Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Troubling Talk

This is a pretty long one, but I have a lot on my mind...

Don't get me wrong, Noah is a pretty happy kid for the most part. But we have been dealing with some troubling behavior recently, and it looks like it's time to look for some outside help.

Noah is smart. And he has mostly shown himself to be more logical than emotional. But we have seen a flood of emotion lately and have had trouble knowing how to help him through it. We have said for a year now that we have been having "anger issues" with him, but it's never been crazy-bad. Now, though, he is saying some phrases that have been quite scary for us as parents to hear.

Sometimes he gets in a funk and is just weepy and says these phrases. Other times he is angry or frustrated. When he is extremely frustrated (having trouble with a video game, or not wanting to come to the table for dinner) he will sometimes yell that he wishes he weren't in this family anymore. Sometimes he says that we hate him and most troubling, he wishes her wasn't "in this life" anymore or that he wishes he was dead. Yes, and he is five years old.

So now, it is time to talk to professionals.

This afternoon, the guidance counselor from his school came over to talk with me about him (at my request) and has suggested he first see his pediatrician for a checkup and then see a psychologist for an evaluation. So we will likely do that.

They also plan to do an evaluation at school to determine whether he should be checked for ADHD.

See, at school, they are having other problems with him. There, its all about hyperactivity, making noises, being distracting to other students, and forgetting that one minute ago, he had agreed to settle down and be quiet.

At home, we don't really notice any PROBLEMS in this area, and at school, he rarely exhibits his low self-esteem issues that we see at home.

At first, I wasn't sure how to parent this depressive behavior. We couldn't always tell if he was trying to show that he was in emotional distress, attempting to manipulate or punish us, or what. We tried ignoring the talk and just go about as normal ("Well I am sorry you want to be dead, but you still have to take your bath.") we tried punishing it ("We don't talk like that. Time Out!"). We tried explaining how that would hurt us ("Oh Honey, that would make me so very sad if you were dead... I would never be happy again!") and even tried making a joke about it and be silly trying to get him to snap out of it and laugh. Nothing really showed any sign of easing his frustration.

More and more lately, though, I have been able to see when he is just flinging insults around and when he is really crying for help.

I hesitate to write about this because the first conclusion *I* would jump to, reading this about some other family, would be "what kind of parents are they?", "are they doing things to cause him to want to be dead?", "are they emotionally abusive?". I can only tell you that we are not. We have our share of exasperation, tiring days and short fuses, but on the whole we are pretty decent parents. And, no, its not about his little brothers, because if anything, he is getting along with them better and better. There are few real stresses that are new in his life. No divorces, no deaths, no sicknesses, etc. It just... started!

A few nights ago, we had a breakthrough of sorts.

At bedtime, as I laid with him for awhile before he fell asleep, he seemed mostly fine. He was asking about if there was a jail for kids and I told him that there was a place called juvenile detention and explained that there were no bars or cells like in a regular grown up jail, but that it was like a school with a big fence around it, that it had bedrooms, and the kids who were being punished just went to class, went to eat, went back to their room, and how they couldn't play, couldn't leave, couldn't visit friends, couldn't see their family.

Then, for no apparent reason, he got weepy and fell into his funk again. He told me that he thought that juvenile detention sounded like a good place for him, for someone who doesn't want to be in his family anymore.

That was it. I looked in his eyes and saw the hurt and pain and saw this completely lost little boy. He was adrift and grasping for an anchor. My heart was breaking. I realized he needed me to prove my love.

I grabbed his face and forced him to look me in the eyes and as he welled up in tears, I told him again and again how much I would hurt if he left our family, how I will never stop loving him, how he could be mean and cruel to me, he could hit me, he could steal, he could get bad grades, he could break the windows, but I would STILL LOVE HIM. And NOTHING he did could stop that, NOTHING he did would make me stop loving him, and if he were to leave our family I would NEVER stop searching for him, I would FIND him and I would bring him back home to where he belonged, to his family who loved him and would NEVER stop.

I let his face go.

He turned away from me, and said, "I don't want cuddles anymore. I want you to go away."

I thought I had failed and I began to cry, not knowing how to help my son. But then a moment later, he flipped back toward me, threw his hands around my neck and begged me to stay with him all night. I told him I would stay there, holding him, until he fell asleep.

