Saturday, June 05, 2010

Maintaining Children's Equilibrium.

A while ago, I wrote about blogging about children, and questions regarding their privacy. Since then I've been trying not to blog about my children as much, not in the sense of evaluating them or their actions.

The other thing I've been trying not to blog about is my course. Mostly because those blogs are never particularly positive.

Today, I'll be blogging both about my children and about the negativity in our household at this point in time. Rather than whinging about it (which is, honestly, what I want to do!), I'm want to ruminate on the effects of home stressors on children, and what can be done to alleviate this stress when the adults in the house are feeling overwhelmed and exhausted.

The boys, and where they're at (yes, terrible grammar, so sue me!).

Erik: I've been aware of Erik's anxiety behaviours being present, and have been dealing with discrete incidents of these symptoms, but have not had the personal resources to get to the root of his anxiety. At the same time, Erik is currently experiencing a rise in self-esteem related to people's reactions to his drawing. Erik didn't start drawing until relatively late in the piece. He was 3.5 before he drew anything recognisable - a face - and that drawing was very shaky and rudimentary. Over the years, he's developed a keen interest in drawing. When he was 8 we had him assessed at the Royal Children's due to concerns about his behaviour at school (impulsiveness, mainly), and that assessment revealed him to be well advanced in comparison with his peers for spatial understanding (about three years ahead of his peers at the time). This was evidenced in his visual memory and drawing ability, they told us. So, anyway, like many children his age, he's enjoyed drawing cartoon character and monster/mythical creatures for the past two and a bit years, but just recently he's turned his attention to drawings of birds and animals. He's been greatly influenced by Graham Base illustrations (he thinks Graham Base walks on water and has said he wants write and illustrate books just like GB).

So, we've poured significantly more attention into Erik's drawing than into the antisocial behaviours that are symptomatic of his anxieties (of which he has more than his fair share). I am aware that he needs much more support to deal with his anxieties, but at this point in time, I just don't have anything more to give, and it is easier to just enjoy his enjoyment of drawing.

Luey: Again, I'm aware there is negative stuff going on with Luey. He has anger he feels he has no control over. We've talked about it, but right now he feels there are no strategies that help him to feel less angry and to curb his expression of anger, particularly at school. At the same time, he is absolutely obsessed with music and movement, and yet this obsessions seems to be about watching music and movement. He has a couple of recording of "So You Think You Can Dance" that he watches over and over again. He's specifically asked if we could buy "Footloose" and "Hairspray" on DVD, as well. For his birthday (coming up in 20 days), he has asked for a guitar. We can't afford to pay for lessons, either in dance or guitar playing, but he has said he wants to teach himself the guitar. There is something there, under the surface, that is bubbling away and wanting to come out. I'm not sure if he just needs more time to think about it and process it before he acts on it, or if he's keenly aware of our dire financial situation and doesn't want to hear us say no to his requests for dance or music lessons, or what it is.

I do feel he really needs some sort of release though. I sense he sees Erik's drawing being appreciated and while Luey also draws, he feels he isn't as accomplished as Erik and so he wants to find something that's just his. We try not to compare the boys drawings, or anything else they do, but I guess it's very difficult to disguise the instant reaction of awe for Erik's drawing when we see it, and Luey is a sensitive child who can pick up on subtleties like that.

I don't understand parents who claim to treat their children all exactly the same way. How do you control yourself enough to not have more of an instant reaction to one child's ability in a particular area than another child's ability in the same area? If other's can achieve this self-control, then I'll have to admit, I'm not that talented.

So, it seems (at this moment) that Luey might be moving to claim music and movement as his special ability in this family. This has come as a bit of a surprise to Dave and I because when they were younger, Erik was always more of a performer than Luey, always getting us to watch him dance or perform in some way. Then a year or so ago, we got the opportunity to see Luey on stage and he glowed! Literally glowed! Our boy who didn't ever want people to look at him, loves to perform on stage. He's confident and exudes thorough pleasure in the performance, while Erik seems very self-conscious and tentative in comparison.

Bryn: Our happy little boy seems so sad at them moment. Bryn has always been so easy-going, and smiley. Hence his nickname Buddha. Just in the last month, or less even, he's become tense, anxious, sad and angry. On a few occassions he's said he didn't want to go to kindergarten. These always happen if something goes awry on the way to kindergarten. At most other times, he can't seem to wait to get there. His kinder teacher said to Dave on Friday that she's noticed he doesn't seem to want to engage in anything while there, in the past few sessions, and when he does engage it's half-heartedly.

