This post is gritty, blunt and kinda’ dramatic. It’s a little unhinged and probably contains more errors than other articles published here on TraumaMama.com. I didn’t do my usual nitpicking before publishing this particular piece – editing it to death or altering it for a more “user-friendly tone” would, I believe, lessen the impact of what I’m saying.
Apologies for the poor quality of the videos – I lowered the resolution intentionally to obscure my children’s faces when they come into the frame. As open as I am on this blog, I am trying to maintain at least a small sliver of privacy. Ya know?
We all take turns being the “stressor” in our house. Sometimes I neglect my self-care and start getting cranky, yelling and stomping around the house like a child. Sometimes Husband forgets to take his medication and starts getting incredibly scatter-brained and wonky. Sometimes Oldest’s hormones go wild and she regresses into age-inappropriate behavior. And, sometimes, something triggers Middle or Little and we have weird behavior and meltdowns all night (or, occasionally, all week).
Middle takes the cake for enduring (and causing) the most stress this week in our house… She finally managed to break her elbow Monday afternoon after trying for over a week to break her arm. Yes, you read that right. She’s been trying to break her arm. On purpose.
“Kids like casts,” someone said to me today at the orthopedist’s office. “They see their friend with one and suddenly, everyone wants one. They all get jealous – kids know sporting some fiberglass on their arms equals lots of attention.”
Ugh. That person was just giving me a very elaborate, flowery version one of the most dreaded phrases in all the Traumasphere:
ALL KIDS DO THAT.*
I have said it before, but allow me to reiterate.
I can NOT stand this phrase. And I’m willing to bet most Trauma Parents hold the same sentiment.
Now, I know people say this to be kind, that they are trying to lessen our concern over our kids’ behavior, to mitigate our worries. I know this, which is why I manage to receive that statement with grace about 90% of the time. I even managed to keep my composure in the face of this statement today, even amid all the broken-arm stress… I smiled and laughed on the outside, but inside I was screaming, “All kids do NOT NOT NOT do these things! THEY DON’T. THEY JUST DON’T.”
Now, some typical children might engage in odd or upsetting behavior, but if there are no mental health problems and if there’s a good secure attachment figure in their lives, the upsetting behavior is usually a temporary thing they’re struggling with. “A phase,” if you will. My mom used to keep matches in the bathroom, and when I was in kindergarten I would strike them and watch the fire creep down the match’s neck and fizzle out right before it hit my fingers. It was fascinating. I stopped doing this, though, when I accidentally set the entire book fo matches aflame, dropped it on the floor and singed the carpet (sorry, Mom). And I did this knowing it was wrong, knowing how dangerous fire can be because someone in my family was caught in a house fire and suffered a lot of burns over most of his body.
Kids DO engage in dangerous and weird behavior. Heck, I spent an entire WEEK peeing in the sink instead of the toilet when I was eight years old. But on that seventh day, I looked in the mirror and scolded myself. “What is wrong with you? This is weird. Mom would puke if she saw you doing this. No more.”
End of embarrassing childhood story that I’ll probably regret sharing with the world when I wake up tomorrow.
But anyway. Even though I know my friends, family, and general well-wishers have fantastic intentions when they tell me that all kids do the things my kids have been doing, I feel like they’re saying, “You’re overreacting. Stop problematizing what is clearly normal childhood behavior.”
I may be sensitive to this issue because I’ve encountered several people who do feel that way. We took Middle and Little to a psychiatrist who told us that RAD didn’t exist… she diagnosed them with Adjustment Disorder. We have had more than one school worker and more than one counselor scoff at our claims of the kids’ behavior problems and investigate further only to find that yes, my kids do, in fact, have some serious mental health problems. We’ve had counselors and school personnel apologize to us for not believing us.
Perhaps you, dear reader, are one of those people who doesn’t really believe a child diagnosed with RAD or DSED or PTSD or whatever really has the behavior problems the parents are reporting. Well. I’d like to share some scenarios, stories and videos that will hopefully change your view. I’d also like to ask some questions of my own in response to the claims that “all kids do that,” using a few specific behaviors to illustrate my point.
Getting Overwhelmed on Holidays and Birthdays.
