Thursday, November 04, 2010

Parenting My Middle Child


Have I told you how much I love my middle son? He is smart--from his first smile at just two weeks old to his ability to handily beat me at memory to his memorization of something paragraphs long after just a few practices--this is one bright child. He is adorable and adoring when he takes a mind to be. He likes to tease and play in typical five year-old fashion. His four cowlicks, two of which swirl in opposite directions in his crown, guarantee that his hair always sticks up except for the two weeks after dad gives one of his great haircuts. He can charm anyone, and has a way of wrapping teachers and grown-ups around his finger after about four minutes in their class.

So why do I need help? If he is really so wonderful, then what, exactly is the problem?

Padawan went through some difficult kid-stuff between age two and three. I chalked it up to a new baby brother and a major move. Everything considered, in fact, he did remarkably well. He started coming into his own and the Jedi Knight always wanted him to tag along.

Then Jedi Knight went to school.
And Mommy had a baby and an early morning paper route.

And Padawan wasn't quite a big boy, but he wasn't quite a baby.

Ever since then, he has been stuck between big and little. He plays it to his advantage. "I don't want to do that, I'm not a baby like Youngling!" "I can't do that, I'm not a big boy like Jedi Knight."

So far, this is all typical middle child/5 year-old stuff. In fact, when I found out that number three was going to be a boy, I held Padawan close and kissed him, and though I never said it out loud I told him in my head a hundred times that I was sorry that he would never be my "baby" boy again. There was never a sweeter baby.

Then, about 18 months ago, when Plantboy and I took our tenth anniversary trip, he was left with my mom for a few days, and then a loving aunt the boys are crazy about. When I picked him up, he was full of stories of all that they had done, and seemed reluctant to leave Aunt Sugar. On our way home we noticed that he was doing this weird snorting, clearing his throat thing. I thought he'd picked up a cold at first.

He had not.


It didn't seem to be.

The thing is when he would sniff and clear his throat, he didn't seem to have any mucus. The odd habit, which got worse when he was nervous or when it was pointed out, became a tic which he would do several times an hour unless he became extremely busy and distracted. Having taught and/or tutored several students with Tourette's Syndrome before, it seemed like some things fell into place. People with TS tend to be rather OCD. Even as a young child, Youngling was fastidious about making sure that doors and drawers were shut and hated even having a drop of water or spot of mud or dirt on his clothes. In fact, my brother and I had sometimes joked about Padawan being OCD when we would watch him toddle over to any open doors and slam them shut. Now it was coupled with a tic--a tic that was exacerbated by nervousness.

I did some homework and shared what I learned with Plantboy, who had been trying various ways to make Padawan drop the habit, some of which were slightly punishing. I convinced Plantboy to just pretend it wasn't happening and to wait an see. I prayed a lot during that time, having seen brief glimpses into the lives of families who deal with TS.

Padawan stopped.

But after that we noticed some things. Any time he was in front of people--a talk a church, introduced to new people, even reciting Articles of Faith in family home evening--the tic would come back. Or another one would arise. Itching was really common.

Starting earlier his year he began a new default mode--we call it drama-boy mode. When something doesn't work out for him, he immediately begins pouting or crying or yelling or throwing things, including himself, to the ground. He has an initial outburst and then folds his arms and stomps away. Sometimes I don't even know what has made him angry. I've reassured him a hundred times that if he asks for help then I can give it to him and remind him that very few of his problems are unsolvable. I've also repeatedly focused on not doing things for him until he drops the drama and uses his words.

The irony is, that of all my kids, his basic personality is the most mellow. He isn't too upset about changes in schedule or spontaneous things. He used to remind me so much of my sweet, laid-back husband, but it is hard to really say that any more. These outbursts have started to overshadow every other part of him, and his lack of self-control is wreaking havoc on our family. He butts heads terribly with Plantboy; on especially bad days, peace between the two of them balances on a knife-point. He pushes me to the point where I yell, then I feel terrible and try to start over with him. His innermost nature is so sweet and forgiving that he is quick to hug and cuddle after we have trouble. He fights with his brothers, more than the other two fight with him. He bosses and loses his temper with them. He is stubborn when he plays and quick to explode when things don't go his way.

His latest OCD behavior is that he is very picky about the way his clothes fit. I have a huge container of clothes left over from Jedi Knight, and he will hardly wear any of them. He is perpetually out of clothes to wear because I can't wash fast enough to keep up with the only two pairs of pants he will actually wear to school--and one of the pairs he will only wear sometimes.

I have a plan for working through the clothing problem, and it will give him a chance to get lots of one-on-one time with mother. But I have a terrible feeling that solving the problem will only buy us a little bit of breathing room until the next "catastrophe."

