Nigh terrors

She sleeps like an angel.  Her blond hair covering her face, her big blue eyes gently closed.  She is so tranquil and so very beautiful, far cry from the bundle of energy she is during the day. Watching her sleep warms my heart.

The peace is short lived.  It begins as a whimper. I hear it and a feeling of dread creeps into my heart.  Should I go comfort her?  Will she fall back asleep if I do?  Or will I just wake her more?  I hesitate for a moment, unsure what to do.  Then I realise that she is at the point of no return, she will not fall back asleep on her own.  I’m still unsure, deep down I know but I still pray it isn’t the case.  I go to her bed and she comes to me, but as soon as I wrap my arms around her I realise.

She is not soothed by my presence as she should be, on the contrary,  it excites her more.  She pushes me away, at first yelling, but slowly her voice rises to a scream…a piercing scream.  Her eyes are wide open, a look of horror on her face.  She looks startled and confused.  I don’t know what to do. The more I try to hold her the more afraid she becomes.  The more I try to understand her the more she pushes me away.  She stiffens her body, every muscle tensing up.  I can’t hold her, I can’t comfort her – I am powerless.

I sit there stroking her beautiful blond hair as she screams out “MUMMMYYYYY”, “NOOOOOOO”.  I want nothing more than to comfort her.  What is she so afraid of?  What is she saying “NOO” about?  What does she dream that is frightening her so?  She pushes me away again, I don’t know what to do.  Maybe I’m scaring her?  Maybe she’ll sleep better without me?  I get up….”NOOOOOOOOOOO” she pulls me in near to her again and tightly wraps her arms around my neck, only to push me away again.  I’m desperate to know what she wants, to know how I can help her, but from experience, I know that this is not possible.  All that is left is to try my best to comfort her.  I know it’s not good enough, but that’s all I can do.

Eventually, she wears herself out.  Her screams slowly quieten down till they are nothing more than a quiet moan, and then eventually nothing.  Every now and then she still lets out a sigh until she is fast asleep.  I lay there for a while, exhausted and relieved. Afraid to get up prematurely and squashed in her tiny bed.  Finally, I slowly remove her hands from me and when she does not move I know it is safe.  I quietly raise myself up and walk away, thankfully she is still asleep.  I look back, she is my beautiful angel again.

Many years ago my daughter was one of the 10-15% of children who suffers from night terrors.  This episode was played out in our home on a regular basis. Initially, I didn’t think much of it until as it wasn’t unusual for her to have periods of waking and distress throughout the night. It wasn’t till I mentioned it to my maternal child health nurse at the time that she casually said: “that would be a night terror”.  There is nothing casual about it!  It’s so horrible to see your child so scared and confused like that, especially when there is nothing you can do to make it better.

I had initially learnt about night terrors years earlier as a psychology student at university.  I had naively thought of it as something that happened to other people, to other people’s children – not to my baby.  Contrary to what every parent who faces this feels, night terrors are actually a normal part of the normal range of development of deep sleep patterns and apart from immediate distress they bring they are nothing to be concerned about.

Night terrors occur when children partially wake from a state of deep non-REM sleep.  During these episodes a child’s mind is asleep, but their body is awake.  Often, as was the case with my daughter, their eyes are open and they are talking (or more often the case screaming), leaving parents such as myself very confused.

Perhaps the most difficult part of witnessing these episodes is that there is very little that you can do as a parent.  Since the child is not awake any effort to comfort them should be gentle as waking them is counterproductive, often just confusing the child and aggravating the situation.  The best thing to do is to gently comfort the child, making sure that they are safe and not in danger of hurting themselves until the episode subsides, at which point they are likely to fall back into a deep sleep fairly quickly.

For the most part night terrors are just a phase that some children pass through and often there is nothing you can do about it.  But there are a couple of things that you can try.   Firstly, do your best to ensure that your child is sleeping enough.  Having a good bedtime routine and regular sleep times can help if this is an issue.  If this doesn’t work or if your child already sleeps well you can try ‘scheduled awakening’. Night terrors usually occur round about the same time every night, if you wake your child half an hour or so before it is due to occur, it may reset their sleep cycle, and by doing so hopefully avoid the night terror.

If these attempts do not help do not hesitate to seek further assistance from your doctor.  Especially if the night terrors are violent and you feel that your child may injure themselves, that the night terrors are happening frequently and significantly impacting on the families sleep, or if your child is very sleepy during the day.

