Even though I’m very “pro therapy” I wasn’t prepared for my son to be seeing a therapist at the age of 5.
His story is a long one, but the gist of it is that he’s had a much different – harder – experience with a lot of things than his sister has. When my son was about 10 months old, we noticed something was a little delayed with his speech. He was walking, but he wasn’t babbling at all. He was SUCH a happy baby, and was otherwise hitting his necessary milestones, but we soon found ourselves in doctor’s offices talking about speech therapy, hearing tests, audiologists, and eventually getting him tested and sized for hearing aids.
His hearing issues explained some of the problems we were having, but didn’t answer why he wasn’t sleeping at night. He hadn’t slept a full night for more than 3 days in a row for his entire 5 years of life. There were nights that we got good sleep…sporadically, followed by weeks of multiple wake ups a night.
We were exhausted. And we didn’t have answers.
Along with the sleep issues came behavioral issues. His separation anxiety was extreme. Even leaving him with my parents would cause a major meltdown – I’m talking screaming, crying, kicking, running after me, banging on the windows as I leave the house.
It was torture. And still, I didn’t have answers.
I consulted people close to me, and even talked to my own therapist about it. After all, his issues were becoming my issues…and they were affecting the issues I was already having before his anxiety escalated.
We tried to put our foot down with the hitting and kicking. We talked to him calmly – explained it away to the point that he probably zoned out 10 seconds into it. We talked to his doctor about him not sleeping, and started giving him melatonin (again) as a sleep aid.
It wasn’t until his nighttime wake ups became violent that we realized we were a little out of our league.
We had struggled not to co-sleep for many years. As my son kept waking up, I was getting less and less sleep…and becoming less and less functional. We allowed him to co-sleep, hoping it would help me get a little extra sleep (any other wives pulling solo duty at night too, while their husbands work night shift?) At the beginning of the pandemic, in March of 2020, I put my foot down with him.
“You are not coming into my room to sleep anymore,” I told him. “This is your room, this is your bed. You can’t sleep with mommy anymore. That’s a rule.” He looked at me like I had three heads.
For 8 weeks I held my foot down…and for 8 weeks he persisted, and woke up every night knocking on my door to come in my room. Feeling the urge to take it up a notch, we started disciplining him for waking up at night – “If you don’t stay in your room, you will lose a toy or you may get a spanking (if you kick and scream).”
Every night, he would run out the door after me, kicking and screaming. If I closed the door behind me, he proceeded to kick and beat the door. It was a mess of emotions for both of us. Neither one of us knowing what to do with these big emotions, or how to handle them better. I had tried everything I knew how to do.
I remember one night, so vividly…I had spanked him quickly for kicking the bedroom door yet again, and as I walked out the door I sat on the steps…just a few feet down from his bedroom. I cried as I listened to him in there crying and screaming for me. “Mommy! Come in here! Come spank me again, mommy!”
What was wrong with him? I knew I couldn’t do this on my own anymore.
I made the decision that night to find him a therapist. I didn’t know what they would tell me to do that I hadn’t already tried, but it was worth a shot.
We found a great, Christian counselor named Pamela, and she met with us several times via zoom. The first couple of times we met as a family, then my husband and I met with her before she started meeting with my son one-on-one (you know…while I sat near him).
It was AMAZING what just a few meetings with her accomplished. Starting with basic conversations about why we listen to mommy and daddy, why it’s important to follow our directions, moving into what our fears are and how we can handle them – or talk about them – better.
We reestablished our family rules and the consequences of breaking those rules were guaranteed, and swift.
We talked about the fact that God established the family unit, and created me to be mommy, and him to be “son,” and how we all work together.
Just a few short weeks later, my son was sleeping through the night, and the tantrums had stopped.
*there was one night, at least, that he did have a random meltdown at night…which discouraged me at first…but it ended up being a fluke. Just a random bad night.
I can’t believe how far we have come from that dark time. And what a HUGE difference meeting with a therapist proved to make.
I don’t know what it was about him having those conversations with her that made such a big difference. She really wasn’t saying anything that was too different from what I had talked to him about. But honestly, I don’t really need to know what it was that made it all “click.” I’m just glad it finally clicked.
Fast forward to now, May of 2021, and my son is back to being a happy, sweet, lovable kid. He’s proud of himself for sleeping good at night, and he’s rewarded for being such a good listener.
I can’t imagine what it would be like if we had kept ourselves from pursuing therapy because he was “too young,” or we had been too concerned about what other people would think.
It wasn’t other people dealing with this problem. It was us. And I’m glad we made the decision that was best, for us.