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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Julie
11 years ago

We’ve all been there. When I was still teaching, I would get incredibly frustrated with some of my kids, for no reason. I would just suggest patience. Did Riley really have to go swimming? He has years ahead of him to go swimming. I know the impulse was to provide him with a fun experience, and everyone was sad that it ended being a bad one. If he’s really opposed to an experience, just put it off. He’s young still, and there’s plenty of time for all you want him to experience.

Maggie
Maggie
11 years ago

Linda, you are a great mom. Forgive yourself. At least you probably don’t catch yourself saying “What is WRONG with you???” and wondering who the hell you turned into. I’m trying to forgive myself too, and hopefully learn something one of these damn days!

Sarah
Sarah
11 years ago

Linda, this post made me cry. Your writing is so powerful and brave, and honest. I didn’t like what I read, but that wasn’t the point. You could easily have glossed over it and not shared it. None of us would have been the wiser. You obviously love your kids and want to be the parent they deserve.

You’ve received great advice and thoughts from others already. The thing I really want to say is that I hope you and JB can let go of what others think of you, your parenting, and of your kid. They don’t matter. What matters is how you think about yourself, how Riley feels about himself and how he feels about you.

I was a sensitive kid in many ways, and my parents were not supportive of that in many ways. To make a very long story short, I’ve realized that as an adult, they are not my safe place. They are not my go to when I need comfort or support. Because I don’t trust them to provide it. And that’s sad. I am capable, smart, and have good self confidence, but man there are days when I really would love to feel like my parents could be depended on to greet whatever ill I have with kindness.

For my own sensitive 3 year old, I am doing my level best to avoid shaming (cause it’s not nice!), or anything that might resemble bullying. I encourage and let him set the pace. Sure other people think we are freaks that he hasn’t seen a movie, but why is that important in the grand scheme of things? It isn’t. Nor is a slip and slide. I’ll let you argue that going in the water is when staying or living near water, but doing it outside his comfort zone in front of a crowd was just not kind. You know that.

In terms of deciding when to push and when not to, I’d look hard at what’s really vital and what’s not. Potty training? It is really important in the grand scheme, the timing less so. Does he need to do the slip and slide? No. He could live a long happy life without ever going on one. Does he deserve kindness and empathy when he’s bleeding on the street? Yes, always. It’s what we’d do for a stranger.

As parents, we are totally allowed to have crappy days, but that’s not a get out of jail free card to be a jerk to our kids. We need to apologize in no uncertain terms for being a jerk. It’s what we’d want our kids to do if the shoe was on the other foot. If we don’t do it, where will they learn it?

Love him for who he is today, not who you want him to be, either today or tomorrow. Isn’t that what we all want?

Nancy
Nancy
11 years ago

Just spent 2 weeks on a family “vacation” screaming like a banshee at my almost 6 yr old. Major power struggles every day had me losing my mind AT her and then every night wondering what the HELL was I thinking, yelling at her for yelling! Deep breath. Some of it does pass (i.e. they outgrow the behavior) and some of it needs some parenting help (other friends, some with actual professional experience, have been a huge resource for me), and sometimes it was just in the moment–i.e. you wanted him to join in on all the fun b/c you were with a big group, ON VACATION for Pete’s sake, and it’s supposed to be FUN. Some things are such a huge letdown that your emotions get all bunged up. It’s OK.

melanie
melanie
11 years ago

I love you for articulating all this and having the balls to put it out there – my son is nine and is a big crier, he tends to freak out and get into tears over crazy silly stuff and we are so tired of it that often our first response is “grow up, big boys don’t cry, don’t be a baby” etc. etc. and it feels AWFUL to be that parent, but also so helpless, not knowing what to say or how to stop it and being so embarrassed and wanting him to have a better outlet for emotions and all that….
Just, thank you so much. It makes me feel so much better to remember that we are all human and we all screw up sometimes and that everyone’s kids are tough and parenting is hard and that I am not a monster for having feelings.
It’s amazing how many of your posts hit me like that, just BAM, right in the solar plexus with the truth.

Rachel
11 years ago

I have an anxious son and I totally, totally know what you’re talking about. The cajoling — it won’t be that bad, you know you always enjoy the things that used to be scary once you’re used to them — escalating into the frustrated yelling and the arguing between Mom and Dad about when to back down. (And yes, the dad shouting at the kid who has hurt himself — that was my daughter. Incredibly clumsy like her mama, and it used to make my husband FLIP OUT. It was an issue that we worked on, though he still occasionally will yell at her if she hurts herself.)

We think of our son as… not disabled by anxiety, just on a slower ramp to independence. And trust me, as he is a teenager now, in a lot of ways it’s a huge blessing that he’s the overcautious type. I think, for example, that he will be a very good driver (in six months. holy crap.).
He is still cautious but he’s over the most traumatic issues.

So my assvice, I guess, would be to just kind of let him set the pace. Push him *a little*, quietly and calmly, in safe and comfortable settings (for my boy that means WITH NO SPECTATORS; he hates being in front of strangers VERY VERY MUCH) because without little pushes, my boy would never have tried anything, but keep it easy and let him grow up slowly. It’s a big, big, big world, and I think the thing with my son at least is that he just can’t shut off his awareness of how big it is, how many variables there are, how tenuous life is, like the rest of us can.

Sometimes with us it’s a matter of thinking: look, is this an essential part of being a human being? Was he irrevocably damaged by the fact that he never spent the night at a friend’s house until he was ten or eleven? No. Does the fact that he will reach adulthood never having been on a waterslide or a roller coaster mean that he will live a cold, hard, unfulfilled life? It doesn’t, so it’s a nonessential and we don’t push it. If at some point he feels deprived or like he’s missing out as he watches his friends and family do these things, well, he can always try it then.