It’s been over 10 years now since we last experienced night terrors, but once you’ve gone through it you never forget the feelings of powerlessness and helplessness in the face of their anguish. As with all phases it eventually passes and one day you wake up and breathe a sigh of relief with the realisation that night terrors are no longer a part of your life.   But the experience of being unable to comfort your child is one that rears its head time and time again, after all, life is full of hurt and disappointment.  Sometimes all you can do is gently hold them knowing that you can’t do or say anything that will make things better.  And as with night terrors, sometimes, despite all the will in the world to make things less painful, all you can do is be there for them and wait for them to feel better on their own.

 

 

 

Nature playgroup

One of the things I struggle with is getting outdoors with the kids.  I have always had one who wasn’t quite so great with instructions.  The one who does a runner at the most unpredictable of times.  The one who you have to constantly watch like a hawk.  As a result, I have often left the outdoor stuff for the weekends when my husband and older kids are around to help.  I just don’t feel it’s safe otherwise.

I had my eye on a nature playgroup for a while.  But because I was about to give birth when I heard of it, and then had a newborn to care for, I didn’t take it any further. Eventually, I realised that we had been stuck at home for way too long and I needed to do this.  Not only for the boys to spend some much needed time outdoors and burn off some energy, but also for my sanity.

It was a bit of a spur of the moment decision.  After coming across a reminder of the playgroup on a Facebook post I decided then and there that we would join.  Too often I sit on things, put them off, tell myself I’ll look into it later….and we all know that later never happens.  I had just emerged from the newborn haze (which admittedly took longer than usual), and I was itching to get out, so I immediately contacted a facilitator and organised it.  After a good nights sleep the panic set in.  Am I crazy?  Do I really want to take a 4-month-old to spend a couple of hours outside in the middle of winter?  Maybe I should have thought this through a bit more. But I knew that getting outdoors more was just what my boys needed, just what we all needed,  so I pushed the doubts aside and went ahead with it.

From the first session, I was hooked.  After a scenic drive, we arrived at our meeting spot, the views were breathtaking.  To begin with we went on a nature walk, picking up leaves and other bits and pieces for our craft activity.  Our facilitator pointed out many wonders during our walk, different trees, moss, burrows, and we even got to see a mob of kangaroos.  After the craft activity, the boys found a tree to climb before being lured away by everybody’s favourite activity, mud play! This is where the kids get dirty, jumping in the mud, mixing it, and making all sorts of goodies. We have mud pies, mud biscuits and mud soup, and naturally, I have to sample each of these culinary delights.  My 7-year-old, who is apparently too cool for this session can’t help but enjoy himself, often finding a little nook embedded in a tree where he bakes his goodies, before an imaginary timer informs him that his mud cake is ready.

After spending minimal time outdoors for 4 months I went away from the first session truly exhilarated, and more importantly, the boys both had lots of fun, even though my 7-year-old tried his hardest not to.  The fresh air and sunshine did us all the world of good, and we have enjoyed each session ever since.

So if you’re considering a nature playgroup or looking for an activity to do with your little one/s I highly recommend a nature playgroup, you won’t regret it!

Using Screen Time For Good

My 7-year-old is a reluctant reader.  Truth be told, he is a reluctant almost everything good for him.  This has frustrated me to no end and is essentially the reason why I decided to homeschool him.  With most things, he has good and bad days.  Though with reading he hasn’t budged on.

I have never, in his seven years, seen him pick up a book voluntarily and just read.  When I want him to read I have to be there beside him, and even then he refuses. Finally, he succumbs to a compromise of reading a page each, usually insisting on reading the ones with more picture and less text.

This is contrary to anything I’ve ever experienced.  I have always loved reading and can’t imagine a life without books.  I spent countless hours as a child with my head in a book, imagining make-believe places, sharing in the excitement and fears of the characters, and always wishing it was me going on the adventures.

Likewise, his three older siblings have also loved reading. My second, in particular, was practically born obsessed with books.  As a toddler, she would walk about the house carrying books with her everywhere.  At the age of three, she would pile up a stack of books so high on her bedside table that I would have to remove them each night, worried it would collapse and fall on her head as she slept.  Unfortunately, though, my seven-year-old appears to have taken his lead from his older brother, who at some point discovered that reading wasn’t considered cool by his peers and by the time master seven was old enough to notice, his older brother had long given up on books.

I have tried everything to pique his interest. I have started off books with him, hoping once his interest was sparked that he would continue on his own.  The first half of the plan would work, he would become absorbed, asking for more. Unfortunately, however, his laziness would overpower his interest, having to actually read himself was just not worth the effort. I’ve taken him to libraries and tried buying him books on topics or characters he is interested in, he just begs for me to read it for him.  In desperation I even went on a homeschooling page on Facebook asking for advice, I was actually shot down by some who thought I shouldn’t be forcing my values on him and that I should just let him be.  Ummm thanks, but no thanks.

