Over the past several months Ev has exhibited some less than desirable behaviors. I am sure (because some said so out loud) that family members and other observers judged the situation, determining he just needed a good spanking or other ways to teach children “respect.” If I am being completely honest I also questioned (as we all do) whether it was my parenting that was causing some of the issues. But my gut was telling me there was something more there. Terms like ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder were bouncing around my head and I was worried.
After consulting with Ev’s preschool teacher, my husband and I decided to call our pediatrician who referred us to Children’s for an evaluation. We filled out several assessments, his teacher filled out an assessment, and a psychologist met with us and Ev separately. As a result, we found out that Ev struggles with anxiety.
Here are the top five ways I knew my son didn’t need a spanking, but needed help.
- Transitions are hard. Very hard. But here’s the thing—for Ev it wasn’t just about needing warning. He had trouble transitioning into something he likes I’m talking going to get ice cream or heading out for a play date. I learned the hard way that warnings actually made it worse. It was like I kept reminding him the end was coming. What I’m learning is he really needs help seeing what is next, what he has to look forward to. For example, when preparing to leave for school, I might say “How many times do you think you’ll laugh today?”
- Ev got very frustrated when his work didn’t look like he wanted it to look. When building with Legos and pieces fell off, he would lose his temper, throw pieces and yell things like “why do my Legos hate me?!” If this happened at school, unfortunately nearby children suffered the wrath. If the children weren’t building or doing what was in Ev’s brain to be “right,” he didn’t handle it well. I’m not trying to justify his behavior but it was more than being a bully…Ev is a perfectionist.
- Ev would get very worried and dwell about things. The children had a tornado drill at school and also learned what a tornado was and now Ev is very scared of tornados. If the skies darken or it rains even a little, he needs reassurance that it’s going to be okay. We talk about tornados often, going through protocol if one were to strike. Ev also likes to watch the news during storms or the Weather Channel App on my phone so he can keep an eye on the radar. These worries can steel his attention. At times when he was not focused on what was being presented i.e. morning meeting at school, he was actually focusing on his worries instead.
- Ev gets very angry, very fast and at times, it seems at the drop of a dime. One minute he seems perfectly content and happy and the next he is angry. When asking Ev a simple question, “What do you want to do today,” e would respond by yelling and/or calling names. That was a mystery to us and one of our biggest concerns. The psychologist we met with it put it very well: it comes down to “fight or flight.” If we meet a bear in the woods, our brain tells us to either fight or fight—we either fight the bear off or we run. That is a good thing because otherwise we would likely perish. However, Ev feels the same thing all throughout a typical day. It’s good to feel that way when meeting danger in the woods; it’s not good when picking out what shoes to wear. Furthermore, when Ev is feeling those intense feelings, he can’t determine between anxiety and anger all the time so sometimes it comes out as anger, when in fact it’s anxiety.
- Ev needed help acclimating to his classroom every. single. morning. The issue wasn’t friends—he has friends and makes them easily. Merely joining the room, joining in on play or starting something was hard for Ev. So every morning, I stayed with Ev, helped him choose an activity until he was feeling strong enough for me to leave.
It’s so hard when you’re feeling exhausted and inadequate as a parent and your child is obviously struggling. Add to it melt-downs in public and you have shame and guilt. We’ve all been there on some level. The good news is my husband and I are the experts on our child. And while we appreciate the love and support (and even unsolicited advice sometimes), it really comes down to relying on our own knowledge (and what our guts are telling us) to determine how best to support Ev.