Freckles in April: On Having a Difficult Child

Monday, March 13, 2017

On Having a Difficult Child

Stinky, aged 3

My oldest son was 6 weeks premature. He was a tiny little thing but he caught up quickly and became a healthy and strong toddler. He was my sidekick and we went everywhere together- library story time, the zoo, splash pads. He was sweet and funny and smart and I adored him.

And then he turned 3.

Here's what I wrote on my kids' private blog when he turned 3.5:

[Stinky] has become a big bowl full of sass and mean lately. Whenever I ask him to do anything he snaps, "NO Mom. STOP. Just stop talking." 
Um yeah. It infuriates me. 
He seems to be physically incapable of using a nice voice when talking to [Baby 2]. He's always yelling at him and just generally being mean. He refuses to share and has zero tolerance for when [Baby 2] is sad. It really upsets me and I've been at a bit of a loss as to how to handle it. At this point, [Stinky] just spends large amounts of his day in time out. 
This is probably the largest reason I haven't blogged here lately. I find it difficult to say nice things about [Stinky] and it makes me feel bad. He's my baby and I love him but I kind of want to send him to boarding school. I just have to keep reminding myself that it's a phase and it will pass! 

I could have written that exact same blog post at any point last year. It took six years to pass.

Part of the reason I decided in December that I wanted to blog again was because I had this incredibly difficult child that I just really needed to write about. I needed help. I needed suggestions. I needed commiseration. I needed to see if anyone else out there was dealing with this.

And then...we inadvertently figured it out.

Let me back up.

Stinky (now 9) became difficult at 3 and only got harder as he got older. The way in which he was difficult is always hard for me to define though- he could be really sweet and helpful at times (and he adores his little sister, thank heavens) but he could also be sneaky, manipulative and mean. He wasn't normal-kid-naughty; he was on a whole other level. I caught a lot of it but most of this ugly energy was turned toward his younger brother (almost 7). They were either best friends or Stinky hated his guts; there didn't seem to be much of an in-between. Aaron and I often wondered at what point a child's behavior should be considered abusive. We were always on eggshells.

One night over Christmas break I hid the baby monitor into their room. The way Stinky treated and talked to his brother while we were present was really awful and we were curious what he said when he thought we weren't listening. The things we heard terrified us. We immediately went back to their bedroom and removed him to the guest room.

Then I cried.

See, we'd tried everything. Over the years we'd offered incentives and given ever-increasing consequences. We'd given him more one-on-one time with each of us. We discouraged some friendships and encouraged others. We tried a couple different sports. We'd done therapy twice a month for a year at $100 per session. After his last meeting with his therapist she told me she didn't know what else she could do for him and recommended elevating him to a special clinic 45 minutes away to be "evaluated."

We were out of ideas. We loved him but he was hurting our family and he seemed so beyond reach. We didn't know what else to do except take him to the clinic and hope that labeling the problem would help more than it would hurt. We even considered taking him out of school, wondering if someone there was spurring his behavior in some way.

Then abruptly...he was better.

I mean, he's not a perfect child or anything, but his behavior is now more of what you would expect from the average 9 year old kid who doesn't like doing chores.

It's only been a couple months so I can't say with total certainty that he's moved on from the behavior we've dealt with for the past 6 years but I think I figured it out.

Stinky is a textbook introvert. His brother is an extrovert like whoa. We all find him a little exhausting, to be honest, but Stinky is the one who fields most of his energy because they're close in age, shared a room and are playmates. I think he simply kept hitting a wall where he was all-peopled-out and then his brother would just keep coming at him with all his energy and love and enthusiasm and he couldn't handle it and it turned into this big, ugly, behavioral problem.

He needed his own room.

After all those years, he just needed his own. damn. room.

When they shared a room he had nowhere to escape and have quiet and be alone. Now, he'll often disappear toward the end of the afternoon and go read a book with his door closed. He has a place where his loving-but-exhausting brother can't get to him without permission. He has a chance to rest and recharge and be by himself.

This might be a forever change or it might just be a small reprieve- whatever it is, I'll take it.

Moms with difficult children- I see you. I see how hard you're trying. I know the worries and the tears and the exhaustion and I want you to know that you're not alone.


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  1. Hugs, Kayla. I have some pretty introverted kids myself, and it took tantrums every school morning and afternoon before I finally gave in and started homeschooling. It has made a huge difference in my oldest's ability to cope. :) We are all just doing our best. :)

  2. As the mom of a consistently difficult child and three others who have been slipping into that same role more and more as of late, thank you. I'm sorry that you've gone through this, but so glad that you've found something that helps. Solidarity, my friend.

  3. This is a powerful story. Thank you for sharing. I am glad you have turned a corner. Also, I am glad you are blogging again. I only noticed today. Welcome back.


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