Then the other day when complaining about the situation to my husband, he turned to me and said: “You need to understand that these days books are competing with other things that we didn’t have growing up, they are more interested in their devices.”

Like most children these days, master 7 loves his screen time.  He becomes obsessed, to the point where I have pretty much banned and confiscated everything he had access to.  It was after this remark by my husband that I realised that this technology obsessed boy was never going to willingly chose to read a book over his devices.  And even if he doesn’t have access to them, it’s that kind of stimulation that he is after – the instant gratification, not the long toil.  I realised that the mistake I was making is that I was setting up books against technology and books could never win.   I decided then and there that I had to find a solution that made screen time work for us, not against us.

What I decided to do is set some pretty strict guidelines where he can earn time on the computer.  Firstly, in order to qualify for computer usage, he needs to complete all his homeschooling requirements for the day.  Then once he qualifies he can earn time on the computer by either using educational games (both online or otherwise) and reading.  So far it is working great.  And the beauty of the system is that by the time he finishes all his work and then goes on to earn credit, he really doesn’t have that much time to use his screen time anyhow!

I can’t say it’s not without its hiccups.  Today he tried to blackmail one hour out of me so that he would hold onto his rubbish instead from throwing it on the road like he wanted to.  He is also earning too much credit too quickly so it seems that I may need to tweak the credit system a little. However, on the whole, it’s working like a charm and for somebody who has always avoided work like the plague and refused to read on his own for his entire life, it’s wonderful to see him so motivated.

As an added bonus I have a new discipline strategy under my sleeve.  If he ignores my requests as he has a habit of doing when I’m unable to follow up (eg, annoying his sister in the car when I’m driving) all I have to do is tell him that if he continues I’m taking an hour off his accrued time and its pretty much instant obedience from there.

Will it last? I can’t say for sure, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. For now, I’m just savouring the simple pleasure of seeing him read in bed before sleep and praying that during this time he finds the magic that can be found in books and he can love reading as much as I did when I was a child – as much as I do now.

Achievement During Our Struggles

During the early days after giving birth to my last baby, I was struggling a little. I don’t have lots of energy at the best of time, but my inability to do anything at this time was particularly difficult. Debilitated by a c-section and time-consuming feeding issues with my baby there was not much that I could do.  I decided to focus on what I could do and used my time to start reading some self-help books.  The plan was to get myself motivated so that when I did regain my time and health I’d make better use of them and hopefully get on top of it all.

The first book I picked up was Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins. One part, in particular, asked the reader to reflect on the past ten years of their lives.  It wasn’t really about the reflection, and it quickly went on to direct readers to plan ahead for the next decade, but nonetheless, it had an immense impact on my perception of what I have achieved. I’ve never been one to feel like a failure, but the truth is I’ve never felt particularly successful either. However, looking back on the past 10 years caused me to view things in a different light.

Without delving too far into my personal achievements the past 10 years have been busy, to say the least.  I completed a post-graduate degree, worked and had three babies.  I raised happy, healthy children while educating other people’s children, before going on to homeschooling one of my own. I breastfed and cleaned, taxied and washed, all the while juggling various roles.  Did I do them perfectly? No.  Could I have done more? Probably.  But I am human, I get tired and need rest.  And like many other mamas, I thrive on some quiet downtime after the kids are all in bed.  I put my feet up, indulge in a guilty treat, and then inevitably regret it amid my blurry-eyed mornings.

During this time I felt I was struggling, some of the time I felt like I was drowning. I always felt I wasn’t doing enough. I was neglecting so many things. My house was a mess more often than I’d like to admit, and I was ridden with guilt over all the things I thought I should have been doing but wasn’t able to, either physically or mentally – usually both. Looking back on these past ten years, and despite my regrets, it made me realise, to my amazement, that I actually did quite well. Despite my feelings of guilt, it helped me to recognise that even though my house didn’t look like a display home, that’s okay. I am not superwoman….really, what more could I expect from myself? Despite my daily struggles and thinking it was never good enough, it made me understand that over the past ten years that I have really achieved a lot.

I’m not writing this to boast, my achievements were not exceptional and pale in comparison to the accomplishments of many others.  I just wanted to share that as individuals, and especially as mothers, we all face daily struggles, feelings of self-doubt and the overwhelming belief that we are not doing enough. It’s really useful to just take a step back and think about what we have achieved over the past 5 or 10 years. And it doesn’t have to be a degree, work history, or something that society values.  Seeing our children grow into the delightful individuals that they are is more than enough. We need to stop focusing on what we are not achieving and start focusing on what we are achieving.