Itchy Scratchy

26 Apr

I started writing this blog a few days ago and since then things are back on the up. I was feeling a little frustrated and doing my usual over-scrutinizing of behaviours. I thought I would share the post with you anyway as it is a recurring issue we have, and I would be interested in your views.

The deeply clawed scratches that Pickle used to cut into his skin have started to appear again. Far more subtle than in the past, but still there are there.

This ‘ritual’ that Pickle has makes me feel far sadder than many of his other behaviours.

A silent implicit communication of his confused emotions. One that has no quick-fix remedy. One that requires patience and time ….and a non-analytical parent.

When Pickle was in foster care, all along the top of Krakatoa* (the part just above the ol’ derriere crack) was adorned with blood-imbued marks created by the talons of a small 3-year old boy. He had engraved his skin so profoundly that I genuinely believed, back then, that they would become a permanent part of his physical architecture.

I expressed my concern at the time and was told it was most likely due to mild eczema. I wasn’t convinced.

Anxiety was the main cause.

Over his initial months in our care, I observed him closely. I noted the vigorous intent with which he carved his emotional hieroglyphics. I logged the itchy-scratchy times and any notable triggers. I watched carefully how the cycle went around and around.

I vividly remember placing him on the thinking step after a particularly taxing bout of feral behaviour. Following a prolonged period of tantruming/screaming/stair-bashing/radiator-cover-kicking, we cuddled on the sofa and talked about what had happened.

Bearing in mind these were very early days and he wasn’t used to talking openly about his feelings. Nor, at that age, was he of sufficient emotional maturity to rationalise his behaviour. He still sat close to me; happy to be next to me. I talked, and as he listened he rolled up his sleeves and started to drag his nails across the area in the crack of his elbow. Over and over and over. I watched as the skin went from pink to red, and then redder still, as he grated away at the layers until blood tapped the surface. It was heart-breaking to witness.

I asked why he was doing it. Of course, he had no answer. He had no concept of what was behind this physical harm he was doing to himself.

He spent much of our recent holiday scratching the top of Krakatoa, and indeed other parts of his body, his chest in particular.

Back home. He settled into the comfortable humdrum routine and the itchy-scratchy cycle was broken….

Until I went away last weekend. What ensued was several days of fighting at school and home, insolent behaviour, boisterous outbursts, disrespectful attitude, and kicking and punching of walls. Of course that feeling of disappointment from us, his teacher and in himself has made him feel ‘bad’. Last night in bed, he was vehemently etching designs into Krakatoa again.

It wasn’t the time for discussion, so I left him with my Great Grannie Annie’s remedy of “rub spit on it”.  (Don’t look like that, it works!)

(*a far-too-visually provoking term for my liking. OH’s not mine)


7 Responses to “Itchy Scratchy”

  1. The Crumby Mummy April 26, 2012 at 14:05 #

    That must be awful for you to go through. Glad things have stopped now he is settled at home!

  2. Threebecomefour April 26, 2012 at 14:10 #

    It must be totally heartbreaking to watch your child hurting themselves in this manner. I’ve had lots of teens in my career with self harm issues but never worked with a child so young. It looks like, as you said, that this reaction is linked to change. A couple of things came to mind when I was reading your blog.

    One thing that does spring to mind was something I saw on Supernanny a wee while back. There was a girl on that who was scratching herself or hairpulling and Supernanny gave her something to hold, like a soft blusher brush to run over her skin instead. It gives that tactile feeling but without the harm involved. I’m wonderiing if something similar might be useful for you to try? A pretty feather or something like that that he can run up and down his arms when he’s feeling like that.

    The other thing that pops into my mind is a distraction technique. When he starts to scratch, not to comment on it, but just start to do another activity i.e. go out for a walk or something that takes up energy. That emotional energy might be better off being channelled into something energetic to help burn off some of the hormones that will be flooding his body at the same time. The adrenaline that will come from the pain could be channelled into running around or something like that?

    Just a couple of thoughts. I hope you are able to help him xxx

    • permanentlyinapickle April 26, 2012 at 14:15 #

      It happens pretty infrequently now (compared to the past anyhow), but of course they are more noticeable when they do occur. I do believe they are a direct link to change. Some great ideas there. Will definitely give them a try, particularly the feather. Thanks for your advice. x

  3. Stix April 26, 2012 at 18:55 #

    It’s awful isn’t it ((hugs)). Mini does the same (same place), and there is a permanent scabby bit, along with plenty of scratch marks -quite incredible considering how far down he bites his nails 😦 We’ve also had the Eczema diagnosis (although in truth Mini does have that in other places), but I *know*, like you, that this is different.
    The trouble is we never see him do it. I think sometimes it’s in bed, sometimes it’s a school, but we have never actually witnessed it. Otherwise Gem’s idea of blusher brush or feather, or even distraction would be great for us too.

    It’s great that you recognise what causes Pickle to do this awful thing to himself, and you can therefore minimise the cause of it, or at least be armed with distractions for it when change has to happen. xx

    • permanentlyinapickle April 26, 2012 at 19:30 #

      Pickle does it a lot in bed, too, and even in his sleep, along with shouting out. Having said all this, we have seen a marked reduction in both the scratching and the shouting. It must be harder when you don’t witness it. It’s difficult to talk about an event long after it has happened.

  4. Vanessa Chapman April 27, 2012 at 08:24 #

    That must be terrible to cope with. Another suggestion I saw somewhere for this type of thing is to get them an age-appropriate punch bag (e.g. for that age it might be one of those inflatable ones that bounce back) – I know a lot of people feel that a punchbag is nurturing violent tendencies, but if they have angry feelings that they need to physically unleash then better on something inanimate (and soft!) than on themselves, or on other people. I’m not sure how I feel about it myself, even though I’m suggesting it! But I have seen it as a suggestion in a couple of places. I guess it would be about how it is marketed to them that would determine the attitude they have to it.

    • permanentlyinapickle April 27, 2012 at 09:19 #

      Thanks for the advice, Vanessa. It is certainly worth looking at. Not long after Pickle moved in, we signed up for some martial arts classes, believing it would teach discipline and allow him to channel his energy in a positive way, but he became too scared to join in and then the thought of going starting to cause him upset, too. I’m currently trying to encourage him to do some after-school activities (football/rugby) and that is proving difficult.

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