Okay, I said I was only going to focus on the happy parts of last weekend, of which there were many, but I keep thinking about these sort of awful moments we had with Riley, and I could use your advice, or at least your ear.

First, a bit of backstory. I’ve talked about Riley’s various sensitivities here and there over the last few years. Maybe that’s not the right word—sensitivities—but it seems like the closest thing that captures it. Sensory issues seems a little more … I don’t know, official, sort of, than the kind of stuff I’m talking about. A lot of them he’s outgrown (he’s nowhere near as picky of an eater as he used to be, he isn’t freaked out by balloons any more, he can watch movies now without getting overly worked up over The Potential for Scary Scenes—all of these things were major problems before) but he can definitely still be a tentative, anxious kid about certain things.

A couple things happened last weekend that had us getting increasingly frustrated with Riley. First there was the Slip N’ Slide, which every kid was going nuts over. While everyone was having a blast on it, Riley hovered on the sidelines but couldn’t be talked into even sitting on it. He gave a thousand excuses for why he didn’t want to try it—he didn’t want to get wet, he didn’t want to get grass on him, he was too cold—but it was clear he was just too freaked out by it. Eventually JB got him to slide about six inches down the stupid thing while I snapped the saddest photo you ever saw. Like one of those awful roller coaster keepsake photos where everyone’s faces are frozen into a barfy expression of pure terror.

Anyway, no major deal, right? So this year he hates the Slip N’ Slide. Next year he’ll probably love it. Whatever.

Except … well, it kind of sucked, you know? I felt bad for him, I felt a little embarrassed (well-meaning family member: “Oh, I used to be an anxious kid too! Scared of everything!”), I felt annoyed that he couldn’t trust us that the slide wasn’t going to kill him.

The next day JB tried to take him swimming—not even swimming, just holding him in the water while he was wearing a life jacket—and WOW. I mean, wow. Riley just had an absolute meltdown, screaming and crying and carrying on. The water was too cold, the water had fish in it, he didn’t like it … he just lost his shit completely, at the top of his lungs.

JB’s reaction was to tell Riley that he was going to have to deal, that he wasn’t going to let go of him or anything like that, but that he had to stay in the water for a while until he calmed down. Which he didn’t. He just kept freaking out until JB and I were fighting with each other over what we should do. Keep him in there? Take him out? Push the issue? Back down?

We took him out, but mostly because I was humiliated by the scene we were causing.

I am ashamed to say that we both used language with Riley that was intended to make him feel bad about himself. We said he was being a baby, we said he was acting ridiculous. I remember saying that I was disgusted with his behavior.

You don’t have to tell me how shitty that was, believe me.

It gets worse. So a couple days later, we’re on our way back home and we’ve briefly stopped in Vancouver. The four of us were walking down the street through a bunch of people and Riley tripped and fell, skinning his knee. He instantly started howling and flipping out, and JB and I just . . . laid into him. I can’t imagine what someone must have thought if they saw us, reacting to our hurt kid by yanking him to his feet and hissing at him to stop it right now. I can’t say what JB was thinking, but I know for me it was the cumulation of several weekend frustrations, and the swimming freakout in particular, that had me feeling like my last shred of patience had disappeared. You are are TOO BIG to be acting like SUCH A GODDAMNED BABY, is what was going through my head. Oh god, we were so visibly irritated with him, and while he stood there sobbing with blood running down his knee, he turned his wet face to us and with this heartbreaking look of utter confusion said, “Why are you guys so mad at me?”

Well. I don’t feel good about telling you this, you know. I’d rather sweep that shitty memory under the rug for-fucking-ever.

But, okay, it happened, and I don’t want it to happen again. I know that’s on me, on us, that it’s our responsibility to not get mad at him in these situations, and definitely to not belittle him. I can’t stop thinking about how bad I feel for being so hard on him, and how it didn’t even help, for god’s sake. And worse, how I actually wanted, in the frustration of the moment, for him to feel bad about himself for the way he was acting. I wanted that. What the fuck.

I don’t know how to help him past these fears, and maybe part of what is so maddening is that we can’t help him, we can’t convince him that it’s okay, we can’t calm him down, and that feels like a failure on top of a failure. I don’t know how to pull aside the muddying issue of caring about what other people think, when these things happen in public. I don’t know if it’s better to hold our ground on certain things or back off completely. I don’t know how I can possibly expect him to act mature and in control, when clearly I can’t manage to do so myself.

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Angella
11 years ago

I hear you, friend.

I think that Riley is wired like Nathan, and we can dissect it next month in San Diego, but I wanted to give you a fist bump.

I distinctly remember writing a post six summers ago titled “Maybe it really IS that bad”, with a photo of him melting down. He is our Sensitive One.

All I know is this: We’ve done our best to tell him when he needs to not freak out and we’ve done our best to tell him when it’s OK to freak out.

He’s still our Sensitive One, but it’s not as extreme. It might just be a time and growing thing.

xoxoxo

Backpacking Dad
11 years ago

I don’t have any advice, but I can commiserate. I kick myself for being too strict, too demanding, too forgetful about the fact that my daughter is four, not fourteen. I treat her like a misbehaving, but potentially rational, agent when she’s probably an irrational agent most of the time. I don’t know how to tell the difference.

