Friday, August 27, 2010

She's Got Skillz! - Part 4

If you haven't read the beginning of the journey we've been on recently about Li'l Empress and pre-school, you might want to head here. Or, you might not.  :)
It's been a lengthy set of posts. But then, it's been brewing in my brain and percolating in our home for more than 6 months already, so....

As I was saying in Part 3, there are plenty of things we've been learning along the way to deciding what is best for Li'l Empress this fall. I've so appreciated the perspectives that some of you have shared with me, here, in private and on F@cebook. I've also appreciate that so many of you have understood where I was coming from, as we walked through the decision-making process. Thanks for the information, the input, and the encouragement!
~ ~ ~ ~

So. We've had an incredibly busy summer. Unusually busy, even for us. Between the shortened summer schedule (due to our local district's teachers' strike), the addition of band camps and football camps, and a part-time job for Shaggy, I feel as if I spent a good portion of July in the front seat of my van. That translated to a lot of rushing and hustling on the occasions that I chose to bring Li'l E and/or the other kids along for the ride. Or a lot of "Mommy has to run out for a minute, I'll be right back," when I needed to leave her behind with one of the big brothers.

On the one hand, I think most of the time it was very confidence-building for her to be left home to see and experience that Mommy will always come back for her. On the other hand, when the days were particularly fast-paced and busy, it also led to a lot more chaos in the house. Which negatively affected her listening environment (Picture 6 of us rushing through potty time, meal time, shoes on and out the door... See what I mean?). The "in and out" of the car also seemed to be a bit of a struggle for her, in terms of changing scenery too often and too quickly. She learned some valuable skills this summer about going along for the ride, rolling with the punches, and all that. But I don't think we always struck the right balance and sometimes she got pretty wigged out and over-stimulated.

One of the best ways we've found to combat that over-stimulation is to get her into the pool as often as possible and for at least an hour at a time. Not only does it wear her out (always a bonus in terms of ensuring a good nap!) but it also opens up her listening environment. Getting outside, having the vast-ness of the yard and the pool area, it all worked towards "opening up" her ability to handle background noises when she was struggling.  I noticed that even when the kids had the stereo pumping out there, she can focus on our voices and communicate without whining and without tuning us out.  I'm not totally sure if that's a coping skill, a release-valve, or a distraction issue; but we all benefited from it and utilized it as often as we could squeeze it in before nap times.

However, even with this kind of prevention mechanism in place (and a couple others that I've figured out over the years of parenting pre-schoolers), we found that there has been some regression to some what we call her "anxious behaviors." For example, when we first arrived home with Li'l Empress, she did a fair amount of hair-snatching as a self-soothing technique when she would take a bottle and fall asleep. We got her a little "lovey blanket" that we call Wubby Dubby and re-trained her hands to occupy themselves with that when she was drifting off. The other day, I was cleaning her room and found an excessive amount of hair accumulated on top of her storage bins under the crib. My heart sunk. I knew it was more than just normal hair loss that comes from rubbing her head on her pillow and mattress.

Another thing we've noticed is the return of the "Royal Melt Down," when she is "on edge" or struggling to feel secure. We'd actually had quite a fair length of time without these "freak outs" (as the boys call them) prior to July. I'd say even a few months of a stretch without this level of hysteria. They aren't pretty - her heart races, she screams at this ridiculously, high-pitched frequency that makes dogs (and Daddy!) cringe, and she gets clammy and sweaty if she's not reeled back in quickly. Most of the time, they are precipitated by some kind of separation from me. It can be as big as being left in her Sunday school class without me or as common as me walking away from her too soon after nap time. The hardest part is that once she gets to this level, it takes a fair amount of face time (mainly with me) to pull it back. On the positive side, we have noticed that she doesn't linger in that funk nearly as long now as she did, say last summer. But still, they are hard to press through when they occur.

There are a couple other little habits creeping back in, nothing as big as the previous two I've mentioned. But ones that bear monitoring. Especially in context of the unpredictable schedule, the big learning curve of being three, and the changes coming to her little world. I've talked about it before, but context is the key issue that I think I keep coming back to. None of her behaviors, anxious or typical, are really that unusual. But in the context of . . .  her world. IN CONTEXT. In my frustration with her struggles, I have to remind myself to give the conversation its proper context. For example, one behavior has cropped up JUST since we started introducing the conversation of pre-school. It might be a coincidence, it might be developmental, but it's there, it's relatively new, and it's happening. I cannot ignore it. I'm not reacting to it, rather addressing it calmly and matter-of-factly. And I'm still talking up the plans for next week's first day of school. But it is there, still.

Several weeks ago, someone asked me what the difference was between Li'l Empress's separation anxiety and other three-year olds' anxiety that is developmentally normal.  It's a fair question and on some levels, I don't know why it's so much more provoking for her than it is for her little friends on Sunday mornings. But on another level, I know it's different for several reasons. The biggest thing I do know is that if it isn't attended to in a trust-building manner, it quickly escalates to PANIC. And I think we all agree that allowing our kids to feel that level of panic serves nothing. And can even do some damage if we're not intentionally covering it with our love and comfort.

In my next post, I'm going to address several issues that I think about when I'm addressing Li'l E's anxieties. I don't do them all consciously. In fact, I had to sit and think for quite a while after I was asked that question about why her separation anxiety might be different. It's certainly not exhaustive, nor is it perfect, but it's some of  the stuff I've come up with that motivates me to act in a loving and protective manner with our girl.


Trish said...

There's a center in our area that does aquatherapy, which is basically OT done in the pool - sounds like you have a pretty close approximation to that going on! I also remember Michael's SLP putting him on a big ball because the combination of sensory input and having to use his trunk muscles to hold himself up improved his performance (both receptive and expressive).

I was also curious whether you have communicated these specific behaviors that you are seeing with the preschool team so they can be on the lookout for them. You have worked too hard to let them become reestablished due to the school staff not being aware of them. And, in my opinion, that may take precedence over some of their goals for her!

The Gang's Momma! said...

Excellent point, Trish! I love how your mind works. I did discuss some of these concerns at our eval meeting when we were doing intake stuff. At first, I felt as if the teacher was thinking I was a "hover mother" but the more we talked, I was able to help her see that the attachment/security issues are paramount to us. Especially in light of the fact that she "tests out" of IU services.

I do, however, have another call in to her to update her before Wed. about the increase in anxious behaviors since we've started prepping Li'l E for the reality of school. That should be done on Monday...