Dysregulation: Summer Edition

Okay, so I love having lots to talk about that’s not kid-related, such as going to see Tweedy Obama tonight (whoo hoo!) and my fancy iPhone.  But can we talk about dysregulation again, and the fact that my 3-year old’s emotional regulation tends to be finely tuned and is rather off-kilter right now?  Cool. Thanks.

One thing I love about parenting is how, season after season, these babies grow into toddlers and then into small people who ultimately reveal themselves, allowing us to figure out their likes and dislikes, their habits, the joys that light up their eyes, and their unique challenges. It can take a while to see these things as actual patterns when children are so small and we can chalk many things up to a passing phase or a fluke. It is only later, when we see certain behaviors and reactions appear again that we realize there might be more to it.

What I am seeing oh-so-clearly right now is Lyle’s rockiness around transitions.  Remember what he was like at Christmas, Wonderfriends? That was a post many of you appreciated, and it helped me today to go back and read it again.  For one thing, it was a good reminder that things could be worse right now but also to start thinking about those strategies again.

Summer is the polar opposite of Christmastime for us in terms of the pace of life, the availability of the great outdoors to burn off energy, and the excitement level.  At the same time, we are out of our usual routines, and even though that feels really, really good to me, it’s important to remember that it can leave a child feeling  unmoored.  At times it’s dispiriting to realize that these down times, which are so important for parents, can have a very different impact on children who are more finely tuned.

When I think about it this way, I know that, after 10 months of school-year stability in his schedule, Lyle experienced one change after another in rapid-fire succession: his preschool ended one week, Baxter’s school ended the next week, his beloved nanny went on vacation for a week, swimming classes started, swimming classes ended, we went to Michigan, we came back, day camp started, and next week we’ll leave for California for two weeks.

It really doesn’t matter that he has a great many hours of unstructured play every day, whether he’s in swimming, day camp at preschool, or on vacation, although of course that’s wonderful and important.  He, like many 3-year olds, gets very thrown off by change, and that’s what he responds to first and foremost.  As a result, he has a hard time settling down to sleep and cries for me to sleep next to him (which I do when I can right now).  He is also shrieking loudly a LOT, both when he’s happy and angry, which I find particularly hard to deal with.  His volume is set to “ear-splitting”.  In short, he is off.  (I should add that this is only at home, where he feels comfortable letting it all out.  There is no sign of difficulty in any other setting.)

I did see this coming to a certain extent, and so I made the boys a visual calendar for the refrigerator at the end of school.  The calendar shows them each day and what will be happening (a car on the day we go to Michigan, fireworks on the 4th of July, and their camp schedules).  That gets referenced a LOT, and Lyle likes to go back and review things: “That’s the day we had our train adventure with Daddy…that’s the day we went to Michigan…that was a swimming day…” and look ahead to know what’s coming.  His frequent visits to this calendar are helping him stay more organized and handle the changes.

It’s yet another reminder for me: when a child is “acting up” a lot, stop and look for the reason.  And that even though I am relaxed, at home playing more, and having a great summer, the smallest family member might be experiencing things very differently.

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6 responses to “Dysregulation: Summer Edition

  1. Thanks for sharing this, Jordan. It is such a good reminder that our little ones don’t necessarily have the big picture that we do.

  2. This is what I love about you, Wondermama.–your ability to put yourself into the head of a very small person with compassion and intuition, and see things from his point of view. Lyle and Baxter are lucky guys.

  3. We’ll be in SF from the 28th through the 2nd and in SD from the 2nd through the 9th.

    You’re patient. Very very patient.

  4. I wish I could translate this into German and send it to the in-laws. 🙂 I will just make Michael read it! I come back to your strategies again and again, Jordan – thanks for sharing with us! And hugs from the South Side – this is rough on Lyle, but I know how it must be affecting you, too!

  5. Yeah, summer can really be tough. This year, for a change, the before craziness was way worse than summer. But at least you get to do all this fun stuff and you totally get it (understand why he’s having difficulties). Now if only you could get the shrieking to stop, let me know what works b/c we have that high pitched screaming, too. I keep telling Jane that that kind of reaction should be reserved for an emergency!

  6. Jordan, I wish there were a dozen more of you to go around and populate the schools!! (Well, okay, maybe we’d need just a few more than that…)

    I totally echo what Susan wrote!

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