Monday, December 1, 2008

Ella's Meltdowns

I will have a section where I track my oldest daughter's meltdowns... primarily for my own need to keep track and analyze common set off points, but also so that my readers can learn more about Ella. Maybe you have an Ella. maybe you know someone like her, or a mom who has a daughter like her.

Recently, we celebrated Maddie's 6th Birthday. While I realize that loud noise can be an assault to Ella and cause her protective sense to go into overdrive.. she thrives on socialization, and rarely has any problems in loud environments that involve playing. I realize that the gifts and party for Maddie may have given her cause to feel jealous. But I don't really think those factors are large contributors to her meltdown during the party.

Situation: The partygoers are assembled in Ella and Maddie's room. They are all playing with the princess Barbies that Maddie received as gifts and the ones we already have. There is a squabble between Ella and her little sister Annelise (age 3) over a crown for a Barbie. Ella falls apart, screaming and crying about how Annelise stole her doll's crown. I ask Annelise if she took it, and she said yes. Ella yelled that I should make Annelise give it back. I asked to give it back and Annelise said no. Ella freaked out and lunged for the crown, and Annelise shrank back in fear.

I told Ella to back off and calm down, and that I would get the crown. Ella continued to howl about the crown, and I told her that she needed to go into another room and pull herself together, and that she should come back when she was calmer. She harumphed off angrily, still crying. I suggested that she use her time to do some of the exercises and techniques that her occupational therapist has shown her to do when she is feeling out of control. I suggested wall pushups, and she refused, and said that she wasn't going to do any of those things. She was out of the room for less than 5 minutes, and returned. She fell apart again within moments, this time about a different doll, I think. She was clearly not composed enough to join the group, so I told her to leave the room again and come back when she had pulled herself together. She came back a second time, and was able to keep herself composed for the rest of the party.

I was trying to coordinate a group picture, and left the room briefly to address her both times she left. My husband and the other adults were in another part of the house.

I was surprised that she showed her meltdown to her friends. I suppose it was because she was in her own house, but she had never pitched a big fit before in front of her friends, or Maddie's friends. They were all very confused about why Ella would throw such a fit, when the older girls, ages 8 and 7, were well able to share the dolls and make suggestions to help pacify or distract the younger girls, aged 3-5.... those same suggestions were made to Ella during her fits, but she did not accept them, and the 3-5 yr olds did.

Last Sunday, my husband was out of town. I took the kids to church, and was under the mistaken impression that I was to help out in the 2 yr old room during the worship service. I had told the girls that we would be in there rather than in church. I discovered that I did not have to work in there, and told the girls that we would be attending worship. Maddie pitched a little fit and said she was really hungry and couldn't we go get lunch instead. Ella started freaking out and sat on the floor in the hallway and refused to move. I had to threaten the loss of television for the day to get her to stand up, after trying several times to get her to obey without the threat. She came inside and sat down with Maddie and I after the singing. She harumphed into her seat, and I told her to watch her attitude. She threw her croc shoe at me. (We sit on the front row on our side of the church, so her activity was not shielded by rows of pews). I took her arm and again told her to get control of herself, and she reached over and pinched my arm hard. I asked the people behind us to watch Maddie, and I took Ella out into the hall. I expressed my frustration and displeasure to her over her actions. I told her that I understood that she was expecting to be in the 2 yr old room and that plans had changed and that I knew it was difficult for her to get adjusted, but that she needed to try. She refused, and slid down the wall to the floor. She told me she wasnt going to get up. I took TV away for several days as a consequence. She finally decided to come sit down. She drew pictures for the rest of church.

We had no more issues until we went to Target around 5:20 that afternoon. Before we left our friend's house, Ella mentioned that she had sweated through her shirt and that she was starting to stink. I told her she could get another shirt while we were at Target. On the way there, I had a discussion with the girls and told them that we only had a short time to shop, so we would not be late for choir at church. Everyone said that they understood and that there would be no tantrums about not being able to find something they wanted in the dollar aisle.

We spent the first 10 minutes in the girls clothing section, with Ella trying on shirts over top of her tshirt. She was becoming more and more agitated that she couldnt find a shirt. I suggested doing push fives with me there in the store, which is an activity that her therapist suggests to help get her organized... we lock fingers and push against each other. She refused and began to get more out of control. Ella fell on the floor, weeping about not wanting to stink. She stood up when I told her to, but continued to wail as we walked through the store, and threatened to run back to the girls department alone if I wouldnt let her get a shirt. I allowed Ella to go look for shirts while I was across from the department in the dollar aisle. She took ten more minutes and had one more breakdown about not finding a shirt until she finally found one.

I realize that because I had told her she could get one, she expected that she would be coming out with a shirt, and that making her leave the department seemed like a change in plans and a personal affront to her dignity that she wouldn't get a shirt. I indulged her looking for more than twice the amount of time I was willing to take to find a shirt, and I was irritated that she felt that her finding a shirt was more important than us being on time to choir where I was supposed to be helping out.

Overall, Im not sure I feel like she is having more breakdowns than usual.. I think she probably has at least one a day, and some days as many as 3. It is just that she is having fall on the floor, weeping tantrums in public, and the disparity between her actions and her age is just getting more pronounced. I recall that in April, we had a trip to the store much like this, where she was on the floor in the checkout lane as well as between the exit doors. We had another fit like this in Walmart about a year ago where I was having to drag her along as she held onto the handle on the cart and refused to make her feet walk and drug between my feet. This does not happen every time we go out. It doesnt happen at the end of the day more often than at the beginning of the day. It is almost always about her rigid thinking about what is going to be happening and how something has changed.. and it is also the fact that once she starts throwing a fit, she cannot stop herself and ends up getting more and more consequences piled on her as she continues to say terrible things, or punch me in the chest, or throw a shoe at me, or whatever.

Considering that her younger sisters have never thrown even one fit each in public, whether with Ella or while Ella was at home, it bewilders me how she might just be a brat and want her own way, etc. Her therapist would likely point to sensory overload, difficulty with transition, rigid thinking, and sensory modulation dysfunction issues when looking at these situations. And while I agree that each might play a part, there is a point at which I guess I feel like the fact that she is 9 would give her some degree of maturity, especially in public. We certainly have fits like this at home, but 1) my mama skills are not on display at home and 2) I can send her to another room to calm herself (even if I have to escort her there with her hands wrapped around my leg and hold the door shut myself.) I am curious about whether her emotional maturity is also much lower than her chronological age and if I should have different expectations for her behaviour, like that she reacts more like a 3-5 yr old most of the time, and try to work with her differently because of that.

It is possible that her hormones are at work here, but we have had these same fits for years. I think we are in a season where they are coming more often, but it waxes and wanes. When she is having a hormonal day, she sheds more tears and seems much more sad when she melts down. Not so much tantrum and anger 3 year old. Both situations, at the party and at Target, were much more 3 year old looking to me.
Thanks for reading. I will post more positive things about Ella soon, but this was on my mind to share today.


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