My four year old son, Grayson, is going through a rough time. I wish I could pinpoint why, and exactly when it began, but perhaps it is simply the combination of a number of factors.
He's naturally extra sensitive to smells and sometimes to certain clothing. A few months ago, Daddy dressed him in a button down shirt for church and inexplicably buttoned it all the way to the collar. This resulted in a dramatic meltdown and it triggered a distaste for wearing shirts of any kind. Since then, he almost always takes his shirt off when we are at home (and other places when he can get away with it). When he does have to wear a shirt, he often stuffs his hand in the collar to pull the shirt away from his neck.
He also has the nose of a bloodhound and will complain of smelling things when no one else can. Until the last week and a half or so, these things were just little quirks about him. We didn't worry too much about the shirt thing, figuring he'd outgrow it. And the smell thing didn't seem to be a huge problem. He didn't like public bathrooms, for instance, but he'd use one if necessary, so it wasn't impeding his life, or ours, in any way.
Until a week and a half ago.
It was a Sunday and I made the mistake of putting him in a button down shirt. I kept the top two buttons open, so it actually was farther away from his neck than any other shirt he has. But he could not deal with the shirt. It escalated to a huge tantrum and he acted like he was going to throw up (even long after we'd taken the shirt off him). He complained of smelling bad things and basically had an all-out meltdown. I wound up leaving him home with Daddy (who was staying home anyway) because I couldn't get him calmed down and we were late already.
Since then, he has had a number of similar incidents - getting very upset, saying he smells something bad, screaming, crying and gagging hard. It has gotten to the point where he doesn't want to leave the house because he is afraid he will smell something bad and feel sick. He says everything smells like poop. It is really hard to get him to get dressed and go when we have to go somewhere - it takes a lot of coaxing and prodding. It is become a big problem for the whole family.
I took him to the doctor, at the suggestion of his preschool teacher (he had a meltdown last Friday at school), just to rule out any physical causes. We didn't find anything. Ears, throat, nose, blood count, etc. - all normal. He hasn't been sick all winter, with the exception of a brief "almost cold" last week - he had a stuffy nose for about half a day but it never turned into anything serious.
Our doctor, whom I love as much for his mellow approach as the fact that he has 6 kids of his own and often approaches a problem with a, "When so and so (names one of his kids) did that, we....", said it was likely that something else was putting stress on his system and his natural sensitivities were being blown out of proportion. He may have been fighting a mild virus or not getting enough sleep and that was enough to push him over the edge - and now smells and shirts are the culprit for any discomfort he feels.
I think something deeper is happening, although I think my boys' after-bedtime reading sessions may be going on later than I thought. Grayson is largely an enigma to me. His personality is a lot like my husband's, which you would think would make him easy to understand. But he's not. He is this complicated little fella with so much going on inside, yet the exterior is usually one of a happy, easygoing little guy. He's not the best at communicating his feelings (even though his language is very good) and it is really hard to understand what is going on inside that little head of his. My older son, by contrast, will get in your face and literally demand attention when he is upset or not feeling right. Grayson will retreat into himself and make it nearly impossible to tell what is bothering him - or even that anything is bothering him at all.
A few things spring to mind, and I'm wondering if we're at the crux of a number of issues that have been building up inside him for a long time.
My husband started a new job in January with a very different schedule that has him away from home late two or three days a week, but working from home the other days.
He's rounding the bend in his preschool year and heading for kindergarten in the fall. He knows he'll be homeschooled, but he's complained that he wants to go to "real school" like David did. He's also probably hearing things about going to kindergarten at his preschool, and not sure where he fits in to all that.
While he accels in some areas (like reading), his maturity level isn't necessarily catching up. His preschool teacher has mentioned some behaviors that she feels might indicate he's not quite ready to move on to kindergarten. He's aware of that and it might be contributing to feelings of confusion. We will be homeschooling, so truthfully I'm not the least bit worried about it, since we can work on good habits simultaneously with academics. But I'm not sure how he feels about all of it.
His brother gets a lot of attention and one-on-one time with me, every morning, as we do school. I have made some attempts to get him interested in doing something alongside us, but he always refuses. So I've gotten in the habit of just letting him be. But as I think on it, I need to seek out ways to give him more attention and get him involved somehow, because he won't seek it from me, even when he needs it. He tends to retreat from everyone, rather than going after the attention he needs.
This was all feeling really overwhelming and I was so unsure of what to do and how to handle it all. I've watched some good friends navigate some very treacherous waters with their children as they dealt with perplexing behaviors, some leading to actual diagnoses being made. My kids have always been healthy and typical, with no real concerns for their development or behavior. Suddenly, I've been looking at my poor little boy, and wondering to myself, "What on earth is wrong with you?!?"
Today I feel a bit more peaceful, and although I don't really know exactly what I'm doing, I do have one major theme that will guide how I approach this time with my fella - I'm going to love the crap out of him. He's a middle child, he's not an attention seeker (and he has an older brother who IS an attention seeker and a 2 year old sister who takes a lot of my attention), and even though I don't always know the best way to love him so he really knows it, I'm going to try. I read an old thread on a message board and someone said something about "filling up our children's emotional bank." That's exactly what I'm going to do. I'm going to love on him as much as I can, making sure he knows that no matter what, I love him. I'm going to hug him, kiss him when he'll let me (which isn't often), talk to him, ask him questions, read books of his choosing, sit by him and let him warm his feet under my legs. I'm going to stop what I'm doing during school time and do an activity just with him. I'm going to make eye contact and smile at him and tell him how much fun I'm having with him. I'm going to ask him questions and make him laugh and squeeze his hands and feet.
I'm going to love him through this because damnit, I don't know what else to do.