Parent Dopers, help me out please?

Eldest is seven. He just turned seven last week. This week, Eldest has been, er. Volatile. This peaked on Friday when we were leaving for school.

He wanted to get one of his Yu-Gi-Oh cards to take with him, which card was somewhere upstairs in the suitcase thingie he keeps the gazillions of the things in. I told him he would have to get it after school as looking for it would make us late. And he burst into tears. This was a surprise. So I said, “Eldest, what is it?” And he screamed “I want to be good and I can’t Ijustcan’t” and cried some more.

He has been like that for almost a week. It’s like living with a girl who is just about to get her first period (I have three sisters, I remember)…or a rapid cycling bipolar.

We have indeed had two years of a truly mind altering degree of chaos, as a family. But the chaos seems to have come to a close here lately. Still, I recall when my own parents divorced, we kids didn’t actually go insane until after both parents remarried and there were no more traumatic events. On the third hand, I am worried about ghosts from my own nursery clouding the view. And I have an unfortunate tendency to overthink.

This problem is exacerbated somewhat by the fact that Eldest has a significant language disorder and has some difficulty expressing himself in words. However, he has made great strides and this rarely is a huge problem any more.

I let him stay home on Friday in the interest of mental hygeine, as his teacher had mentioned on Thursday that something was clearly bothering him but she had no idea what. He is somewhat withdrawn, seems to be focused on his own thoughts and she has several times had to get his attention by touching him because he was so far inside his own head he didn’t seem to know she was there. He hauled off and popped a friend of his because his friend “took something from him”. Which is not weird behavior for a seven year old but is for this seven year old; his teacher said she would not have believed it had he not admitted it. It was no big deal; the same friend came home with us that day after school and stayed to dinner with no problems.

Anyway, on Friday he demanded that I print out some “work” from the computer so I did and he worked on it with fanatical focus for three hours straight. The he ate his lunch out of his lunchbox and was pretty normal the rest of the day.

Today I brought it up and he said his teacher (whom he adores) was mean. The mean thing she did was to be absent on Monday (because she had a migraine). So we talked about that – part of our two years of chaos was his beloved Oma, with whom we live, went to the doctor one day and was admitted to the hospital the next week for cancer surgery and was in the hospital for a month. Oma is still not well though she is home, and I am afraid that both my kids have developed the unshakeable conviction that going to the doctor = Really Bad Things. Another part of the chaos was a very rapid and fairly traumatic move, and some school related issues which convinced him that people really do Just Go Away and Never Come Back.

So it may be that his teacher being absent hit his two hot buttons. And it could just be, you know, a Thing. I dunno. Any tips on actually dealing with this extreme volatility would be most welcome, I am flying by the seat of my pants here.

Theories about causation are also always welcome. Any thoughts?

I know you don’t want to hear this, but I think he needs to see a therapist, if only for a short while. The best place to start is with his school. They should have either a social worker or psychologist on staff who can meet with him and see what’s up. They can let you know if he needs further testing, like for depression, or weekly or daily meetings with them or someone outside of school.

It sounds to me like he’s depressed and anxious. These are NOT things you want to get wired into his brain chemistry to chase him for the rest of his life! While I’m not a fan of medicating kids (most anti-depressants haven’t been tested on children long enough for my peace of mind), there are quite a few theraputic techniques that can be done that don’t involve medication - cognitive behavioral therapy being one of my favorite.

If you’re open to herbs, I find lemon balm (Melissa officinalis) to be a great herb for agitated kids. It tastes good made into a tea for drinking hot or cold, and there are no known contraindications, no interactions with other herbs or drugs or foods. It’s what I call a “‘there, there’ herb” - soothing to the nervous system without being a harsh sedative. It’s not addictive, and can be used alongside any other behavioral conditioning, talk therapy or medication you choose to persue.

It sounds like you’ve been under a lot of stress yourself. Don’t forget to take care of yourself so you can better take care of him.

Dunno about therapy, might be good. But it sounds to me like you’d do just as well to sit him down and ask what happened.

To some extent, finding out what is wrong isn’t as important as showing that you’re trying to understand, that you noticed, and that you want to help. Trying to read other people’s minds never works out too well, even children.

Kind of agreeing with Whynot, some professional intervention is in order. I know from my own experiences a psychologist is prefferable to a psychotrist, the latter just gives drugs, the former addresses the problem. Many children have problems when parents break up. My advice is to seek professional help, the mere act of doing so may reassure the child he/she is important and not ignored. indulging in the tantrums of said child will only lead to more tantrums and larger demands. YOU are the adult, do not be ruled by the child. I do not say this to offend, but perhaps you should seek counseling as well, to learn how to deal with this.
By way of example, I took our dog to obedience training, they did not train the dog, they trained me to deal with the dog. Not a good comparison I know, but the best I could think of right now.
Ironic that the most important job in the world, being a parent, is given to amatuers with no experience and no training. And having two myself, 20 and 23 it is a miracle they came out okay even though Momma bear and I didn’t have a clue and did everything wrong.

