I wanted to take a break from posting about some of my work experiences and talk about something more personal: my nephew.
If you’ve been reading my blog, then I’m sure you’ve read the post You’d Get Lost Inside My Head. That is about him and I wanted to catch you all up on how he is doing as well as share some of my thoughts on pediatric mental illness to those who have never experienced it first-hand.
Well, he’s doing great! He has been on new medication for awhile that does help to calm down some of the irritability, trouble concentrating, and his emotions in general. He had a really good school year in comparison to last year with way less trips to the principal’s office, getting great reports from his teacher, and making new friends.
Are things perfect? No. But is he excelling? Absolutely.
Now while he has had to learn to manage his anger, restlessness, anxiety, and hyperactivity, so have all of us who care for him.
That means learning and developing extreme patience, understanding, and providing more love than we even knew we had available to give.
In the near future, I am going to be posting lectures about parenting and ways to be the best caregiver you can be to a child who has a mental illness.
I will say that the majority of my pediatric patients who suffer from mental illness, the ones who have severe anger and outbursts, often have the biggest hearts.
They feel everything so differently and so much greater than most. A simple word that would not normally bother someone may bother them to the extreme. A small gesture or eye roll may send them into an instant overdrive.
They often think, “did I do something wrong?” “Does everyone hate me?” “What did I do wrong now?”
A lot of us who struggle with mental illness struggle with recognizing facial expressions. A smile that appears as only a smile to most may appear as a smirk of sarcasm and send thoughts into panic mode.
“Did you see the way they smiled at me?” “Were they being sarcastic?” “Do they think I look weird?”
While a lot of people think that recognizing facial expressions and gestures is something simple to understand, many with mental health illness struggle with finding the underlying meaning, often because of their inability to stop overthinking. No, this does not just happen to those with autism.
Because of this, I do my best, especially around my nephew, to be as reassuring as possible. Saying simple phrases like “I’m smiling because I’m happy” or “I’m not smiling because I’m just tired” can be reassuring. That way he’s not having thoughts like, “why isn’t she smiling; is she mad at me?”
You’d be amazed at how this simple reassuring can change their mood.
I wanted to talk about an experience that I had with my nephew a few weeks ago that just absolutely tore at my heart strings and got my mind on a rant.
A few weeks ago, he was having an off day.
He was tired and irritable and grouchy.
Granted, we ALL have those days.
Unfortunately, when kids have bad days, they often get lectured or even punished for their bad moods and tears.
He was not happy that he was woke-up early when he wanted to be sleeping. His sister and his cousin (my daughter) were awake and ready to play bright and early in the morning at my mom’s house. My mom watches my daughter on Friday mornings as well as my niece and nephew, who were already there when I arrived.
“Ugh! Be quiet!” He yelled. “I’m not waking up right now!”
The day just started off on a bad foot because of this. He was easily irritated throughout the day.
It’s so easy as a parent to get frustrated with your child when they are irritable. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t guilty of occasionally becoming upset too quickly when my daughter has grouchy days. In the end, it only makes things worse.
Kids can so quickly pick up on your irritability and in turn do the same.
It’s so easy to want to yell back, but instead, as we’ve learned overtime, we tried to calm him by using distraction instead. We tried to make jokes and then let him go back to sleep. We made sure he felt the decisions were his to make and that he wasn’t being made to feel “forced” into anything.
Children, especially when they are irritable, want to have a sense of control and offering choices gives them that.
As the day went on, it continued to be tiring; for him and all of us around him. Staying positive when you feel like you just need a break is both mentally and physically exhausting. However, while being a caregiver for a child who is struggling can be exhausting, it is twice as exhausting for the child.
Just think about it for a second. When you have a bad day, when your day starts off on the wrong foot, how do you feel?
If you overslept and are running late for work?
If you left your wallet at home and end up running out of gas on your way to the store?
If your order in the drive through gets messed up and the one food you were craving, you didn’t get?
How do you feel?
What about if your boss yells at you for a mistake?
Or if you forgot to turn in an assignment for school and get lectured from your teacher?
Or if your own parents lecture you for your life choices?
Does it make you feel good? Does it make you want to change and make things better?
Does it make you want to apologize and smile and move on with your day?
Does it put a warm fuzzy feeling in your heart?
Does it make you feel good?
No. No it doesn’t.
A child’s brain is still developing. An adult’s brain at around age 24 is fully developed. Now if someone whose brain is fully developed cannot handle every single event every single day with a smile on their face; if they can’t handle being yelled at, what makes anyone think that a child could?
That evening, my nephew had a baseball game. We were all feeling tired and a little nervous because we knew that he was not in the mood to play the game. However, he loves baseball and we all hoped that it would be just what he needed to cheer him up. He loves hitting the ball and is great at it. He loves running and is super-fast. He does great fielding the ball. And he loves the people on his team.
Fingers crossed it would bring a smile to his face.
He was doing well, until he wasn’t.
He had tried so hard the entire day to hold himself together. He just couldn’t do it anymore. His brain was tired.
So, when he got out while running to third base, he had hit his breaking point. He was standing on the base and when the ump told him that he was out, he threw his helmet, dropped the F bomb, and stormed off. The coach quickly yelled at him and said, “we are not doing that!”
No, dropping the F bomb during a children’s baseball game is not appropriate. No, throwing his helmet into the dugout isn’t ideal. But when he got into the dugout and sat down, he started crying and the look on his face and in his eyes was enough to make me cry, too.
From the outside looking in, like his coach for example, you only see a child who is cussing and throwing things and having a “fit.” Someone who didn’t spend the entire day with him had no idea that he had spent his entire day trying not to fall apart. People who do not live with him or know his history are quick to blame parents, teachers, coaches, friends; who taught him this?
The fact of the matter is this: no one has any clue what exactly is going on in his head.
Not even me.
So while it may appear that he just has an attitude, he doesn’t listen, he needs disciplined, the truth is that he just needs loved. More hugs, more reassurance, more love.
It’s easy as a parent or an adult on the outside looking in to put your opinion out there and judge what you see, but you have no idea how hard his little mind is struggling to stay afloat.
As an adult, most of the time we can hold it together until we get home; cry, scream, and cuss in private after a bad day. Children do not have the capacity to do this yet. And truthfully, I know a ton of adults who cannot do this either.
I wish that I could sit down and teach every single person about the brain and how it works, especially in a child. I wish I could make everyone understand and be less judgmental of the things they know nothing about.
However, I can only do the best I can to continue to spread knowledge about mental health.
The moral of sharing this situation is that I simply want everyone to think before they come to conclusions, especially about a child.
Because from the outside looking in, he needs to “not do that,” but from the inside looking out, he had held it together so tightly for so long that he couldn’t take it anymore. He was doing the absolute best he could and I will forever continue to be proud of him.
My heart has such a special place for him and always will. Especially as he continues to grow up. He’s growing into such a sweet and caring young man. He’s doing great in school, making friends, and has became a great big brother and cousin.
So I’ll leave you with this: if you are going to work with children as a teacher, coach, parent, whatever, please take the time to understand the behavior of the child before jumping to a conclusion. Educate yourself. Because nothing changes if we don’t continue to spread awareness and education about pediatric mental health.