Robyn
Robyn
11 years ago

You really can’t help them with their fears,they have to get over them on their own. He sees other kids doing it and having fun, but for whatever reason, its scary for him. No matter what you do, cajoling him will not allay his fears. He will eventually get over most of the fears he has…just like you said about previous things. He just sounds very cautious, and trust me, that can be a good thing. Belittling him only makes him feel worse, as I am sure you know. Just let him keep sitting on the sidelines…he will come around. If you push, they always win. Him scraping his knee and crying? He’s a kid, and if I scraped my knee, I might cry too… :(

moojoose
11 years ago

We go through this kind of stuff with our oldest (who’s 9) all the time. The book, Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka has helped us SO MUCH. Can’t even tell you.
I think one of the biggest things that has helped lessen our frustrations with him is doing that mental check of WHY it’s important to us that he do the things that we want him to do, and that he’s refusing. Doing post-mortems on situations like the ones you just went through is really important, especially doing a walkthrough to pinpoint areas where you could have changed the whole situation. It helps you anticipate the situations for next time. Like, with ours, he absolutely refused one time to get out of the car at the beach when we told him that he had to wear his watershoes. It turned into this big stupid stand-off and he and my husband missed the entire day at the beach, more or less. Walking through it we came to realize that the whole big deal was about unexpected changes and unfamiliar sensory things. So, when we went to the Tulip Festival last spring? First thing we said, before we even got in the car was that we were going to have to wear different shoes when we got there because it was muddy. Really stupid example, but if you read Raising Your Spirited Child, it will make sense, promise.
Also, as far as the whole making a scene thing goes. A) Totally get that and dread it myself, even if it’s just family watching, but B) Kind of decided that for his personality that I don’t give a shit if people thing we’re too permissive or whatever and just let things go for the sake of avoiding meltdowns unless it’s some big dealbreaker. You have to decide those lines ahead of time for yourself, but it helps so so much. But believe you me, we do discuss it with him later.

Pete
Pete
11 years ago

As a father I don’t see a problem with how you handled it. As kids get older they have to learn the behaviors that were once acceptable no longer are. Irrational behaviors are just that. My son picked up upon my wife’s fear of heights to the point where he couldn’t go more than a couple of steps up a ladder. Every day after school I would force him further up that ladder until he could do it. JB was right, sometimes you just have to deal with it. This summer he’s helping a neighbor put a new roof on his house and he doesn’t even think of the ladder or working a couple of stories up.

GingerB
11 years ago

Well, times like these make me jealous of my single parent friends, who have the luxury of not having to meld their views on how to handle these things with a partner who is often a complete nutjob and who is totally wrong (when that partner in parenting is not me). I hate not being united in these efforts and I hate having to compromise on these. A divorce won’t help you, you say. Well, crap. Um, try to rely on this – many cultures use shame to control behavior, and their kids are possibilty less entitleand coddled than American children who never fail. And the children of the “Tiger Mother” say they were glad they were belittled. Still not working? I am running out of options here. Linda, you’ve stumped me. OK, how about this one? You just have to forgive yourself for not being true to your higher order thinking and following spontaneous emotional reactions. Being humna, we all do it. Not forgiving yourself about this doesn’t help Riley, or you and your husband. That is the best I got, except to say that was a hard situation and it is OK if you are not always a perfect parent, I think.

Melissa H
11 years ago

SO with you on this. My daughter is a few months younger than Riley and she (like most kids, I think) has had fears and weird sensitivities. A few weeks ago she wore buttons and denim for the first time since she was two–she REFUSED. She also had a water fear for about a year (swimming lessons, ha!) but is now on the swim team. But I can really relate today because today she had an epic, screaming at the top of her lungs meltdown today at the pool because we were late and practice had started. Earsplitting screaming in front of my mom and many friends. She said she was afraid her (super nice) coach was going to be mad at her and no amount of reasoning from me was going to convince her otherwise. It was totally embarrassing and I dragged her to the poolside and all but shoved her in the water. Lovely. Luckily she got into the groove of practice and moved on but I so know the irrational big kid tantrum and I feel your pain. For what it’s worth, what you’re describing sounds like a reasonably typical 5-6 year old to me (at least the ones I know). BTW, my kid also can’t/won’t watch movies–especially kids movies–don’t go to Cars 2 is all I can say :)

Amy
Amy
11 years ago

I was shitty tonight and I feel like a jerk. Does learning from these things make it okay in the long run?

Margaret
Margaret
11 years ago

First of all, you’re not a bad parent. People make mistakes, and at least you’re willing to learn from yours.

As for Riley, he’s going to have to figure it out on his own. I have a 6 year old daughter who, if she is to learn anything at all, needs to do it herself — me telling and cajoling and suggesting and explaining is no help at all to her. I have to tell her what I want, and walk away. And, if I can manage to do that, then she figures things out. It’s hard to walk away, or turn away while she processes something, but that’s what works. Maybe that’s what could work for Riley.

jenn
jenn
11 years ago

Dude, I’ve been there. My kid has Asperger’s, ADHD, sensory issues, social skills issues, food allergies, you name it we’re dealing with it, and we don’t always deal with it (or help him deal with it) all that well or in such a positive and loving way. That being said, I don’t think it’s a bad thing for a parent to try to snap their kid out of whatever silliness (perceived or real) they’re obsessing over. It’s just really hard to strike a good balance between wanting to, well, be nice to your kid… but at the same time wanting them to put aside their endless fears and need to control everything and try something new for once, for the love of God. This parenting shit’s so much harder than it looks, right?

