Why It’s Important to Seek Help with a Challenging ChildBrian Gresko
Last month I wrote about how my wife and I weren’t surprised when our son’s teachers suggested he undergo a psychological evaluation. We were, of course, somewhat worried.
There’s always that sliver of dread, when dealing with a child’s personality issue, that your parenting either caused it or exacerbated it, or, worse, that it’s beyond help. In reality, a dire outcome seemed unlikely, but there is that part of you that would rather not know, that would prefer to pretend everything is okay even when you know deep down that it isn’t.
To give you a thumbnail, the evaluation process entailed an IQ and personality assessment by a child psychologist, an interview with a social worker about Felix’s development and our home life, an evaluation by a occupational therapist, and an in-school observation. From that, a report was written up detailing the findings.
If you’ve gotten to the point where both parents and teachers agree that a child needs evaluation, then most likely there’s something going on — in Felix’s case, an impression that he is an anxious child, and needs help learning how to socialize, identify his feelings, and the feelings of others. This didn’t surprise my wife and I at all. Anyone who has read my work knows that my son tends toward nervousness and can be shy with new people and situations, so much so that he becomes distressed and difficult to handle. I’ve suffered from hyper anxiety in the past, but whereas I tend to swallow down and stifle my stress, Felix projects it outward; he hits or head butts or throws a tantrum. School agitates him, and so does interacting with his peers, making him especially hyped up in these situations, prone to lose control.
Knowing this information changes nothing for Felix, but it’s been a game changer for us.
First, it strengthens our patience to deal with him compassionately. When I came to pick Felix up from school the other day, I found him in the lobby with his teacher, where he was having a huge meltdown. He had been hitting kids in the classroom to the point that he had to be removed, and then he had a screaming fit and crying jag because he was scared I’d be mad at him, and he felt embarrassed that he got in trouble. As soon as he saw me, he threw his gloves, hat, and scarf at my face. That wasn’t cool, but it was plain to me that he was having an anxiety attack, so I ignored it and instead comforted him, coaxing him to calm down. In the past I might have been displeased and yes, even angry because of his misbehavior. However, that reaction only feeds Felix’s nervousness, so I try to breath it out and give him the calm, gentle support that he needs.
Second, it helps us to have a vocabulary to use when discussing Felix with other adults. It’s changed our conversation, so now instead of feeling frustrated or embarrassed about his socializing issues, we can say, “Hey, our son is a little anxious about playing with other kids, so he’s only able to have a short play date.” We’ve found other parents to be more than understanding. Additionally, we were able to meet with the school administration and have a productive conversation about how to help Felix. All of the adults who know him recognize what a sweet, smart little guy he is, and now we know more about the root causes of his troubling behavior. This leaves us feeling less alone, and less ashamed or hesitant to talk about our experiences with him.
Finally, it feels good doing something to try to help our son! Instead of hoping that he’ll outgrow his issues, we’re more directly helping him get a handle on his emotions. This is something I didn’t begin to do till college, when my anxiety finally spiraled out of control and led to substance abuse issues and my own anti-social tendencies. With help, Felix might not have to face the same future.
We’ve begun meeting with a play therapist, we have opened a dialogue with his school that will continue throughout the year, and we will be meeting with the New York City Department of Education later this month to advocate for services like Occupational Therapy and in-class assistance.
I’m sure I’ll have more to share about how things unfold, but for now the message is this: If you think your child has a developmental or psychological disorder, and other adults (like teachers, or babysitters) who know the child well agree, then don’t sit idly by hoping that things will clear up on their own.
It’s okay to seek help.
It’s okay to do something about these issues.
In fact, it’s better than okay. It’s what you should be doing! Even though no one likes to admit that there’s a problem, sweeping it under the rug is going to do no one good, most especially the child.