The Dreaded Temper Tantrum

I imagine most parents have had the pleasure of experiencing an all out, unhinged, ear-piercing case of hysteria (aka temper tantrum) from their little Angel. In public, with all eyes on the situation, it it becomes incredibly embarrassing!

I had such such a situation recently. At our local supermarket, my 3 year old went from calm and helpful to deranged, and incommunicable in 3 seconds flat! My usual approach is to ignore said tantrum, thus not fanning the flames so as to let it fizzle out. In this particular case however, he had planted himself in front of my buggy and with food isles surrounding me I was well and truly trapped. I’m proud to say I kept my cool!

Soon enough, a small crowd of well meaning old dears encircled me. They congratulated me on my calm demeanour (skin deep I assure you) and offered anecdotes of their own grandchildren, who were also “nightmares”! Finally as one woman had Santa Clause’s phone number, I thankfully gained enough leverage to leave the store! On an emotional walk home, the real root of the problem began to surface….. Hurt feelings from an unkind comment at play school. My heart broke in that instance, and I suddenly realised that this is going to be a more and more commonplace predicament of parenthood. We can never truly protect our children from a cruel and uncaring ( for the most part) world….

I diverge….. Back to temper tantrums!

Parents and indeed onlookers often view temper tantrums as intentional and manipulative. In the past, the term “brat ” was bandied around fairly frequently. Recent research however, has shown that it is much less voluntary than previously realized. However, that is not to say that there isn’t an element of learned behavior to it!

Children struggling with serious temper problems aren’t consciously calculating throwing tantrums, but they may have learned, through reinforcement from adults, that tantrums will get results!

“There’s no question that children who haven’t outgrown tantrums do have lagging skills in emotional regulation,” says Dr. Lopes, “but then I think that weakness is maintained and exacerbated by conditioned learning.”

Hia explanation highlights the fact that when a child encounters a problem and doesn’t know how else to handle it, they may resorts to tantrums. The child may well learn that, over time, this helps them get their way. “It becomes a vicious cycle,” says Dr. Lopes, “because instead of honing and practicing the adaptive skills that kids normally learn to solve problems collaboratively, these kids are learning maladaptive responses when they get frustrated. And by continuing to practice those skills, they are strengthening these behaviors over time and using them in a greater number of situations.”

WHAT CAN I DO?

Patience, patience and more patience. When a child looses control, it is actually a very frightening experience for them. If a parent or caregiver then looses control and shouts or threatens, it just exacerbates the situation. I certainly wouldn’t give into the child’s demands, thus enforcing the idea that tantrums get positive results. As there is no reasoning with them either I think it is best to calmly wait it out, and follow up with a little chat and lots of snuggles!

As adults, we are not immune to loss of control and angry outbursts. Some are more prone then others and although it is normal enough, it is rarely considered acceptable.

Interestingly, in the case of a child, tantrums are somehow seen as ‘red flag’ behaviour, in spite of the fact their brains aren’t yet wired or programmed  in the same  way that an adult’s is.

“There are two types of tantrum,” says psychologist Anna Hamer.

1. The most common tantrum for toddlers and pre-schoolers, is about power and control (eg. It has started raining and you try to leave the playground much to your child’s despair!)

2. In older children, they usually have a meltdown because they are overcome with emotion – anger, frustration, sadness – and do not yet have the biological or psychological tools to deal with it yet.
When a child becomes emotionally overloaded, they go into what’s known as the limbic brain, also known as the ‘hot’ brain because it’s the part that deals with emotions,” continues Anna. “It’s impossible to think logically when this happens – they’re literally out of their minds, by which we mean the ‘thinking’ prefrontal cortex, or rational brain. This is why it’s absolutely impossible to reason with a child who is in the grip of a tantrum. And if your child is hungry or tired, it exacerbates the situation – think about how you react to potential trigger situations in a low blood sugar moment or after several nights of broken sleep.”

WHEN SHOULD I WORRY?

It is important to note that temper tantrums may also the early signal of mental health problems. Here is a list of the key warning signs:

  1. Aggression toward caregivers, objects, or both. If this happened more than half the time in the last 10 to 20 tantrums, it may signal disruptive disorders. …
  2. Self-injury. …
  3. Frequent tantrums. …
  4. Very long tantrums. …
  5. Inability to calm oneself after a tantrum.