Dee
Dee
11 years ago

I don’t really know why, but I felt compelled to write in response to this. Maybe what you’re actually teaching him is that in reality, the world really isn’t going to make that many excuses for his behaviour. That might sound harsh… bottom line is you’re human and you’re teaching him that as well.

Antropologa
11 years ago

I think my little girl is about the same age, and with a similar temperament, which I try to think of as “extra-cautious.” And I go between sympathy and irritation when she is balky about perfectly fun activities or “overreacts” to minor incidents. I try to remind myself she’s just a little kid with a correspondingly small amount of life experience, and that I’d rather she be careful than reckless, and that it’s good she knows her own boundaries, and of course unknown things can be alarming…and then sometimes there’s yelling. And then I try to apologize for my “bad behavior” and being frustrated and explain my feelings about the issue. For what it’s worth it seems more enjoyable for everybody if we don’t try to force any issues (the being near the algea for example) and she works through stuff on her own. But sometimes that kind of patience is impractical.

Ang
Ang
11 years ago

My younger sister had a similar temperament growing up. My parents would try and cajole her into doing things and she’d cry. I, on the other hand, being 6 years older, didn’t want her anywhere near me when I was having fun with my friends. I’d toss a “do you want to join in?” her way initially so I couldn’t be accused of ignoring her, then I just did whatever it was we were doing and had visible, audible fun.

The next time my friends and I did something she’d hover closer. Sometimes she’d join in right away, sometimes she’d hover for a while longer before joining in and other times she’d eventually decide it was just not for her and walk off and amuse herself some other way.

I think kids generally do want to be included in stuff that looks fun so I guess they just need to be shown that it is actually fun. Nagging a kid to do something may just create a bad association with that activity for him. If he associates the water with screaming and not being allowed to get out he’s probably not going to want to have anything to do with it until that association fades from memory.

Ask him if he wants to join in, if he doesn’t just get on with having fun without him. He may come round on his own.

Zoot
11 years ago

My short story version of the same story:

E was scared of everything. Eventually I got sick of what you describe and gave up and just let him be scared. Didn’t push him. The middle school years brought a FINALLY adventurous phase where he FINALLY did some of the stuff that scared him. I felt vindicated for waiting it out.

But now? He’s just decided a lot of stuff scares him and avoids it. Heh. I think some kids are just scared and that’s okay. E is fine with being that kid now at age 16. He’s even laid back about it. I think maybe because he finally tried all of those things (like roller coasters and haunted houses) that his friends love and feels comfortable that he HATES THAT CRAP.

So…who knows. My point? If he does turn out to just be scared of stuff? Not too big of a deal. Not as big of a deal as I made it out to be when he was little, anyway.

nicola
nicola
11 years ago

i think you have to accept riley for who he is, making him feel bad won’t make him turn quicker into the character you wish he was, patience, like you said, next year! And also, i think, making things into a problem turns it into a problem for him. being understanding of his fears will prob make them disappear faster. easy to say i know…..

Shannon aka CharmingBitch
Shannon aka CharmingBitch
11 years ago

Oh, Linda. I am so, so sorry. There is no worse feeling than Monday morning quarterbacking your own parenting. No advice because kids are all wired for their own speed but just know you aren’t alone.

Amy
Amy
11 years ago

All I can say is that it’s so nice to see it’s not just me. Same shit happens here, and I feel almost abusive after the fact. But it’s SO. FRUSTRATING. to deal with a whiny, needy kid when you’ve gone to a lot of trouble to create a fun experience for them. My kid used to be fun and easy going, and now that I’m getting divorced and she has all this transition she is…decidedly neither. Sucks all around.

Kate
Kate
11 years ago

I understand and have been there. From the pot to the kettle try not to beat yourself up to much. Pick yourself up, dust off and explain to Riley that sometimes Mommy is just tired and has had enough. You are human and are not perfect. It’s actually very important for Riley to get that. Forgiveness of yourself and others is a crucial thing in life. It’s okay to be tired and frustrated sometimes and Riley see’s how wonderful you are 99% of the time. Consider that still being the best damn parent you can be and that’s okay. : )

Jon
Jon
11 years ago

Riley is 6 now or almost 7? We just went through that year with our son and a whole bunch of his friends in Cub Scouts. Every Cub Scout meeting used to end with at least one of them in tears over something. By the end of the year they’d all grown up a lot.

At 9 our daughter hated (freaked out about) going in the water at the beach because of sharks but two years later she’ll snorkel out there for hours. For years she would flip out at Disney World if we saw any 3D movie thing. She would refuse to wear the glasses to the point of crying. Now she enjoys them.

Bren
11 years ago

I feel like I live through these types of incidents every day having a “sensitive” child. One who literally screams and cries over spilled milk or something dropped out of reach. She is 4 and I keep reminding myself she is 4 but man it’s frustrating. She is not scared of “fun” stuff but loses it with the mundane things. I too have called her a baby and most likely made her feel bad and then beat myself up over it. I am currently teaching her to “relaaaaaaax” by deep breathing and trying to do the same thing myself. It sucks but we can only hope they grow out of it. Anyway – I feel your pain!

