Sandplay Therapy

Sandplay Therapy

My daughter is doing sandplay therapy.  Our counselor discussed the concepts and I consented to this form of therapy.  The two of them are in a room with a sand box table. They sit opposite each other. Along a wall are a few long shelves crowded with figurines, dollhouse furniture, beads, stones, and animals — all sorts of props. The therapist gives a simple instruction– create something, or set up a situation, or go ahead. 

Near the end of the session time, I am invited in. My daughter points to what she has placed in the sand and tells me a comment or two about what is happening. “The lion is sitting near the tree, getting shade. This stone here is for the lizard to lounge on.” That sort of talk. After she leaves the room, our therapist offers a few interpretive statements. “It’s very early, it’s only our third session. But again today, there are mostly animals, only 1 or two people, well one is a fairy, and there are situations that involve safety.”

Am I up for this?

We have returned to therapy after two years. Last Spring, we started her on psychotropic medications prescribed by the clinic’s child psychiatrist. I’ve attempted to follow through on our therapist’s recommendations at home.  But she continues to stump us.  Even our therapist said to the psychiatrist during the last medication appointment: There is something unusual about her, I can’t pin point it.

So for various reasons, I agreed that using sand therapy to tap into her unconscious struggles would be of benefit. I am very curious about this process. I am mixed about receiving valuable information, and being confronted with my difficulties. I even entertain and prepare myself for possible themes:

Mean, restrictive mother

Appeasing, inconsistent father

Rejecting, older brothers

Harsh homelife with too many rules

I asked Beth, “So….I’m just wondering how this works. Do you plan for eight sessions, or do you go week to week and decide when you have themes?”

Beth explained she follows the child’s work and when there appear to be consistent themes, they’re done with the sand therapy.

Somewhere deep in my mind, I hope that we will get some answers. Some treasure that has been hiding, buried for years. Latent explanations for the lying, sneaking and stealing behaviors still plaguing our weekly lives. I understand she engages in these primitive antics when anxious. Yes, I understand. But what is driving the anxiety? What is it?

ADHD – Impulsivity

ADHD Impulsivity

Week 1

It was time. She was having rough days 9 out of every 10 school days.  Her impulsivity was significant — she was lying, stealing, and sneaking food each weekend. Every once in a while, we had that uneventful day. The last one still fresh in my memory.

“Isn’t it great I had a good day?” she asked me, her wide toothy grin in the rearview mirror. She has the look of wanting validation.  “Yes, it is. It’s a day you can have every day.”

ADHD impulsivity

Her special needs are not immediately visible.

Again, she revisited the topic. “Isn’t it so special! I had a great day! Are you happy, Momma?”  I answered, “Yes, I am. I know you can have lots of good days.”

The self-praises continued that afternoon. By dinner time she had revised once more, “I love having good days! I was so special today, right Momma?”  I made the silent coyote signal with my hand, gesturing for her to be quiet. Then I corrected, “It’s not special and you are not behaving special. Your teacher said it wasn’t a bad day. That’s what she said!”

And there it was, my words cutting through the glee. Yes, it is time. Our former therapist emailed me back with instructions to fill out the intake paperwork so that we can schedule a consultation with her. Within 18 hours, I had completed the hefty packet and hand delivered it to her office. I wrote her: when are you free?

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Stealing and Lying Behaviors

Stealing and Lying Behaviors

Reflection – Tuesday 

Parenting — the good, the bad, and the ugly behaviors.  I am sitting here with a pilsner and listening to The Essential Johnny Cash cd. I think back on what happened earlier today.

I was waiting my turn.  I stood behind a few other parents — we have the difficult ones, the children who have rough days. Other parents wait across the blacktop or are in deep conversations, quickly glancing up and nodding to Mrs. M that they are present for dismissal.  I moved up the line.  Mrs. M informed me of how my child hurt another classmate’s hand. She goes on to briefly describe other parts of the day.  I asked her where on the spectrum in her class of twenty does my child’s behaviors fall; how typical are her behaviors? Mrs. M quickly responded: far from typical. Mrs. M bent down and said gently to her, “I really hope that you have a better day tomorrow.”

stealing and lying behaviors

Despite all the difficulties, we assure her she is well loved.

Why do I feel defeated, why do I personalize my children’s difficulties?  A few times a week I am hearing from her kindergarten teacher an entire day of disruptive and/or aggressive behaviors. The time has come.  When we returned home, I took a deep breath and composed an email:  Can we return to see you again? She is not doing well.  I need help too.  

I have been reluctant to write to Beth, to ask if we can return to therapy. I thought I could figure this out, try another reward system, give it time and let her mature on her own. I fluctuate between acceptance of having a special needs child and wanting to defend her actions, to rationalize her personality traits. My youngest has a different energy than her older brothers. She loves to be silly, she wants people to laugh at her, she’ll do anything to get attention. She does not care for rules — she decides when she wants to follow them.  She is chatty, she is loud. Well actually so are the boys — at times. They know when and where to be comical, when and where to rebel, and how to make friends. Does everything challenging need to be directly related to her adoption from foster care?! Is she going to have special needs for the next 12 grades?

I was perusing the hundreds of informational websites on adoption. I came across an interesting post from creatingafamily.org. There was a list of questions that potential adopting parents should consider. One was: if she were to not get any better than the way she is now, could you handle her behaviors?

I know we have made tremendous progress in our home over the past three years. Yet, this past weekend was a doozy.  She snuck food, she took items from family members,  and she lied. She fed the dog an entire box of frozen appetizers from Trader Joe’s. That is what she answered when I found the empty box. Or did she lie and consume all 15 pastry pups herself? We waited nervously for 12 hours monitoring our dog’s digestion. She took items from her brother’s room. I confronted her, inquiring about the items. With a quizzical face she answered, “I don’t remember doing that…”  I observed to her that the dog was circling her, did she have food with her? She answered, “Not in my hands.” I searched the entire playroom, then found sesame seeds in a lego container. Not my jumbo bagels, I had three left! I had just re-arranged our kitchen by placing all the yummies on higher shelves in the pantry cupboard. I didn’t know how else to protect the contents of the larder.  My husband said to her:  do we really need to put cabinet locks everywhere? even here (pointing to the base cabinet), where the condiments are? would you eat this?  She informed him she would not be interested in the sealed glass jar of thai curry sauce as the glass jar would make a noise when she opened it.

* OMG *

The food obsession, stealing items from others, and lying. I don’t understand how and when she had become wily; she’s become a master of deceit. Will I be able to handle these behaviors lasting a lifetime? Maybe being able to tolerate is a better way to phrase that question. Maybe it’s a question I don’t want to give much thought.  I think about her negative behaviors.  All of them involve an outburst of some kind — emotional or physical, and a lack of judgement.  She has no impulse control.  She doesn’t have that skill, that ability to pause; she just reacts. Is this anxiety? a heightened sense of arousal due to her early trauma? is this a form of ADD/ADHD?

I know sage advice is to not take things personally. For me, it’s difficult to heed that saying when parenting is involved.  I’ve invested time and emotions into raising my kids. I’ve entwined myself with their difficulties.  And yet, something is off, something feels different.  Her hypersensitivity and impulsivity are looming large — lengthy words and heavy conditions. We don’t have a grip on either or both. It’s been three years and she is now 6 ½. I took a deep breath, I tell myself:

We are parents to a special needs child. She is floundering at her school and at home. It’s time to return for professional help.  We need strategies and we may need medication.

Beth, please email me soon.