This is the kind of post "they" say you should never write, because your children will hate you for it one day. But I didn't know who else to turn to than the folks, who oddly enough, know me the best because they visit here regularly*. I want to hear about your parenting experiences with middle children, nieces, nephews and grandchildren. I want to hear about your childhood (and adult!) experiences if you are in the middle yourself. Please don't assume that if your situation isn't identical that you can't offer something useful; I'm open to anything right now. Once I get some feedback, I will do a favor to Padawan's future self and move the post off the Internet.


*Blogger's stat counter is much better than the one I was using previously. I noticed that during the summer, according to my last stat counter, that I had a huge spike in the number of daily visitors after I went to Utah. Intrigued and pleased, I was feeling very self-assured. Enter Blogger's stats in September, with very specific information on which pages are getting the hits. My number one post every day for months has been that silly piece I wrote just before going on vacation about how I should have my hair cut. Apparently, running a Google search for certain types of haircuts brings back a hit for my blog that must be in the first page or two. I've had traffic from all over the world looking for the same kind of hair style I was hoping to achieve. Needless to say, Blogger's stat counter has greatly deflated my ego. It's a good thing.


AmyJane said...

Oh my. This makes my heart heavy just to read it. You already know that I'm already grappling with my own Middle Child. This kind of heartache always brings to mind the cliche but true saying, "A mother is only as happy as her unhappiest child."
I don't have much to offer except a few questions. Have you looked into an actual mental health assessment? Are you amenable to a diagnosis, if there is one, or are you more inclined to just work with him symptomatically, without looking for a label? Does he have these episodes at school/primary or just at home? How does he do with other kids, i.e. his siblings and friends in the bigger world? Is the drama between him and his dad about them being too similar or is it more about dad wanting to tough love it out of him? And finally, when you pray about it and open up fully, do you honestly feel that there is something "wrong" that needs intervention, or do you think it's just one of the oddities of childhood?
I hope you get some better answers and ideas than I have to offer. And I hope you come to some peace with this little guy. Good luck.

tamathy said...

I had tics at different times when I was a kid. (I'm sure I still do) Many of my sibling s did. My brother had the throat clearing tic. My parents tried different strategies (including "if you do that again I'll slap you" I don't recommend that one. You'll feel terrible later when your kids remind you and it doesn't work), eventually we grew out of them and all the other bizarre phases we went through.
One of my boys was convinced he had something in his eye all the time. We had it checked- nothing. We had him wear a patch- there was something in his other eye. He would freak out. I had to move cross country with this kid and was afraid he's freak out on the plane. Ended up taking the train so we'd have a private room. The train was fun. There was a sink he could wash his eye at. And the eye thing stopped.
Other son suddenly couldn't go in the bathroom without someone outside the door. We tried different strategies, but in the end it's hard to say if one of them worked or if it was just a matter of time.
Employing some strategy helps the people around the kid feel like they have some control (and something to tell strangers and the Mother-in-law) while the kid passes through the current phase.
These phases drive everyone crazy, but very, very rarely do they follow a kid into adulthood. I could tell you a million more - give me a call.

Sherry said...

I am not a parent. I have fourteen nieces and nephews, all of whom live fairly far away from me, so I'm not involved in their lives much.

About a year ago, Eric and I decided to give all of our nieces and nephews "pope names." There was K. the Pious, C. the Gregarious, J. the Jolly, and M the Belligerent. Seriously, that kid was difficult to deal with. I can't even explain it really. He was just so difficult! With everybody! I don't know how his mom handled him day to day.

And the last time we saw him he was as sweet as could be, had a great sense of humor, didn't have to always have things his way, and was easy to work with. I guess his belligerence (which lasted for about two years) was something he just grew out of.

I hope that Padawan is in a phase! I'm sorry that it is so rough right now.

Lisa said...

I'm a lurker, but wanted to comment here. My son is 5, just started school this year. He didn't have the tics, but is exactly like yours otherwise. Mellow, sweet, and has exactly the same immediately outbursts All. The. Time. For us, they started the same month he started school, which makes me think it's something about school itself. I asked his teacher if he did it there, and he does not, but pretty much from the moment he gets home until bedtime he is this way for us. I don't think it's something wrong with him (crazy making, but not wrong) but rather has to do with wanting control at home after a day of holding it together around others. He LOVES school, is very happy there, etc, but I think the outbursts and fight picking are his way of relaxing, he doesn't have to think about how to throw a fit. I've been waiting it out, hoping it ends soon.

TheDooleys4 said...