NancyJ
NancyJ
11 years ago

Wow! That brought back some ugly memories! I think I finally learned when we reached a “standoff” it was ok to back off. It’s known as Pick Your Battle. Doesn’t want to go on the slip and slide or swim? His choice…. Loses his shit because of a fall (and probably embarrassed?), a bandaid and a “chill out”.
My now 20 year old niece was like Riley is – highly sensitive physically and emotionally I believe my sister has had the “Raising your spirited child” by her bedside. In fact she was the one who told me to Pick Your Battle and used it to defend herself when people looked at
her cross-eyed over Charlene.
That same niece is an unbelievably smart college senior who spent last semester in Ireland and is working this summer through a grant program doing research on food science studies and planning where she’s going to do her Master’s program.
My husband and I used to argue when stuff like that happened and I would always tell him to back off and let me deal with it because he’d be just like JB. All guy-like and it doesn’t help the situation. Pick ONE of you to respond – preferably you! Because Riley doesn’t need both of you in his face.
These are just the words of someone who went through it and we all lived to see the other side!

FrostedLemonCarrot
11 years ago

I’m not a parent yet (few weeks more to go!), so feel free to totally disregard anything I say, but I was (and still am) the sensitive kid.

Being forced to try things actually made thing worse (for me) because especially if there are sensory things making experiences overwhelming, you’re not as able to slowly get used to things. If you suddenly get thrown into a situation before you’re ready, it’s just too overwhelming and it takes longer to get used to it and ready to do whatever it is like everyone else is doing it.

What worked for me and what works at my job when I have clients who are reluctant to join in *I work at a Seniors’ Day Program, and some are very hesitant to become part of the group) is to invite the hesitant person, then if they say no, I just remind them that they can join in at any time. And then I pretty much ignore them and have a good time with everyone else. Every once in a while ask them again, until eventually they all come around. If it’s something that you can “accidentally” include them in on occasionally (like there are certain games we play in program where I could “accidentally” let the ball roll over to them, and they will usually hit it back or whatever — I can’t think of any kid activities where this might work but obviously you know what you do better than I do), sometimes that will work too.

The main thing for me was to know that I was in control of what I was going to do, and that I could join in any time and I would be welcomed in. Going at my own pace was and is really important to me. Obviously Riley may be different, but that’s what worked for me.

I think your reaction doesn’t make you a bad parent, it just stems from both of you being different personality types than Riley is. It sounds like you’re both more willing to take a chance on an unknown than he is, and that’s great. He’ll see you doing that and will learn from that, even if he never fully reaches that… he’ll at least see everyone else jumping in with both feet and eventually figure out that things are probably safe.

Sherry
Sherry
11 years ago

I don’t know that I have anything compelling to add to the very clever commenters before me, but I’ll give it a shot…

My (nearly 12-year-old…SOB) son is similarily wired to Riley, I suspect. Anxious about anything he sees as ‘danger’. Some things, I let nature sort out. Swimming for example: We had meltdowns in the community pool because he was frankly, terrified. Eventually, we bought a pool for the backyard (one of those inflatable jobbies with a pump and stuff), spent a lot of time playing in it, while he watched on the sidelines, and he figured it out on his own. Other things, like riding a bike (which I consider a fundamental childhood responsibility) we badgered, pressured, and eventually made him cry. Then left him alone. And he figured it out.

My emerging guiding principle in all this? Sometimes you push them, and help them to realize that they HAVE to sort it out, others you leave alone until they choose to on their own. Above all else though, we have WAY better success when we let him sort out the mechanics of HOW to do it all. Giving him that sort of control over the situation seems to reduce his anxiety.
(Oh, and it DOES get better…We got him onto a roller coaster this year. Shocking!)

Sara
Sara
11 years ago

It might help to get Riley tested for Autism Spectrum Disorder, Synethesia, and things like that. No parents wants to have to deal with that but if there’s an actual neurological reason for his sensitivities it will help you and Riley figure out how to cope and adapt to the way he perceives and deals with sensory overload and stress. And if nothing is diagnosed then at least you’ve ruled it out and can move on from there. Good luck.

Megsie
11 years ago

I just want to say that I have a kid like this too. It gets better as they get older. I have MADE her do things that I don’t regret, and I have MADE her do things that I totally regret. I usually let her decide what she is up for. I try not to be invested in what she is missing out on, but it is sort of embarrassing to have a kid that people keep asking about, “Is she sick?” “What’s wrong with her?” I have just had to get over that, and be okay with her cautiousness. When she has a responsibility, however, (swimming lessons? diving in the pool during swimming lessons?) I do force the issue. I try hard (although it isn’t always pretty) to be sensitive to her fear. I have to gear up for it because it is so irritating. But I have totally done things exactly as you have. And felt just as bad. Being human sucks sometimes.

