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When Home Resembles Work

Updated: Feb 7, 2023

When I started my career as a school psychologist I was working with students ranging from elementary to high school, often struggling with big emotions and behaviors. I applied my book knowledge and for many of the children it did seem to make a big difference. I thought I was pretty good at my job and was growing in my confidence. Occasionally I would talk to parents that would say “You don’t know what it’s like to be a parent” or “My kid is SO different at home than school” (either for better or worse.) I also got comments from co-workers about how young and naive I was. These comments tended to bother me at the time. Shortly thereafter, I brought my first daughter into the world. It took awhile to connect the dots, but looking back she was highly sensitive from the first week of her birth, where she ended up in the NICU for a fever of unknown causes and spent 5 days there being treated for a potential viral or bacterial infection. She ended up not having anything that the hospital could find, and it remained a medical mystery. Years later I put together the pieces of that puzzle on my own, with no assistance from modern medicine. That’s a story for another day! Perhaps from this early experience of trauma she sustained and/or from the damage to her gut from the antibiotics, she struggled immensely with stomach issues. And although this seems completely unrelated to her future neurodivergence, it turns out that gut health plays a big role in mental health. She was intensely anxious upon separation and there were years she would visibly shake with anxiety when visitors entered our home.

Here’s what I learned from my first daughter (in the early years) as it relates to psychology:

  1. My prior book knowledge was useless for her, and I tried it all!

  2. I knew her better than anyone else, yet no professionals would listen to my intuition

  3. I was blamed for all of her difficulties. I was too soft on her, too hard on her….

  4. I was exaggerating her struggles.

  5. I started branching out to “natural” treatments to help, first with just her physical health (she was very sick as a child)

  6. We went to natural cleaning products, and had to make sure everything we used to clean was natural. (She would break out from the residue on dishes from the regular dishwasher fluid, and would break out in a rash from using crayons in the tub, laundry detergent, and fabric softener.

  7. Artificial food coloring (especially red dye) made her act like the Tasmanian devil.

  8. I learned about food sensitivities from a chiropractor and functional medicine specialist. I also learned about the difficulties related to gut imbalances/yeast.

  9. I learned the isolation that comes with having a child with struggles, both for her and me. Teachers and extended family could not seem to understand the need for her to avoid certain foods (13.5 years later and some still don’t understand.)

To summarize, on my end, I was ostracized and gaslit for having a child that looked to others as “typical” but was struggling greatly. I stood firm and trusted my maternal instincts and as a result I became my daughter’s fiercest advocate. She was later diagnosed officially with dyslexia and had characteristics of a host of other mental health struggles that we found success addressing through my studies as well as collaborations with other professionals including: integrative medicine, clinical herbalism, occupational therapy, creating structure and routines, a fantastic counselor and now homeschooling. I developed a shared understanding with these mothers of the children I was working with. And I realized the comments were true, having a child tends to give you a different outlook when giving another parent a recommendation. And even then what works for one child, likely won’t work for another. Which brings me to child number two.

My second daughter was a very easy baby, who had no initial difficulty post birth. Our house was pretty natural already. We hadn’t started clean eating yet (but we did by the time she was on solid food!) She was extremely healthy, except every time she had a well check she would get very sick with concerning symptoms. Ultimately she had a very scary reaction to a medication that involved swelling of her brain, and I continued learning about sensitive children. At this time I did not know there was a book literally written for children like mine (The Highly Sensitive Child: Helping Our Children Thrive When the World Overwhelms Them by Elaine Aron.) I had read A LOT of the other parenting books at that point, in my quest to understand my oldest. None addressed the sensitivity to medications though, so I started to gather more books with parents that experienced similar experiences. Parents had to write the books, because medical doctors, by and large, would not. Since that time she has had a lot of the symptoms of female Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) but was otherwise very easy going. Around the age of 5 she struggled to adjust to her younger brother…intensely. So here I went researching again, and found one of my favorite books for siblings! Don’t worry, I’ll have a separate list for ALL of my favorite books that I’ve personally tested over the years. Eventually she needed to see a play therapist for these struggles and turned the ship around fairly quickly. Until…she had a run in with a very small nest of paper wasps with a sting one day, and then 5 the very next day. After this she was terrified to go outside and would scream and cry and climb up my body. This posed a challenge because we had 5 acres of land at that time and spent a ton of time outdoors. Her phobia was SO intense and nothing I was doing could help. In fact she still struggles 6 years later, with any flying insects, just to a lesser degree.

Then came my last child, who was sweet and adorable and seemingly 100% turned on at birth. And also, he was the most hyperactive and impulsive child I had ever seen. The stories I could tell…it’s a wonder I’m here to tell them! He has very classic ADHD, acts as if driven by a motor and tends not to think before acting. Some of this is developmental, such as the pre-planning, but the extreme business and need for sensory input was very clinical. And to say he was exhausting to parent was an understatement. He also managed to be a rather sensitive kid (though you wouldn’t know it unless you were home with him.) He has worked through a range of fears as well, some that have cleared and some that remain. He’s my youngest at 6 years old. I think the most interesting thing I learned about parenting these children is that for the most part they did not have much, if any, external difficulty at school. They managed to save it all for me, in one way or another. My oldest would come home and rage at me, I called it verbal diarrhea. She needed a lot of time to decompress after school it turns out. My second would come home and would just need to zone out to screen time. She would watch it endlessly if allowed. And my 3rd would be so loud and busy! This is because they felt safe to be themselves at home, despite my initial attempts to control these more undesirable, to me, behaviors. I have grown exponentially as a psychologist since beginning my parenting journey. I have learned what to let go and what is important to hold firm to over the years. I often credit them for teaching me everything I know about child psychology despite studying the subject for 7 years in formal schooling.

For many years (including the present) work and home blurred as I was working to help children, either my own or others. The upside to this was it allowed me a lot of time to practice interventions at length at home and see if they worked. I learned a few things in the process:

  1. The mainstream models did not fit my children!

  2. Each of my kids was SO different and what worked for one did not work for the others.

  3. Having multiple children with neurodivergence is hard! (And of course later I found out my own neurodivergence made things a bit extra tricky)

  4. Letting go of the need to “fix” the behavior/emotion, but to instead understand their sensitivities and to support them from a holistic perspective to make them more at ease.

  5. To trust that they know what is best for them, and treat them with respect as their own sovereign beings.

I could write a whole book about interventions I tried with all 3 together, and maybe that’s a future project. Odds are if I recommend anything in my practice it’s been effective for at least one of my three kids or myself, and may be effective for your family as well. For now, I’m accepting the task of having my children be my greatest teachers.



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