Last week DS1’s behaviour took a turn for the worse. He was coming out of school chewing on the zip of his coat. A sure sign that he was very anxious – that something was playing on his mind. On the way home he was smacking me repeatedly (not hard, but enough to mean he was seeking some sensory feedback). He’d deliberately walk into hedges, run his hands against fences.
Communication decreased and he started speaking in Pokémon: “Pikachu”, “Raichu”, rather than ‘yes’ or ‘no’. It was difficult to work out which Pokémon name meant what. Rather than interact he was shutting himself away in his room.
Walking to school was more of a dawdle than a walk; often he’d stand still, close his eyes, and say he was asleep.
Bedtime – which we have over time (a long time) managed to make a reasonably well-ordered routine – became a bit of a nightmare. He constantly ran around, bounced on his bed, pushed, punched, even danced – he just couldn’t settle.
When he was younger he used to describe how he was feeling by saying he had a spider in his head. Sometimes it slept (meaning he was feeling OK), sometimes it moved about (he was anxious) and sometimes it was frantic (very anxious). He hadn’t mentioned the spider for some time, but now it was back. Every time he closed his eyes at night he saw it. He hates spiders.
Then on the Friday as we got home from school and I fumbled for my keys to open the front door, he said: “What if I don’t get dressed in time?”
“What do you mean? For school?”
“But you do. You always get dressed as soon as you wake up, and we always get to school before the bell.”
“Yes, but after judo. The teacher said if we are not there on time the coach will go without us.”
The penny dropped.
He had a school trip the following week – on the same day he does judo before school.
“But you will already be there. They won’t go without you.”
“But what if I’m not changed in time. The teacher said they would go.”
“They won’t. She was just saying that to make sure everybody got to school on time. I tell you what, when I drop you off for judo I’ll have a word with the teacher to make sure she comes and gets you.”
“But she said they would go.”
“They won’t, I promise. I’ll have a word with your teacher. Don’t worry. It will be OK.”
A weight seemed to visibly lift from him. His anxiety levels, which had gradually built up over the week, eventually exploding through the roof, suddenly slipped back down. He was back to a state of mere high anxiety – his norm.
If only he’d told me earlier in the week. But that’s not as simple as it sounds.
The weekend was great. We had a happy, smiling little boy. One who did as he was told when asked and did his homework without complaining. “Come on Dad, we need to do homework now,” he chirped.
He even helped with the tidying and washing. He went to bed on time, without any nonsense. We had long conversations about his trip, Egyptolgy and football. Not once did he resort to shouting in Pokémon.
It’s on days like this that I look at him and think it’s all worthwhile – that “we’re going to be OK, you and me, little man”.
Sorry, I mean ‘boy’. As DS1 always says: “I’m not a man, I’m a boy.” Fact.