Sounds alot like my B.J. was as a little one. He was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder when we went to Early Intervention for some sort of help. These are the four things that helped me. We were advised to buy the book "Raising your spirited child" has some wonderful advice. He was tested and qualified for early intervention because of behavioral issues. This helped alot and it was free pre-school. Drum Lessons. This has been an absolute lifesaver. It gives him somewhere to channel his energy Plus has given him incredible self esteem. (I think music lessons of some sort benifit any kid.) And lastly, we found a fantastic herbal supplement called relax now by herbalife. It has been a lifesaver and truly helps him relax and brings out the true B.J. under all the anxiety.....Good luck Nan. I hope this helps.:)

chris w said...

Much of it to me sounds like personality traits (except for the tics). I wouldn't even say it's a middle child thing. He sounds very similar to my first child.

I think your parenting is right on. So much of my child's little things that drive me nuts stick around no matter how many consequences I deliver but disappear with some quality one on one time.

I would also agree with AmyJane's questions about getting a diagnosis.

My own siblings still talk about me as the crazy sibling with a huge temper. Don't feel like things have to be permanent.

Love you and thinking of you.

emandtrev said...

I don't have any "ah ha" answers--I wish I did. You mentioned one-on-one time. Granted, I only have two children now, but we went through a period when the oldest had just turned four and the youngest had just turned one when our oldest was prone to horrible tantrums. I mean burn the house down, stomping away, slamming doors, etc. nights around here. And that wasn't just her--Mom and Dad had their fair share of anguish and annoyance too.

On another note, I myself am the middle child. I remember once making the comment to my mom that I hated being in the middle because I was left out. That wasn't really true at all, but at the same it felt good to say it.

With my daughter, I got onto more of a schedule with bedtime, reading time, not getting so frustrated by her sweet questions during the day if I was annoyed with something else, and so forth. It has made a world of difference. When I look her in the eyes and can tell I've made a patient, concerted effort through the day, it's almost like I can get validation back. I know this isn't the same as your situation, but I think you're on the right track. My husband truly have to tag team sometimes when one of us just has to walk away and reevaluate the situation.

My parents were awesome about channeling my energy and such into things they found I enjoyed. They were so incredibly supportive of hobbies, my love of reading, etc. In both cases, it was like if some sort of accountability and outlet could be established, things got better. Again, I don't have any or all of the good answers, but just know you're not alone and I think from everything I know and have learned about you, you are doing everything you can to be an engaged and "present" parent. Hang in there.

It's Time to Live said...

The cough/clearing of throat sounds a lot like mild asthma brought on by stress, worry, or anxiety. Having raised four sons I have found that a good hobby, good friends, and time together help. Down time, boredom, and nothing to do causes problems.
My release is to get him a digital camera, show him some creative ideas and turn him loose! Then praise. Good luck.

Caitlin said...

So I have been thinking a lot about this. I can't say what is "normal" and what isn't because I already have one with severe handicaps and I view my son through a skewed lens of paranoia. Archer is 6 and he also has issues with some of the things you mentioned. He has developed a stutter that has lasted 6 months (which is a bad sign) but it seems to be limited to times when he is deeply thinking about something and asking questions. It drives me crazy because it freaks me out. He also has issues with clothes but not to the extent that your son does. He hates long sleeves because they "get dirty" and at lunch they become "covered with germs." So when it's 35 degrees at the bus stop how do I get him outside in appropriate clothes? He is obsessed with the idea of justice and what he perceives as right and wrong. He becomes very upset and worked up when things are unfair either in his life or in the lives of others. The Internet has been a blessing and a curse. It seems like the more I read about his symptoms the more things I find "wrong" with him; OCD, ADD, depression, even some rare genetic disorders. I am not very good at interpreting my own high strung thoughts from the promptings of the Spirit when it comes to my children and these types of issues. I always pursue any course of action that I feel could help my children. Before you think I am some Munchausen by proxy mom, let me say that my son is not tested excessively or seen by specialists on a regular basis. But I learned the hard way that it is better to be safe than sorry. I will spend the rest of my life wondering if I was the cause of Della's disabilities since I waited for a period of time before seeking further treatment. What's the harm in talking to a pediatrician or getting a referral to a specialist? It could be something serious or, hopefully, it could be the side affects of a busy and bright mind that is limited by the emotional aspects of being a child. If it is something serious, you can give him and your family the tools you need before emotional scarring and bad habits are engrained due to things that are beyond anyone's control. If you go through a diagnostic process and things turn out to be less serious at the very least you can still gain an understanding of what your child needs and how you can help him. I don't think anyone would say those insights were not worth the time and money spent. You are already way ahead of the parenting pack. I have met so many parents who are in denial about their children or who are simply too embarrassed to entertain the possibility of their child not being perfect. You my dear, are not one of them.