On this week’s ‘Parenting’ segment, one listener asks how to help a young child experience serious distress and almost hurting himself.
"I’d been in touch about a year ago about my son and his tantrums – he gets so upset he grunts and screams, and sometimes would hurt himself in frustration.
“He’s almost five now and while things have improved, they’re not settled.
“I’m wondering if this is still normal territory and also would like to get guidance about how to handle him hurting himself; in the last two weeks he has had about four episodes where he gets uncontrollably upset and he is also wetting the bed.
“He is obviously going through something and it’s so awful to see him so sad and not be able to do anything. One meltdown lasted an hour and I really was so unsure what to do. In the moment he won’t/can’t listen.
“When I try to say anything he pulls his ears and he is also scratching his face and throwing his body around. We aren’t sure if we should be holding him to stop him hurting himself or whether this is just causing more distress.
“Is this still age appropriate? Is it okay to sit with him and let it pass even if it takes that long? Should we be trying to stop him hurting himself? We do talk to him about feelings at other times of the day, and they’re doing the same at crèche but we are feeling very helpless and would really appreciate any help."
"How distressing it is to bear witness to your child’s distress like this and to not be able to help them,” she said.
“When you’re hardwired to want and need to make it better for them.
“So, I think parental distress is also a part of this and how to manage the distress of a distressed child.
“All of that said, what’s being described here is a heightened level of distress over a prolonged period of time - so this is going on at least a year because you mentioned it a year ago.
“Really what you’re detailing is a heightened level of distress now… Children under seven co-regulate their emotions in response to the available important adults in their lives.
“So, when they’re losing it, I’m not suggesting you are some zen responder - because you won’t be.
“But you can’t lose it with them, you need to be lower than they are so that you’re setting the tone and they can co-regulate, so they match your temperature and you gradually bring them down with you.
“Up until seven… children will still need that; all of that said, what’s being described here is a bit over and above what I would typically expect of five-year-olds struggling to manage what their emotions would look and sound like.
“It’s the fact that it’s four significant episodes in two weeks; uncontrollably upset, wetting the bed as a result, the pulling of the ears, there’s a lot of physical manifestation of the distress here - not just emotional."
“So, I would like this little guy to be seen - what I mean by that is you ask your GP to refer you to CAMHS - Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services - and I say that fully aware of the waiting list and the pressure but he’s a really young child.
“So, sometimes… services have an early years intervention that does attend to children five and under a little bit quicker.
“So, it is always worth asking and seeing if private referral is within your means, you can certainly consult with a suitably qualified child psychotherapist or child psychologist who can also advise and support you in this.”
Main image: An upset child.