The system is slightly different here in the Netherlands than it was in the US – my bad, I should have mentioned that. But tested he has been, pretty regularly since he was three, because of the language disorder. And it’s all multidisciplinary around here, you just about have to threaten to kill somebody to get only a specific area tested. (Well, okay, in that case they would turn their multidisciplinary attention on you, wouldn’t they?)

He has some anxiety issues, though not exactly about the usual things – he isn’t afraid of new experiences or spiders or snakes or the dark, that kind of thing. His home grown method of dealing with his anxiety has been to invent various creatures to hold his anxiety – when he was five he had a dragon which first appeared just before a school play he was to perform in and he had to kill the dragon to prevent its eating up all his classmates backstage. (He was five before he could speak in sentences, and that was when we discovered the really terrifying nature of some of his fantasy world).

I convinced him to tame the dragon instead and for a year or so it “acted up” and “needed some new lessons” every time he was anxious. This week it has been Chim Chim the Wild Monkey* who has to be put in a cage. He doesn’t say that Chim Chim is doing this stuff, he says he is; but he says he is so busy chasing Chim Chim that he can’t do anything else.

So we’ve been talking about how to train Chim Chim this weekend. A monkey is easier to handle than a dragon.

He does know that the imaginary creatures are not real exactly; what he used to say is that they are not real “in Holland, where everybody is” but they are “like real in my head”. And having an external image is useful if you have difficulty talking; it gives you something to draw pictures of.

If it keeps up more than a week I may very well see about having him see somebody; though my inclination is to seek therapy for the adults around him either first or at the same time.

I shall try the lemon balm, I have always favored catnip for nerves but I am willing to bet that lemon balm tastes better. Funny, I have only used it for its smell to date. Must be a regional thing.

*Yes, I do have all the Speed Racer DVD’s, why do you ask?

Thank you. I am far from being offended, I think you are on the whole correct. My kids have been through a lot, but we have been through a lot, too and we are far from bulletproof.

But I think I was not clear; we are not breaking up. Though we have had every other damn thing I can think of this year.

And I am glad somebody else had no clue and did everything wrong, at least I am not the only one.

It’s really too bad that this is too long to put on a t-shirt. Maybe I’ll hang it on the wall.

Thank you for the reminder, I needed that.

What a fantastic imagination he has! I’m glad you’re encouraging it, while helping him shape it to be useful, instead of telling him to cut it out and “stop pretending”, as happens far too often IMHO. I’ve never quite understood why we spend so much time and energy beating (sometimes literally) our children’s imaginary demons out of them, only to turn around and charge thousands for workshops teaching visualization to adults so they can learn to deal with their anxieties about public speaking or landing a new job! He’s a natural born visualizer!

Catnip is also a good nervine, but, as you say, it doesn’t taste nearly as good as lemon balm. You may find he’s more willing to drink larger quantities of the lemon balm. (WhyKid whines and complains when I give him catnip for an oncoming cold, while the cats sit at his bedside pleading for a sip!) You can also combine the two herbs, if you like.

**Sage Rat **is wise, as well. Even though your son isn’t very vocal (mine isn’t, either, and was even less at 7 than he is now at 13), continue to talk to him and let him know you’re interested in him. Let him know he can talk to you, or draw for you, or dance his fears for you, or whatever method works for him. When WhyKid was young, he would build Lego scupltures and he and I would tear them down together and throw the pieces in a bucket across the room. Somehow, although he could never explain exactly how or why, this dismantled many of his fears and “threw them away.” He knew I cared about him, even though so many times I was tempted to throw up my hands and walk away, because talking is MY technique, and the only one I knew how to do at first.

seenidog, I don’t think your dog training analogy is absurd at all. It’s spot on. 9/10 of parenting is learning how to parent. I can’t tell you how much better a parent I am to my daughter than my son. I had him at 18, and her at 31 - vast oceans of parenting experience divide the two!

Have you, or can you have him evaluated for autistic spectrum disorders (ADHD, Asbergers Syndrome, Autism)? Some of his behaviors sound a lot like those found in ASD, including verbal delay, hyperfocusing and anxiety over things that disrupt routines. There is the complication of Oma’s illness, but his behavior at school may belie more than anxiety over Oma.