12 year old still terrified of the dark and expecting full bedtime routine
Supertree · 08/09/2020 21:32
My son will be thirteen in a few months and I’m just exhausted by how much input he still expects me to have during his daily routines. He has been under camhs before, now discharged, mostly because he has symptoms of adhd, ocd and has various tics and compulsions, but they did therapy based on easing anxiety to hopefully lesson the severity of the other things such as tics. He didn’t seem to find it particularly helpful.
Fast forward to now and I had really hoped he would grow out of some of this stuff as he got older. He is very intense all the time, but I’m particularly struggling with the fact that he doesn’t seem willing to do anything independently at nighttime. He is terrified of the dark. He will sometimes play on his games console in the evening in his bedroom, but will then notice that it has got dark and will come running down the stairs shouting in fear to get back to us. It wakes his brother up and he doesn’t care. Tonight he left his console on and he refused to turn it off because he’s too scared to go upstairs. The landing light is on and all he’d need to do is take one step into the hall to turn the hall light on but he won’t do it because he can see that the kitchen is dark. It’s not realistic for us to keep all the lights on all night in case he needs to move to a different room. Even with the lights on in the kitchen or his bedroom, he won’t stay in the room alone for more than a few minutes. Bedtime is a pain because he has a lamp on next to his bed, as well as a sound machine and a fan, but also has the door to his bedroom wide open with the landing light on. He also expects a full bedtime routine with me reading to him for half an hour, and then he’ll often ask me to just sit there in the dark with him so he can relax because he’s scared again. Nothing seems to scare him (he doesn’t see anything scary and we have to be really careful with what he sees as it upsets him so much). I can’t really win because if I go along with it all, I seem to be encouraging the behaviour, but if I refuse he becomes really upset or even hysterical and it doesn’t seem to do anything to ease his worries about the situation. I had hoped that it might make him realise that it’s perfectly safe and nothing bad will happen but it doesn’t.
He’s also extremely sensitive to things in books. We’re currently having to read books for children quite a few years younger than him because he can’t cope with anything sad. Anytime a character in a book dies, he cries and seems almost disturbed by it. I am worried about the texts they will cover at school and how he will cope with them. He had an excerpt from a gothic novel for some English work during lockdown and it terrified him. It wasn’t actually scary or creepy at all, just atmospheric and a bit gloomy.
What can I do about this? I really don’t see us getting anywhere with camhs again. They pretty much refused to diagnose him and didn’t give all of the therapies we were originally promised. Is anybody else’s child still like this at this age? Has anybody else’s child overcome these fears?
ZarkingBell · 08/09/2020 21:40
Poor chap. That sounds tough. And very hard for you.
Does he already have some dim lights un has room? We had some success with some fairy lights.
Have you and he looked at any on-line resources for teenagers? Can you contact the pastoral lead at school and see if they have tips? They might have someone he can talk to as well. Many secondaries do, whether school nurse or a counsellor.
I think you need to talk to the school about the book fears as well. Most teens seem to adore dystopian fiction so I wouldn't be surprised if he comes across stuff that upsets him.
DelphiniumBlue · 08/09/2020 22:04
Oh dear, this is bringing back memories of one of my DC at about the same age. It peaked with him needing someone awake with him until he fell asleep - if the adult in his room fell asleep before him he would get hysterical! I was awful, I'm feeling quite triggered by it, and it was more than 10 years ago!
It did get better, after not too long. He did have a few sessions with CAMHS but it took so long to get an appointment he was already much better.
I think we just rode it out - we tried to arrange it so that someone slept in the same room as him , tried to get him tired and relaxed before going to bed. I think we used story tapes of very familiar and often repeated tales, nothing remotely scary or worrying in terms of books or films, and plenty of patience. I felt that nothing was to be gained from letting him get so upset or making him be alone when it clearly frightened him. It was infuriating, and tbh I did feel a little manipulated, but it paid off and it was a stage that he went through and came out the other side.
I would pick your battles carefully - it's not really a big deal to leave the lights on, and if it helps then it's worth the extra cost. It won't be forever.
It's worth checking what he's watching/playing on the console, and stop screen time a good few hours before bedtime. It will take you time and effort and a large part of your evening but slow unexciting activities like doing a jigsaw together or painting models might help him to chill out a bit. Quiet routine is quite calming.
Has his school been able to provide any assistance? Some do provide art therapy, or support groups - they should at least be aware of his difficulties.
