Is your child holding you prisoner?

monopoly-go-to-jail-cardSome time ago now, I received a letter from a friend. She informed me that her youngest child, not yet school age, was diagnosis with DBD (Disruptive Behavior Disorder) as well as SSA (Severe Separation Anxiety). She proceeded to tell me that her youngest child couldn’t be left alone with her oldest child, who is 16, because the youngest causes the oldest to cry. She then posed this question: What 4-year-old can make a 16-year-old cry?

As I read that question, I found myself saying aloud, “mine could” and instantly my heart became heavy for her.  We corresponded back and forth regarding this topic for a few days. While I am not at liberty to share with you her story, I am at liberty to share with you my own.

Unless you are a victim of this, you will not understand. It is my desire to enlighten those that do not understand as well as act as a means of support for those walking through this personally. This is the first time I will have shared my own story so openly and publicly.

That very question that my friend posed is the very question that most people pose. While I would like to say it’s impossible, I cannot.

My son was 3 years old when my former spouse and I separated. During this time of separation, he became extremely violent with me. I was, for the most part, on a daily bases, being hit, bit, punched, kicked, scratched, yelled/screamed at, hair pulled… the list is endless. Most of the actions were directed toward me and because of this; I assumed that he was angry with me for taking him away from the only home he had ever known, for taking him away from seeing his father every day, and for all the other sudden changes that turned his life upside down. I then began receiving reports of this behavior occurring in the daycare(s)… he was kicked out of three daycares before the age of five. And as time passed I noticed things such as, he was now pulling his own hair (out of his head, literally), he was biting himself, banging his head on the wall or the floor or anything hard for that matter, and again the list is endless.

Never knowing when he was going to change temperaments or what would trigger the change, I remained a prisoner in my home. It was completely embarrassing when this split personality would occur in public. I took him to his pediatrician and she recommended that I get him in to see a psychiatrist. I took him to the psychiatrist every week for one year in addition to monthly follow-ups with his pediatrician. After a year of discussing behavioral techniques and observing his behavior from another room as if he were a monkey in the zoo and we were peering through the window to watch him play, he was diagnosis with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). I am very grateful that neither my son’s pediatrician nor psychiatrist made a quick diagnosis; they took a year to make an informed diagnosis. He was prescribed medication and has been on it since. The medication is not a cure all, there are behavioral issues that had to be and still must be addressed. Consistency is key.

Children with ADHD show signs of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity in specific ways. These children are in constant motion, squirm and fidget, do not seem to listen, have difficulty playing quietly, often talk excessively, interrupt or intrude on others, are easily distracted, do not finish tasks. There are three types of ADHD in children: Combined Type (Inattentive/Hyperactive/Impulsive), Hyperactive/Impulsive Type, and Inattentive Type (aka: ADD – Attention Deficit Disorder). My son has the Combined Type. Treatments for such include medication and behavioral. Most people get medication treatment, in-spite-of their opinion on the matter; however most do not get the behavioral treatment. Many believe that behavioral treatment equals parent inability to discipline their child. Not really considering you could literally beat a child until they are black, blue, and bleeding all over in this situation and all you’ve done is exasperated the situation. Behavioral techniques, first and foremost, require you to remain calm.  It then requires you to adjust the Childs environment to promote more successful social interactions. Such adjustments include creating more structure, encouraging routines, and clearly stating expectation of the child. This can also include Social Skill Training and/or Support Groups.

I remember once when my son was messing with my vacuum cleaner. I asked him to stop and he replied with a yes ma’am. Not 5 minutes later, he was messing with it again. This continued to happen over the course of 15 minutes when I finally asked him why he was continuously disobeying me knowing that now he was going to get a spanking. He looked at me and said, “I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I heard you say to stop. I remember you staying it. But it’s like my head just tells me to do this anyhow.”

Remember I told you that being in public became embarrassing? Remember I told you that my child could bring his older sibling to tears?

  • We arrived at church on Sunday morning, he was five. We climbed out of the car and personality #2 was on the scene. He didn’t want to go to church. He began kicking the car, kicking the tires on the car, hitting the car, kicking me, hitting me, yelling at me. While I tried to restrain him, I was bitten, knocked on my butt, kicked, elbowed – my kid was stronger than I was while in this state and I was now breaking out into a sweat – I wanted to die of embarrassment as people walked through the parking lot, watching and hearing what was going on, never stopping to offer assistance (though part of me is grateful as I didn’t have the funds to afford any medical bills that would be a result of bodily injury inflicted upon them as well). Finally, I received helped. A police officer walked over, after witnessing what had been occurring, and snatch my son from behind in a strong embrace. He told my son to calm down and he would let him go. It took nearly 5 minutes of restraint and discussing this behavior resulting in jail time before personality #1 returned. He has a fear of police officers to this very day, which is not altogether a bad thing.
  • He had been sick with strept and it was time for a follow-up appointment. Everything checked out good and we were on our way. As we approached the elevator I asked him to back away from the elevator as his nose was leaving condensation on doors and then explained that we didn’t know if someone was going to be getting off when the doors opened – it would be rude to trample over them to get in when they were trying to get off. He refused to listen to me. I grabbed him by the ear and told him that I wasn’t sure where his listening ears had disappeared too but I would like it very much if they returned. We finally got on the elevator and personality #2 arrived on the scene. I was being attacked by my now 6 year old. We rode the elevator up and down 5 times, people coming and going as it stopped at various floors. By the time he calmed down, I was in some weird gymnast style position, with my skirt nearly above my head, sweat pouring down face, blood coming from my arm where I had been bitten, all in effort to restraint my child that was inevitably stronger than me. I walked to the car while trembling from head to toe. Trembling out of anger, out of embarrassment, and out of fear. I headed straight to the church where I showed up in the office unannounced with tears streaming down my face, trembling from head to toe, meaning to scream in my head only but probably screaming at the poor receptionist to get me a pastor NOW.
  • I decided one night to allow my daughter to watch my son while I attended a meeting. She had watched him in the past so this was no real concern. That is until she called me in tears stating that her brother was destroying everything in the house; be was breaking dishes, destroying pictures in their frames, throwing items at the wall leaving huge, gaping holes, and he was hitting her uncontrollably. I was 20 minutes away and could not get there fast enough. The only way I was able to get him calmed down over the phone was to threaten to call the police. When I arrived, my daughter was a basket case and insistent that she hated her brother, my house was destroyed, and my son was curled in a ball on the couch crying for the policemen not to come and take him away.
  • I took my son with me to a friends house to hang out while my daughter attended an activity. While there, my son was instructed to do his homework, of which he didn’t want to do. After bantering back and forth with me about how and what he thought he should be doing personality #2 made its appearance. He threw things, broke things, cussed at me, cussed at my friend, he kicked, and he screamed…. I took him outside in attempts to calm him down. He decided to hit her brick home so hard that the walls inside shook. I made several attempts in restraint while he yelled, screamed, kicked, hit, and bit me. My friend finally stepped in out of fear and anger. My friend was afraid and shocked by his physical strength and concerned that if at 7 years old he was this way, how would he be when he was 10 and how would I survive.