And I did.

I came downstairs, completely spent, and told Michael the new plan for dealing with this behavior is to treat each occurrence as a signal to prove our love and devotion to him. And we have. We get down in his face and contradict every challenge of our love for him. And so far, its been going very well. He sometimes even gets this little smile of relief on his lips.

Granted its been about 5 days, but still.

Many times, he is clearly depressed and sad, and his troubling phrases sound like what he is really feeling. Other times, they are completely out of context. So, the next morning, Michael had a talk with him about saying what you are ACTUALLY angry about, and not saying "I wish I wasn't in this family".

I reinforced that... That afternoon he was playing a video game and was having trouble with it and screamed from the office "GET OUT OF MY FAMILY!!!" I assumed, to me.

I came in and explained that this is what Daddy was talking about. I am his Mom, and my job is to help him with his frustrations. If he is having trouble finishing a video game level and yells "get out of my family!" then I might just leave (I let him know I was joking!) but if he screamed, "I can't finish this level and I am soooo frustrated!!!!" then I can come help him with the game, and make it all better. He got it, and as I continue to give him real-time examples of things to say instead of the troubling phrases he HAS been saying, he has been getting better at saying what he really means. He gets it.

But its only been a few days, and we often have quite a few good days in a row. Don't get me wrong, he is usually a pretty happy-go-lucky kid! I am seeing, though, that this may be an upward battle. Something we deal with throughout his adolescence. We are all learning how to manage. But we are learning.

Baby steps.


gpc said...

There are such hidden depths in our little people. You sound like a wonderful mother, Noah sounds like a wonderful child. My heart goes out to you both as you try to figure this out.

Snowbird said...

Wow, honey, thanks for sharing this. I know we talked about it on the phone but it sounds like you are on the right track towards helping him. I know for a fact that you and Michael are great parents. I don't think you should blame yourselves at all but I know that it is only human to do just that. I'm glad that you got things moving by calling the counselor. It sounds like she is as concerned as you are. That's great. Keep us posted on what happens. My love is with you and call anytime you need some "mommy love" of your own!!!

Emily said...

i'm so sorry your family is dealing with this -- it sounds like (for whatever reason) noah has a lot of pain. and you guys are just doing the best you can - what more can you ask of yourselves? i don't think anyone reading about your problems would assume you're a bad parent, everyone has problems whether they want to admit it or not. it's how you deal with those problems that really show your character. you're doing great.

Cindy said...

Thank you for being so open and honest about this. I know it was probably hard for you to put it all out there. I was in tears reading that conversation between you and Noah at bedtime. For the record, I doubt that anyone judges you. Frankly I applaude you for being pro-active and reconigizing that your little guy is hurting and doing whatever it takes to help him. I pray that you will find the source of his hurts and continue to help him through this troubling time.

JeSais said...

wow. sorry you are dealing with this. sounds like you are on the right track.... and that maybe its nature and not nurture at play here. And that if that is the case, then you are so obviously the right parents for Noah, helping him early on will give him the tools he needs to succeed.

Wrath said...


Like normal, I am going to take a different tack than the others.

Obviously, I feel bad that Noah is going through this....and I wish your family didn't have to struggle through this. is what it is.

My feelings are more of thankfulness that he has the combined team of you and Michael to support him. Your patience and creativity are to be marvelled. He is a VERY fortunate boy, Karen. I think you are handling this brilliantly.

Separately, damn, you can write. your honesty, candidness and way of presenting things without surrendering to the emotion you must be feeling is so commendable. It allows people to hear the conversations and share the moment and come to their own conclusions....versus pushing them away.

Tell the boy we all love him and he is stuck with us whether he likes it or not.

Family is family.

Shama-Lama Mama said...

I just wanted to thank everyone for their support and kindness. I had misgivings about posting this, but felt that I could trust my support base to stick with me. What is a diary/blog without honesty about what is really going on in my life. And this situation is taking center stage right now.

Thank you all for circling round us and being there with us. It might be a long haul and its good to know you are there, even virtually-speaking.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry for your pain and fear. I am no expert, however, and can only encourage you to trust your instincts. Drown Noah in attention, and by that I mean simply your loving gaze and shining smile. Attention is love.