Temper tantrums were the norm for my older son, and we didn’t think much of it at first. We’d experienced it with his older sister, who was the tantrum queen until she started kindergarten. But one night in the throes of a meltdown, my son told me to get a knife so he could cut himself. That was the point I realized my 6-year-old might need help.
If this sounds familiar, you aren’t alone. According to our story on the increase of young kids battling mental health issues, more and more young children are needing help. They run the gamut from behavioral issues to more serious mental health illnesses, and experts are trying to figure out what is causing the increase.
For us, it could have been hereditary, or lead paint exposure from our 100-year-old house, or his traumatic breech birth on the heels of his twin sister.
Whatever the case, the elementary years were rocky. My son would get overwhelmed in the classroom and run into the coat closet. He’d get angry on the playground, hit a classmate, regret it and climb to the top of the playground fence. He was sweet, charming and smart but also impulsive, quick to anger and filled with anxiety. Temper tantrums could last hours. We’d have days, even weeks, of smooth sailing, but then days of trouble.
He started seeing a therapist in second grade, then a psychiatrist. We tried multiple medications in search of something that would help. One sent him off the deep end. Another made him pull out his hair. Nothing was the magic cure. We sent him for neuropsychological testing, and the conclusion was that he had attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and probably anxiety as well. It was helpful to have a diagnosis. We continued with therapy and tried to help him any way we could.
Middle school was better. Maturity definitely helped, but getting him to do homework or something he didn’t want to do often ended in a screaming match. It’s hard parenting a child with ADHD. We don’t always do it well.
Slowly we learned how to best handle his tantrums and his anger, and slowly he improved. He’s also learned his strengths and his weaknesses and how to compensate. He takes breaks, he keeps active, we don’t engage in stressful conversations after 9 p.m. He’s now going into his junior year of high school where he is thriving.
Despite the fact that he will always struggle with ADHD and anxiety, his future looks bright. There were days when I couldn’t imagine how he would navigate high school much less college or a career, but I realized early on how important it was to take one step at a time. Never jump too far ahead or give up hope. We’ve worked hard to give him the tools he needs to succeed, and it’s paying off.
If you are struggling with mental health issues in your family, check out the story. And above all, know that there is always hope.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 15, Adam, 15, and Jonah, 11.