Melody
11 years ago

I was a child with some sensory issues, and now I’m an adult with some sensory issues. I know every kid is different, so I don’t know how helpful my perspective is, but–

When I was a kid and someone was pushing me to do something I didn’t want to do, the more I would dig my heels in. It didn’t make me think to myself, “Hey, they’re right! This isn’t a big deal! I should join in the fun!” It made me feel panicky.

The issue arose most frequently with food. I have always been a picky eater, and this drives other people crazy. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had people argue with me, “Just TRY IT. It’s SO GOOD. You are CRAZY if you don’t like this food. JUST TRY IT TRY IT TRY IT.” What they don’t realize is that the more they argue with me about trying the food, the more they are creating a panicky-feeling association for me with that food, and the more I will NEVER want to try it, EVER. UNTIL THE DAY I DIE, that food will not cross my lips.

For some reason, my aunt and uncle in particular have always been among the people MOST bothered by my picky eating. I know they have been disgusted with me before, and I think they assume that I’m choosing to be high-maintenance when I refuse to eat a certain food. After all, what’s the big deal? It’s just food. But it’s not that way in my mind. It’s just not.

I hate the beach, because sand and salt water are intolerable to me. I can’t wear sweaters. I don’t really like to be hugged our touched. I really don’t like petting animals other than my own dog. And when something doesn’t feel quite right, it’s ALL I can think about. My mom has speculated that I must just feel things MORE than other people.

Riley may outgrow his issues, or he may not. But even if he decides that he never wants to swim in a lake or go on a slip and slide, he can have a happy, fun life. He just will need to focus on the things that feel right to him.

Erika
Erika
11 years ago

For the last 2 or 3 years, our 5 yo has refused to get in the pool. He would occasionally get in if he was COMPLETELY naked (the pool is at a family member’s home). This summer…he grabbed a ring and jumped in. I don’t get it. I guess it’s age, but we’d given up a long time ago trying to convince him things are fun. I have decided (I’m no professional) that my kid is afraid of the unknown, and doesn’t like doing new things because he doesn’t want to look like he doesn’t know what he’s doing. I know EXACTLY where that trait comes from. So our strategy has been (like a previous commenter) just to continue having fun until he realizes he’s missing out. But I am so, so afraid of him not growing out of this, of being an adult who needs everything to be perfectly suited to him and “time to process”…luxuries you don’t really get in the real world.

Becky
Becky
11 years ago

Oh Linda..THANK YOU. First for sharing…it takes a lot of strength to open up and showing the hard and shitty side. Second for somehow knowing EXACTLY when to post this……..

kylydia
11 years ago

I don’t have children, so take this with that knowledge in mind. I think this would be such a hard situation to handle.

Will Riley talk to you about his fears? When he first exhibits signs of being fearful, when he’s still pretty rational, will he explain why he is? Does talking him through the fears quietly and rationally and without feeling an option?

As someone who was (is?) both stubborn and initially fearful of new experiences, I find that if I ask lots of questions about the new experience and try to wrap my mind around it before I go for it helps SO MUCH. It drives my dive-right-in-and-do-it husband very crazy when I ask so many questions, but it does help me. Sometimes I do/eat/see/try the thing, sometimes I decide not to.

I also have a sensitive nephew, and it breaks my heart when his parents force him to do something that he is obviously sensitive about. So what if he doesn’t want to roll down the big hill with the other kids. What’s the harm in standing on the side and watching? One day he’ll do it, if he wants. One day he won’t. Does either scenario better him in some way? Not really.

jen
jen
11 years ago

I’m on my 2nd one like that.. we take them to do fun things and they act like we are leading them to slaughter! I get the personal expectation thing, but you have to let go of that. So he didn’t want to try the slip n slide, now with my first one I would have pushed him, he would have cried, and then by the end of it I wouldn’t have been able to drag him OFF the slip n slide. But with my youngest, it is just not worth the hassle. He doesn’t wanna do it, he doesn’t have to, and he won’t even go NEAR it never mind look at the other kids having fun. His loss, really. I think in that case perhaps you were embarrassed because people were saying annoying things about it to you. The water thing, been there, too. I forced my kids to go to swim lessons, they screamed and cried and eventually got over themselves and had fun – next week we’d have to do it allll over again – but swim lessons were mandatory, swimming for fun on vacation was not. We just put a pool on the beach. Why not? You have to stop thinking of it as “giving in” and thinking that it will make them spoiled – What it does is make you seem like a reasonable, accommodating person and teaches them that you can work together to achieve a common goal in a way that both of you can sit with. I did not push my kids to swim in the ocean, sure it frustrated the crap out of me, but after awhile it got to be too much angst and I gave it up… and now they love swimming in the ocean.

As an anxious kid like Riley and not wanting to try stuff like that because I might embarrass myself… trust me it’s really not a good thing to force him. It’s right up there with forcing an adult to give a speech when they don’t want to!

As for the way overreacting about the knee, man, I hear you. I want to shake them when they get like that, but, what can you do, it’s the age.. My 7 yo acts like that. Something happens, her flip top head opens and wailing noises come out and we all roll our eyes and walk away. My sons were never like this, until they got older.. you think you’re done with some stupid crap and then it comes back full force!

Claire
11 years ago

Not that it helps you in *any* way but my son, almost 4, is the exact same way and man, we’re just as bad. I get so fed up with the whining and crying and acting like a baby and I *know* that isn’t helping him but I also don’t want to coddle him too much in those situations because what if he stays that way? And never tries anything new?

