Sunday, October 28, 2012

Finding Help For the "Difficult" Child

Learning to stay connected to our daughter, even
during her biggest upsets, has been my biggest challenge
For those of us parenting a more intense child, a more needy child, a more emotional child, a child who is just....more, there are days that can feel so overwhelming and so unending that perhaps you may want to just crawl into a hole and hide. Or you find yourself yelling, losing your temper, losing the connection with your child. 

I know. I've been to all those places.

Our daughter is one of those kids. Of course she's delicious, kind, innocent and I love her deeply. And she makes me bat shit crazy sometimes. Much of this blog has been dedicated to me being as brutally honest with myself about my own triggers, behaviors and reactions, as well as learning better ways to relate to both of our children in an attempt to create more harmony in our home. And frankly, in order for me to also help our daughter find some peace in her own mind and body.

She was always a little more of everything than her brother was. Her demands got more difficult around the time she was 2 1/2. By the time she was 5, I was pretty much losing my mind as her tantrums had become so long and so intense. Her oppositional behavior, reactivity and anxiety ruled our days so often that I felt depleted, resentful and desperate. 

No matter how much I gave her, she wanted more. She was like a vessel full of holes...always empty. She would rail against me and then clutch at me desperately if she succeeded in pushing me away. I could feel she was in pain, but she made it so hard to comfort her. She had built a wall 10-feet thick to protect herself.

Many parents have children who go through difficult phases which make the parents want to tear their hair out. It feels like it goes on forever, but generally it's a developmental phase and with some support and some knowledge in how to respond effectively, these phases do tend to pass eventually and the sun begins to shine again.

The sweet moments together carry me
through the harder times. 
And then there are those of us whose children have sunny days, but the storm clouds seem to take over more frequently or for longer and longer periods. I know there are many families who struggle with conditions and issues far, far worse than what we are dealing with. Yet, I do think that for each family where a child needs some special help, no matter the details, the struggle feels insurmountable until you discover those small miracles that let you find your child again.

This is all very hard to talk about and there is a part of me that wonders if I am sharing too much of what is her story to tell. Yet, like everything I write about, I am working through my own feelings and ideas in an effort to get myself to the other side. 

And I imagine there are many of you reading who can relate to the struggles we have. I am still searching for answers, but we have begun to have some real breakthroughs. In the hopes of helping others, I wanted to share our story.

Western Medicine, But Mostly A Shift In Perspective

We have been to numerous psychologists, a developmental pediatrician and a social skills therapist in trying to uncover what would work best for our daughter. Each helped a little and although I'm very happy not to have a diagnosis of something "wrong" with her, it's was frustrating to know she needed help, but to not have a script or plan to follow.

Although each visit gave me another piece of the puzzle, I felt like I was in a fog. There were answers out there, but I felt blocked and fuzzy-headed. One morning I opened my computer and this quote caught my eye:
"It is true that a highly insecure child can be exhaustingly demanding of time and emotion. The parent may long for respite, not more engagement. The conundrum is that attention given at the request of the child is never satisfactory; it leaves an uncertainty that the parent is only responding to demands, not voluntarily giving of herself to the child. The demands only escalate, without the emotional need underlying them ever being filled. The solution is to seize the moment, to invite contact exactly when the child is not demanding it." 
Gordon Neufeld & Gabor Mate
Shifting my perspective allow me to
express more loving thoughts 
The very first words shifted my perspective on our daughter in an instant. "The insecure child". I hadn't considered her attachment to me to be insecure. I didn't understand how it could be because I spend so much time with her. But it all made sense. 

In many ways she was unsure of how I felt about her because I had such a hard time remaining connected through her explosive behavior. As a result, she felt unloveable and unworthy of being loved. She expressed this by constantly testing me to if she could push me away and, sad to say, she often succeeded!

I totally understood how Neufeld and Mate's words would work. I had tried having "special mommy time" with her before and when I did it on a consistent basis I saw what a huge shift it had made in reducing her neediness and clinginess, but I hadn't linked it to the fact that what I was really doing was offering connection when she wasn't asking for it!

Hand in Hand Parenting's methods for Staylistening have been lifesaving in working with our daughter's oppositional and reactive behaviors. I only wish I had found this approach sooner. Staylistening allows children to express huge emotions and experience the release that comes from having them, while feeling safe and supported because a loving, connected parent is close by. 

Understanding that I didn't have to fix her feelings or stop them, but rather that I could just support her, was a game changer. Additionally, their course No More Hitting, which gives insight into hitting and aggressive behavior children often exhibit, helped me understand so much more clearly what was going on behind the tantrums.

Because I could shift the way I was responding, our daughter became able to express big emotions but the explosions didn't last as long. There wasn't the same irritation on my part, and I no longer always have the desire to run away from her when she seemed rigid and unyielding. I began to see things in a different light and that simple shift of perspective of my part shifted behavior on her end. It's amazing how children are so exquisitely sensitive to our moods and energy. 

Eastern Philosophies And A Reconnection

I know so many of her personality traits will serve
 her well as an adult. Helping without squelching is my goal
I began to wonder what else needed a shift. I decided a difference in doctoring might be helpful. We went to see a board-certified family medicine doctor who also practices various types of alternative medicine including energy work, allergy elimination and Oriental medicine. 

