A little boy who lashed out
Andrew*, aged 4
Around the age of two, Andrew began to behave in a violent way. He would hit out at his parents and other children at his nursery. The problem got worse until, aged four, he couldn’t be trusted around babies and toddlers and even attacked his dad’s cousin.
“I couldn’t understand what was going on,” says his mum Jane. Some of her friends hurtfully blamed his behaviour on poor parenting, but Andrew couldn’t have come from a more stable family background. Jane started to worry about the future. “How would I defend myself from his attacks when he grew into a teenager?”
At dinner one evening, a family friend who was an educational therapist asked whether Andrew had been through a traumatic event at any point in his life. “What about an operation?” she asked.
This rang a bell with Jane. “She was spot on – Andrew had actually had an operation shortly before his behaviour changed,” she says. When he was just two, he stuffed a tissue up his nose which had to be removed under anaesthetic. He had been given gas and the experience was very upsetting – the mask had to be held forcibly over his face and his arms were pinned down to stop him pulling it off.
Jane’s therapist friend suggested giving Andrew some EMDR therapy, explaining that it has been found to be very effective for children as well as adults – even children who are too young to be able to describe what happened to them.
Jane was a bit sceptical but decided to give it a shot. During the therapy session, Andrew sat on Jane’s lap while she told the story of what had happened to him in hospital. Meanwhile, the therapist gently tapped Andrew on each shoulder. As Andrew heard the story he became very upset, ran away and hid under the kitchen table.
Later, when he had calmed down, he was asked to make a drawing of himself having the operation, and then scrub it out in black pen from left to right. The therapist also produced a story in simple language affirming all the positive things about Andrew’s life, referring to the operation and describing it as something confusing that happened when he was two. The story describes the behaviour it caused, and how he doesn’t need to do that anymore because he’s safe now.
The change in Andrew’s behaviour after his first EMDR session was instant. He stopped lashing out, and he was much calmer at nursery and school. “He didn’t start fights anymore,” Jane says, “and if there was an argument he would take himself off and calm down. It was a really dramatic improvement.”
Andrew is now 11, and Jane says the change has been permanent. “He’s the sweetest child and won’t lift a finger against anyone.”
* Andrew’s name has been changed