“All kids get overwhelmed during exciting days,” people say when we warn them not to give too many gifts to the kids on special days. “You shouldn’t limit the amount of gifts they can receive/the amount of time they can stay at a party/the guest list to family members only. Let them have fun.”
Okay… So, do all kids try to give away their presents? Presents they like? As they open them? Before they’re even fully unwrapped? Do all kids respond to the question, “Don’t you like your new gifts?” with, “Yes. But I want YOU to take it home.”
Do they later tell you that they felt like they didn’t deserve those gifts? That they tried to give the gifts away so that the people giving the presents wouldn’t get mad at them for keeping the gifts? That they tried to give over half their gifts away because they didn’t think the guests would play with them unless they gave the attendees the freshly unwrapped toys? That they were scared their acceptance of the gifts would make their parents angry and they’d end the birthday party?
Do all kids start beating the ever living hell out of their siblings during their birthday parties? Then turn around and try to punch Dad? Then start attacking Mom as she tries to soothe them? Do they break their new toys that they said they loved – not on accident or by playing too roughly, but in anger because they were told they can’t be so violent – especially at their own birthday party? Do they act so viciously and out of control that they end up causing the party to end two hours early?
Do they start punching their window after they’ve been sequestered in their room because they weren’t being safe, because they were hurting people?
Context: I went outside for a cigarette because his meltdown was violent and scary and I needed a moment. He raised his blinds and stared at me with the darkest expression I’ve ever seen on a child’s face. Then he started punching his window. After he hit the window 10 times or so, I decided to record it to take into his therapist the next day.
During her first attempt at kindergarten in a different state with a very intense curriculum, Middle had some homework “struggles” and she invented “the game” – you know, the one where she pretends she doesn’t know things she knows… the game that drives me completely bonkers. We hadn’t learned about therapeutic parenting yet so we were doing things “the old fashioned way,” meaning she had to do her homework and she was not allowed to do anything else if she refused.
“Her disdain for homework and corresponding behavior is totally normal,” a school-district psychiatrist in North Carolina said to us. We were in a meeting Husband and I had called to discuss Middle’s refusal to do her homework and the terrible meltdowns we encountered every night when we asked her to do her work. “My kid throws fits about homework all the time. I’m pretty sure all kids do that at least once in a while.”
She advised us to have Middle work for 20 minutes and then let her go on to another activity, and to write a note to the teacher if she did not finish her work. We agreed to try it and Middle’s was informed of the plan. This was her response the two weeks we tried homework time according to that suggestion:
Middle’s homework meltdown 2014. This meltdown lasted three hours total. She refused to do her homework and when I started writing the note to her teacher, she lost it. In this short video, she’s screaming, “Don’t take it to my teacher! Don’t take it to my teacher! I don’t want it! I don’t want to have a yellow day!**
All kids do THAT? For hours? Every day? Over homework? Do all kids continue the meltdown for hours even after the parents say, “Okay… Well, if you choose not to do your homework we’ll just let your teacher know and that’s that. What would you like to do instead?” Do all kids dig their heels into their refusal so deeply that they miss their Winter Recital? Or miss going out in the first snow of the year? Or miss going out for ice cream? Or miss out on Fun Friday and recess at school? Do all kids scratch, bite, kick, hit and spit on their parents over homework?
Do they put holes in their walls? Break their favorite toys? Rip holes in all their clothing? Split the wood in their bedroom doors? OVER FRIGGING HOMEWORK???
Back to the broken elbow. Over the last few days, I’ve recalled my own broken arm as a child and I do remember wanting a cast before I got one. However, I was way to scared to try and break any bone of mine on purpose.
Middle has no such fear. Her friend had a cast. Middle thought the cast looked cool, and she wanted a cast. She also wanted all the attention that comes along with that, all the “perks” she’s seen her friend get over the last two weeks or so, all the signatures displaying to the whole world how many friends she has and how much her family loves her.
“I’ll bet most kids try at least once to break their arm in an attempt to get a cast,” the kind lady with good intentions said to me as she checked Middle out after our appointment. “See you in three weeks.”
