelings if he was required to share…a football? Some bubbles? Would he do what was asked of him? Would he show appropriate wariness of the many strangers who’d be in attendance? The answer to all of these is a massive NO!

With a heavy heart, the NC set off alone to see his friends, become a Godfather, and represent us all at the reception after. Our friends are busy people – he with a demanding, busy job, she with a new baby, so I’m not sure if they read this blog. We certainly haven’t been able to explain too much about Mini’s issues, because Mini is almost always there, and because well, it’s hard to explain things like this, especially to people you care about. So I don’t know if they understood our reasons for not celebrating with them, although I really hope they do.

But I do know that Mini would most definitely have struggled. To other children it might have been a great opportunity to run around and let off some steam, for Mini, letting off steam means kicking, spitting, punching and his latest trick – hair pulling, it means running around and around and around and around with no signs of slowing, it means getting worked up into another hyper state with no chance of self-regulation, it means mummy and daddy are constantly alert to every possible trigger. The mere fact that the NC’s attention would have been diverted for a few hours would have been trigger enough for Mini I think today.

So the NC went, Mini and I chatted over piles of Lego, Dollop napped. The NC returned, and the morning’s behaviour was repeated all over again. Mini is now finally in bed, only an hour late.

And now, there is gin. And a celebratory toast to the NC’s new Godson – here’s to you Baby Smiler!

Friday, 25 May 2012

A heart melting moment

Just wanted to share a lovely moment with you all, which has ended my week well…

During my Theraplay course I learnt a new version of Twinkle Twinkle Little Star that the therapist often uses in sessions. He suggested we try it with our kids, so tonight, I did. It goes like this:

Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
What a special boy you are
With your nice brown hair and your rosy cheeks
Big blue eyes from which you peek
Twinkle Twinkle Little Star
What a special boy you are

The smile on Mini’s face was a real delight. He didn’t say it, but it was clear to see that he felt special.

We all then sang it to Dollop, obviously changing words where appropriate. Then during a lovely cuddle, with lots of eye contact, Mini sang it back to me. *heart melts*

Schooltime teasing

This week hasn’t been a great one. And that’s probably for a number of reasons…

A change in routine, the heat and different class teachers to normal (which seems to have unsettled several of the children, not just Mini) all add to the frustrations and anxieties that Mini experiences.

But I think that the biggest issue this week has been at school with a friend.
I think Mini has suffered with some big feelings and teasing this week. The teachers haven’t noticed anything, but I know he took in his small cuddly Smurf keyring one day. This is as treasured as Mini’s toys tend to be – he doesn’t really care for any of them, but this one has hung around for a while. When he asked on another day to take a toy I suggested the same toy, but he told me he didn’t know where it was. When I picked him up after school I checked his book bag and there was the Smurf. I pulled it out to show him I’d found it, but he hurriedly packed it back in the bag and shushed me!

Later on when Mini was calm, I asked him if he didn’t like the keyring anymore, or if his friends didn’t like it. He told me that one of his friends had told him that Smurfs were stupid and silly, and another friend had joined in and told him the same, and so he didn’t want to take it anymore. He was clearly embarrassed and worried about taking it again. I tried to show empathy, and talked about how hard it must have been for him when his friend said those things about his special toy; I hugged him and told him that maybe his friend was feeling a bit jealous because she didn’t have one of her own. But I told him that he didn’t have to take it again if he didn’t want to.

I felt really sad about this – he’s 5; he should be able to enjoy the Smurfs at that age right? I must say, I also felt happy in equal measure though because it’s very difficult to get Mini to talk about his feelings and even harder to get him to open up about what happens at school (he can’t even share what he’s done at school each day). I felt proud of myself for spotting the right moment, and creating an opportunity where Mini felt comfortable enough to open up. I was also proud of him for trusting me enough to share what happened with me.

And so it starts, age 5, in reception – that teasing and bullying between children (and their parents) over what children have/don’t have, want/don’t want, like/don’t like etc.
He’s experienced feelings he might never have had before – embarrassment, ridicule, inadequacy, and of course, it’s probably added to those feelings of shame he experiences all too often anyway.
We all now have to think much more about other people’s perceptions of Mini, and he has to give the right impression to his peers, so as to avoid the bullying and confrontation that can so often occur.

Mini’s very lucky to have a small group of (usually) lovely little friends. And certainly those who we’re likely to stay in touch with over the summer are brilliant kids, who are all totally accepting of each other as children of this age should be. I hope this will help Mini to stay young, and not grow up too quickly. But how sad, that at just 5, our kids have to think about having the ‘right’ possessions….

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Because I wasn't there today...

Oh my word. What. A. Day.

I’ve been stuck in a room with 20 odd other people in an old manor house, with little fresh air circulating on one of the hottest days of the year so far. The trainer was excitable, enthusiastic, a true believer in the techniques he was sharing. As such, it was a fast paced day (as was the first half of the course last week), with lots to take in, and several techniques to practise and take part in (yes, I have been playing with balloons and flyswatters, and I’ve been given a weather massage, and I’ve been ignored on purpose in a listening exercise). Today was the second and final part of an introduction to Theraplay®.

Like last week, I came out of the training room feeling excited that this will be something to help our whole family reconnect and move forward. But thoroughly shattered because of all the information I’ve (hopefully) absorbed, and all the questions in my head about how what I’ve learnt actually relates to the situations we often find ourselves in with Mini.

