First grade has proven to be much more challenging for Naomi than I had hoped. After a fairy-tale kindergarten year, I was hoping for at least one more year of "happily ever after," but that was not to be. It seems that first-graders are already more aware of physical and social differences, and Naomi is already being set apart. She spends each recess swinging by herself. She eats her lunch at an assigned table and talks to no one. According to her reports she talks to no one the entire day. Last Friday a boy from her class stood behind her in line to get on the bus and repeatedly made loud, rude noises at her. She summoned her courage and asked him softly to "please stop," but he found this all the more encouraging for his game. On Monday after school another girl asked the boy to do it again and see what Naomi would do. Already she is the brunt of jokes for being nothing but sweet, quiet,...and different.
Naomi has also apparently been bottling up her emotions all day at school in order to behave well there. I am glad that she is in control at school, but she comes home more loaded than a two-liter of soda that's spent the day at Six-Flags. The slightest thing will set her off into violent tantrums. It isn't an issue of being spoiled, she's never been rewarded for a tantrum in her life, she truly loses control of herself. It sometimes reminds me of a seizure, and it's downright scary to witness.
Naomi's pediatrician believes she may benefit from a gluten-free, casein-free (wheat-free, dairy-free) diet. Some children with these social and emotional issues do improve when gluten and casein are strictly witheld. We've been toying with the idea of trying it for nearly a year now, but the added cost, work, and social stigma of a special diet have held us back until now.
Last Wednesday I broke Naomi's routine and picked her up from school early for an orthopedic doctor appointment--just a quick twenty-minute stop on the way home so the nurse-practitioner could check the fit of the inserts in her shoes. All was well until I was in the middle of speaking with the nurse and Naomi decided she needed her snack--now. They have a policy against food in the exam room so I asked Naomi to wait until we got outside and she broke down--into kicking, crying, awful behavior. I know the nurse was thinking the same thing I would have been thinking before I had Naomi: "what an awful, spoiled child; that mother must not have a clue about discipline." I am certainly a more humble mother now; not every child responds to consistent, firm, loving discipline, not every child can.
After her hour-long fit of rage through the waiting room, through the parking lot, in the car, and in the house, she finally wore out. For the past six years I have given consequences for this, but it doesn't stop the behavior. Instead of consequences this time, I held her. I rocked her. I asked her if she liked the way it felt when she acted like that. She looked at me--her face speckled with tiny pink dots (blood vessels that had broken from the intensity of her screaming), with purple bags under her wet, empty eyes, "no." I asked her if she wanted to stop acting that way when she was angry, "yes." I asked her if she would let me help her, "yes." We worked together to make a plan for what she could do instead of screaming and fighting when she was angry, and she hasn't had a bit of gluten or casein since that day. We are going to give it a good two or three month trial to see if it helps with her social awareness and ability to control her emotions.
One year later, and minus six teeth
So far our new approach to Naomi's tantrums, help instead of discipline, has disarmed her some and she is more willing to take steps to calm herself down before we reach full-blown proportions. The diet has either had no effect after one week or has actually worsened her behavior. We knew to expect this potential "withdrawl" period of worsened behavior for a week or two, and I am almost encouraged by it, because it shows a probable link between her diet and her behavior. Hopefully when all the gluten and casein are out of her system we will see an improvement, many families do, but some families don't. Either way, I feel we have to try.