M had a great weekend. He played morning and night with his cousins who have a cottage down the road from ours. From all reports, M was being polite and considerate. This morning I observed as he instructed several other cousins to watch out for one of the younger children during a game of group tether ball to ensure that everyone got a chance to hit the ball.
Fast forward a couple of hours. I arrive back from a walk to find that everything’s gone to hell in a hand basket. M has been sent home from the cousins for being rude and aggressive, which precipitated a meltdown of epic proportions.
Looking back, it wasn’t a big surprise that M went off the rails. He hasn’t been sleeping terribly well and this morning he woke up at 6am (even for him that’s early). Due to parental slothfulness (aka sleeping in), he’s been getting his meds later which throws his whole schedule off. So he’s tired and over-stimulated from running around for 2 and 1/2 days.
On my way out for my walk, I dropped by the cousins’ to see if he wanted some lunch. He was alternately weepy and snappy with me. I could tell he was on the edge and suggested he come home. But the kids were all getting ready to go on a scavenger hunt – on of M.s favourite past times – and he didn’t want to miss out. He threw a couple of things into the bushes and used a few bad words. Since he didn’t actually throw anything at me or anyone else, I figured he was still under control. But I did walk back to our cottage and asked his dad to go and check on him in a few minutes, just to be on the safe side.
it only took about 5 minutes before the threads on M’s temper snapped completely. He got upset with one of the younger cousins about something minor When he was asked to go home, he refused. Shouting and more bad words ensued. His father was summoned.
I gather from reports after-the-fact that M was very angry. He threw anything in his room he could put his hands on at his dad, including a couple of fist-sized rocks (note to self: remove rocks). He tore his bed apart and slammed the door of his room so hard that he knocked the trim loose. My mother was so alarmed by M’s behaviour that she sought refuge in a neighbouring cottage. Given that her ex-husband (my father) was infamous for his unpredictable temper, it isn’t a surprise that she was frightened.
I missed all the drama. By the time I got back, M was into self-loathing, which is always the final stage of a meltdown – he hates his life, he wants to hurt himself. We know this is part of his cycle out of the maelstrom,. But as soon as M starts to talk about harming himself, we tell him we will have to take him to the hospital for his safety and ours. This is usually enough to bring M back to reality.
When M is calmed down, he’s always embarrassed and contrite. As a consequence of his behaviour, he was not permitted to go back and play with the cousins unless accompanied by me or his dad – humiliating when you are 11. Of course, he missed out on the scavenger hunt. And I stipulated that he had to apologize to everyone he had yelled at or upset, including his grandmother.
Apologies are never easy. But M did say he was sorry, first to his grandmother and then his uncle, who had also witnessed his meltdown. Without any prompting, he apologized and hugged one of the younger cousins. Several hours later, he was able to return to his cousins’ cottage and apologize to the other adults for his behaviour. They all accepted M’s apology and gave him a big hug. He than played quietly with the cousins while his dad and I enjoyed a drink on the patio with adults.
As awful as this incident was for those that observed it first hand, there are a couple of positives to note. While M was verbally aggressive and rude, he wasn’t physically aggressive with any of the kids. He deliberately threw a ball away from the others, rather than at them. In the lead up to the meltdown, as I was talking to him, I could see him struggling to control himself. He removed himself from the group and was off on his own, but he couldn’t take that extra step and go home.
To an outside observer, it probably sounds like I am rationalizing my child’s horrible behaviour. But those people don’t live with M. He is not by nature and easy-going child. He gets irritated easily. The fact that he only used words, instead of objects, is s big deal. So is being able to walk up to half a dozen people and look them in the eye and tell them he was sorry. I knew this would be hard for him. It was supposed to be.
This time, M didn’t succeed in talking himself out of losing control. But he tried. I am realistic enough to know that there will be a next time, but I hope for M’s sake, that he can move the bar a bit closer to talking himself out of a meltdown.