I feel your pain. Thank you, a million times, again, all the time, for your raw honesty.

Lauren
Lauren
11 years ago

So brave to throw yourself to the commenting wolves here.

I was Riley as a kid. And my parents didn’t push me to learn to swim because 90% of the time I came around to scary stuff on my own terms. They didn’t want to push and make things bigger or worse than they were for me in my own head. So when I flailed in the water, they pulled me out. I liked that as a kid. I felt safe.

And? I never learned to swim. For a long time, I wish my parents had pushed me and forced me because I’ve missed out on fun as a result. I couldn’t sign myself up for swim lessons when I was nine, could I?

Now, I think pushing wouldn’t have made it better, but more gentle nudging would have helped. Rather than giving in every time. So your earlier comment about taking him somewhere semi-private to negotiate his own fears is a good middle ground between giving in and pushing on.

As for the knee-type stuff, I think explicit coaching on coping mechanisms helps. My mom didn’t shame me (that I remember :))because it was ‘that’ bad to me, but she helped me find new ways to approach those sensitivities. Instead of saying “don’t cry!” or any number of other negative shaming statements, I needed replacement behaviors (deep breathing, etc.) explained to me. They didn’t come naturally.

It will get better.

Maria
Maria
11 years ago

Linda, I love your writing and your bravery to tell this story. I’m sure every parent has those moments that we wish never happened and I’m amazed at your ability to share this one. I’ve just had a similar phase with my 5 year old and it’s this irrationality that I have difficulty dealing with. And it’s tough to admit every time that I’m not a perfect parent and there are moments when I myself have no idea what is the right way to handle him and when I’m choosing the wrong one….. I go through the same excruciating criticism of myself. I love this story, it will always stay in my “parenting library” along with the story of the giant butterfly in Riley’s bedroom…..as in how the hell do we prevent those things from happening. Thank you.

Kristin
Kristin
11 years ago

I probably don’t need to add anything, but I just wanted to say something from the perspective of a timid person. My parents and sister are very adventurous and do all kinds of crazy things. I don’t know where my timid nature came from, but I would get scared of things that they didn’t (being out on a boat in the middle of water? I STILL hate that). I am still perfectly happy watching other people do adventurous things, but I don’t really want to participate. I didn’t ride roller coasters for years, but then, one day I decided to try it and now love them.

I would just say as far as new/scary situations to just let him work his way up to the activity and if he is perfectly happy watching, then no harm done. If he sees everybody having fun, maybe he’ll want to check it out.

As far as tripping and falling? Maybe you can check and see why he is flipping out so much and address those issues (was he scared? in pain? embarrassed?). And if the behavior is totally inappropriate, address it at another time when everybody has cooled off a little?

I know–all these things easier said than done. Just wanted to offer my 2 cents as a timid person in an adventurous world!

Taube
Taube
11 years ago

The anxiety you’re describing sounds a lot like my 3 year-old son. He turned out to have allergies (specifically Eosinophilic Esophagitis, although excuse me if I misspelled it) which were affecting his esophagus and making him throw-up at random times and seem like he had an anxiety disorder. (When you’re anxious, your digestive system feels funny, and the opposite is true.) Just putting it out there because there’s probably a lot of undiagnosed EE out there because there’s no way to know someone has it unless they get an endoscopy. Anyway, once we took him off the foods he’s allergic to his anxiety all but disappeared in about 2 days!

Good luck, Linda!

Ally
Ally
11 years ago

oh boy do I feel your pain and can sympathize with everything you’re describing :(. I have very some experience with this, with my 4.5 year old daughter. She was very much like Riley, but miraculously has basically outgrown most of her fears within the past 6 months. Which is not to minimize all the times we have struggled with her fears before, and all the time I spent thinking about how to best handle them, trying to push her, thinking whether this is “normal”, and whether she needs therapy or am I overreacting and expecting more from her than I should be. Some of her fears were swimming, any kind of shows/plays freaked her out, anything medical (even a doctor looking into her throat, forget about actual painful stuff), any kind of “fun” activities at fairs, carnivals, and on and on.

I now regret ever pushing her to do anything “fun” against her will. Like the time my husband carried her into the ocean kicking and screaming when during an entire week-long Caribbean vacation she refused to even go near the water! Because fast forward to this past May, when we took her on a cruise, promising ourselves that we would not push her to try anything she didn’t want to try, and lo and behold she asked us to take her into all the pools they had on the ship, spent a whole day in the water on the beach, and now loves “swimming” and did great during her first swim lesson last weekend.

When I complained to my mother earlier about her not enjoying anything, and being too scared to try things, she told me to get a grip. that there are sick children out there and i’m upset that my kid doesn’t want to do “fun” things. It kind of put things in perspective for me.

Having said all of that, I realize every kid is different, and we were lucky that the anxieties seem to be going away on their own, while others can stick around well past the age of 5. Still, I think pushing will really not do any good for the most part, at least when it comes to recreational/fun stuff. Going to the doctor – sure, that’s a necessity. But swimming in the lake, enjoying scary movies, etc. – they’ll get there when they get there.

Legally Fabulous
11 years ago

Don’t have kids so I can’t offer you any advice, but I would just like to say that I really enjoy your blog and appreciate your honesty.
It’s refreshing to read a blog that isn’t “Little Johnny is so good and only eats organic and sleeps 14 hours a night and speaks Mandarin!”

KateMac
KateMac
11 years ago

I’m going to have to read your responses, because my daughter (who’s 5) is the exact same way, and I don’t know how to handle it, and I’m sure I handle it wrong.