I’m also feeling a bit frustrated as we now know it’s going to be at least another 2-3months before we can get the videoed assessment which happens prior to Theraplay starting, and then another month or so after that before the Theraplay actually starts. I know it doesn’t sound all that long, but the Theraplay or at least play therapy has been talked about since my first session with CAMHS, back in February I think. It’s within sight now though which is the main thing.

So with my head buzzing, feeling hot and slightly pretty bothered, I return home to find that everyone’s out enjoying the sun in the garden – but no hats, no suncream. The children are running around the garden picking up grass stains in the shoes I’ve just washed to relieve them of the fresh-cut grass stains they picked up on Sunday. Despite it being almost 5pm (the kids eat between 5-5.30pm usually), the NC hadn’t started dinner. (Yeah, I know, nothing major but enough to piss me off!)
Not only that, Mini is feeling pretty angry at mummy and daddy. Probably because mummy came home in a bit of a bad mood, and Mini’s not used to that. And because his whole routine was knocked out; Daddy did the school runs, Daddy administered snacks, both children got to play outside, which they haven’t been able to much because the weather’s been horrible and the grass too long (note to the NC: keep the grass cut please so we can play out more!).  Mini was probably thinking that I’d been pretty rejecting and abandoning towards him because I wasn’t where I usually am.

Here’s how I know Mini was angry:
He brushed past me, not acknowledging my presence at all until he’d washed his hands.
He demanded food as soon as he saw me, then got cross because I told him dinner (hot dogs) would be ready really soon, so he could eat then.
He demanded different food, until he realised that hot dogs actually meant sausages – his favourite.
He sat on the dinner table, and then screamed when I asked him to sit on his chair instead. I explained that if his bottom was on the table, there was nowhere to put his plate – he moved.
He dropped his hot dog on his plate in anger, then cried and wailed when the hot dog bun split.
He then refused to eat it until he was given another hot dog bun. Although unfortunately they’d all been served, so he begrudgingly smushed it all back together again, glued by copious amounts of ketchup.
He kept arguing with Dollop. At one point he accused Dollop of giving him a headache – in his foot(!)
He then reached for his nearby pencil box and having successfully grabbed a pencil,stabbed angrily at the table and then drew on it too.
Having already decided before dinner that he was having a cupcake for pudding, and chosen which one, he refused to eat his cupcake for pudding, instead requesting every other sweet food that he could think of.  He never did have any pudding.
He continually told me how angry and cross he was with me (yes, result…verbalising emotion!)
He then collapsed on me on the sofa, and I managed to draw a few patterns on his tummy. He calmed down quite quickly, and then fairly calmly and happily went off for a bath with Dollop!

Despite being calmer, it still felt that Mini could turn at any minute. We tried to do a bit of blanket swinging, but Mini (as with lots of nice things) kept trying to sabotage it for both him and Dollop. Eventually, after a big cuddle, and an 'I'm not going to sleep ever again if you don't swing me in the blanket RIGHT NOW', we agreed to swing him, and he is settling down right now. At least, I can pretend that's what's happening if I ignore the odd screams floating down the stairs!

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Spotting the signs of stress

Mini is 5. He was daytime potty-trained by 2 and a half years old, although night time dryness came around a year or so later.

Over the last 5/6 months, Mini has begun wetting again, and we thought it was without trigger. A lot of the time we couldn’t see why, but a pattern of wetting on the way home from school developed. Because he’d expressed concerns to me about moving on, Glenda-the-CAMHS-therapist felt that he was scared of coming home because he didn’t know what might be waiting for him – his bags packed, a new family….

As suddenly as it started, it stopped again. We thought all was fine, and put it down (big-headedly) to us offering lots more reassurances to Mini that we love him, and that he’s not going anyway.

However, over the last couple of weeks we’ve noticed - as we’ve begun to attune more to Mini perhaps? – that the wetting occurs when Mini is upset or anxious. And not just over moving on to another family, in many ways that fear seems to have receded a little, but over many things.

Last week was a prime example – he wet the bed 3 or so times, and wet himself on the way home from school every day (except Friday). We also had one accident at school.  It took us til the end of the week to realise what was worrying him – the school assembly. This was Mini’s third (and final) special assembly in which his reception class presents what they’ve been learning to parents and carers. Mini has not been worried about the previous 2 assemblies, if he was worried, he didn’t show it (that we can recall). He didn’t have a big part like some of the other children; he was very much part of the chorus as it were. So we don’t know what his concerns were, but he’s only wet the bed once since then, despite going away for a weekend immediately after the assembly. He was in a strange bed, in a strange environment with the excitement of nanny and grandad there too!

But oddly, he copes well at other stressful times, or at least copes differently. And things that have stressed him before are manageable for him the next time. Equally things that he’s not found remotely difficult in the past suddenly become the hardest task in the world….

But now that we’ve finally sussed this particular sign of anxiety (yes, we’re clearly slow on the uptake), we will use this new found knowledge to keep an eye on Mini during these wetter spells. Of course, he’s still only 5, and it’s not unusual for 5 year olds to have occasional accidents. Indeed, there are only a handful of children in his class who haven’t had an accident in school. But hopefully we’ll be able to tell the difference between an odd accident and a stressful time, and if we can spot a stressful time in the making we can try to make it easier and more fun for Mini.

The forecast says it'll all be fine.