Yesterday was no fun.
Things started well. I actually got to sleep in a bit as I was burning a vacation day during the slowest part of my work year. But I awoke to find Ryan curled up on the couch, covered in blankets, watching a replayed game on NHL Network.
He was complaining about his ear hurting. A few months ago, Ryan developed a habit of “clogging” his ears by inhaling with his nose covered, then causing them to pop by blowing out while pinching his nose. He said he liked the feeling of making his ears pop.
We tried to convince him that this was a bad idea, that he would hurt his eardrums and end up in the hospital. Mostly we wanted him to stop because it was such an odd behavior, one that would make him stand out for the wrong reasons. He happily ignored the warnings until one night he really did end up in a lot of pain. He spent that miserable night crying over his ears and was able to drop the habit for about a month.
But it has come back over the summer. We have tried strategies beyond the burst-eardrum scare tactics. One that worked for other challenging behaviors was for Ryan tally how often he does the behavior, then set a steadily reducing daily goal. But this approach is easier to execute during the highly structured school year and we have had trouble sticking with the routine in summer. We debated bringing in a behavioral therapist — something that has helped in the past with similar challenges.
Yesterday convinced us we need to do something more.
Ryan spent the entire day moping, complaining, crying, exasperated. It was tough to tell how much he was in real pain and how much he was worried about being in pain. Veronica and I discussed options when he finally went to bed. When we woke up two hours later, in tears and complaining again about the pain in his ear, it felt like it was going to be a loooong night.
Veronica got him back in bed the first time. The second time it was my turn. Rather than talk to him about his ears, I tried a different approach: distraction. I asked Ryan to think about something that makes him happy. He told me he couldn’t think of anything, so I made some suggestions.
“What about playing ice hockey?” I asked. He nodded yes.
“What about playing street hockey?
“What about going to hockey games?”
“What about singing the ‘Hey, you suck!’ song at Devils games?”
We were on a roll now.
“What about chanting ‘Luuuuuund-qvist’ at thegoalie?”
He was laughing now. I thought back to one of the hockey games we had watched during the day. Once he had seen all the repeat games on NHL Network, I convinced him to watch an old Washington game from a DVD set. I was struggling to keep his interest in the Caps-Philadelphia Flyers Game 7 from 1988, when it happened. The Caps scored a goal and the camera panned the crowd, pausing for a moment on a fan holding a “Flyers Suck” sign.
Ryan LOVED it. He made me rewind several times.
Back in his room, I asked him if seeing the sign made him happy. He laughed again. I kissed him goodnight and left his room. Much to our surprise, there were no more visits required before morning.
Today, Veronica emailed the behavioral therapist. We need to get this summer back on track.