Always talk to your doctor if you have any concerns about your little one. From talking with friends and acquaintances who have struggled with a wide variety of everything from anxiety to a whole spectrum of levels on the autistic scale. The earlier that children are diagnosed, the better their long term prognosis.

Let me reiterate by saying that most temper tantrums are stressful but completely normal! I’m just covering all the bases here!

As always , I would love if people could share their thoughts and experiences below! I’d be delighted to hear from you

Thanks for reading, Sara X

4 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT POSTNATAL DEPRESSION

1. WHAT IS POSTNATAL DEPRESSION?

First, I believe it is important to establish what is normal and what is not! I was absolutely terrified when I initially came home from hospital with my first baby. I was suddenly responsible for keeping a tiny, helpless human alive! Now, on my second child, I am far more accustomed to this idea, but now overwhelmed with trying to re-balance my life. I am blessed with a 3 year old and a 9 month baby, but now I am plagued with the guilt of having to share out my time and love between my two boys!

These kinds of feelings are completely NORMAL. Even feeling anxious, irritable or weepy are common symptoms of the “baby blues”! Between 40-80% of women experience this after giving birth.  It is not surprising considering the massive shift in hormones a woman has to deal with! “Baby blues” should not last more then a couple of weeks.  In my case however, things got progressively worse over time until my ability to cope or function was severely impaired.

The sooner the symptoms of postnatal depression (PND) are recognised and treated, the more likely it is to have a speedy recovery. In my mind,  I visualise depression as a sort of repugnant weed. The longer it is allowed to cultivate, the more expansive and tenacious its roots become. It can feel like an insurmountable and extremely painful challenge to eventually dig it out! My hope is, that via my posts someone might recognise PND in themselves or a loved one early enough to weed it out quickly, to perhaps even save a life.

Here’s a list of the main symptoms of PND:

  • feeling very low or sad and lacking energy
  • extreme guilt and self-loathing
  • an inability to take joy or pleasure from anything in your life (including your new baba which adds extra feelings of guilt!)
  • intense fears that you cannot care properly for your baby/ children
  • feeling that you are not bonding with your baby
  • changes in appetite
  • lowered sex drive
  • trouble sleeping
  • confusion and difficulty concentrating
  • irritability or apathy (“couldn’t be bothered”)
  • thoughts of suicide or self harm
  • feelings of guilt, hopelessness and self-blame
  • unsettling or scary thoughts –even thoughts of harming the infant (please note this is very rarely acted upon)

Be mindful that PND usually progresses slowly over time and may kick in any time in the year after giving birth. It may also begin during pregnancy!

A rare but extremely dangerous form of PND is called postnatal psychosis.

POSTNATAL PHSYCHOSIS: This is a very rare and very extreme form of PND. It usually becomes apparent very quickly in the first couple of weeks, but sometimes later on. The symptoms are very like that of bi-polar disorder and but is considered a medical emergency as the mother often rapidly deteriorates .  These are the most common symptoms:

  • sudden thoughts or beliefs that are unlikely to be true
  • hallucinations (visual and /or audio)
  • a manic “high” mood – talking and thinking too much or too quickly
  • confusion
  • a “low” mood – showing signs of depression sudden being withdrawn or tearful, lacking energy, having a loss of appetite, anxiety
  • trouble sleeping
  • loss of inhibitions
  • severe paranoia

Postnatal psychosis is classed as a medical emergency! If you or someone you know has some of these symptoms (not necessarily all of them) it is important to contact a medical professional immediately!

Unfortunately, there are many desperately sad stories of mothers not being diagnosed in time. I read in the Belfast Telegraph about a woman from Northern Ireland who smothered her baby. She was treated for postnatal depression on her first child and completely recovered. On her second, she deteriorated dramatically. In court, he barrister said,  “She felt she couldn’t go on any longer. The only way was to finish it. It was automatic that (her son) had to die too.” This thought process, that she would kill herself and take her son along with her  is a theme that comes up repeatedly. In the mothers warped state of mind she does not want to leave her baby behind.

