In some of my sessions with CAMHS, our therapist has suggested ways in which I can help Mini verbalise some of his feelings, as it’s something he struggles with. The therapist thinks that part of the reason behind his meltdowns is frustration – and we can see that sometimes if we don’t react quick enough (to Dollop standing in front of him when he’s watching tv, to her snatching a toy from Mini or to him getting frustrated with cutting up a sausage) a meltdown can quickly erupt – Mini won’t tell us, or alert us to the situation, he won’t ask for help, he’ll just explode –toddler style- and have a tantrum, but fortified with extra added rage.
So the therapist’s suggestion is to say things like ‘I can see you’re getting frustrated because Dollop’s in the way, let me ask her to move’ or ‘You’re getting cross because you can’t cut up the sausage’. I’ll be honest, this is what we’ve tried to do from day 1 with both children to help them understand and name their feelings. Dollop is already able to name a few of her feelings – basics like happy and sad. Mini can name feelings if he sees different faces, he can read other people’s faces and body language reasonably well, but if you ask him how he feels he’s nearly always happy. Sometimes he’s ‘really cross with you daddy’, but mostly, even when we can see he’s upset, he’s happy.
So, seeing as we’ve always done this, I’ve probably become a bit slack because after 4 years with no change it all started to sound so false. It also very often antagonises Mini. He gets cross and disagrees with the words we’ve used, but can’t tell us why they’re wrong, or what the right word is. Sometimes, the disagreement ends up being the start of another rage. But, Mini has to learn how to express himself in a non-aggressive way, he can’t continue attacking people when he experiences a challenging emotion…he needs to be prepared for grief, relationship breakups, disappointment, road rage even, so I’ve started in earnest again and it’s kind of working.
Today is Dollop’s birthday, and also the start of a routine week again, and also potentially a ‘bad day’ after having a really good few days away with Nanny and Grandad (which I’ll blog about another time), so this morning we weren’t sure which one of these reasons was the cause of several meltdowns in a short space of time. Going on a hunch, I grabbed Mini in for a big cuddle and said ‘I wonder if you’re feeling a bit sad about Dollop’s birthday?’ After a big dramatic sigh, it all comes pouring out...
“Ye-e-e-e-ssssss” *sob* “I wanted presents, I wanted presents as well” *heaving sob*
I empathised and told him that I could see that was what he really wanted, but we only get presents on our own birthday. I explained that he was lucky enough to get lots of presents on his own birthday when Dollop didn’t, but that today is her day.
“Owwww, but I really wanted presents too, I want presents, I want presents, I WANT PRESENTS TOOOOOOOOOOO”
I had no choice but to divert Mini’s attention here. The conversation could have very quickly spiralled into another meltdown, we were on the cusp of it anyway, and the wailing was beginning to intensify. So I explained that we only had 10minutes to get ready for school, perhaps he could go and brush his teeth and get changed, then we’d be able to get going. After all, it was also his friend’s birthday and we had to take her card too.
With a bit of coercing from the NC, Mini did go and get ready for school, and was calm for the 5 minute walk there. As his friend bounded around the playground announcing her 5th birthday, Mini followed her and announced –to anyone who’d listen- it was also his sister’s birthday too! So he was proud really…
Anyhow, I’ve digressed. With a bit of an educated guess, and some empathy, I was able to find out what was really bothering Mini. I’m not 100% convinced it was all about the presents, but even if it wasn’t, at least the empathy from me, and the release of emotion from Mini was enough to calm him.
This last week has been tough for Mini – he’s had a class assembly in which he (along with the rest of his class) demonstrated what they’ve been learning, then the surprise of a weekend away with Nanny and Grandad, followed by Dollop’s birthday (and the excitement of keeping a secret as he knew what we’d bought for her!). It’s not surprising we’ve had difficult bedtimes, wet trousers on the way home each day, a couple of wet beds and a few hyper days. But this week, more than ever, the NC and I have been tuned into what might be triggers and difficulties for Mini. We’ve been able to empathise more. And we’ve been able to help him name those feelings when he’s not had the words.
Are we on the right track now?