In his ten short years, Ethan experienced the death of his beloved grandpa and his dad, moved to another state and changed schools, had grandma live with us then move into her own home three years later, lose his status as an only child at age five, and dealt with my cancer diagnosis and treatment.
That’s a lot for anyone, let alone a kid.
With me, in the comfort of our home and under my watchful eye, Ethan seemed well-adjusted and acted like any boy his age. But when he wasn’t with me, his behavior changed, which I’ve learned is quite common for kids who’ve experienced trauma and are dealing with grief issues. He became aggressive and angry at times, overly emotional with uncontrollable crying at other times.
If one of my roles as a mom is to raise a healthy, responsible, well-adjusted human being, I needed to get Ethan professional help. This was more than I could deal with on my own, especially because the behaviors away from me were not what I was seeing at home.
It’s very hard for me to ask for help – probably because that would be admitting that I don’t know all the answers. But I had to put that aside to do what was best for him.
Ethan’s been in therapy for five years now, and during that time, we’ve both learned a lot:
Don’t be afraid to change therapists if you don’t think it’s working out.
Since moving to Milwaukee, Ethan has seen three different therapists. The first was not used to dealing with children as young as Ethan, and his technique was too mature for Ethan. The second took the opposite approach. Her interactions with him were too juvenile, and he didn’t take her seriously. We’re currently working with a therapist recommended by Ethan’s school principal, and so far, she’s been tremendous in dealing with Ethan and helping him find solutions that work.
Be honest with yourself – and the therapist.
It can be hard to take an unbiased look at what’s going on. We like to believe our kids are special snowflakes. And sometimes the problem isn’t obvious. For a long time, I thought therapy should focus on Ethan coming to terms with his dad’s death. But after getting super honest with therapist #3, we decided to approach Ethan’s anger issues first, which could lead into dealing with grief.
Let your child have his or her time with the therapist alone.
Our kids are different people when we’re not around. Allowing your child to talk alone with the therapist gives them time to make a connection and establish a relationship, which will lead to open and honest communication. Ethan’s therapist and I have an agreement that Ethan’s confidence will be maintained unless there’s an issue of harm to himself or others. It’s hard for me to let go and not be part of the conversations, but if it helps Ethan feel more comfortable and make progress, then I’m willing to let go and sit in the lobby for an hour reading a book or playing on Facebook.
Commit to a schedule.
I’m super guilty of “I’ll schedule it later” and then never doing it. I make the next appointment during the current appointment so we always have something planned. I also have his therapist’s number so we can text if that changes, and I make it a point to make sure to reschedule immediately.
Be honest with your child about why he or she is in therapy.
Ethan knows why he attends therapy, and on the way to his sessions, we talk about the things he might want to discuss – test anxiety, my high expectations for him, his feelings toward a classmate who’s calling him names, how he doesn’t have many positive memories of his dad. Ethan and I have talked about why therapy is important and that anything he needs to discuss will not make me mad (even if it’s about how “demanding” I am by expecting him to keep his room clean).
Try different types of therapy.
Therapy isn’t a one-size-fits-all kind of thing and there are a lot of approaches that can be used for kids. It’s taken a lot of trial and error, but we’ve found a combination of one-on-one therapy, practicing mindfulness via online apps at home, and participating in a biweekly grief-oriented group works best for us.
Find a way to decompress after therapy.
For Ethan and I, this means after his sessions we go to dinner together, just the two of us. Sometimes we talk about what he discussed with his therapist, but most of the time we just chat about our days and enjoy each other’s company.
Ethan looks forward to his sessions with therapist #3, and while some of his progress may be attributed to an increase in maturity, therapy has been a tremendous part in Ethan finding his way through some of the stuff he’s been through.
Therapy takes time and commitment, and sometimes it’s not easy hearing your kid or the therapist be completely honest, but that’s what makes motherhood so hard and so rewarding at the same time.
Ethan’s going to be okay, and that’s all that matters.