“My 8 yr old grand daughter has … ADHD … mixed with … severe mood swings. I just need some good tips on how we can … teach her how to cope.”
I’ve mentioned many times this week during our five part series about being able to stay calm, relaxed and keep your composure while interacting with a raging child. That does not go without saying that I know how difficult doing so can be. I think that before we can eve consider calming, reaching through, and helping a child in the midst of an episode, we need to learn coping mechanisms for ourselves to get us through those moments.
I don’t have a big basket full of magic coping skills to share as I believe everyone has to cope in their own way. I do, however, know what works for me and how I pull through those moments where all I want to do is scream and yell and virtually start crying my freaking eyes out. It’s gotten to the point where I just fall into this daze almost when my son begins an episode. It’s like someone snaps a finger in front of me and suddenly I’m Super Mom about to rescue the boy about to turn into a raging werewolf!
This is kinda how it happens …
My head clears. Any thoughts, worries, distractions instantly disappear and its only me and this child. Everything is about getting through the next 5 min/hour unscathed.
I look forward … screaming child. Suddenly my voice goes down about a notch or two and I’m a nurse trying to calm a fussy baby.
I’m getting hit and kicked … but I remain calm. I grab a flailing arm, hold it close to me. Put my legs over the legs trying to kick anyone/thing in sight. It’s sorta like a dance. I know the steps. I know which move comes next.
I don’t scream, I don’t yell. I calmly state, “I’m sorry you feel this way, Love. It must be very hard.”
I get bit while the bear attempts to escape. I count to five in my head. Yeah it hurt, but reacting now will only fuel the fire. This child wants a reaction. He/she wants to see you hurt. I remain motionless and softly inform him/her, “That kinda hurts. I’d prefer if you stop doing that.”
I feel like a zombie, free of all emotions. There is not room for my emotions in this situation. My emotions are stored into a little box which can not be released until this is all over and I’m alone, away from everyone.
I count to five a few times. I bite my lip to keep from fighting back. I feel no tears, no pain. I’ m senseless and programed to make it through the storm.
And I do.
I always do.
We end with some deep breathing. A glass of water or two. A bit of silence … and then … it’s time to talk. Go over what just happened. Talk about alternative ways we could have handled the situation together. Speak softly. Cuddle. Remind him/her that I love them.
We make it through together.
Remind the calmed beast that he/she must pick up the mess they created through their miniature body tornado. I do not offer to help. Instead I point out things that were missed … all the while talking about things that can cheer us both up. Situations that we missed out on because of the time it took to get through the episode.
And finally …
I’m back to reality. I’m just Mommy now. I let my body hurt, the emotions flood, but I hold them back until the child has gone to a calming place. If there are tears to relinquish I step into my room and begin “cleaning my closet” or something where I will not be bothered. But somehow I feel a sense of satisfaction that I kept it together. I tamed the beast. I concurred the evil and now all is well in my kingdom once again.
Still, I know I’m not the only one who needs help coping. I return to the child and we discuss how we could have better handled our anger. We talk about breathing exercises, even practice them. Locate a stress ball. Practice squeezing it. Talk about about why we use kind words instead of hurtful phrases. And again remind him/her that I love them.
I offer some ways to express how they were feeling so I can understand.
“Draw me a picture of what just happened.”
“Let’s write a story about the things that just occurred. Which character do you want to be?”
“How bout we put on that song you really like and we can sing it together!” (Tomorrow I will list some suggestions that really help my son when he’s feeling hopeless.)
Fold laundry together while telling him/her how you feel when you go through those feelings yourself.
Or get back to doing what it was you were doing before the episode was triggered.
Let the child talk. Let them express how they felt and why they reacted the way they did. It is at this point where the learning begins. It is at that point where you can finally begin using a few negative words. “I really didn’t like that you bit me. It hurt Mommy very much. I think maybe you should apologize.”
Having a child apologize for what they did wrong during an episode helps them learn how to own up to their own actions. Sure, it probably send a surge of guilt through them, but if they don’t feel bad about what they did, what’s to stop them the next time?
Another GREAT way to cope is by taking care of yourself before and after manic/depressive episodes. Make sure you are of healthy mind and body. Once things have calmed down take a run or a hot bath. Remind yourself that there was no way to have stopped what just happened and NEITHER you NOR the child is to blame. Rock it out to some positive tunes. Even smoke a cigarette (BAD) if you have to. Whatever can help you clear your head and start over.
And just the same for the child. He/she is exhausted. Maybe it’s time to sit down to a movie. Possibly something that teaches a good/positive lesson about how we should treat one another. (I <3 Veggie Tales!)
Also, never hesitate to learn your child’s coping methods while not in the midst of an episode. Notice what they do to sooth themselves after a frightening dream or a thunderstorm. Pay attention to their bodies. Do they clench up when they’re angry? Maybe a stress toy could be useful? Does drawing calm them down and help them put their feelings onto paper?
If you watch your child closely while things are going well, you’ll have more ideas on how to help them when things are NOT going so great.
Main point in all this rambling … the best thing you can do is take care of YOU. If you can’t hold it together, that child will never be able to either.
And a couple more pointers …
Never argue with an angry child. You’ll never win. You don’t need to agree, but you need to validate that they are not going to change their mind.
Resist the urge to yell. It’s difficult, but yelling will only escalate things further.
Do not answer a question when a child screams at you. Quietly inform them that, “I will listen to what you say once you calm down and speak in a quieter voice.” Repeat it as many times as possible, even when it seems impossible and you NEED to yell back. Hold it in.
And ask the child what they need at that moment. Say, “What is going to help you calm down right now?” Most likely they’ll say nothing, but then you can offer them a variety of things that you believe will help. It’s amazing how magical a glass of water can be in those heated moments.
And if the kid needs to punch or kick something, hand him/her a pillow. Let them go at it. When I knew PDog just needed to get out some of that angry energy, I’d place him on the soft couch and let him kick and flail. He couldn’t hurt himself on all that cushioning and I’d sit next to him to make sure he didn’t move to a more dangerous area.