Ell hated swimming, did the same freak out thing but the swim lessons really really helped. Once it became a competition – in his mind – with the other kids in class, he got with the program.

Here’s hoping Riley does outgrow some of that stuff. And that you may find the patience to deal with it. I’m working on that too!

Samantha Jo campen
Samantha Jo campen
11 years ago

I was like Riley–a very anxious child. I was terrified of sharks when I was 5. I wouldn’t take a bath or go in our backyard kiddie pool because dude, they were IN THERE. Didn’t matter that my mom used logic that they weren’t, you could NOT get me in that pool. I remember the terror I felt to this day. We went to the beach once and I stayed on the sand. As soon as the tide came in I frantically climbed my mom’s legs like a monkey because no no no the water and the fish and the sharks couldn’t touch me.

I outgrew the terror but to this day I still hate the ocean and lakes. I just think Riley needs more time to rationalize things. I feel for him, I really do. It’s no fun to be scared and he’s not choosing to be, he can’t help it.

Xo

Melissa
Melissa
11 years ago

I’m not a parent and I didn’t really read the other comments… and my two cents might sound completely ridiculous. I grew up a VERY anxious child who has become a VERY anxious adult. I just always had irrational fears … when I was three years old, if my mom was 5 minutes late picking me up from preschool, I would cry to my teacher and tell her I was positive my mom was in a car accident. Three years old. I am not kidding. It sounds weird to even type it. As I got older I got more worried about my brother and sister’s safety (I’m the oldest). I wouldn’t even let my brother play in the fenced in backyard unless I sat out there in a chair watching him and I would yell at my mom because she wasn’t willing to do the same. I was difficult to say the least. When I was in college I was a full time nanny and the oldest son had a lot of the crazy, irrational fears I saw in myself – he was terrified of any loud noises and impending storms, and you could just see the terror on his face constantly. He was always worried about something. His mom, like myself, had always battled anxiety (and we both started taking and continued to take anti-anxiety meds in adulthood) and she started taking him to sensory therapy, behavioral therapy, eating therapy, etc. But he never once got on any sort of medication. I always say these days that doctors are way too quick to prescribe anything to anyone but the fact of the matter is that these drugs exist for a reason. My younger brother, who is now 21, was diagnosed with ADD when he was about 5 years old. He had HORRIBLE ADD. Like, had to be in a special pre-school, ride a short bus, etc. I am not mocking anyone who rides a short bus, I am just illustrating that the kid had severe behavioral/developmental issue. He took Ritalin all through elementary school and when he arrived in junior high he was basically cured. He hasn’t taken it for years, graduated HS with honors and is about to go into his senior year of college. If I had a child and their problems were stressing me out to that extreme, I would consider getting a prescription, only because I know how beneficial it has been for me and my brother. He was able to outgrow his problems though, and I did not. I wish my parents had put me on anti-anxiety meds as a child but no one “did that” back then, and I don’t even know if they are doing it now.

crisi-tunity
11 years ago

I don’t have kids, so take that with you as you read this comment.

I am so, so sorry to read what’s clearly despair about the way you had to treat your kid. I can’t imagine how much it hurts to beat yourself with this particular stick.

Everybody above has good and smart and experienced things to say about sensitive kids. Hopefully they can help you not worry as much about it.

The other thing I’m wondering about – and again, I don’t have kids – is whether this is marking the start of Riley changing over from being a little kid into being a kid. It seems to me from this distance that when your kids are really little, you have a more nurturing and more controlling relationship to them – you get to boss them around a lot more, because they really can’t do for themselves for a lot of things. As they get a little older, what they want and what they can do on their own starts to actually be reasonable, and you lose the ability to delineate precisely what they can and can’t do. (I know there are willful toddlers, but what they want is unreasonable.) Do you get what I’m saying? Maybe this is simply the place where harsh words begin, because his age is starting to demand it. God knows you will probably say awful things and think worse ones when he’s a teenager. A TEENAGE BOY. And of course you’ll love him just as much.

I could be wrong! Just a thought.

Christine B
11 years ago

‘Raising Your Spirited Child’ is a very helpful book. I highly recommend getting and reading a copy, because it’s helped me deal with my three spirited kids — all with their various sensitivities and high energy and personality. There’s also a Yahoo group if you’re interested, for parents of kids who fit the ‘spirited kids’ definition. And Riley might. There’s lots of helpful advice there from people who have dealt with behaviors and personalities and issues that are baffling.

Also, yeah, I feel your pain. Totally. What IS it about these situations that makes us do and say such things as we *Know* aren’t right?

Also also…I think the hardest part of parenting truly is learning to accept your child’s distinct personality as who *they* are, not as a reflection on you and your parenting. At least it is for me.

Courtney
Courtney
11 years ago

Talk to you pediatrician, get a recommendation for a developmental pediatrician. What’s the worst that can happen, they’ll say this is just how some kids are here are some tips on how to deal with it, or they’ll say yeah, he has some issues and a little occupational therapy will help. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.

crisi-tunity
11 years ago

Also, I know this probably won’t help, but who the F cares what the public thinks. As long as you’re not doing something that they’ll call Social Services about, you be the parent and let it be their problem what they think of you. You’re a blip in their day.

