Sensory Processing / Highly Sensitive Children ~ Reiki Healing

Well, I had hoped the insane meltdown from last fall was a one-time fluke beyond Son's normal sensitivities, but I was wrong.

His OCD bedtime routine had been getting progressively worse in the last month since school's been out, and apparently he was just over-tired enough from late summer evenings that it culminated in Insane Meltdown #2 .

I should preface with some details, aka everyday behavior, before I get to the crazy part.  Let me begin by saying that I'm so grateful this little boy is normal, sweet, helpful, smart, loving and perfectly functional 95% of the time.

When I reach the point where I feel like I live in a crazy house, and 3 of the 4 people who live here are crying simultaneously, I often google " 5 year old OCD sensory sensitivities ," and read some of the craziness other mommas live with daily.  

Only then am I able to step back and count my abundant blessings again.

But back to the craziness.

Since the age of maybe 3-4, Son has had some sensory sensitivities.

(Pause.  I just spent 31 minutes cleaning my 1 year old's poop from the tiny holes in the trampoline, the carpet, and her feet.  This is why I have about 40 posts on my blog, and 349 posts in the works.  Sigh.)

Sooooo, anyway, as I was saying, Son has often reacted strongly to crowds, loud music, bright lights, clothing textures, greasy/dirty hands etc., especially when over-tired.  

Not too abnormal for little ones, but interesting nonetheless.  He's a stubborn Capricorn goat through and through, and not easily distracted as many little ones are, so we've learned to navigate pretty well around his sensitivities to try and reduce or avoid meltdowns as much as possible.  At times it has been maddening and aggravating, especially when we feel like we are walking on eggshells in our own home, or helicoptering with solutions at the ready in public.

Sometimes I crank up Pandora on the computer and have an impromptu dance party in the family room, and for a few minutes Son gets amped up and starts doing his hilarious gyrations.  But then in an instant, he has flopped on the floor wailing and screaming and clawing at his face like someone has just poked his eyes out.  The minute I turn the music off, he's fine.

Sometimes he comes to the table for a meal, eager to devour whatever food is in front of him, only to take one whiff of said food and gag and gasp and fall off his chair and run to the couch declaring that the food smells "SCUSTING!"  He will then not be able to eat anything, even all the ice cream in the world, unless the offending foods' scent is nowhere in the vicinity.  It might sound like he's just being dramatic to some, which my husband and I have exasperatingly accused him of, but we know it's deeper than that.

Sometimes he will put on 12 pairs of pants, declaring each one "HORRIBLE," and flopping around like a fish out of water, grasping his penis and yanking it up and over the waistband as though the pants are burning his appendage.  If he's feeling at all "out of it," his penis seems to be what has the most sensitivity to textures...does anyone else's child experience this?  It's so odd at first thought, but then again it is a very sensitive part of the body, so it also makes sense.

Sometimes, make that all the time, he has worn only undies during the freezing winter months, and sweatpants and long sleeve shirts during the hot summer months.  This is because by the time he gets used to the feeling of wearing the appropriate attire for the season, said season has already changed.  This is no longer a strange sight to close friends and family.  However, this is maddening for parents.  Maddening.

These are just a few examples.

So, as I said, his OCD bedtime routine had been getting progressively worse in the last month since school's been out.  Worse to the point that one night I realized he would end up on the show Hoarders if I didn't get help soon.  He has all these little bins and bags and buckets on top of his dresser, the only place out of reach of baby sister, and he keeps all his little treasures in there:  favorite Hot Wheels, dollar store birthday favors, quarters he earns for chores, my old deactivated credit cards, sample cologne vials Daddy gave him, brand new chapsticks (4!) from Christmas stockings, a little tube of lotion he wanted from my purse, an old lock and key from my childhood diary....the list goes on.

If anyone should so much as breathe on these treasures, may the Good Heavens above show you mercy and keep you safe from the wrath that is to follow.  Even little sis knows they're off limits and will nervously look around before standing on tippy toes to strain and reach in hopes of just touching the edge of one of the treasures.  If she hears Brother coming down the hall, she quickly withdraws her hand.  It's amazing what a 1.5 year old understands.

