Friday, October 27, 2006

Yesterday Yet Not Today

One comment we often hear is "She was able to handle this yesterday without acting out so I know she can do it. So why is she so upset today? She must be doing it for attention." The implication behind such comments is that if a child can function without her symptoms on one day, she should be able to do so on all days. Therefore, her symptom today must be somehow contrived, phony or unnecessary. We can become very exasperated with kids who are acting out when we have seen them do much better at other times.

What is going on when a child’s functioning is uneven? When one day the tiniest little setback seems to completely destroy him, yet on another day he can get bad news from his family and react calmly and with understanding? As we consider what may be happening, let’s look at ourselves first.

When I am dieting, some days it seems so easy and so obvious- just make good choices. Why would any one ever do anything else? On other days, however, every minute and every food decision seems like agony. The bread and butter are essential to my survival. I can’t even remember why I ever thought of dieting. Some times I have some ideas why one day is harder- I am tired, or I am in a situation with a lot of food. But sometimes it is inexplicable. I just wake up in an easier place, or a place of struggle. People tell me it is always this way with change, and with improvements we try to make- quitting smoking, doing exercise, changing a behavior towards a person, learning a new athletic skill.

So for the kids, some days are just harder than others.

We can and should learn with them what may contribute to days of greater strength and resiliency. This can include good self care skills, such as getting enough sleep, eating right, and getting exercise. It can include changing the environment- spending time with positive people, finding interesting things to do, being in a safe and nurturing space. It can include setting up supports, be they friends, letters, pictures, sensory distractions, music, art. It can also include predicting times of potential stress (such as phone calls from family) and planning to have support and safe options available if distress occurs.

In the same way, I would do well to employ good self care, not have the most tempting foods in my kitchen, seek out, interesting activities to distract me from food, cultivate supports such as other dieters, and plan for what I’m going to do to manage eating events.

And, we have to understand that for our selves and for our kids, some times all this just doesn’t work and we have inexplicable bad days. And we have to do what we can to limit the damage, and get back on track as soon as possible. And these bad days don’t negate any progress we have made (although it feels like they do). The bad days are real, the difficulty is not "for attention". Change is not linear. We all need relationships, compassion, understanding and connection to just keep going.

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