My friend tells me that her respect for me as a parent grew exponentially that night. I’m not really sure how it could as I felt like a complete failure and was mortified. However, I’m thankful that my friend bore witness to this episode that night. Finally, someone could see firsthand what I was talking about and not look at me as if I was out of my mind. You see, in the past when I had finally become brave enough to share with people what I was going through, they just stared at me as if I were out of my mind – there was no way that my sweet, loving child could be so demonstrative. Then after the look would come the lectures on applying some parenting skills in the way of time-out or spanking. Thus, my bravery soon faded. I returned to living out these horrific episodes in secrecy, in shame – allowing my son to hold me prisoner in my own home.

The psychiatrist referred to these outbursts as meltdowns, I refer to them as hurricanes. If you watch closely, you can see signs letting you know that a storm is on the horizon. If you’re lucky, you can escape the storm. If you’re not, well then all hell has broken loose. Once the storm has passed, you’re still left with the aftermath effects of what lied in its path. There is the cleanup of debris, both physically and emotionally and as the parent, you try to avoid a meltdown yourself. You find yourself angry, hurt (again both physically and emotionally), confused, alone, embarrassed, like a failure, as if it’s your fault… you feel trapped with no escape. You become a prisoner of your child. These storms create havoc in your family, which can result in family destruction or in family bonding, depending on how you chose to react, deal, and cope.

Though we are still having behavioral issues in school (lack of listening, paying attention, getting distracted, keeping our hands to ourselves), I am happy to report that it’s been a little over 6 months since our last family hurricane. I am constantly keeping a watch on the horizon for the signs of the storm while working on our behavioral techniques (which unfortunately our structure department has been lacking) … these techniques are a lifestyle change for most families and not all families are able to adjust. It is hard but there is hope. Prayer, support, consistency, professional help (counseling, medication, diet) – all of these will work together, so long as you’re willing, and will get you through to days of freedom being held prisoner no more.

If you are a parent being held prisoner by your child, please reach out… you are not alone.

For those of you that have issues with the usage of medication, the diagnosis itself, or simply my parenting skills, what can I say… opinions are like butt-holes, we all have them.

Copyrighted by reflectionsbypj 2009/09/19


7 thoughts on “Is your child holding you prisoner?

  1. I’ll say it again. YOU are strong! Stronger than most would be. You are a GREAT mom (the best mom for him!) one day he will thank you for working hard for him using every method at your disposal to help him, though i’m sure it’s not easy. I am one of those that thinks there is alot of over diagnosis going on in the mental health field and too much treating the symptom and not enough solving the problem, but that is certainly not the case with you. Praying for you!

  2. I’m really proud of you for sharing this story, Penny. Elijah IS blessed to have you for a mom. Many parents wouldn’t take the time to go to a doctor every week for a year and to learn the things that can be done to help her child. I think it’s important to share what’s going on and even to ask for help. If more people did this, the world would be a much better place!

  3. the receptionist just wanted to give you a valium and vodka. however, she had already consumed her supply and felt sad she had nothing to offer but a sympathetic eyebrow raise.

  4. Wow, Penny….I love your transparency….and your strength. Stepping away from the shame is a HUGE step.

    We did not deal with the behavioral challenges you’ve had but I remember all too well the looks of parents when we were dealing with issues when my boy was little. (He’s now 15 and doing very well.)

    Unless a person has dealt with some of this stuff, they truly are clueless.

    You’re an amazing woman. And yes…as Rob said, we live in Franklin. If you’d ever like to meet for a cup of java, I’m game!

    Bless you!

  5. Penny, as I sat reading and then re-reading this and moping tears… I can’t help thinking you’ll probably never know how you sharing this has influenced me and surely many others. Least it sound like whining, I’ll just simply explain by stating that I too often feel held hostage by the ADHD behaviors of my children… Thank you for writing this and God bless you, Penny.

  6. Pingback: One Night Stand or Commitment « Reflections by Pj

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