This is all not too strange.  I get this.  Heck, I even did this myself as kid.  I clearly remember my own mother scolding me for not letting my friends play with my "good" Barbies, the ones I would not allow to be altered from the exact state they'd emerged from their box in.  No clothes-changing, no hair-brushing.  I, too, had an entire wall of beautiful, long shelves lined with my treasures, my special things.  I also remember getting a little hysterical when my well-meaning Dad threw handfuls of my things into boxes when we were quickly trying to pack for a move to a new home.  

Son needs his space, his special things, and the time and space to do what he wants with them.  But on the night I envisioned the show Hoarders, things were a little too crazy.

He was completely unable to focus on the task at hand of getting to bed.  He had become hysterical because the cologne vials wouldn't stay standing because he kept bumping the dresser trying to fix his plastic pirate sword which was TOUCHING his new Lego bag, and the Lego bag was not sitting correctly in the bin, and there was nowhere to put his nightlight turtle, which he needed for bedtime, even though it usually went on top of said bin, but it couldn't go there tonight because of the Lego bag sticking up funny, but he NEEDED the turtle to go to bed and OH MY GOD it's all just too much and all he can do is flop on his bed in agony and yell and cry and if I so much as reach for any of the treasures to try and remedy the situation he screams even louder and he can't possibly think about getting into bed because all of this has to be RIGHT before he can think clearly and.......holy shit.

Me?  I'm standing patiently by the dresser, using every ounce of my will to stay calm, since my angry threats clearly fall on deaf ears.  

In my head I am putting my Tourettes-prone husband to shame with all the expletives flying around, but on the outside I just stand there wishing there was a MUTE and PAUSE button I could press, go downstairs and grab a bottle of wine, and then come back up and enjoy my beverage while I watch the raging show.  Or if there was just a STOP button, that'd be even better.  Then I could drink wine in peace.

I really don't remember how we both emerged alive, much less got to bed.

And i'm pretty sure we both took a nap the next day when little sis took hers.

That wasn't even Insane Meltdown #2 - are you ready for it?

I have to admit, he warned me on this one.  And I didn't listen.  So, there ya go.  It was a few days later, on a Saturday morning, and Fireman was on a 72 (3 days at work in a row), so I wanted to break up the days without Daddy and meet my brother, sister-in-law and nephews at the beach.  Son whined and said he really didn't want to go to the beach, that he didn't want to get dirty and sandy.  I told him we'd rinse off at the beach just like we do every other time, and then get all clean in a bath when we got home.  He continued whining...I continued packing for the beach.

The kids had a great day with their cousins splashing in the waves, poking at a dead sand shark, throwing rocks, building sand castles, and just plain getting muddy and sandy.

Then Son was ready to change out of his sandy clothes (long pants and long sleeve shirt) and put on dry versions of the same.  I held a towel around him so he could change on the beach surfer-style, and he got increasingly upset that he couldn't brush enough sand off his legs and that I wasn't holding the towel well enough so people wouldn't see him naked.  Meanwhile sweet, patient and very muddy and sandy Daughter was getting increasingly impatient for some Mama Milk and some dry clothes of her own, which meant Mama was getting increasingly frustrated at Son.

My dear sister-in-law swooped up Daughter, I swooped up Son and our bag of extra clothes, and we trooped up to the beach bathroom for the shower.  The water was very chilly and I rinsed off a now-crying Daughter as best I could, drenching myself in the process.  Sis in Law was meanwhile trying to talk Son into getting some pants on, but he refused to get off the ledge he was standing on, and was intent on picking off specks of sand off his legs while clutching a towel around his body.

We traded kids, and I tried to stick Son's legs in the streaming water, but he screamed bloody murder and flailed and clutched at me like the ground was hot lava.  I put him back on the ledge and tried for 20 agonizing minutes to get him to put some clothes on or let me rinse his legs off or SOMETHING!  It even got to the point of me just trying to wrap him in a towel so I could carry him to the car but he refused to let me touch him or any of his clothes.

You know how when you rinse off at the beach there are still some specks of flat sand or tar that stick to your skin?  He was madly picking at those on his legs, crying, obsessed, unable to think clearly.  He refused to put on any article of clothing, refused to go anywhere or do anything other than pick at his legs.