Lacy
Lacy
11 years ago

My son Andrew is 10 years old and this post could have been us 5 years ago. With Andrew it was fireworks, we bought some to shoot in the backyard, nothing big just for fun kind of stuff. He freaked out, screamed and cried “its too loud, I don’t want to!” And my husband got way upset. Anyway, we let him go inside. He took swimming lessons and wouldn’t jump in the pool, even with a life jacket and the lifeguard in the water to catch him. It is sooo frustrating and hard to watch your kid not participate because of fear.
I made the decision that I would not push him to do anything that scared him ever. When confronted with a new activity I would ask him if he wanted to try and let him make the decision. It took a long time but he jumps off the diving board with no life jacket, lights fireworks himself, plays catcher for his baseball team. He did it when he was ready and I think pushing makes it take longer and is traumatic for the child. Anyway, that is what worked for us.

Becky
Becky
11 years ago

I’m not sure any of us has the right “answers” because you know your kid best.

I agree that you probably can’t force a child to do something against their will or talk them out of being scared. But speaking from my own experience, I appreciate that my parents did push me (gently and sometimes not as gently) to confront some of my fears and not let anxiety hold me back. One of my regrets is that I never really learned to ride a bike because that was one battle they chose not to fight.

I find this issue coming up a lot in my work as a Girl Scout leader, especially as we expose them to new experiences like camping, outdoors, etc. We try to tell them that it’s ok to be scared but to also discuss why they’re scared, try to look at the situation from a different angle, provide coping mechanisms and to at least try new things on for size before deciding it’s not for them. And I think these are important skills. As an adult, there are things I “have” to do regardless of the fact they scare me (hello, public speaking!) but I appreciate that my parents gave me the tools, support, confidence and coping mechanisms to deal with them. The challenge is figuring out how exactly to do this — and the fact that you’re so open about discussing it speaks volumes to how good of parents you are.

Victoria
11 years ago

I just wanted to thank you for putting this out there for us to read instead of just letting it be slid under your rug…. it’s so helpful to hear that other people feel like they screw up and don’t know what to do about it and I wish I had advice for you that would fix things, but I don’t. I’m just grateful that you had the guts to lay this all out here instead of painting yourselves as perfect and incapable of growth.

Angela
Angela
11 years ago

I am so sorry. It sucks. I went through the exact same thing with my 4.5 yo this weekend, including a screaming match over him taking a shower instead of a bath, with extended family in the next room listening to every minute. The next day I told him if he took one step closer to the lake (he wasn’t wearing a life jacket), he would have to go inside. He took 5 steps, so I had to carry him, screaming, up the hill, in full view of the entire condo complex. What was more frustrating than his lack of listening was the fact that I completely lost my shit on him. I told him to shut up during one of the yelling fits. Nice, huh? I don’t have any solutions (obviously), but I feel your frustrations. Hang in there. Riley is a great kid and you and JB are great parents.

Tina G
Tina G
11 years ago

Linda, he is the little person he is….and you and JB will have to adjust to HIM and what he can handle. I have a daughter who hated other children, getting water on her, large groups and new things (among many other sensitivities and fears) for about 4 years. And now she is 8 and she is a different child. She has play dates. She has sleepovers. She puts her head underwater. She will try just about anything once. She still won’t kiss anyone, and she doesn’t like hugs from anyone but me, but you know, in the scheme of things, it’s a big change for the better. Riley’s progression may be slower than you’d wish, and fraught with all sorts of new worries and aversions, but the “you will deal” mentality is what will hold him back. Respect him. (I know you already do) But you are going to have to re-assess how you react every.single.time. Because I have been embarrassed many, many times by my child’s quirks, but never more than I have been embarrassed by my own reaction to her when I was not respecting her. Please read “The Highly Sensitive Child” it really does help you get some understanding and skills in dealing with a sensitive kid.

bec
bec
11 years ago

So I’m going to repeat what everyone else has said, and say that you just happen to have a sensitive guy on your hands. Yes, this can be frustrating, but there are benefits too. A friend of mine describes herself and others with similar make-ups as “We just FEEL stuff, you know?” Down the road, this sets him up to be a caring and sensitive friend, partner and parent. It may also get you off the hook for some of the crazy risk-taking that usually goes with the teen years.

But, what to do in the meantime? Here are a few books that the families I work with have found helpful: “Your Anxious Child” by John Dacey and Linda Fiore; “Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents” by Ronald Rapee; and “Freeing Your Child from Anxiety: Powerful, Practical Solutions to Overcome Your Child’s Fears, Worries and Phobias” by Tamar Chansky.

It’s also absolutely a powerful and loving thing to let kids know when you’ve messed up. It’s ok to apologize for what you see as your mistakes, that you got frustrated and let your feelings get too big to deal with the situation the right way and let him know that you are going to work together to figure out a better way to handle those situations. It gives him a model to understand that feelings sometimes do get overwhelming for everyone, but there are things you can do to make them more manageable.

You are a wonderful Mom, and I have all the confidence in the world that this stuff is just a blip on his radar. Things will get better.

Anonymous
Anonymous
11 years ago

I’m not a parent, so I have no useful advice. But I want to commend your honesty about the difficulties of parenting and how hard it is to do the right thing for a kid you love so much. Far too many people never own up to the difficulties and they create this bullshit illusion of parenting that disservices everyone. Riley and Dylan will benefit in countless ways from having such a real, honest mom who doesn’t live life behind a facade of bullshit.

Joanna
Joanna
11 years ago

Sometimes we dislike in others what we dislike about ourselves. Maybe you struggle with Riley’s tentativeness because you struggle with that yourself (feeling like you don’t fit in at CrossFit, agonizing over adult swimming lessons, etc.). I always struggle over new experiences and I would hate to see that replicated in a child of mine because I know those (useless) feelings of fear and anxiety too well. Maybe you want him to be better than you are, which is what every parent should want.