Kirsten
Kirsten
11 years ago

BTDT – Riley reminds me of my daughter and you guys remind me of my husband and myself. The whole story was just so familiar. It sounds like there are a lot of us out there. I remember in a desperate moment once taking my daughter to the doc thinking she had sensory integration disorder. The doc said we could go down that road if I wanted (testing, etc) or I could just wait it out. I waited it out. My daughter, now 6.5, is still a sensitive handful in some ways but so many of those behaviors that drove me nuts are now gone. No longer scared of the water, she is now as comfortable as a fish in the pool, etc.

I like the idea another commenter had about just one parent handling those meltdowns – I will remember that. Or employ a “good cop/bad cop” approach. Anyway, you are SO NOT ALONE!!! (and brave for sharing those less than pleasant scenes from your family life.) Thanks for making me feel more normal…

Allison
11 years ago

This was a hard and great post to read. I relate to it SO MUCH. Our situation is somewhat different – my 4.5 year old is mostly comfortable with trying new things, so I don’t think he’s on the “more sensitive” side of the sensitivity spectrum. But he has been having behavioral problems, where he does not listen/follow instructions AT ALL – sometimes it seems like he is just incapable! So we have lots of arguments with him that escalate, and inevitably I wind up saying things I later wish I hadn’t. Things that are said in order to spark a reaction from him, I suppose, but the reaction I’m looking for in those cases is for him to feel badly about himself/his behavior. To invoke shame and the awareness that he is being “bad.” There is definitely yelling and belittling that goes on, and I always, always regret it.

In those times, I feel like I am not the parent I want to be. Like you, I’d like to learn some strategies to handle these frustrating situations better. Maybe I need to buy a copy of that “Raising Your Spirited Child” book…

Thank you for posting this.

Melissa
11 years ago

First of all, you are a great mom. One moment (or weekend) where you lose patients is NOT going to mean years of therapy for Riley. It’s OK if you have a talk with him and explain that you are sorry for losing your temper with him, that sometimes grownups have have tantrums too. I think it’s important for kids to see their parents can make mistakes too, that it’s hard to be “good” all the time. It lets them know that we follow the same rules they do, and we understand how hard it can be.

Concerning sensitivity issues, some kids are just wired that way. My son is, for sure. We do the toddler version of cognitive behavioral therapy with him. We tell him that it’s okay to feel scared/anxious/hurt/whatever, then we try to find something good about the situation like “The way you stood at the window and watched those loud fireworks even though you were scared of them was very brave!” or “Your father and I noticed how good you were being when you were watching the other kids and that was terrific!”

My doctor told me something interesting. It may not account for all the “baby” behavior my 3 year old exhibits, but it is something to keep in mind. When a child is making a new developmental break through or goes through a particularly big growth spurt, all their energy is concentrated on making that happen (leveling up, my husband calls it). So they revert in behavior because they just aren’t physically capable of acting their age.

Sometimes this means the honestly have a hard time talking and revert to baby words and noises. Sometimes it means they lose coordination and have to crawl up the steps instead of walk up them. On one particularly memorable occasion of several days of asshattery from my son, he came down stairs and said “Look, mumma, I draw you a monster!” Previously all his drawings were just scribbles that he would call monsters or thunder, or whatever…But sure enough, when I looked down there was a big oval shaped body with two circle eyes, lines for legs, and circles for feet. I was absolutely blown away because I KNEW he couldn’t do that before his nap. Despite many attempts of “Can you draw a circle like this? Watch.” he’d never ever drawn a circle without us guiding his hand.

So, I guess what I’m saying is maybe Riley is just super smart for his age and going through a lot of developmental breakthroughs and growth spurts :)

Betsy
Betsy
11 years ago

You’ve gotten lots of good advice, so I won’t repeat what others have said, but I do have a tip for swimming fears. My sensitive boy would only go in the pool with a life jacket and arm bands on (even when he could touch the bottom) until we got him a mask for his face. The kind that covers your eyes and nose. Seems so simple now, but it was seriously a game changer. It can be so damn frustrating dealing with your kid’s anxiety!

Emily
Emily
11 years ago

I’m not a parent, but I was (am, sometimes) just like Riley. And looking back, what helped me the most to 1. try new things, and 2. (more importantly) be okay with being ME is knowing that it was okay if I didn’t want to do something. It takes the pressure off, so that next time he encounters a Slip N’ Slide he might want to try it, instead of associating it with That One Time.

When I was 20 my dad took me canoeing for the first time, and berated me for not being skilled at the J-stroke. I love canoeing now, but hell if I’m going to go with him.

Good luck! He might always be a sensitive kid, but if you trust him, to a certain extent, to know he’s not ready for some things, eventually he will be, and he’ll be really happy he learned it on his own.

Meaghan
Meaghan
11 years ago

Wow, that sounds terribly frustrating for you. But stop beating yourself up about it. It happened and I’m sure it will again, but dwelling on it isn’t going to help anyone or anything.