I was fluctuating between calmly coaxing him and being angrily frustrated.  My head was exploding from not understanding why he couldn't deal with the 10 granules of sand that remained on his legs, and my heart was sinking with the knowledge that something in my little boy's head was not right.  Something was making him obsess about these specks of sand, and that killed me.  I was almost dizzy with the realization that this was not right.  This was not normal.  My little boy finally needed some real help.  I was devastated.

This had never happened in public before, not like this, not over something so minute.  The shower area was walled off but open to the air, so I figured someone would be calling CPS on us soon given the screaming that was going on.   I couldn't take it anymore so I wrapped the towel around him, and gripped him as tight as I could with him fighting against me, and walked out to the car.  He screamed and yelled the whole way, and I wondered if anyone thought I was kidnapping him.

He continued to have a fit in the car for about 10 minutes, but once his sweet cousin, B, came to sit in the car with him, he got dressed and was fine.

HOLY SHIT.    Again.  Holy shit.  What had just happened?

I was scarred for life.  He was munching on crackers and giggling with B.

B ended up going home with us for a sleepover, despite the little voice in my head saying that would only make him more tired and sensitive, but they had been asking for a sleepover for two years.  Plus I figured B would be a great distraction for him and I could deal with any consequences on Monday when Fireman was finally home to help.   Son had a bit of an issue at bedtime that night with his OCD routine, and with sister getting into what they were building, but other than that he was pretty much back to normal.

The following Monday, I left a message with our Kaiser insurance to see how to get the ball rolling for a consultation with an Occupational Therapist.   And I began getting Daughter to bed a bit earlier so that I could do "Special Bedtime" with Son, alone.  I do Special Time with him when Daughter naps, many days a week, and try to do Special Bedtime with him whenever she can go down before him.  He loves this time with me, and it really makes a difference in our connection and his relaxation.

I managed to create a new game out of me trying to get his bed "set up" just the way he likes it at night, and I earned a sticker if I got a thumbs-up from him.  Taking the bed set-up responsibility off his shoulders, and also giving him power over me worked wonders.  I learned this idea from Patty Wipfler, who I discovered after seeking help after Insane Meltdown #1, and try to implement it every way I can.  Kids have little power over their lives, so trying to find little ways to empower them can transform struggles.  Patty's parenting philosophy is one of those things that feels like "home" when you discover it, and has helped us tremendously.

Fireman and I are slowly learning to change our parenting reactions, which is hard to do given they are embedded in us from our own childhoods, and Patty Wipfler's work is what I always come back to.

Son loved being in charge and deciding if I'd earned my prize or not.  And luckily for me, I got a thumbs-up every night, and never had to re-do the bed!  He even got managerial about it and pulled out some business-like gestures and phrases that were adorable and made me laugh, which in turn made him feel so good.  I started getting hugs and kisses out of nowhere, which made my heart soar.  I really hadn't gotten many of those in the last few months, sadly enough.

This new routine was great but took a lot of time.  He was getting to bed too late and I was getting zero Mommy downtime.  I had to weigh the pros of its healing benefits to the con of it just continually making us tired.  At least Son could sleep in and nap during the day if he was tired enough, but I still had to get up with Daughter and didn't have the luxury of naps.  Fireman was away on a wildfire and we didn't know when he might come home.

Then one night Daughter was definitely not ready to go down early, and I was really in need of a little Mommy time, so I told him we had to do bedtime "all together."

His world came crashing down.  He begged, he pleaded, he cried, he wailed, he punched pillows, he called me names.  I stayed calm and told him I knew how much he loved our Special Bedtime, and that I did too, and that maybe we could have it again tomorrow night.

Another Patty tip: repeating their worries so they know we're really listening and understanding.  

He wailed as I tucked him in, wailed as I went into Daughter's room to get her to sleep, and wailed until he fell asleep 20 minutes later.  It makes me sad when he cries himself to sleep, as this has happened many nights before.  I know there's an unresolved fear of being alone behind those cries, or scars from prior abandonment, or something of the sort, but we had yet to get to the root of that particular issue.

A few days later I was emailing with my friend, Nicole, who is a Certified Reiki Master, about her 1-year old's sleep issues, and I was relating Son's sleep issues and this whole Insane Meltdown #2 story.  She offered to do Reiki on both kids that night from afar, and I thanked her and hoped it might make a slight difference.  We talked that night after she'd worked on them, and before the kids went to sleep, and she related that Shelby actually needed quite a bit of work to relieve some stresses and fears she was harboring.  She then related that Son was all clear except for his central chakra, the power and control center, which was quite blocked.  That made a lot of sense to me as our struggles are often about power. That night's bedtime was grumpy-as-ever, though, so I didn't think the Reiki had done much.