Yaya
11 years ago

Thank you so much for posting. Like others before me, no advice just “I hear ya.” My son is 4.5 and as everyone says “a sensitive child” or as I say “slow to warm and bull headed and a strong constitution.” It is SO hard for me to watch (embarrassed usually) as he doesn’t participate in swim lessons the first few days, sitting on the side (although he swims with me all the time), and he sits in my lap whimpering through his karate class as other kids his age have a blast. Too many other crazy situations to list, always with him being shy, upset, throwing a tantrum, inconsolable and everything else under the sun and me frustrated and wondering why my kid is ‘different.’ I am seeing slow changes this summer, we have continued with karate, I was determined to swallow my pride and have him sit in my lap the whole month but god dammit we were going! After a week, he is out there with the other kids and participating about 75% and having a blast. After a few days of ditting on the side of the pool as the sun blazed, he finally got in, glared at the teacher & pouted but then slowly and slowly he started to join in (it is still hilarious & sad to see 10 kids doing ring around the rosie in a circle while MY kid stands on the edge BUT he is in the water, yahoo! For me it was just realizing that all of the frustration and anger and embarrassment I am feeling is MINE to own, not the kiddos. Sometimes he makes me so mad or sad or disappointed (and I have been known to throw out “I am so not proud of you right now” which is awful) that I can feel myself grinding down my teeth but I am forcing myself to try and just roll with it as much as possible….reminding myself that this parenting gig was not advertised as a party all the time. I am also seeing small changes which are encouraging, the participation even at a low level and yesterday as we swam together the kiddo ducked his face in the water up to his eyebrows just randomly, when usually if someone asks him to put his face in the water he gives them a look that would kill a baby seal. So progress and patience….and giving yourself a big fat pat on the back for being an awesome parent, regardless of what you say or do a small percentage of the time. It is one tough gig.

Livi
Livi
11 years ago

Hey, I have a kid like this too.

Sometimes it really sucks.

Some things – they get over. Others, it’s best to back off and try again in the future. But…sometimes you make a mistake on what the right thing to do is. I’ve done it. Every good parent has done it.

Does he have other sensitivities? Someone above mentioned ASD – being overly sensitive, having problems with things not being routine – those can be part of ASD. If you have noticed other things…email me – I have a good doctor for testing.

Keaton
Keaton
11 years ago

Hopefully this will be a reassuring example for you, but when my brother was little, he would not so much as touch cheese, along with nearly every other food. However, cheese was special. It was so terrifying that we couldn’t order “cheese” pizzas – they had to be “regular” pizzas. Why? Because he would eat cheese just fine- but only if he didn’t know about it.
On more than a few occasions, I, as the older brother, would attempt to ‘teach’ him that cheese was okay by telling him that his pizza had cheese on it. Why my parents allowed this to happen, I don’t know, but I suppose it has something to do with wanting to do the same thing. Anyway, each and every time, this caused a complete meltdown. He would scream, cry, and, one time, vomit. This continued until he was 6 or 7 years old, at which point he must have finally figured out that cheese had not yet killed him, despite years of eating it. Personally, I was sad he stopped freaking out whenever I said the word ‘cheese.’
Ultimately, he overcame his quirk(s) as if it had never happened. Amazingly, during his senior year of high school, he had developed into a very talented chef, and he started a small catering company with his friends and made $2500 personally in a month of work. Beats the heck out of my movie theatre job at the time.
I have another example of getting unfairly yelled at by my mother (I forgave her) over Beast in the X-Men cartoon, but this is probably good enough for now (I still use it to guilt her – watch out in the future). Regardless, I’m sure he’ll overcome his fears with time, especially if you’re there to worry this much about him :)

hayden
hayden
11 years ago

I’m a pretty new parent–my kid is just 15 months old. So I don’t know much. And I totally get losing your patience with a kid. One thing I’m starting to suspect about being a good parent, though, is that there is a lot to be said for ignoring. Some things, they just have to work through on their own.

BoozleBox
BoozleBox
11 years ago

I have two boys, older than yours and experienced several situations like this and I wanted to say you are not the only one who has wanted them to feel bad about themselves because you have found their behaviour so frustrating. I have been there and without doubt those are the parenting moments I’m most ashamed of. If I’ve learned anything over the years it is that pushing is mostly counter-productive. And now I try and ask myself ‘Does this REALLY matter?’ before opening my mouth. Mostly the answer is no, it doesn’t really matter. There are times I look back on and for the life of me I can’t understand why I didn’t just let it go. What’s the point of forcing something that doesn’t really matter? Who cares if he doesn’t fancy the Slip ‘n’ Slide? It’s not worth making him feel bad over. I’m really not saying this to make you feel bad, i’m just saying I’ve been there, and given the opportunity to do it again I would just let it go. People are different. He might never enjoy the same things you and JB enjoy, then again he might – but he’ll get there in his own time.

If however you think he really does have sensory issues then I guess you need to get professional advice on how to help him with situations he has trouble with.

All the best- and thanks for such great, honest writing.