Okay… Sure. I remember thinking about doing something to break my arm to get a cast. But do MOST kids actually attempt to break their arm? On multiple occasions? Even after the attempts hurt them? Do all kids fall off their scooters ten times in one outing, desperately trying to land on one of their arms just right so that it snaps or fractures? Do they slam their right elbow into the gym floor at school so hard that it bruises the growth plate? Do they then come home and slam the same elbow into the bathtub rim and bathroom counter-top, so loudly you can hear them from another room? Do they go to Urgent Care on Friday, miss watching the end of the movie to go get x-rays at 10:00 at night, only to find that nothing is wrong? Do they admit that hitting their elbow like that really, really hurt… only to do it again at home the next day? Because they “thought they would get a cast” the night before? AND HOW DOES THAT MAKE SENSE?
Do they fall off the monkey bars on Monday while playing in the park with Dad and slowly walk back home (where Mom is doing laundry), cradling the hurt arm, giggling hysterically and shaking while saying, “I think I really broke it this time!” Do they shy away from your helping hands? Do they hide the pain so well that you really don’t know whether or not to take them back into Urgent Care? Do they smile at Mom as she closes her bedroom door so that she can call the doctor, and onlyh allow themselves to cry once they are alone? Do they do this when they are only SEVEN YEARS OLD??
Do they smile through the entire second visit to Urgent Care at 8:00 pm on Monday, save for the x-ray? Do all kids sit in the waiting room, arm broken and throbbing, talking about how “this was an accident but I got to touch the inside of my friend’s cast today and it was so soft and fuzzy and I just felt so nice touching it! Casts are so cool!”? Do they tell their mom, “I don’t need you here. I have my puppy! You can go over there!” Do they stick to that until the technician forces them to extend their carefully guarded arm, causing the most pain they’ve felt yet, and do all kids wait until that horrible moment to FINALLY let go of the stuffy and grab onto the hand of their mothers??
DO THEY ACTUALLY MANAGE TO BREAK THEIR ARM WHEN MONDAY ROLLS AROUND AND SMILE THROUGH THE WHOLE ORDEAL?!
She’s grinning in literally every picture taken of her since she fell – even before she’d had any real treatment and was still in pain. And not her scared/in pain smile (which is more of a grimace with laughter behind it). No, these are her real, “Hey, this is fun!” smiles!
Do they, immediately after getting their new super cool cast, tell you that it “didn’t hurt so bad” and accuse you of lying about how badly broken bones hurt? Do they say, “I could break my other arm and it’d be okay. Do they make you worry that they will try to break another bone because breaking the elbow apparently didn’t hurt “enough” to scare them away from such outlandish ideas????
I could go on, but I won’t… I’m hopeful that anyone reading this will “get” what I’m saying here.
I’m guessing that most of you reading this answered most of the above questions with, “NO. All kids don’t do those things. In fact, I don’t think most kids do those things.” Unless I’m incredibly misguided about the manner in which typically developing kiddos conduct their lives, and please let me know if I am, I’m pretty darn sure that our kids’ behavior isn’t typical…
I know it’s uncomfortable, but it’s true… Kids CAN be diagnosed with mental illnesses! Sometimes kids engage in seriously problematic behavior that warrants therapy and medication.
My kids have been diagnosed with mental disorders. The things they do are not typical things that “all kids do.” I promise you that.
I beg you – beg you – to remove the phrase “all kids do that” from your vocabulary when you’re trying to empathize with or otherwise help
trauma parents parents who are raising kids with mental health issues. We already know our kids aren’t acting in the typical way found with most kids, and ignoring that in an attempt to make us feel better is probably just going to make us feel more frustrated, which I am sure is the last thing you want to do to a parent who’s struggling with some big and scary things.
**First… EFF YOU STICKER CHARTS! UGH! Second… Meltdowns like this happened on a daily basis until we followed some therapeutic parenting advice and made homework optional with no punitive consequences enforced at home nor at school if she chooses not to do the work… We’ve used the “optional strategy” for two years now and Middle actually volunteers to do her homework! She’s one of the highest achieving kids in her class and has even been accepted into the accelerated learning program at her school! All because we changed our tactics from traditional to therapeutic.
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