When you have someone in the house who has emotional responses as big as my son’s, it really doesn’t leave much room for anyone else to feel stuff.
Obviously, the cat dying was always going to be hard. We knew it was going to be full on from him and that it was going to last a while. The trouble is that we sometimes forget that his reactions to things are currently being based on all his emotions surrounding the death of the cat. There is no escaping it.
Yesterday he went to his OT play session. The boy he plays with is not really one that gets on very well my son. Sure, they have moments when they play well, but it’s really hard for them both. My son finds him a little slow in his thinking and reacting, so he starts saying quite mean things. When he does that, the other boy either escalates by reflecting back with equally mean things, or by getting all righteous and telling on my son repeatedly to the therapist, and then to me when he comes out. This further inflames the situation and I don’t think either of them have much fun!
Yesterday was no exception. By the end of the session it was decided that it just wasn’t working between them and so a new play partner would be found for each of them. Now although my son doesn’t really like the other kid, he still understands that he has somehow ‘failed’ at the task of playing. Consequently, he hid in a cupboard and refused to leave.
I had to stand in the cupboard and talk him through his emotions. I find it hard to do this when other people are waiting on us. I also find it hard right now because I’m tired and sad too! I’m just not allowed to be, because I’m the grown up and know how to deal with my feelings and he doesn’t yet!
Me: “You’re feeling pretty disappointed that your play session didn’t work out how you would have liked.”
Son: “I’m just stupid!”
Me: “Why do you think you are stupid? I assure you I don’t think you are stupid.”
Son: “I’m not a normal kid! I can’t even play with other kids! I don’t have any friends and no one likes me!”
Me: “Oh, sweetie, that is really hard for you. I’m so sorry you have to feel like that. I love you.”
Son: “I don’t care!”
Eventually I cajoled him out of the cupboard just with sympathetic words, and assuring him he wasn’t actually in trouble, which he often thinks he is when he behaves like that, because in the past I would have chastised him for that behaviour and his behaviour during play too. This time I didn’t say things like, “don’t be silly, of course you have some friends!” or “don’t worry, lots of people love you!”. Those words are very tempting and common for parents to use with their kids, but all it does is tell the kids that you don’t really understand what they are feeling. It also sends the message that what they are feeling is somehow wrong.
Of course, once we got home his first words were,
“I want puss!” and he cried a little again, reminding me that everything is currently an over reaction!
It’s hard to be patient. It’s hard to remember the right words to say in the moment. It’s really worth it though to see how it affects his ever ticking mind.
Even as I write this, he’s sitting beside me doing his maths work while asking me things like,
“Do you think puss’s spirit is in the sky?”
“Or maybe it is in a newborn kitty!”
“Do you think we could find the new kitty that has his spirit?” Then he bangs his pencil down for a moment and says in an exasperated way,
“I WANT HAVVIE! WHERE IS MY PUSS?!”
These questions are way too big for a seven year old. On a Wednesday afternoon, when mummy is tired and hot!
So my answers?
” I don’t really know sweetheart.”
“Anything is possible. It would be hard to find the exact right kitten.”
” I know you want him. We all do.”