Holly
Holly
11 years ago

oh, man. i WAS that kid. i had a childhood full of county fairs and amusement parks that were utterly wasted on me- merry go rounds, bumper cars that that was it. luckily, my dad was always a big wuss about such things, too, so i wasn’t alone. my mom and brother went on the roller coasters, and my dad and i got elephant ears and took pictures. i wouldn’t watch the “scary” scenes in movies (anything remotely suspenseful, the scene in star wars where the emperor was shooting that blue shit through luke made me run away and cry).

my mom always used the word “sensitive” to describe me, but i never took it as a negative word. she would tell me it was ok to be sensitive and she also used that word when i was nice to another kid or took care of hurt animals. i never thought of myself as a scardycat or a baby until high school. my youth group would go to waterparks and i remember that first time i was coerced to going down a giant waterslide. it took a really cute boy and the need to impress him to get me to go down, but eventually i did.

i don’t know, i guess it might have been different if i was a boy. like, it was ok to be a sensitive little girl and pick flowers in the outfield instead of catching the damn baseball. and maybe it’s ok for riley to be a sensitive little boy? i don’t know.

for what it’s worth, i grew out of it. i now have a huge penchant for thrillers and slasher movies. i still don’t like thrill rides at fairs, but that’s just because they make me puke. in general, i love to try new things.
and i really did enjoy my childhood, even though i mostly read books and did “tame” things, i don’t feel like i missed out or anything.

Brandi
11 years ago

I didn’t read the other comments (cuz there were like a billion so i apologize if i repeat). Does him not doing stuff (aka swimming, slip n slide..whatever) seem to bother him? Is he on the sidelines and you can tell he REALLY wants to participate but just cant? Or, is it you wanting him to? If he choosing not to participate I don’t think you should make him. It just might be too much pressure and backfire. If he actually does want to participate ask him what he is worried about…even make a list maybe before you go, then tell him how/why that won’t/can’t happen. Don’t take it as him not trusting you (in the pool for example). Fears are fears, irrational or not. Some kids are just more in tuned to the truth that scary shit can happen…we often label them “sensitive.” Whatever it is, some kids just have that sense and like the boundaries they have set for themselves. My 5 yr old is a worrier, like me. Lots of “what ifs” but if his dad suggests something, he is all over it! Rollercoaster, no problem. Motorcycle, bring it on. But when he went to his kinder evaluation he was worried because he knew he could read 4 words but only did 2 and was in major panic. He is not usually nice to his younger brother and when he gets sent to his room sometimes i make him close the door…i know he hates to be upstairs alone…i’m making it worse…but DAMN get out of your brother’s face for the love of god! My 2 yr old loses his shit on a daily/hourly basis. He is in a panic, full tantrum mode as he is asking for juice because he doesn’t have any…he has absolutely ZERO patience. Wait a minute does not exist for him. I am not proud of either of some of the things I have said/screamed during these times…and I feel you.

Lolo
Lolo
11 years ago

I am a pediatric occupational therapist and I agree that OT might be of help. Often those sensory issues can manifest into anxiety and panic, especially in unknown situations – which can explain why it’s different from day to day. Sensory processing is very complex and can be very difficult for a young child to understand their own feelings, let alone be able to explain. You definitely don’t need an official diagnosis, just a prescription from a doctor noting the concerns. I’ve found that figuring out some of the sensory stuff from an OT perspective can help parents and families cope together as well. It’s tough for sure. Good luck!

shriek house
11 years ago

You know, my oldest was a lot like how you’ve described Riley. *When she was his age.* I’d almost forgotten it, because now she is outgoing and adventurous and tries all kinds of crazy shit and begs for more. I remember being frustrated, that she wouldn’t just TRY things that were obviously FINE, or that she was being THAT kid at the party, or whatever. It made me insane. She still completely freaks out about a couple of things (like: cheese. whaaat?) but is not the nervous nellie of yesteryear at ALL. If that’s a comfort. And I think even if she was, maybe by now I’d be more relaxed with it. I hope.

As far as the parenting part goes. Well, I just SLAMMED the door on my youngest in fury because it is day 3 of his ongoing temper tantrum about random whatever and he is just too old for this shit, YO. So I feel great about that, obviously. And I think you know I’ve been worrying about his behavioral issues for a while now and working on being a good model, so the way I handled myself in this particular scene is even more shameful.

But: we have to give ourselves a pass sometimes. Parenting is hard and we need to make room for our own experience in the equation, not just our kids’. It’s important for our kids to know that, to see our flaws, so they don’t grow up expecting perfection of themselves. Also we’d die of guilt otherwise.

Thank you, again, for your honesty here. It’s brutal and brave and something for me to strive for.

Jenna
11 years ago

(Preface – I mean this in the nicest way possible, but I’m going to sound like a dick…)

He’s being a kid. Let him be a kid. Let him explore his feelings and emotions. Instead of anger, comfort him. He obviously needs you to stand by him & have his back. Just do it, who cares how it makes YOU look, care about how HE feels. Riley was scared shitless of the water and you’re going to force it on him? Don’t throw a pity party for yourself. You need to get over his fears before he does. Why don’t you take him somewhere that he likes or do something he enjoys?

Enjoy the fact that he still needs your support.

Jennifer
Jennifer
11 years ago

Welp, we have one child who is an anxious and noise sensitive kid (our 5 year old) and one child who is certified sensory integration disordered (she’s a 2 year old and we’ve done some OT twice and really I think exposure and time is what is helping her the most at this young age). So yeaaaaah, with you. And it’s tough. But I think we have an easier time of not caring so much about what others think because they are girls, and that annoying societal impression that girls = weaker comes in handy for high tolerance of emotional freakouts and sensitivities. So, uh, thanks for being assholes, world. Score one for lower pressure on us!

In terms of practical help, The Out of Sync Child Has Fun is a handy guidebook for activities to help integrate that sensory stuff. It’s not “This is what is wrong with your kid.” It’s “Hey, wanna get your kid who recoils from eating anything wet to actually eat a bite of applesauce? Try this!” It’s OT Lite, at home. It’s fun. Other siblings can do it too. Very nicely organized by which kind of sensory input is troublesome. Not torture at all. Great place to start if you want to help him along the sensory stuff without a diagnosis or the outrageous cost of therapy. We’ve had more success with it than we did at the OT place. The OT wasn’t a bad experience at all, but when you have a very alert child (and this was a 1 year old!) who knew “Crap, we’re here again. The place where they push me out of my comfort zone.” Not a lot of constructive stuff gets done.