I read an article in which this doctor was quoted as saying, "Western medicine asks, Why are you sick? Alternative medicine asks, Why are you not healing?" Yes! This is what we needed more of.

We found that both of our children had food intolerances and when the offending foods were removed from her diet, our daughter's mood swings radically lessened. She still experienced difficult periods, but they were decidedly less awful. 

I realized I was going down a path that was working. Traveling this way was slower and had some twists and turns, but I knew in my heart it was the right path. 

The next step was reconnecting with the healing work I used to do. I took our daughter to see a man who was one of my teachers way back when I used to practice various types of energy work. I signed our daughter up to receive a polarity therapy session from him and even though I knew what it entailed, I wasn't sure what to expect for her.

Polarity therapy, very basically, allows for integration of mind, body and spirit. When our thoughts, emotions and physical body are out of alignment, energy imbalances occur. This results in physical, mental or emotional dis-ease and is a signal for us to learn, change and realign our lives. 

I was nothing less than floored by her reaction to his work. She liked him instantly and proceeded to lay on his table for almost a full hour without squirming, complaining or even talking. When he was done, she sat up with flushed cheeks and a faraway look in her eyes. Then she jumped off the table, ran to me and gave me a huge hug.

Afterwards she was joyously happy...like, dancing and singing happy. She had a huge emotional release that evening when out of the blue she turned to me saying her throat hurt and just started crying. She cried and cried for no apparent reason and just lay on top of me, receiving comfort during the episode, which was so unlike her usual behavior. For two weeks after that she was more cuddly and more affectionate than she had been in ages.
There's so much going on behind that mischievous smile

We've since been for 3 more sessions of polarity therapy and each one has has provided her a subtle shift into feeling more integrated. None were as dramatic as the first, but the results were wonderful, nonetheless: more happiness, more peace, less raging behaviors, less flying off the handle for the smallest reasons. It was easier and easier to feel more connected to her. And I have to believe it was easier for her to be with her emotions.

The Last Piece of The Puzzle?

Things were so much better, and I wondered if I would be pushing my luck to try anything else with her. So far she was enjoying visiting all these different people and we were getting along so much better and there was much more peace in our home. I often feel that when things show up in your life, there is a need to pay attention to those things. And that is how we found flower essence therapy.

Basically, flower essences are a form of vibrational therapy, like homeopathy, derived from the flowering part of plants. They generally expand and shift our consciousness to help us see beyond our normal limitations and struggles and offer insight and new perspective on why certain challenges are happening and what we can do about them. 

I consulted with a practitioner who integrates Co-Creative parenting with flower essence therapy and based on her observations of both of our personalities, our communication style, and the patterns of emotional resonance as well as frustration in our relationship, she prescribed certain essences for both of us. 

Again, I was amazed at the results. I expected them to be so subtle I wouldn't even notice. And, frankly, the few people to whom I mentioned I was doing this thought I was bananas. But that first week after we started the essences, our daughter was incredibly loving and happy. She must have told me she loved me a hundred times that week, something she doesn't do nearly that often. 

During this third week, she's remained calmer and seems to be having a much easier time handling change and disappointment. The most amazing part of it though was that, again, she got a terrible sore throat that lasted for 4 days and caused her to almost lose her voice. I assumed she was sick, but she really had no other symptoms. On the 5th day of her constant coughing and croaking, after having written this post, I remembered the sore throat she had after the first polarity session. 

I sat with her and held her close and began to talk with her about her 5th chakra which is housed in the area of your throat. This chakra, among many other things, has to do with expression and finding "your voice". I told her about how I used to have so much trouble with my 5th chakra and held back from talking about my ideas and what I wanted because I was afraid, embarrassed, and ashamed. 

I spoke for only about 2 or 3 minutes, but she sat with me, listening quietly. This evening I remarked to my husband that I hadn't heard her cough all day and that her sore throat was completely gone. It's as if it needed acknowledgement and it cleared. Who knows? 

It's all a work in progress, but I'm really impressed with what we are experiencing so far.

As for me, I have been having incredibly vivid dreams since starting the flower essences. The most powerful one involved a moment with our daughter in which I felt I was seeing her scrubbed clean and fresh, shining and happy. I leaned in to whisper in her ear how proud I was of who she was. How proud I was that she was unique and just herself...like no one else. She looked up at me, smiling and radiant.

Learning and Healing. Not Just Her, But Me, Too.
Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need
The Co-Creative parenting practitioner we saw for the flower essence therapy said something that has stuck with me since: 

"Parents have the ability to bring healing to their children with their openness and the soul searching they undertake out of love for their children. Our ability to grow alongside our children, whose growth we nurture so ardently, is a key factor [in this healing process]".

I don't know what the future will bring. We've just started on this alternate road. But what I can tell you is that after perhaps the most difficult few years of my life, I feel at last as if something has shifted subtly. 

I feel at last as if I am able to be the mother she needs. I feel as though I am healed enough (not fully, but enough for now) so that I can see her clearly. My daughter has taught me more about myself than I ever thought I could learn. I have worked incredibly hard in the last 5 1/2 years on understanding myself so I could be a better parent to her and to be able to say I truly am proud of the unique person she is.

I couldn't have asked for a better teacher than my daughter. I am so grateful to be learning right along with her. 
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