Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Putting the Pieces Together

Tonight was a little rough, but nothing like the challenges we’ve seen before. I’m pleased to share that our new plan of removing our oldest son’s bed—along with the electronics and front seat for a week—for any threatening or hurtful behavior has been very effective in keeping our son on track.

Tonight he was becoming stressed over homework and in a rare moment, he went for a bike ride to let off his steam so he could remain under control—all his own doing! If you recall weeks ago, I had to lock him outside as he raged after a failed attempt to get him to “go for a walk”. I was so proud of him for using these coping skills.

After the bike ride he was able to go back to his assignment. As the evening progressed, and the homework overwhelmed him, his stress increased. By dinner he was acting strange, refusing to eat (because he hates most foods we prepare), sitting with his shirt pulled over his head and doing repetitive gestures with his hands, my husband described it as stemming. At one point he disappeared under the table and was essentially hiding from us. Which seemed odd for a 13 year old. Soon after, he declared he wasn’t going to eat so he went to bed early.

And just like that, he went to bed, only scolded once for trying to mess with his brothers. There was no rage, no threatening behavior. He was able to maintain control, though acting odd, he had self control. I imagine it’s similar to the behavior the teachers see in class when he tries to “keep it together” when under stress at school. I have to say, I’m impressed—this is huge progress!

What’s interesting is that over the years we’ve implemented big consequences and they weren’t effective. I don’t think I’ll ever forget the time where after warnings, I threw out a new birthday gift because he was repetitively messing with his brother’s stuff. I remember it have absolutely no impact on his behavior, all it did was make me feel crummy. When he was younger, I tried spanking. It was an epic fail when he responded by spitting in my face and telling me to “Do it again!”

Raising a child with a mood disorder is like trying to put a puzzle together without having all the pieces. For years I followed the advice of parents in my playgroups or in my church and what seemed to work for them was a joke in our home. Our pieces never seemed to fit together. I’m sure that some people may think... “maybe it’s the parents, they’re not consistent, or they don’t follow through.” Though I can assure you that we aren’t perfect, I can say with confidence that we’ve done a lot of things right. I know we’re good parents and this isn’t our fault.

I can recall a profound moment with one of my son’s therapists, when after a year of trying to coach me on how to manage my son’s violent episodes he admitted, “Your son is not my worst case, but he’s on my top 10 list of most difficult children to help—and I’ve been doing this for over thirty years and I even worked in the hospital.” We soon left this therapist after he told us that he was out of ideas to help us.

So after all this time, why now is my son responding to the threat of losing his bed? I think it’s interesting to note that when we introduced the new plan he specifically pointed out the bed, giving no attention to the electronics at stake. He said, “You found my weak spot! I love my bed and I don’t want to lose it!”

So we hit a nerve with the bed, but I believe it’s more than that. I wish I could prescribe whatever this is to other parents so that they could help their own children. But I think it’s a unique combination of the right medication, the right modification plan and the right consequences with a dash of maturity to top it off. Unfortunately what’s right for one child isn’t for another. 

I also realize that we don’t have this figured out just yet. I know from experience that what’s working today, may not work tomorrow. It’s those darn puzzle pieces—so hard to put together.

But with all that in mind. I see some major progress in my son and I know that for the time being, while everything is in sync, he’s learning self control, he’s practicing his coping skills and most importantly, he’s gaining confidence in his own ability to live well with mental illness.

It’s through this realization that I can stop holding my breath and exhale slowly, knowing that we’re going to figure this out. My son can do this. I have faith in him. I have hope for his future.


  1. Thank you for this inspiring post, Mama Bear. I am so impressed with all the progress your son is making with self-control--I know how difficult that is for our kids! And I know how hard you work all the time to find the best ways to help him help himself. I think you're right and that his current success is a combination of the right meds and the right behavior modification plan. Though my daughter's self control is better than it used to be, she still has a long way to go. One of my goal's for the new year is to really help her develop more of those skills, and like your son, use them to live well with mental illness. I feel like these tween years are the key time to help her establish them so she's better equipped to avoid turning to scarier coping methods like drugs, alcohol or self harm.

    1. You bring up an excellent point about teaching our kids before drugs and alcohol become a problem. That's an advantage we have with our kids being younger that I do appreciate.

  2. You know what, I think a big part of it is that he's growing older and more mature. Little kids only care about themselves - even if they're not selfish as such, they don't have the insight to consider the effect of their behaviour or look inward. You can punish them but when they're in the throes of their emotions they won't even care about consequences! Even if they regret it later, they still won't have the insight to recognize the warning signs or the self-control to prevent it next time. That's what happens when you're young, dumb and immature. Fortunately, "young, dumb and immature" is a temporary condition, even if mental illness isn't ;)

    As a parent there's always the trap of feeling like you need to do EVERYTHING for your child - after all, you fed, bathed and wiped their asses for all those years. Even when you know it's not true, the instinct is there... it sounds like your son is beginning to take over some of the hard work himself. Good luck to all of you!

  3. That is quite a bit of progress! Sometimes I don't think I would have that sort of self control. Actually, I know I wouldn't. Proud of you and your son.

    I honestly think you're doing everything right. You're so supportive, but you let him know what is and isn't appropriate - that he is responsible for his actions. I can see him growing up well. It's not easy.

    Best wishes, and sending some positive thoughts your way.

    1. Thanks San, I appreciate the support!