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How To Cope With Your Child’s Behavioral Condition
Something must have happened. Again.
You sit in the parking lot at the end of a school day and wait for your son to get into the car. His teacher walks next to him. You already see the concerned look on her face as she grabs your son’s hand, carefully herding him to the car as if he can’t handle it himself. She’s always the teacher to deliver bad news, so you prepare yourself for the talk she’s going to give you.
“He can’t sit still,” your son’s fifth-grade teacher says through the open window on the passenger side. She shakes her head disappointed as your son jumps into the backseat, unaware that he’s the topic of conversation. He bounces up and down and kicks the seat in front of him, ready to go.
“Sorry,” you mumble underneath the teacher’s judgmental eyes.
She scrunches her face and gives you that see-what-I-mean smile. “We had three instances today where he couldn’t sit in his seat, and he can’t learn this way,” she says. “It’s disruptive to him and the class. We need to get him some help.” She tuts as if she wants to say poor child even though you know your son is smart and capable. Her inability to see what you see rips at your heart. “Can you stop by the counselor’s office tomorrow morning when you drop him off? She can give you some ideas that might help.”
Her high-pitched voice is condescending, but you nod anyway, raise up the window and drive off. Now, you’re at home on the couch, waiting for your son to work through his fourth fit of the day while you wonder what solutions his counselor will suggest. Whatever she recommends, you’ve probably already tried it.
The two common suggestions that don’t work
Like most parents, you started out with therapy. Last year, your son’s pediatrician referred a child psychologist, and if you’re honest with yourself, that was a tough pill to swallow. You didn’t want to tell other moms that your son was seeing a therapist.
You already knew the gossip and labels that would come with that. Times had gotten better, and you knew people weren’t as judgemental, but still, the stigma did exist. You didn’t want your son to be labeled.
But out of love and desperation, you took your son to therapy three days a week. After eight months, you got your first gut-punch. Your son’s therapist couldn’t seem to “have a breakthrough,” so he suggested that you consider medication.
That was the second solution, the one you dreaded most.
You had fought the idea for so long. You knew the consequences of medication. It could turn your son into a zombie. He wouldn’t be himself. His infectious personality would dim. His laughter would subside.
You didn’t want that for your child. You wanted your son to live a healthy, full life—not a slow-paced, uneventful one.
But still, you listened to the therapist and asked your son’s pediatrician about medication. You picked up the prescription that the doctor’s office called in. You paid the amount even though finances were tight and your husband didn’t get the promotion he had worked so hard for that month. Then, you started to give your son two pills a day.
You gave him the medication for six months. His outbursts decreased, but so did his energy, happiness, and excitement. The side effects played out just as you knew they would. After that, you took him off the medication.
Desperate for a solution
Your son was happy about your decision to stop the medication, and for the most part, you were too. But now, you had to re-familiarize yourself with your son’s outbursts. It seemed like your son was having more fits than usual, but maybe you just weren’t used to the sudden change in his behavior.
Either way, the adjustment was hard to handle. It took a toll on you and your family. You were so tired and stressed that you could barely hold a conversation anymore.
Desperate, you thought of another solution to implement: an elimination diet. Maybe your son had a sensitivity to something.
You knew certain foods and ingredients could lead to behavioral conditions like red food dye, which could make you hyperactive or aggressive. Mercury in seafood could lead to hyperactivity. And of course, caffeine, sugar, and frosting were no good either.
So, you took out every harmful food and ingredient in your son’s diet. Then, you scoured the internet for other foods that you should eliminate. But none of the excluded ingredients changed anything. The elimination diet didn’t work, and you couldn’t help but feel guilty for your son’s behavior.
You tried to find other solutions in every book you could get your hands on. You talked to more doctors to get different opinions. You spoke to your friends to see if they had any tips. But nothing worked. You came up empty-handed every time.
The decline of your mental health
Were you a bad mom? You couldn’t stop asking yourself this question. You had done everything you could think of to help your son. You even quit your job to be at home with him 24/7. You thought the closeness would help decrease his anxiety, but your presence didn’t change a thing.
For almost ten months, you found yourself spiraling into a depression. You didn’t talk to anyone. You were anxious and stressed. You couldn’t sleep. You barely had an appetite. You were too discouraged to take care of yourself. All you wanted to do was help your son live the beautiful life that he deserved.
Finding ways to cope
When you take your son to class the next morning and head to the counselor’s office, you’re not sure what to expect or if you should expect anything. What could this counselor tell you? You’ve already tried everything.
Hopeless, you shuffle into the counselor’s office without a smile on your face. You shake her hand, introduce yourself, then take a seat in the chair across her desk. The counselor smiles at you. She offers you a cup of coffee, which you gladly accept.
Then, she takes a seat in the chair next to you instead of sitting across from you. She crosses her legs, clasps her hands together, and looks at you with concern in her eyes before she says how amazing she thinks your son is in school.
The counselor brings up all of your son’s positive traits: his upbeat personality, infectious laughter, kindness, generosity, and intelligence. She mentions everything that you see in your son, and you start to feel a little better about your visit.
Five minutes later, the school counselor tells you that her son also has a behavioral condition, which is why she can relate to you so well. She mentions how tough it was for her to cope. Then, she walks through all the solutions she tried two years ago, the same ones you’ve used as well.
You both laugh about your commonalities. It feels good to know someone who understands you. So, you ask the school counselor what solutions she used to help her son and herself cope. Smiling, the counselor suggests a few steps.
1. Search for natural alternatives
Your son’s school counselor explains that there are various vitamins, minerals, herbs, essential oils, and phytonutrients that you can use to calm your son down and help him sleep. She also tells you that once your son has calmed down, you should use those peaceful moments to teach him effective communication tactics that he can use when he’s anxious, stressed, or unhappy.
2. Take care of yourself
While it’s hard to hear, the counselor reminds you not to get depleted, or you’ll have nothing left to give. She tells you that self-care is important because it will help you avoid guilt and despair, two feelings you experience often.
While it seems like you never have time for yourself, your son’s school counselor encourages you to lean on your husband, family members, and friends for help. She suggests that you take a break one day a week. And if that’s not possible, she gives you three alternatives: give your son a strict bedtime, wake up earlier, or do both. Then, you’ll have a few hours to yourself to relax, recenter, and realign or do activities that help you feel good.
3. Don’t hide your thoughts
Your son’s school counselor gives you this tip because she needed someone to tell her this as well. She explains that it’s important to find an outlet to express yourself.
She suggests that you journal, have a friend to call on bad days, and find solace in support groups, church, or other relevant organizations. She even recommends yoga at her favorite studio or other workout classes that encourage community.
Whatever it is, the counselor stresses the importance of being around other people. She doesn’t want you to feel alone with your thoughts, something you admit to doing every day.
New hope for the future
Thankful for the counselor’s time, you hug her goodbye before you leave. She reminds you that everything will be okay and that you’re more than welcome to lean on her as a resource.
With new tips to implement, you feel more encouraged as you walk out of her office. You feel hopeful about the future even though it won’t be easy.