It wasn't until the next night, after doing "all together" bedtime, and still tucking a happy Son into bed and RECEIVING HUGS, KISSES, AND SMILES!!!!! that I realized holy shit, the Reiki had worked!

This is the text I sent to Nicole that night:

Holy S Balls.  Tonight was the 1 st night in A MONTH that bedtime did not involve tears, threats and anger.  I am in awe, Nicole.  The OCD was almost non-existent tonight and after reflecting on the whole day I realized he was pleasant with my mom which hasn't been the case lately, even saying Thank You to her with one prompt instead of 10, and almost none of his usual mood swings.  Pretty sure his one freak out today was because he'd just eaten gummy snacks at the neighbors and those nasty food coloring carcinogens seriously affect behavior.  I don't allow any foods with them in the house!  He was so sweet and pleasant today I can't even tell you what a difference.  I almost don't want to get too excited for fear it was a one day fluke, but I know in my heart that's not the case.  So, dear friend, we are your 1st paying customer.  How often should this be done on him?  Whenever we see a chg?  You're hired!!!!  I'm in awe.....

A few days, and a beach camping/family visiting trip later, and the Reiki magic is still going strong in him.  And yes, you read that right:  beach....where there's sand.  Are you dying to know how he did?  I was.  It was so nice to be relieved of any stress over a possible Insane Meltdown #3, since Nick was with us and could easily carry him to the car if need be.

He. Was. Fine.  And he even got wet and sandy and his pants were sticking to him and we tried to rinse off on the walk back to the car but just got sandier and he was fine.

Holy shit.  This parenting ride is cray-cray.

We're sticking with Reiki for now, but still have the insurance in the works to see if I can at least go speak with a therapist myself to get tips on how to help him further when there are flare-ups.  I really don't want to take him to any more appointments than absolutely necessary, or make him feel like something is wrong with him, so I'm continually evaluating the need to take him.

We also work hard to keep his tummy full of healthy foods, which can be quite a job since he has a very high metabolism. Keeping his body well-rested can also be a challenge as he's a super active, very physical little boy, who enjoys nothing more than riding his bike up and down the street on these long summer evenings. 

I've contemplated the GAPS "diet," but am not going to throw his world for that loop right now.  He is already mostly dairy- and gluten- free by choice, and I supplement him with a great daily probiotic, fermented cod liver oil, and a whole food vitamin.  We also eat primarily pastured, grass-fed meats, organic produce and absolutely no artificial colors/preservatives.

{Update March 2014 - it became clear in the fall that we needed more than Reiki, even though that continues to be a great kind of "reset" button for our son.  I made an Occupational Therapy Assessment appointment, despite it just not feeling like the right thing for us...and never did get to it.  Instead we found our own path towards healing that has transformed our entire household.  I'll be posting about it very soon.  Please sign up below for my emails so you don't miss it when I post it!}

{Update Dec 2014 - I've posted about our alternative healing journey and have also discovered Son's tribe:  Highly Sensitive grateful to be connecting with those who get it!}

Can you relate?  Are you horrified?  Or do you deal with much worse and aren't impressed at all?  I'd love to hear any and all thoughts!

Love + light~


*This post has been shared at Natural Living Mamma and on:

The Jenny Evolution


  1. Just a tip for the sand at the beach in case he has issues with it again. Use baby powder. Sprinkle some baby powder on his legs or wherever the sand is and just brush it off.

    1. Thank you for this tip, fantastic! I can't wait to try it!

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  2. My sister found a way around her daughter's eating fickleness by serving her healthy and color enticing bento. She found the idea from New Hope Unlimited's blog website. If you don't know what a bento is just click here. Anyway, my niece seems to like playing with her food, my sister also found it as a way to bond with her daughter; they both spend time making and eating their own bentos.

    1. Nichole thanks so much for leaving a comment...I love your sister's idea. Bento is awesome, and I do try to make food fun. Sometimes it's just about getting what I can in him before his blood sugar completely plummets :)

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