2. WHO CAN GET PND?

Anyone…. Even Men!

10%-15% of women are known to suffer from some form of PND, but due to the stigma associated with the disease those figures are probably significantly higher. Those with an increased risk would included women with a history of mental illness, particularly bipolar disorder. Women who have suffered a severe episode of illness after a past delivery were found to be particularly at risk.

PND IN MEN:

Before you roll your eyes, like I did as  vague memories of “man flu” and the likes came to mind, please hear me out!  Obviously it is also completely life altering it is to become a father. Our rolls and difficulties as men and women may differ, but at the core, our feelings are the same. Sleep depravation has actually been shown to alter hormones and neurochemicals in the brains of some men, contributing to depression.  Younger men (especially those struggling financially) and those with a history of depression were found to be high risk with partners of women with PND twice as likely to develop it.

  • 3. ARE ANTIDEPRESSANTS OK DURING PREGNANCY?

PND can start during pregnancy, in which case it is called prenatal depression. In my previous blog I described how during my first pregnancy my doctor drastically reduced my antidepressant meds, resulting finally in a total breakdown!

As soon as I became pregnant with number 2 , I signed to see an antenatal psychiatrist. He was FANTASTIC and took the time to discuss the risks and necessities of meds during pregnancy. His main points were as follows:

  1. You wouldn’t stop taking epilepsy medication while pregnant as it would have detrimental consequences. Depression is also a very serious condition and therefore if there is very little or limited risk of harm to the unborn baby, the medication should not me tampered with.
  2. There is growing evidence to suggest that poorly treated mood disorders can actually have severe consequences to the unborn baby’s emotional and cognitive development!
  3. Although there is evidence that some medications may be detrimental, there are a vast number of them which have never been shown to be harmful.
  4. As with any medical treatment, the benefits must outweigh the risks in order t0 proceed.

A NOTE ON BREASTFEEDING: Again, there may be risks associated with certain medications, but for many there has been no evidence that the meds have ever caused harm.

4. WHAT ARE THE TREATMENT OPTIONS?

Depending on the severity of the case, medication may be extremely useful. Often, this may only have to be used short term until you are better.

Psychotherapy is almost always extremely useful, especially the likes of cognitive behavioural therapy which I found to be instrumental in my recovery. In brief, it helped me to identify harmful thought processes and replace them with a more realistic and optimistic mind-set. I also found grounding meditation to be wonderful!

Exercise, good nutrition and sufficient sleep are unbelievably important, however, as I’m well aware, often almost impossible for a new mom to obtain.

Support is critical! Family, friends, church members, mother and baby groups, online support groups, mommy blog communities…… There are so many people in the same boat. We need to all support each other!

Thanks for reading,

Sara X

 

 

Postnatal Depression is Not A Life Sentence!

I, like most expectant mothers I suppose, imagined my future as a content and perfect mommy. Bathed in sunlight, I would sit in a rocking chair by the window, cradling my little one and basking in the utter elation of motherhood. Then, one day I woke up to my crying baby and panic gripped my heart. I desperately wanted to go back to sleep…. To stay asleep.

As I sit here recalling old feelings and memories, I can barely see the screen for the tears filling my eyes. I am struggling to find the words which can explain the hopeless desperation that is postnatal depression. As painful as it is to talk about however, I think it is so important to put it out there… to connect with other mothers and to maybe attempt to articulate for family members and friends the cruel nature of this disease. There are some wonderful pioneer mothers out there who have been bravely sharing their stories and bringing perinatal depression and anxiety to light.. Despite this unfortunately, the sigma of mental illness is still very much alive and suffocating mothers who would benefit more from kindness, support and help! I am by no means a medical professional or psychologist, but I would like tell my story and share my uncomfortably intimate knowledge of this loathsome illness!

OK, here I go…

I am a multiple suicide survivor. That sentence once made me feel like an immense failure. Thankfully, I now feel tremendously lucky and although I still struggle I can find a way through and have even learned to cherish my short existence.