Really, you can’t force your kids to DO anything they don’t want to do. And I don’t think in these situations, that you should. I like the commenter who would “invite” and then go on with her life – if he doesn’t want to have fun with the rest of you, then that is his problem. It might mean you have to do stuff you don’t necessarily want to (ride the slip and slide many times) to show him it is fun, but…

I would probably react the same way about the skinned knee. And my children aren’t as old as yours, but I try to take a step back and say “I can’t help you until you calm down.” And sort of the “use your words – screaming doesn’t help” tactic. Really though, I think the key is to stay calm yourself – these kids, they totally feed off of us.

Good luck, and just focus on the good parts of the weekend, it’s better that way! :)

Callie
11 years ago

I’m sorry. My son is only three and we have some of those same issues. He is less tentative and anxious than he used to be, but he is still not the type of kid who is going to run in and join the fray of kids at the playground or do a belly flop into a swimming pool. My husband recently got frustrated with him at the playground because Cash was standing at the top of the slide letting every other kid go before him, refusing to go down the slide himself because “the other kids will get mad at me.” Where he got this idea that it’s not ok to take your own turn, I have no idea, but I hate that he doesn’t have the confidence or gumption or whatever the right word is to just take his turn on the slide. He is on the whole much more comfortable with adults than other kids. And sometimes it is embarrassing that your kid is the timid one, but honestly, in the long run I think I’d rather have the kid who is cautious and thoughtful and doesn’t always jump in with both feet. Maybe it means he will think twice before drinking and driving, trying drugs, etc. More than likely they will grow out of most of it, but their personalities may just be more calm and reserved, and there’s nothing wrong with that. We’ve all had times where we said things we regret. All we can do is try harder next time.

Jenn
11 years ago

He sounds similar to my daughter. She goes through phases with irrational fears. We’ve tried so many things (and had so many moments like the one you mentioned). It seems positive reinforcement works for her. Her confidence in herself increases when we talk about, not how well she can do, but how well she has already done. She is ten and I just learned this last week. No amount of high pressure or shaming (which was sadly our go-to method) convinced her to do anything.
All the best!

Melissa
11 years ago

More about my son’s new found drawing ability…a few days later he drew some complicated shape vaguely resembling a person and when I asked if it was another monster he laughed at me and said “No, Mumma! It’s a little boy poopin! See? There’s his pink part.” And sure enough, when I turned the paper 90 degrees, there was a remarkably accurate drawing of a penis. The speech that followed was that there are some things that it’s only OK to draw at home and not in church…

Kathy
Kathy
11 years ago

I have a 14 and a 19 year old so I’m writing from a perpective of looking back on so much that just didn’t matter. So many things that I worried about, even obsessed about just didn’t in the long run matter one whit. Now, you telling him he’s acting like a baby, ridiculous etc does matter (not that we all haven’t done similar) but that needs to stop. Dead. But whether he goes on the slip and slide, or goes in the water – just doesn’t matter. Just because he won’t today or tomorrow or next year even, means almost nothing in terms of what he’ll be doing 5 years from now, what kind of teen he is or what kind of adult he will become. Nudge him a little maybe but within the bounds of being repectful of who he is now. I’m not talking about misbehavior, that’s a whole different story, I’m talking about letting him be who he is. He needs to know that it’s ok to be that person and that he’s still ok, still lovable. That does matter, a very important life lesson, way more important than whether or not to go on the slip and slide.

cakeburn@mindspring.com
cakeburn@mindspring.com
11 years ago

I’m going to be the voice of dissension here–instead of telling you Riley’s “just fine” and to just leave him alone and he’ll “grow out of it,” I’m going to reassure YOU that you are doing a great job of parenting. Perhaps the skinned knee incident wasn’t your finest moment, but as you mentioned, it came at the end of several trying experiences which hugely affected what happened there. Probably not the best way to handle it, seeing how scraped knees DO hurt and DO involve tears, but in all honestly most of us can totally understand how you got to that point.

Now I’m going to say a lot of unpopular things. But let me preface by saying true belittling is never okay when dealing with your kids. Telling a child they are worthless is belittling; telling a child they need to “suck it up” or “stop being a baby” is NOT belittling. Babying our children sets them up for bullying later. Do we need to teach our children not to BE bullies? Yes! Do we ALSO need to teach our children how to help minimize the potential for being targets? HELL YES. I don’t see anything wrong with what you and JB did in the 1st two instances, unless it was letting yourselves get too frustrated, but hey, that’s what happens when you are in the trenches, so to speak. Telling him things are going to be okay and keeping your arms around him until he comes to that conclusion fosters TRUST–that you only have good intentions for him and that his fears are ungrounded. This is not a bad parenting tactic.

So, to wrap up this stupidly long comment, I just wanted to tell you to stop beating yourself up. We cannot spare our children all discomfort in life, and it’s better for Riley to hear that he needs to change his behavior from people who love him and who are encouraging him for his own good than to be taunted and made fun of by cruel peers.

karen
karen
11 years ago

linda, i have to agree with the commenter who praised you for posting this. it takes balls to admit to dark moments in parenting, but you consistently put yourself out there. thank you.

Mindy
11 years ago

Linda,
You are doing the best you can. I don’t know how you are able to describe it all so clearly but it is like you described a day in my life too. Parenting is so damn hard. Thanks for putting words to the thoughts in my head and providing a space for some great advice!!!

Thanks to your commanders!

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