Determined. Difficult. Challenging. Spirited. Sensitive. Sensory seeking. Sensory averse. Explosive. These are all words that were used to describe my daughter in her first five years of life.
Lost. Scared. Uncertain. Overwhelmed. Depressed. Desperate. Those are words that I would have used to describe myself during my daughter’s first five years of life. It was not an easy time.
My daughter was born screaming and continued to scream, at regular intervals, for the next four years. For the first six weeks, she was colicky and screamed for hours on end. When she was a little older, she screamed every night unless I went to bed with her at 7:00 p.m. When she was a toddler, she screamed about transitions, scratchy clothes, and loud noises. Potty training outside the house was impossible because automatic toilets would set her screaming. She hated to sleep, hated to nap. If something happened that she didn’t expect, she would scream and bang on doors and floors, sending me outside sobbing. In our lowest moments I often wondered how my dreams of motherhood had brought me here.
I dreamed sometimes of running away, or of giving her away. Instead I stayed. I read every book I could about “difficult” children. I worked on my patience and my parenting strategies. I limited television, artificial sweeteners, and overstimulating environments that would inevitably lead to meltdowns. I added quiet time, quality time, soothing music, and books about feelings and self-control. And for her part, she grew.
Over time, the tantrums lessened. The conversations began to work. Her strengths—like creativity, thoughtfulness, and an adventurous nature—showed through. I forgot about the hours I had spent getting her to bed, as her bedtime routine shifted to sending her to sleep with a story and a kiss. I shed the desperate, helpless feeling I’d worn like a shroud through her early years and rays of hope appeared. I began to enjoy her company, and she, mine. The rules and structure, routines and traditions we’d put in place throughout the years finally began to resonate. She started to take responsibility and pride in herself. She had moments as a carefree child.
My daughter will be nine in May. She is still determined, difficult, challenging, spirited, sensitive, sensory seeking, sensory averse, and explosive. But she is also caring, curious, clever, creative, thoughtful, and daring. She loves to read and play with her younger brother. She has occasional problems at home and at school, but for the most part she is happy and well adjusted. We still can’t have playdates or do too much outside of our routine. She still has moments where she has difficulty with anger and self-control. But things are so much better than they were.
I wrote this post to give other moms of difficult, challenging, spirited, sensitive, sensory seeking, sensory averse, or explosive children hope. It does get easier. Those nights you spent crying yourself to sleep or dreaming of a one-way flight to anywhere, will be replaced with nights of peace. The days you spent barely keeping it together while counting down the minutes until bedtime or jumping from one meltdown to the next, will give way to days of shared activities and happy family memories. The time you spent researching calm down jars, children’s meditation, and elimination diets will be rewarded.
I’m not saying that all of the challenges that face our children in their younger years will magically disappear. Some children face challenges that will continue to follow them throughout their lives. Some diagnoses stick. But others are muted by time. Determined children learn to channel their drive. Difficult, challenging, and spirited children learn which limits hold and which they can continue to test. Sensitive, sensory seeking, and sensory averse children can be taught how to mitigate their aversions and find appropriate ways to seek stimulation. Explosive children learn ways to cope and self-control.
We must continue to help our children with these challenges each day, but we must also give them, and ourselves, hope. Hope that things will get better for all of us. It can be hard to see the light during those early days of darkness, but it is there. And as you work hard every day to maintain your patience, composure, and sanity, celebrate your successes and forgive yourself for your failings. Know that one day, it will all pay off. Your child will grow older, you will grow wiser, and you will see the light.
Stay strong, mamas.
QUESTION: Have you experienced similar changes with your challenging child as they have grown older?
CHALLENGE: If you have a challenging child, think back to an area of difficulty that has gotten even slightly easier as they have aged. When you face other challenging moments, recall this specific issue to help remind yourself that things do change, and that life will get easier.
Edited by Deborah Nash and Nollie Haws.
Image provided by the author.