When my son was two, my husband and I were exhausted, and beyond frustrated in seeking answers for his insanely rambunctious behavior and his sleepless nights. We were wrecked with stress.
Though preschool and peer interaction was never a problem, home was a different story. He woke every 2-3 hours at night, needing “snuggles” throughout, and was up for the day at 4:30am. During the day, we saw endless, rigorous, willful, loud (so loud) opposition over large and small issues- as though his feelings were too big for him to manage. He had non-existent impulse control and we struggled with getting kicked, pushed, and yelled at daily. To simplify things and keep him safe in our home, we removed every breakable object from display and removed all furniture and decoration except a mattress from his room, as anything that wasn’t nailed to the wall or could potentially be knocked over or climbed was a hazard. His time with his older brother was limited as he couldn’t control his physical impulses to push, kick, and hit.
We were sad, frustrated, sleep-deprived, and stressed to the max. Time-outs weren’t working. Natural consequences weren’t working. Positive attention wasn’t working. Essential oils, herbs, supplements, dietary changes, and endless outdoor time weren’t working. (Nothing was freakin’ working!)
We wanted 3 things: family harmony, an empowered calm state for him, and stress-relief. We knew there had to be a way to create a more harmonious home and get some dang sleep, but we didn’t know how to get there. The answers weren’t coming from our family doctor, the sleep specialists, or the parenting books and blogs.
I have a background as a massage therapist and had been seeking out bodywork for him. Around once a month I had been taking him to a pediatric CranioSacral therapist who also was a pediatric Physical Therapist. Craniosacral therapy is a light-touch therapy that works directly to soothe and unwind restrictions in the body’s central nervous system. Watching him receive these treatments was like watching him melt into a state of calm we rarely saw at other times. She noticed that he liked toys he could pound on, that his legs sought the edge of the table, and that he liked to lean into her as she was working. These were breadcrumbs for her that his body was seeking a certain kind of input. After decades of working with kids, her intuition was pretty keen and she suggested we take him to an Occupational Therapist for an assessment, to see if they could provide some insight.
From the moment he had his assessment, I felt we were stepping into a world that could finally provide some answers we so desperately were seeking. The therapy room itself was a relief because everything in it was something that could be punched, flopped into, jumped on or knocked down. And to have an adult look at him and say to him, “Wow! You are so strong! You are so clever, look at how you use your body!” To hear him being celebrated with genuine sincerity…..it actually made me cry. Since then we have met with several different OTs, each with a different style and protocol, some covered by insurance. We began to observe our son in terms of what kinds of experience his body is seeking, rather than whether his behavior is ok or not ok.
The eyes of our OTs viewed him as excited, intelligent and enthusiastic, needing specific impact on his joints and muscles (proprioceptive and vestibular systems to be exact), and fully capable of learning to self-soothe. I can’t tell you what a relief it was to see him through those eyes. In OT, everything is a clue as to how his unique system works and how he is seeking to regulate that system. We all have ways that we regulate our bodies. Chewing gum, pacing, fiddling with our rings, crossing our legs…..each of us has different ways of grounding and relaxing. We were finally learning to observe how he was seeking to regulate his.
It is a true gift to be able to see his progress in managing his body, feelings, and impulses. Not just that, but it has allowed us to take the judgment out of the equation. It has made our family a team, working together, instead of opponents playing tug-of-war.
I won’t go into more detail here but am happy to speak with anyone curious about our experience. If you have an intuitive sense that your kid might be seeking something you haven’t yet put your finger on or you notice you are expending a ton of energy on just day to day life…OT might provide some answers. Feel free to contact me with questions about Occupational Therapy or the resources we have connected to around Madison.