The ‘fours’ have many nicknames – the fantastic fours, the fucktastic fours, and the old standby, fucking fours. I think the key point here is four year olds are frustrating at the best of times.
In Mr. Sensitive’s case his Sensory Processing Disorder and serious anxiety can paralyze our entire household. No one can do anything because we’re too busy putting out Mr. Sensitive’s fires (not literally, but you get what I’m saying.) Imagine a small, anxious tornado going through your home, spewing toys, chewed up apple bits and egg shells everywhere. Imagine the whinning and yelling.
It drives me crazy.
Mr. Sensitive is an externalizer. The more anxious he gets, the louder he whines/ yells/ screams and the more his limbs flail and throw anything within reach. Imagine trying to hug that small, anxious tornado.
Who on earth would want to, right?
Better to give him a time out for throwing toys, or dragging his sister across the floor by her leg.
We tried Time Out 1,2,3 Magic. This is a great book, and it’s great for getting kids to stop misbehaviour. When the child misbehaves, you say, “That’s a one, if we get to three, you’ll be in a time out.” Give the child a chance to correct their behaviour, and if they do something again you say, “That’s a two, if we get to three, you’ll be in a time out.” (Mr. Sensitive’s time outs are only a minute long, that’s all he and I can deal with.)
After our third time out in a 60 minute time frame I knew something wasn’t working. Even Mr. Sensitive said, “Again? That’s a lot of time outs.”
Now, Time Out 1,2,3 Magic works, sometimes, for Mr. Sensitive. Like, if he’s bored and decides to throw a toy across the living room. We’d say, “That’s a one, if we get to three, you’ll have a time out.”
He will stop because he can. At that point. But what happens when anxiety spirals his self-control down the toilet?
We have a small, anxious tornado spewing toys across the living room. Can you give a small, anxious tornado a time out?
And the more you try to punish him (yelling, time outs, whatever) the worse he gets – because now you are feeding his anxiety and driving this small, anxious tornado in faster spirals. The more he is punished/ ‘consequenced’/ whatever the faster he spins.
So, on our morning of three time outs, I missed a few things. I was so busy trying to get him dressed, breakfast made, lunch packed and him punished that I forgot to ask him what’s wrong. I think if I would have asked him after the first time out we could have talked about what was worrying him, done some deep breathing together, and avoided two other time outs.
What do I need to do?
Stop talking to him when he’s like this. The verbal input just increases the overwhelming sensory demands and anxiety. I also need to bring tasks down to his level of functioning. Yes, he can usually put on his underwear. Today, it’s not going to happen without help. And that’s ok.
There are days when he can’t even eat by himself. So we help him. Otherwise we’re stuck dealing with an irritable, hungry and anxious four year old. (See Care and Feeding of Four Year Olds for more. Big aside related to this: We made a discovery around mealtime – Mr. Sensitive needs to go back to a booster seat to contain and stabilize him during meals. We did it tonight and it worked beautifully – Mr. Sensitive ate a huge dinner. Yay!)
What else could I have done?
Soothing, sensory activities Mr. Sensitive enjoys. He loves ‘washing dishes’ aka holding his hands under the aerator tap in the kitchen sink. I could have given him a hug and cuddle. He loves the squishing and wrapping up feeling. He will make himself a ‘clam shell’ out of a pile of pillows and lie under them. I could have read him a story to help distract him from his worries.
So, do you hug a small, anxious tornado?
Yes, you definitely do.
Looks like I need a time out.
For more of Mr. Sensitive’s adventures, be sure to check out: