Mental Health Monday: The Aftermath of Christmas with Sensitive Kids

We have had a fabulous family Christmas. It’s been intense but it’s been fun and full of love and laughter. We’ve had overnight guests, cooked for 10 on Christmas day and then another Christmas dinner for 8 on Boxing day. It’s such a busy week every year because we are the ‘hub family’ and tend to host more than anyone else for the sake of practicality. We love it, but something happens with our little boy when things get crazy.

Our usually well behaved little guy becomes completly horrible. It started on Christmas eve when we accidentally lost track of time and didn’t feed him his lunch before we left the house, we had to stop at the only place I knew I could get a quick bit of dairy free food for him and hope for the best. So he had a muffin from  a coffee shop for lunch. The rest of the day involved full blown tantrums over every single little thing, in the packed town centre (our own fault for being disorganised I suppose!). As a result, we spent far longer out and about than we had planned and of course that just made things worse. When we got home we still had tons to do and he just wanted to cling to us relentlessly. Anyone who knows our little guy will know how fiercely independent he is, and how uncharacteristic clingy behaviour is. He has been going from cuddly to lashing out at us over the tiniest thing. I’ve had to keep reminding myself that he wasn’t doing it on purpose, he was just tired and confused. We stopped the feverish tidying  and organising and played trains on the floor until his eyes started getting heavy and put him to bed, he had conked out before I had even finished reading to him.

We didn’t think much of his low appetite on Christmas eve, but after we specifically made him mashed potatoes and peas to go with christmas dinner the next day and he didn’t even touch two of his favourite foods we knew this was more than just fussiness. The over excitement had drained our little lad and then we sit him at a usually calm table with 9 other people, Christmas crackers and music and expect him to eat dinner as normal but at lunch time? No. It just wasn’t happening. We let him go, knowing there had been a bit of snacking and that we could try again later. He had a late nap, followed by a jam sandwich and more excitement – the poor kid doesn’t know which way is up and which way is down by the time he gets to bed 3 hours after his bedtime.

Boxing day rolls around and we do it all again with my side of the family (on a slightly smaller scale). There are sweets and snacks everywhere, he somehow gets away with eating an entire moo free cocolate Santa in one hit, he’s completely baffled by how much other stuff has cows milk in it so he isn’t allowed to eat it but everyone else is.

When he refused his meal again on Boxing day I felt a pang of guilt that we had put him in this position, he’s acting out because suddenly everything he knows has changed in the blink of an eye and he has no idea how to handle it.

I’m tempted to pack away the decorations early to help us get back to business as usual  as soon as possible, because my poor little guy is exhausted and miserable now, especially since all the presents are done and the people are gone. We’re just left here with wrapping paper all over the place and a super fractious little boy who is needing a lot of contact and reassurance.

So if you need me, I will be on the sofa cuddling my toddler until the new year. See you on the other side.

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A daddy’s view on postpartum mental illness…

Hello everyone! I’ve been a bit quiet on the blog recently as my gorgeous husband is back from Afghanistan for a very short 12 days.

But… making the most of him being back in the UK (currently in partially cloudy Clacton), I’ve roped him into doing an interview in what I hope will be the first of many in the Daddykind Corner segment of our blog!
So we’ll consider this a trial run on a topic for our usual #MentalHealthMonday posts…
 

What do you remember about your two girls being born?

 
Apart from them being 6 years apart? With Kiera I was being asked every two minutes if I was going to cry. I’d just got back from Afghanistan and that was when 3 guys from my regiment had just been killed. Kiera’s nan was annoying me, asking if I was going to cry, and made a comment about me reading the newspaper story about my friends who had died in Afghanistan. She was very overbearing.
With Olivia, I remember playing Cotton Eye Joe at 6am while Sarah was in labour, cancelling the cinema trip to see Alice in Wonderland with Kiera. We had an Irish midwife saying it didn’t hurt Sarah that much as she wasn’t that far along, so I started thinking how is she going to cope when it starts to really hurt? Then we moved upstairs to a room where Sarah wouldn’t allow anyone to turn on the air con, so I was really sweating out. I had bad B O thanks to that, so didn’t get skin to skin with Olivia.
How did you feel once the babies were out into the big wide world?
 
When Kiera was born I laughed nervously – it was real then. It was quite daunting because I was a dad for the first time. I had Kiera on my lap, slumped over, and I didn’t know if I could move her or if I would break her neck – she looked so delicate. She looked around and I gave her a bottle while her mum had her c-section stitched up.
I didn’t feel daunted by Olivia being born. I knew I was a good dad.
 
Was there any difference to you between baby number 1 and baby number 2?
 
Because of having Kiera when I was younger, I felt more confident having Olivia when I was older. I thought that, if Olivia was like Kiera, this was going to be easy. I was worried before having Olivia that I wouldn’t be able to love a second child as much as I loved Kiera.
 
What did you know about postnatal depression?
 
Not a lot. In hindsight, I think Kiera’s mum had it after she gave birth but she didn’t get it treated, unless she did after I went back to Afghanistan. I thought maybe she did when I spoke to my friend about his wife having PND. The stuff he was saying was very similar to what she was doing at the time.
I had more of an understanding when it came to Sarah but I wouldn’t say I knew what was going on.
How did antenatal classes prepare you for what was coming?
 
They didn’t, really. How can they?
What postnatal mental illnesses have you heard of?
 
Only PND.
Did you know how to support your partner through PND or other mental illnesses?
 
No, but I’m a positive person. I tried to infect Sarah with bits of my positivity (unsuccessfully). I still didn’t understand what she was going through but I don’t think I ever will unless I suffer with a mental illness myself.
What do you think could help men and boys to understand mental illnesses and to create more awareness?
 
I think mental health is getting a lot of publicity and awareness now anyway. The mentality of telling someone to “man up” is rife in society. I don’t think we can change that now – it’s a generational thing. If we started with getting depression talked about at a young age it will hopefully, as children grow up, start to remove that stigma.
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Mental Health Monday: Why I let my daughter see me cry…

Olivia has just turned 2, and she’s already so receptive to other people’s emotions. She has been from a very young age. If she sees or hears a baby crying, she goes over to them and tries to comfort them in her own adorable way. She understands that certain things make mummy sad or happy, and she tells me when she is sad or when she is happy.

I honestly don’t believe we would be at this stage if she hadn’t ever seen me cry (on numerous occasions).

I want her to know that it’s okay to cry, and that she should never feel ashamed of crying. Crying doesn’t make you weak, it makes you strong. You’re releasing a lot of emotion in the only way you can, and if you didn’t release it, you’d be worse off. You would bottle it up and the upset would turn into anger. I’m okay with Olivia seeing me upset.

There are many, many times when I’m upset because of Olivia. Maybe it’s sleep deprivation or just a general feeling that I can’t cope anymore on my own with her because I’ve had a whole day of her shouting “No!” at me and throwing herself around in a tantrum on the floor. It’s those times that I think it’s most important that she sees me crying – when it gets to that point.

I don’t want my daughter to grow up thinking that there are no consequences for her actions. There are certain things she will do that will upset the people around her, and every time she sees me crying, it immediately stops her from doing whatever it was that drove me to tears in the first place, and she comes and gives me a “cug” and we both feel better afterwards.

I want Olivia to grow up to be kind and nurturing, and learning to comfort others is a huge part of that! If I had a son, I would do exactly the same with him. It’s even more crucial to help boys learn that crying is okay and that they don’t have to bottle up their tears.

In the UK, mens’ suicide rates are 3 times higher than women’s, and a huge part of this is the notion that boys and men can’t show emotion. Suicide remains the biggest killer in men aged 20-49, and yet an astonishing 34% of men said that they would feel ashamed or embarrassed to take time off work for their mental health, compared to 13% feeling embarrassed for time off for a physical injury (https://www.menshealthforum.org.uk/key-data-mental-health).

Mental illness is seen as a weakness, more so amongst men than women. I would never, ever want my children to grow up seeing these indiscriminate and often debilitating illnesses as things that make them weak. Facing their illness head on, confronting their fears, and learning how to properly cope with emotions is the best strength that our children can learn from us parents who have unfortunately been there and well and truly got the damn t-shirt!

My daughter will learn to show and cope with her emotions and to be supported, and my sons (if I ever had any) would learn the same.

Emotions.

We all have them. Why should we hide?

Monday Stumble Linky

Mental Health Monday: The "Worry-O-Meter"

This is something that I recently came across as a tool to help children address things that worry them – it’s a tool used by social workers a lot when children unfortunately end up involved in the court system for a number of reasons, and it works like this…

There’s a bright, colourful, sliding scale on which children can place their worries.

Right at the bottom, you have the TINY WORRIES, then next up you have the LITTLE WORRIES, MEDIUM SIZED WORRIES, BIG WORRIES, and, at the top are the GIANT SCARY WORRIES.

Image result for worryometer
This is the “Worry-O-Meter” as used by Cafcass

Using this system, children can write down what is worrying them, and they can put them into boxes according to what is worrying them the most.

As soon as I saw this, I instantly thought that this was a brilliant idea for all children. As parents, our children’s wellbeing is at the forefront of our minds, and those of us who have experienced mental illness want our children to grow up knowing that it’s okay to seek help and to talk about how they feel. This tool can really help us to do that, and it can be used in any environment.

At the moment, it’s pretty much only used for children with social services involvement for any number of reasons, but this could be used at school in liaison with the family if either of them raise concerns about a child’s wellbeing, and you could even use it at home yourself if you think your child is worrying about something and not opening up to you.

It’s a very child friendly way of opening up a dialogue with your child, and we all know how difficult that can be sometimes! How many times have you asked your children how their day was to be met with either silence or shrugged shoulders? While that may well be a very normal part of being a child/pre-teen/teen, sometimes it might not be normal. There might be something lingering below the surface that just needs a gentle pull so that your little one feels like they can talk to you about it!

I hope that sharing this is going to help someone, somewhere – it’s definitely a technique I’ll be employing later on when my daughter grows up a bit more!

Let me know if you have any other ways of getting your children to open up to you!