Jekyll and Hyde Syndrome

Image courtesy of  Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

One minute you’re the best thing since sliced bread, and the next you’re lower than dirt.

One minute you’re child is laughing and playing, and the next he’s screaming profanity and raging.

Insecurity and fear causes our kids to panic (fight/flight/freeze) like flipping a switch. The crazy thing is that they also switch back as quickly.

A recent scenario.

Backstory. Our 13-year-old loves to work out. It’s probably on the verge of addiction for all the wrong reasons, but it regulates her so we’re not fighting this particular battle right now. I love to swim and recently told her it’s the best kind of exercise since it’s not hard on your joints. She begged me to take her swimming everyday which was unreasonable for numerous reasons. We had a chance to swim together this week. I invited her and became the best thing since sliced bread.

Scene 1: The Pool

My hypervigilant 13-year-old and my 8-year-old (with healthy attachment) enter the pool deck to find out they will have to re-take the swim test but there are not enough lifeguards on duty. After I convinced the lifeguard that my girls could indeed swim and had actually come to swim laps, he relents as long as we share a lane and I’m in the pool at all times. Done.

My older daughter starts swimming and turns around after only a half length. I tell her that she can’t do that or we’ll start bumping into each other. She takes off again and stops half way down to hang on to the lane lines. I meet her at the other end and ask her to get out of the pool for safety reasons. It’s apparent to me that the long break in swimming has caused her to regress.

The situation deteriorates, and she’s still fuming when we get home.

Scene 2: The Car

We have a rule that I stay close to her until she flips out of angry-mode. I asked her to stay in the van when we returned home. She acted like she was going to the house. Basically she kept moving to make me move. I calmly followed her and ignored her nasty remarks and attempts to push my buttons. Finally she’s laying in the third row of our van, and I’m sitting on the floor. She’s mouthing off when she suddenly puts her hand on her abdomen and notices she can feel her rib. “What’s this?” she asks, still angry. I answer, she snaps out of it with more anatomy questions, and we have a lovely conversation in the car for the next 40 minutes.

This switch-flipping is so bizarre if you’ve never experienced it. We’ve learned that our ability to stay calm is a game-changer and to grasp at any straws you can to regain regulation. After that switch flips is the time you can get to the bottom of the situation and address re-dos.

Punch line

In this case, it turns out she wasn’t having trouble swimming but wouldn’t swim into the deep end because she was afraid she would get eaten by a shark. Never mind that she had swum in the deep end dozens of times before.

Irrational fears…I guess that’s a post for another time.

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