I’ve suffered with depression and anxiety for as long as I can remember. It has been my constant companion….. always bubbling just below the surface ready to pull me under at the first sign of weakness. Despite several  unwanted side-effects, medication is critical to my functionality. My first pregnancy was easy enough compared to my second (a blog for another day!!!)…My GP advised me to drop to a dangerously low level of medication. I blindly followed his instruction, much to my own detriment. I found out later that my medication has never been found to be dangerous to an unborn baby. My psychiatrist explained to me that in worrisome cases, the most up to date medical recommendation is NOT TO adjust the dose… (other then a tapir in the final week of gestation to prevent any slight ‘dependence’). Obviously you can never be too careful , but my as my doctor pointed out, it is so much more detrimental for baby to be born to a mother who is mentally incapable of functioning. There is also growing evidence to suggest that poorly treated mood disorders can actually have severe consequences to the unborn baby’s emotional and cognitive development!

In retrospect, I think I started to fall apart before the birth. I started pulling away from friends and family to spend increasing amounts of time alone. The big day came… After 28.5 hours in labour, my beautiful baby boy was placed in my arms. I was in a sort of state of shock and could barely wrap my head around the fact that I had created a little human. Hospital was a pleasant blur. There was a certain comfort in the daily routine and reassurance of having the constant support of hospital staff (I really CANNOT express enough how incredibly phenomenal the midwives and all of the hospital staff were!!!). When I got home from hospital reality began to set in. I was scared to go outside in case “the fumes” harmed my baby and became obsessed with the idea that something awful might happen to him. I rarely slept at all in the beginning. I remember nights of ever worsening, racing thoughts. I never mentioned to anyone how I was feeling. I felt tremendously guilty for how I felt! I mean,  I had this beautiful,  baby, a lovely husband, a roof over our heads and food in the fridge. I should have been ecstatic and grateful, but really, I was coming apart at the seams.

At the time, I was nursing my baby “on demand” (meaning any time he was hungry). Incidentally, he was very demanding! It is difficult to describe the all encompassing fear that my baby’s cry sparked in me. I was afraid to put him down and took little if any care of my own health or appearance. I was so adamant to ignore my feelings that I refused to acknowledge mastitis, which unchecked became an unbearably painful cluster of abscesses. Delirious with fever, I was forced back to hospital for 5 days with suspected septicaemia. Needless to say, I felt like a complete failure. I stopped nursing and cried my eyes out the first time I fed my son formula because I felt somehow inadequate as a mother. I was utterly devastated! I think a lot of us moms are put under tremendous pressure to breastfeed and little if anything is taught about formula feeding in antenatal classes because it is just not advocated! I know many mothers who have suffered through so much guilt because nursing has not worked for them for a wide variety of reasons!

Things only went from bad to worse. I would wake up in the morning and this sort of fear would grip me physically and mentally. My heart would be pounding, pumping stress hormones through my body but it was unbearably difficult to do the most menial of tasks. I would just struggle through until I could go back to bed again, which if possible, I  did at 5:30pm as soon as my hubby came home from work. I was totally repulsed by food and lost a drastic amount of weight. One friend told me I looked “ridiculous” in my now loose fitting jeans. I laughed it off, but it just painfully echoed to me how utterly alone I was and how no one who understood how desperately ill I’d become.

I felt so ungrateful and guilty for not being happy. I wished I could be a better wife and mother. With the shame of failure weighing me down, I finally crumbled. I called my husband in work and told him I could no longer cope. He was home within half an hour and thankfully was allowed to take some time off work. I sought the help I so desperately needed. It was a painstaking journey through a sea of side affects to find the right balance of medication. With that and with the guidance and support of a fantastic psychologist I began to recover. I remember waking one morning and not feeling the panic…not wanting to go back to sleep. Slowly but surely I became something of myself again!

If you are reading this and are effected by postnatal depression , please believe me when I tell you that IT WILL GET BETTER! With the right individual treatment and support there is always help and a way out that hell!!!

In my next blog, I will go into what I have learned from the current literature about pre/postnatal depression and anxiety. I’ll talk a little about who is at risk and why. I’ll discuss different treatment options that I am aware of. I’ll share some personal insights into what I and some others have found to be helpful.

Thank you for reading! Sara X