You keep telling your child over and over again to please do their exercises or wear their night splints. You know its good for them, and that i1’s important for them later in life. Yet they respond by blatantly refusing, taking off their splints or may even throw a tantrum. Here is a few tips on how to get them to cooperate better, and reduce your own stress.
Growing up I used to hate physical therapy, I stubbornly refused to do any exercises I was told to do at home, and it was completely out of the question to wear any sort of night splints at night. When I was little my mom could force me, and there was little I could do about it, but this was increasingly more difficult as I got a bit older, and my aversion towards physical therapy grew. The reason for my aversion wasn’t so much the boredom of it all (lets be honest, it isn1t exactly super fun) it was actually more that if I did that, and especially if I used something like night splints, I admitted one thing to myself that I liked to deny; that I was different.
I almost never gave this as the official reason when asked why I refused to do any exercises or why I wouldn’t wear the splints, but I knew with myself that was a large reason why. Because of this lack of communication about what was really troubling me, and perhaps an inability to express it clearly to those around me at the time, my frustrations with the CP and my body grew, and that sometimes resulted in me throwing tantrums or getting angry at what I consider now rather trivial matters.
It’s Not Your Fault
I can only imagine what it feels like when you are a parent, and all you want for your child is for them to have the best basis possible for a good life with their Cerebral Palsy. And you are told over and over again by medical professionals how important it is for your child to do the exercises and wear the night splints. I can never quite know the stress you must feel when your child refuses each time, or makes a big fuss about it and throws tantrums and maybe even gets angry with you, after all you are only looking out for their best interests now and in the future.
First I think its important to be clear that even though you may feel like a bad mom or dad because you cant get your child to do the exercises as often as they should, or maybe you feel because you feel like you are pushing it on them and making them do something which they clearly don’t like. You are not. This has nothing to do with being a bad parent, what is at play here is a few psychological mechanisms, which can not always be easy to understand or to spot, because often time your child might not tell you directly what makes them feel such an aversion towards the physical therapy. Also, when they are at a young age, they may also have trouble understanding their own thoughts and feelings on the matter entirely, and what comes out as an expression is frustration and anger, often directed at the ones closest to them.
Don’t feel bad for pushing. I realize it might be painful or heartbreaking to feel like you are forcing your child to do something they clearly don’t want to to. But as a parent its only natural that you push your children in some areas, because they don’t always understand their own best interest, whether that is not wanting to eat vegetables, or just eat candy instead of a proper dinner, or physical therapy exercises. That being said however, it will help you as a parent and them to try to have a communication and some sort of dialogue around the issues of physical therapy, on their level. You should relate it to something they can understand, as they may lack the life perspective of an adult such as yourself.
Below I have outlined a couple of factors that led me to develop quite a strong aversion to physical therapy, and not until years later, do I really understand all the mechanisms that was at play in my head at the time. It was about much more than just me thinking they were boring exercises to do for example.
The Reward is Now, Not in 30 Years
I was told at a regular basis both by my parents, Physio-therapists and doctors etc. that I really needed to do my exercises, both with my Physio and on my own, for the sake of my own health in the future. They also attempted to drive home the message by saying things like “if you don’t put in the work and do this now, you will get worse when you’re older”. And whilst they were correct, it did not resonate with me very well at all, mostly because I had no concept of what I would be like when I´m 50 or 60 years old or even in the end of my 20’s like I am today. It is really difficult for a kid to have such a perspective, when you are young, a year feels like an eternity, and the time where you turn 50 or 60 seems far, far off.
When I was able to see for myself how it would benefit me right then and there though, it was easier to get the motivation to do the exercises. I did a few simple exercises with my Physio with stimulating my feet, through movement exercises, massage and touching etc. That may sound strange or not very useful, but I was amazed at how quickly I noticed that the blood flow to my feet increased because of increased mobility, and that in turn led to better movement and less pain and stiffness in my ankles and feet. I had a tangible goal, and a measurable result, and not some vague concept of how it would impact me 30 years from now. Because we incorporated that into the physical therapy schedule, I still did the other “boring” exercises, because I was motivated by the results I had seen, and it made it a lot easier to keep going.
Being Reminded I Was Different
Another Reason I developed an aversion to physical therapy was for the same reason I hated having my picture taken (to some degree this is still true). Going to the Physio reminded me of something I did my best every day to forget, it reminded me that I was different. This is the same reason I also developed an aversion to using something like night splints, or a wheelchair or any sorts of aids and helpful equipment. I wanted to be like everyone so badly, also to show to myself I could do everything that my friends were doing, the same way they did it. This also caused me to go on way too long treks up the mountains and playing an extra hour of soccer when I really shouldn’t. A part of this still exist in me, and I constantly have to remind myself that it is okay for me to do something or use something to help myself.
Dealing with this aspect of having CP can be one of the most challenging, because it requires you to be at peace and accept your CP fully, and that can be really difficult, and it may very well be a life long struggle for most people. If you want to read more about how you could potentially do that, I recommend you to read my post on Living in Harmony with Your CP.
So to conclude you I want to ask both parents and people with CP: Is your child showing the same aversion to physical therapy, and if so, how do you deal with it? And to others with CP, what was your thoughts and feelings on Physical Therapy growing up, and even now?
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Cover photo courtesy of denisl @ iStockPhoto.com