At home, he's had a few evenings when he's said he's scared of the dark, or of his dreams.

At the same time, he has been sick in the past week, and during that illness (a bad cold, or a mild flu), he had febrile dileria, so perhaps those are the dreams he's referring to?

He's also been angry and reactive. Screaming at people for looking at him the wrong way (usually Luey) and throwing toys and slamming doors. It's really hard to see, because even as a toddler he didn't do this sort of thing when frustrated except once or twice. In a way, I feel like Bryn has the least power in our house. He is the second youngest, so everyone else's stress is taken out on him with the "leave me alone and let me brood" approach we all seem to engage in, and yet, when he reacts we don't give him the understanding we give Ari, because he's not the baby and so he's not shielded as much.

It could be that it's the middle of the year and it's cold and grey outside and he's just tired and maybe even suffering a little Seasonal Adjustment difficulty, but I'm concerned that all the stress in our house is just finally getting to him through all those insulating layers of inner joy. I'm trying to deal with this through lots of cuddles and encouraging people to be gentle with him, but this feels a little like mopping up a flooded laundry with a tissue.

Ari: Yes, even Ari is showing symptoms of stress. When the rest of us argue (and we do argue, all of us). When we yell out frustrations at one another, because we feel stretched and misunderstood or ignored, Ari yells too, and goes over and pummels the person who is being yelled at by the other person. Even just writing this makes my heart ache.

Us grown ups

Dave and I are definitely stressed.

Dave has been out of regular work since April last year, and in that time he's had to deal with the loss of a parent and moving house (two of the top three stressors known to man). Since the beginning of this year, besides moving house and cleaning the old house, he's also been the main SAHP. He's done the getting up and getting everyone ready for school and kindergarten, the making sure everyone has clean clothes each day, and the cooking of dinner each night. He's cared for Bryn and Ari while I've been studying and on work placement.

As well as these practical things, he's had to deal with my ever increasing stress about the courses I'm doing (or not doing, as the case is with my degree), the lack of money (many times we've had to borrow money from his mum to buy food or pay bills), me constantly pressuring him to look for work (which he has, for the most part resisted), and doing lessons to get his lisence. He also had the responsibility of doing grocery shopping for his mum on public transport, which takes many hours out of each week.

For my part, I've had to deal with the demands of the Certificate III course in Children's Services. Something that ended up being far more demanding that I'd foreseen - assurances from the course provider not withstanding. I've ended up doing 10s of more hours work placement than was required by the Government because the course providers didn't cross their Ts and doing their Is. I ended up putting us in financial difficulty because I believed I would get a pensioner education supplement, which turned out to be not available to students who had completed a Masters degree. I've paid for books I never recieved from the course provider and although they gave a $50 anaphylaxis course for free in lieu of the books, the books were actually valued at $130, so I've essentially paid $80 for nothing.

I've stressed about being away from Bryn and Ari (in particular).

I've stressed about not having the energy or headspace to work on my degree.

While attempting to do both degrees, it's also being my responsibility to do the grocery shopping on the weekend. Being with the boys while Dave did his lessons or grocery shopping for his mum. Make sure all the bills got paid off before our utilities got cut off. My income has paid for all our rent, all our bills and half our food. Which is why I've been pressuring Dave to get some work, but at the same time, I've needed him to be the SAHP in case he just couldn't get work, so I could qualify to get some work.

I've felt isolated and at the same time I've caused friction with friends, all due to this stress.

So, there is no wonder our children have been impacted by all of this, and no wonder it has been extremely difficult to mitigate that impact either.

Maintaining Children's Equilibrium.

What do children need to feel on an even keel?

  • to feel secure
Our children have not had a lot of opportunity to feel secure in the past year or so. They seen a loved one die. They've moved house. They've started going to kinder (Bryn), they've lost their mum from the home environment for many hours 4-5 days a week (Bryn and Ari). They've known there was only noodles or baked beans for dinner all week, or that they couldn't go on an excursion because we didn't have enough money.