Anyway long-winded comment to say keep going. Reflect, don’t dwell. You’re a Great Mom™, and part of that is knowing when you screw up and knowing how to apologize and try harder. And try that activity guide, if you haven’t.

I’ve not found anything super handy with my anxious older child. But we’ve been talking everything through, and that helps her. Googling to prove that sharks don’t really jump out of the ocean to eat airplanes (THANKS little chump kid who brought Shark Vs Octopus dvd case to preschool show and tell. I’m going to call your mom at 3am every day for 2 weeks and let her hear the hysterical sobbing of my kid!). We seriously have to google, like, diagrams that show length of the longest shark and diagrams of the average passenger jet so she can see that the scale is off, it is untrue, maybe she can fall asleep tonight after all. We google the hell out of everything remotely eyebrow raising to her as a preventative measure.

Jill
Jill
11 years ago

I have a kid with similar issues, and the best thing I can tell you is give it time. Eventually, like his other sensory issues, it gets better. And it helps a lot if you set him up to succeed in situations, and then praise the hell out of him. Does he get his face wet in the shower? Good for him. Did he try a new food? Great.

There were times when I was embarrassed because I had the kid who always held back, and often cried. When I realized that my embarrassment was my problem, and was then adding to his problem, I backed off. No amount of forcing him to experience something was going to make him like it- and it was going to make him distrust me… the one whom he should always be able to trust.

As he got older I did talk to him about the things he was afraid of- I found an article that said that it is virtually impossible for an elevator to fall down the shaft because it is held up by so many cables. Once they are old enough to reason, it helps.

I also think a kid who sticks to his guns is a good thing. If you can’t talk him into doing something he doesn’t want to do, maybe the drug dealer won’t be able to either.

Rachael@RachaelLay
11 years ago

I feel for you right now. When we believe we have crushed and belittled our children it feels like hell but I can promise you this will be such a minor blip on Riley’s radar and I’d be surprised if it ever comes to light again. As long as you are willing to let it go.

My advice re: Riley. Let him be. Yes he’s cautious and frightened of things we think are silly but he is who he is. If you can ignore his reactions (other than a kind assurance he is safe) and not push, pull, threaten and beg him to engage in something he will learn to trust that you have his back and will never make him do something that doesn’t feel safe. That is the trust you want. And who cares what other people think about Riley not wanting to do something. It’s more important what Riley thinks about you and that he knows you will support and love him whatever kind of person he is.

Without any pressure or fuss you might just find that he comes forward of his own accord because you have made it safe to do so. The more you make a big deal of it, the more he thinks the whole things a big deal, and therefore must be as scary as he thinks.

Please don’t beat yourself up anymore. We make mistakes. Like Riley, you are human and are loved unconditionally for who you are. Go easy on yourself. And your gorgeous boy.

Mykee
Mykee
11 years ago

Sounds just like my kid as well. Just a few minutes ago, I told him that he cries more than his little sister and baby brother combined. He’s very sensitive and cautious and he makes so much noise about it. It bugs the living hell out of me.

No advice from me as I’m still trying to figure out what to do, and trying so hard to control my temper when I see him acting like that. Most of the time, I am embarrassed to see him so nervous all the time especially when surrounded by other 5 year olds who seem perfectly “normal”.

But I am very thankful for you posting this message and letting me know I am not alone.

Clueless But Hopeful Mama

Oh I’m just aching with empathy for you both. I have been that kid- picky, overreacting, fearful. I have been that mom- exasperated with my picky, overreacting, fearful kid.

I wish there was an easy way to get us all past our crappy behavior.

Thank you for your honesty and bravery in posting this.

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Please don’t push him.

We had similar battles with my now 13-yr. when he was younger. It will get better. Oh, there will be a few new worries and issues, but when he’s a little older you’ll look back and realize just how little he was and that his reaction to certain fears were not all that unreasaonable (and you’ll remember how you reacted and feel even more mortified than you do today, LOL, I know I do!). You’ll learn how to parent a cautious child and stop wishing he was someone he is not. And when he’s a teenager you’ll be grateful for that cautious personality. I know I am. :)

I remember a similar experience taking him to a Vehicle Fair- big trucks and police cars and tractors- all the stuff he loved at four years old. But just one pull on the horn of a semi-truck across the parking lot and it sent him over the edge screaming and wanting to go home. I was LIVID and said some of the same things you did while he was in full-on hysterics. Thankfully he doesn’t remember it. ;)
I distinctly remember looking around at all the other kids climbing and jumping off all of the vehicles and wondering why my kid just couldn’t be like that. Does it matter now? Obviously, no.

Now I look back at that time, and realize he was just a little boy trying to make sense of things that were new to him and his cautious personality. To this day he still does not like loud sirens. Just this week at the 4th of July parade I watched him subtly cover his ears when he saw the big trucks coming up the street. It does get better! At five years old he was TERRIFIED of water. Tomorrow he is going to the waterpark for the umpteenth time and can’t stop talking about the big slides and rides he is going to go on. But I’m grateful for his cautious side because I know I can trust him to behave and follow the rules and not get in trouble. It does get better! But it won’t get better any quicker if you push Riley.

All of Riley’s fears may not go away completely, but you’ll all learn to handle them and realize it’s not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. He’ll turn out O.K. He’s just a little boy now.