My son did overcome his issues - as far as I can recall it was sorted by the time he was about 15, and probably sooner. I think peak anxiety only lasted a matter of weeks and then it did start improving.
hiredandsqueak · 08/09/2020 22:06
My daughter has autism and hypersensitivity it wreaked havoc in secondary school because she cannot cope with the secondary school curriculum. She cannot cope with topics where there might be human or animal suffering hinted at, any indication of threat however mild, any description of medical difficulties or procedures the list is endless. She is really intelligent but can't read books above a primary level because she is too worried there might be content she can't cope with. She doesn't watch films in case they scare her, she has only recently started watching TV again after not watching it for years but she only watches quiz shows and Bake Off. It is really restrictive and difficult to live with.
School eventually got too much, coping with a constant fear caused her to have a breakdown. She was out of school for two years and now attends an independent specialist school which is Steiner based.
You can get more information by researching hypersensitivity or highly sensitive personality.
Dd is supported by CAMHS and takes sertraline but really it is the school which is most helpful.
Iminaglasscaseofemotion · 08/09/2020 22:20
My ds now 12 was the same. Would not let me go to sleep before him. Even when we had my mum living with us, and she was sleeping in the same room and staying awake reading, he still wouldn't let me go to sleep.
All of a sudden, a week before he started high school everything changed and now he doesn't care if I'm asleep before him. He doesn't mind the room being dark. He will sleep alone when his brother is in with me and their dad is nightshift. It really was an over night miracle!
I hope things get better for you soon OP. I sympathise, but your situation sounds much tougher than mine.
isittimetogotobed · 08/09/2020 22:41
I'm also feeling a bit triggered by this and my experience ended a few years ago.
For us our child had severe ocd around bedtime routines. Eventually he was started on medication and it changed our lives.
We did have some positive change with hypnosis also, but for is our child was so anxious that medication was the only way
Supertree · 09/09/2020 22:22
Thanks for all of the responses, feel a bit worried that it doesn’t seem to just be normal or go away by itself. I don’t think I’ll get anywhere with camhs. They discharged him and said that it’s likely his symptoms will get worse as he goes through his teenage years and he will need to be rereferred. I can’t see us even getting a referral with this, his behaviours were really scary and worrying last time and it still took the best part of a year to be seen. He was requesting not to go anyway, it seemed to make it worse. He’s very suggestible and it would bring on all of his compulsions and tics again if they discussed them.
To the pp who mentioned no screens before bed - we already do plenty with him on an evening. He does play out with friends a lot too. A screen in his bedroom is a recent addition but this problem has existed for years. We do plenty of board and card games in the evenings. My whole evening used to be based around playing board and card games with him. Unfortunately, another issue is that he can’t entertain himself. He is only able to do that with screens. If he’s not doing something on a screen, he expects to be interacting with somebody. I found his younger years extremely tough because screentime was much more restricted due to age. He pretty much followed me around all day expecting to be entertained. It was hard to cope with. I’ve never known a child not express any interest in toys or ever doing anything alone before. He would be interested in watching me play with a toy in front of him to entertain him, but as soon as I’m not holding the toy, he wouldn’t care. I tried so many things over the years. I used to pretend to go to the toilet so I could just get some space to breathe and have a little cry because it was so suffocating, but he’d just sit outside trying to open the door and pestering me until I came back out. I feel awful when I describe things like that because he’s a lovely child and I adore him, but he was and is completely relentless. I voiced my concerns about his lack of imagination to his reception teacher and she was surprised because he was always heavily involved in imaginative play with other children. And it’s true, he’s a very socially confident and popular boy. People are surprised when they realise he has these issues because he seems extremely confident to outsiders. Just thinking about his younger years makes me feel uncomfortable and depressed because it was so hard.
Went off on a tangent there, but I’m pretty certain it’s not game content which is fuelling these fears. It predates any games. And his games are restricted anyway. He’s always been this way but I thought things would be getting better by now and they’re not.
He is under the senco at school and has a laptop because of issues with his hands, but they only give very limited help because of no diagnosis. He was in a group for children with anxiety at school last year but he didn’t find it helpful. I don’t know what he would find helpful! I’ve mentioned the book issue to the school twice but both times he’s played it down to the teachers. The reality is I finished reading the Harry Potter series to him this year and I had to skip bits or make up my own words because he would be disturbed by it.
I honestly feel like the world’s shittiest mum. I am not a nighttime person and I feel like all my reserves of patience have been used up over the years. I used to manage to deal with it calmly for ages but now I’m snappy and fed up within minutes because I just dread it starting up and having to deal with it again. And I can see that he is genuinely very scared so I need to just stop being so impatient with him.
Hypersensitivity is an interesting idea, and I am so sorry to hear about your daughter’s situation. That sounds so much worse than what we are dealing with, I really feel for you both.
I’ve looked at some online stuff before but it seems to just be based around general anxiety and not very useful in this particular situation.
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