How can we cause them to feel secure. We can hug them a lot and tell them that no matter what we'll be there with them and we'll make sure they get the essentials until we can get them more. We tell them they are loved and we're working as hard as we can to make things better for them and this is a short part of our lives and we can still have fun and be together. We can be understanding of their feelings of sadness, anger, powerlessness, fear.

  • to feel safe
There have been times when our children have not felt safe. Either because Dave and I have been yelling at each other, or at them, or because we've blamed them for our stress (yes, I know how bad that is, hindsight is 20/20).

How can we cause them to feel safe. We can stop loosing control of our own emotions. This is so much easier said than done! When you are afraid, which is basically the emotion that underpins every other negative emotion, it is difficult to be rational and reasonable. It takes a lot of self-awareness IN THE MOMENT to take a breath, maybe even walk away to take a bit of time to take quite a few deep breathes to relieve the blood pressure and combat the adrenalin that causes you to raise your voice and say things that feel true but aren't necessarily true on reflection. Also, yelling can feel good. It can be a habit for releasing some pressure, so recognising the build up of pressure that might lead to yelling is important. And how to prevent the rise in pressure when you feel unable to cope with the demands of life and the anxiety over everything coming apart at the seams... But somehow, the yelling has to stop, so the children can feel safe.

More than that, blaming the child for the stress has to stop. Yes, you want to do well for your child, you don't want them to feel left out at school, or to feel deprived, but blaming them for being the reason you've put yourself under so much stress does so much more damage than any excursion or cool school lunch could ever make up for in the long run.

  • to feel valued.
We haven't told our children we don't value them. However, children need to feel valued and hearing that mum and dad are too tired to talk, or just want to be left alone does not cause a child to feel valued. So we need to find the energy to listen, or show them we enjoy their company and WANT their company, that they are important to us NOW - not when the course is finish, or when dad gets a job and a lisence, or when mum can be at home more, but RIGHT NOW when life is stressful and life is hard and we are tired and wrung out. Now more than ever, we need to be present for our children.

What do we, the parents, need to ensure we have the resources to meet our children's needs for security, safety and feeling valued?

  • we need a plan!
We most definitely need a plan for the next three weeks. The next three weeks are going to be the hardest so far this year. On Thursday, we get paid. Our combined income will be $1780 for the fortnight. Out of that we need to pay $1651 in rent and $50 to the electricity company (this is a negotiated pay for which there is no wriggle room). That will leave us $79 to pay for food and travel for a fortnight. The next payday is the day before Luey's 9th birthday and in the same fortnight, Erik will have his 11th birthday. So, financially it's going to be hard three weeks.

As well as this, Dave is having his second interview for a casual position at Tobin Bros. We're very hopeful he'll get the job. We don't know what that will mean with regard to when he'll start work or training or get measured for a suit or have a medical (required for the position) etc.

Also, the coming three weeks are my last three weeks in this course. The first two weeks will be a blur of kinder work placement and work placement tasks and assessment. Already we have a time conflict on Monday when Dave has his second job interview with TB at the same time as my first day at workplacement (for a kinder who is already not impressed with me because of scheduling confusions regarding the placement).

Luckily, the wonderful Leah is going come and play with Bryn and Ari (Bryn will miss kinder on Monday, I wonder if Dave told his teacher's that?).

So, we need a plan to create a feeling of safety and security and feeling valued for the boys in the next three weeks while Dave and I try to cope with the stresses that are coming our way.

  • we need to take care of ourselves.
Whether this means trying to get to bed earlier, taking time out each evening to debrief about our day and comfort each other, making a concerted effort NOT to complain to one another about this or that which is irritating us about one another, finding the time to just be kind to each other, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure we have enough resources to support the boys through this time.

I think something we have going for us is a commitment to get through this together. That commitment has gotten us through a lot over the years. It's just the level of dignity for each family member with which we do get through that we need to be conscious of. Surviving is good. Surviving with minimal emotional or psychological damage to everyone is better!


katef said...

Thinking of you guys lately.... so hard when things seem so out of control when you really need to feel a little bit in control to manage.

If I can help with any of the placement or assignment stuff please ask :)

Sif Dal said...

Thanks Kate, we have to do three obs on two children and from that we have to plan and activity to address/extend behavioural needs in those children, so might bounce some activity ideas off you towards next weekend :) - and wow, I'm impressed you bothered to even scan hhis epic ramble (was mostly brainstorming for myself publicly)...

Good Job!