Jeanne
Jeanne
11 years ago

As always, yes to all of it Linda. I’ve been there and done all of that and felt shitty about all of it too.

For the record, I don’t think there is anything to diagnose about my son, and suspect that this too is something much more widespread that does just — get better… and then you forget how Goddamned Awful it was and never mention it again and the next generation of parents thinks their kids are weird freak-shows too.

Hopefully, we will one day be much-hated by our son’s wives as we ask her why she doesn’t just teach our grandsons how to swim so they’ll stop being scared all the time.

God it will feel good to be old bitches who know EVERYTHING.

Keri
11 years ago

Three things:

1)Thank you for posting this.
2) What a wonderful thing to have all these people give such thoughtful advice and sories of their own.
3) I’m grateful that, through your blog, I in turn receive the same thoughtful advice and stories to read.

Lisa
Lisa
11 years ago

Wow, a tough one. What can you do to protect his individual, sensitive self AND help him learn to live in a rough world…. I have no idea what I would do here, I don’t have children.. and I also never comment (sorry) but I just have to express my gratitude for your continually honest words about parenthood. It is, unfortunately, a brave thing for a mother to do in this Internet Culture of Judgement. I don’t know whether I am going to have children or not but I really appreciate reading about your experience with them. I’ve learned a lot from reading your blog (and also laughed my ass off) and I think you are raising some damn fine sons.

Tess
Tess
11 years ago

Another title to check out is _When the Labels Don’t Fit: A New Approach to Raising a Challenging Child_ by Barbara Probst. I especially liked her temperament questionnaire. It’s intended to help you identify traits in yourself, your spouse & your child so you can work together better. Reading it helped me get on the same page with my husband when dealing with our challenging preschooler. And I’m seeing a lot of improvement with Occupational Therapy (Rx’d by our Pediatrician for sensory & motor issues) because it helps ME cope by offering fresh ideas & a new perspective. I believe the increase in diagnoses of developmental disorders is related to getting access to Early Intervention- you need a diagnosis on paper to get into programs, get insurance coverage for specialists. I’ve tried to stop worrying about labels when consulting these Developmental Specialists and accepted the services they’re offering. It is hard to keep seeing the positives when the meltdowns are the only thing you replay a thousand times in your head. My goal is to find the “win” in every day to help me calm down.

Denice
Denice
11 years ago

My 4-year-old daughter is EXACTLY like that. Exactly, exactly, exactly. They’re not just small things that she can brush off like other kids, they are BIG HUGE DEALS and nothing you can say or do will talk her out of them. I finally read a book called “The Out-of-Sync Child: Recognizing and Coping with Sensory Processing Disorder” and it’s really helped. Also, I took her to a Naturopath who helped TREMENDOUSLY: and let me tell you, 2 years ago I would have told you that naturopaths were total quacks out to take your money. Now, I think they are miracle workers. My daughter hasn’t had a fit in 6 months.

Yaya
11 years ago

I just want to ditto Keri above, I know this blog is written by you & for you but man if I am not reaping the HUGE benefits of your blog and especially this thread. I am so engrossed in all of these comments, they are amazing, make me feel normal & always have given me SO much food for thought for my own kiddo. Sometimes it just takes someone else to say something that your tired frazzled frustrated mom brain hasn’t grasped yet (like the week my child was being a complete intolerable monster & I casually mentioned it to his preschool teacher & she said “isn’t dad on a long business trip this week? He might be feeling some emotions over that & not able to communicate them so it is coming out in tantrums….”) ummm yeah…thanks, you are so right! All the posts here about the social situations and energy & new faces & places & expectations have a HUGE effect on my son and I always forget that until after I am a frustrated mess. reading all of these comments is like being able to take a deep breath & letting my shoulders relax…

Thank you so much for your blog, it helps me in my parenting on a daily basis more than you might realize.

Sarah Miller
11 years ago

Thank you for this post. At work I see kids and parents a lot, and they’re not always pretty. I try to remind myself that I know NOTHING about these people. I don’t know what’s come before — whether in the last 24 hours or the last 4 years. I don’t have a clue what they’re like when nobody’s watching, or whether I’m seeing them at their best or their worst.

I see these people for maybe 20 minutes of their lives, but every time I witness a fraught interaction I have to fight with myself to keep from making all kinds of assumptions based on those 20 minutes. Sometimes I know I’m just reciting the script so I can pretend I’m not judgmental. Meanwhile, on the inside I’m hollering, “Why don’t you just [insert magical unsolicited solution here]?!”

This post, I hope, will be a vivid reminder that my jackass radar is far from flawless. Despite what my radar would have indicated if I’d seen the knee-skinning moment in isolation, you are not a jackass. In fact I can’t think of a mom I enjoy observing more than you. The very fact that you’ve got the moxy to post stuff like this is the #1 reason I keep reading.

And let’s be honest — I’m worried about how I look in these situations, too. I don’t want to be reading my favorite blog and recognize myself as THAT woman who was giving you an eye-scolding over the top of her glasses.

Marie Green
11 years ago

I wish I had seen this yesterday, because now (though I’ve tried!) I can’t get through all the other comments.

I have what I DO call an anxious child, and she is by far my most challenging to raise. I think something to remember about experiencing anxiety is that it is a very “out-of-control” feeling, so anything you can do to make him feel more IN control will help, while trying to talk him into things or force him makes him feel LESS in control.

I’ve totally done and said everything you’ve described, so I’m not above you AT ALL in this, I’ve just had a few more years of dealing with it, just fyi. One thing that works is, say, in the slip-and-slide situation, being 100% excepting of him not trying it, saying to well-meaning family “Riley’s not a fan of slip-n-slides”. Not only does that take the pressure off of him, but it also is a bit of reverse psychology. Often my daughter will hear me say that and think WHO SAYS I’m not a fan?? WHO? And then, on her own terms, she’ll try it.

We push only the things we MUST– like when she decided she was anxious about going to school. We knew letting her stay home even just once would make her fight harder to stay home every day after that, so we forced her to go. NOT FUN. But everything else we’ve (MOSTLY, we still slip up often) to just let it go.

Jessica
Jessica
11 years ago

Same deal with our horribly speech-delayed 3-year-old son. It’s easy to get mad or embarrassed about his “lack of discipline.” Easy to forget he doesn’t understand what the fuck we’re saying 98 percent of the time.

Things got easier when we went to a developmental pediatrician and had scary problems ruled out.

Things got even better when we scraped up the money and time for sensory/speech/occupational therapists. As wonderful as the work they’re doing with him is, what’s almost better is that they are a sounding board for advice on what to do in situations like these.

Poor little guy. It’s not a character defect on his part.

Farrell
Farrell
11 years ago

I didn’t read all of the comments but skimmed through the first portion of them. I understand you feel bad and we’ve all felt bad about yelling at our kids or whatever; it’s okay; we’re all human; we all try to do it better next time.

I understand your frustration because I have a dramatic, sensitive, cautious child who is pathologically picky with food and on a different note, she literally would NOT go down the slide at the park – the itty bitty baby slide – until like age 4. She’s 6 1/2 now and still won’t go down the big slide. But you know what? So what? What I also know about her is that she is stubborn as hell and if she has her mind set, there ain’t no convincing. I have seen her grow these past few years and get more “adventurous” (for her) and I am happy – but again it has to be in her own time, on her own terms. She’s been that way since birth. *I* was that way when I was young and would spend all day in a pool but wouldn’t touch my toe in a dirty, filthy lake. Also, my daughter will howl like a wolf for a scraped knee and then want to be carried for the next two hours and then will limp for the next three hours. Dramatic? Yes. Annoying? Yes. Her own ingrained personality? Yes.

Lastly, I am very sensitive. I used to cry at Little House on the Prairie, at ER, at movies, etc. and my mom is NOT emotional. And she used to “yell” at me for it and tell me to “knock it off.” But she’s just different from me. I would also laugh out loud in a room by myself if I was reading or watching something funny, and she thought that was weird too.

So my point is, I think the best bet is for gentle encouragement and if he’s too anxious to do what others are doing, perhaps he can do a different activity – like reading on the beach instead or swimming or whatever works.

Just let him be him and praise him for the things you love about him. (I know you do that anyway).

PS – my daughter doesn’t like the slip n’ slide either.

Amanda Blair
11 years ago

I can totally understand what Riley is going through…I was this kid. I used to be terrified of the water over flowing in the bathtub. I’m talking mind numbing anxiety and would flip my shit, if my mom didn’t keep track of it. I had many melt downs over it, haha. The thing that I remember most is my Mom never made a big deal about it, so I was never self conscious about it. I love to laugh about it now. Obviously, that was happening in my home and not out in the world so maybe that’s why she was so blaze about it. I will say that when I was with my Dad and would be too terrified to try something, the yelling, the belittling still effects me to this day. I’m not saying that to make you feel bad because you’re doing the best you can and his freak outs sound really annoying. But being supportive is really the most important thing. If he wants to sit out on the side lines, you gotta let him do it. Remember he is own person and he’s an anxious kid so he needs to do it on his own time. That’s okay. The more you support his decisions and his timing, the more comfortable he will be. From one anxious kid to another :)

Nic Dempsey
11 years ago

I used to look after a kid like yours and although I think it’s different for parents. I found that it helped to explain my thoughts and behaviour in those situations.
‘I would never let anything hurt you and it upsets me that you don’t trust me to keep you safe’.
‘I’m sorry I got mad but it’s frustrating to us when you freak like that because…’
It sounds weird but explaining your feelings can help them reason it out and explain theirs to you.

Finally, children need to come to an understanding that grown up are human beings with feelings and emotions too. So provided that when you have messed up, you apologise, explain and they see you try to change that behaviour, you’re fine. Don’t beat yourself up about it.

Anna
11 years ago

Thank you for thist post and for your honesty. Juss, thank you.

This is my kid and I/we waffle between being really understanding/easy-going and being total assholes telling her to suck it up (which, I’m sure really helps her process things. Gah!)

The most recent incident I can think of, where I felt totally horrible afterwards, was at my husband’s grandmother’s house. She (the grandmother) was watching my husband’s uncle’s dog and my 4yo just lost her shit when she walked in a saw him. Lost it. She was sobbing and crying and jumping on us and shrieking and I basically, in a mean, growly voice, told her to suck it up, I made her stand on the floor and I just had no. patience. for it because we have the exact same breed of dog at home and at home she hardly notices our dog. It just made no sense to me and I was angry at her for being so dramatic and gutless and I said things I shouldn’t have. But then, this is the kid that used to shriek everytime she was put near the water and today, she put her head under water for 10 seconds at swim lessons and it was amazing! About swimming… she used to have a really hard time (to the point where I stopped bothering to sign her up for lessons for about a year and a half) and then this summer I decided to sign her up for the every day week long session (as opposed to the once a week for 8 weeks session during the school year) and I found that going every day helped so much. I feel like with the once a week lessons, she would get semi-comfortable in the last two minutes of class and then wait a whole week to go back and she’d start at square one again. Going every day gave helped because she didn’t have time to work herself up and get anxious again and it was easy for her to remember how much fun she’d had the day before.

Again, thank you. This post is so refreshing in, like a previous commenter said, that awkward way that lets us know that we’re not alone.