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The first week or two of senior kindergarten was a breeze for my little guy. He was excited to be back in a classroom and meet new friends. Even though with the concerns of the pandemic lingering in the back of my mind, I felt a sense of relief. Five-year-old kids are such social creatures. They thrive on social environments and social interactions. Junior kindergarten was especially tough for him. Between going to school and then switching to online classes because of rising numbers, to back to school and again online classes, it was a lot of such a tiny human.
Once he got comfortable in his new class, the calls started happening. My little guy has always been a fountain of energy and silliness, but it began to become more intense. The simple struggles of everyday routines became power struggles. He was bouncing off the wall one minute, and then on the floor in a temper tantrum the next. As a parent, it’s heartbreaking knowing that your little one is struggling with emotions and can’t always convey them constructively.
Along with many other little kids, my son thrives on routine. He always went to bed at a reasonable time. We limited screen time during the week and before bed. But as the calls from school began to come in more frequently, his teachers had mentioned there were times he seemed super exhausted. My mother waits for him at the bus stop every day after school and had mentioned that multiple times he was asleep and had to be woken up. When the pandemic was in full force, he was able to take midday naps at home or with a relative who was taking care of him. Full eight-hour days are a lot for such a little guy. He had also started getting up in the middle of the night and more than likely stayed up without us knowing. I had seen him curled up with a slice of pizza in bed a few times so I know he was staying up once he woke up. So, we decided to adjust his bedtime by one hour so that he could get a little more sleep and just adjust accordingly.
It was a Wednesday early afternoon and I recall just getting off the phone with a patient. His teacher would call me almost every day to update me on how he was doing. Not all calls were “bad” calls. Over the past several weeks, we had been working together to come up with strategies to help him cope with emotions and how we could help prevent them or at least prevent further escalation. The phone rang and it read his school’s name. I was nervous. Why we’re they calling so early? I tried not to panic.
“Hi Mrs. E, this is Mrs. G, your son’s teacher calling from school. We have a bit of a situation that we have to inform you about.”
“What happened?!” I tried to ask calmly.
We were outside for playtime and your son got really upset over ball time with his peers and started to scream and yell and proceeded to leave the gated area. We remind all the kids that it is a safety concern to remain inside the fenced area at all times. He proceeded to run and left the fenced area and stepped off school property. Luckily, there were two of us with the kids and my colleague was able to stay with the others while I ran after him. I managed to calm him down and walked him back to school property. In cases where there is only 1 adult supervisor or teacher, we are legally required to stay with the other kids and call the police. I am so sorry to have to inform you about this situation.”
My heart dropped. I had never been so scared in my life. She assured me he was ok but that I needed to have a talk with him. I was angry, sad, frustrated, disappointed all at the same time. There were so many things that could have gone wrong in that situation. I had to prepare myself for the talk at home. As soon as I got into the door of the house, I hugged him and we had a very long talk about safety. I held back tears as he cried and apologized.
The following days at school seemed ok. His teacher would still call every other day and inform me of little emotional outbursts, but nothing as bad as what had happened. That is, until about a week or two later, I got another call. Here we go again.
“Hi Mrs. E I’m so sorry to call you again under these circumstances but we need you to come pick your son up. He got really frustrated over opening a banana, and then got hold of a broom and started swinging it around the classroom, knocking things down and throwing stuff around. I’ve had to evacuate the other kids into another room for safety and the principal had attempted to go in there to de-escalate the situation and he hit her.”
At this point, I was at a loss of words. How could my sweet, funny, loving little boy be capable of all this? What could be causing such a bad emotional outburst from such a little guy? That’s when Dr. Lee mentioned the possibility of affected sleep. I always thought he was getting enough sleep, even with the adjustment, but he noted that just because you have a good amount of sleep, doesn’t equate to good quality of sleep.
I was referred to an adolescent sleep clinic for airway assessment and sleep apnea. The more I thought about it, the more it started to be a real possibility. Sleep apnea runs in my family. But could a five-year-old really have sleep apnea, absolutely. I was given the perspective that if you look at a grown adult who constantly had a lack of quality sleep, how would they feel? As adults, we are able to control it more than a young child. That’s a lot of emotions for such a little human. A lack of quality sleep can lead to irritability, frustration, anger, and a lot of other emotions that a young child has yet to learn to control. It was a step in the right direction.
My family doctor had recommended Melatonin in a small dose to see if that would help him with his sleep. He’s still getting up to use the restroom in the middle of the night, but he has been able to get back to sleep on his own. It has also has improved his behaviour in school dramatically which has led me to believe that his lack of sleep or quality of sleep has impacted his emotions significantly.
As we await the results of the sleep test, it is worth noting that sleep apnea in youth isn’t always the first instinct to a parent.
Children are all different and some may be calm, some may be very active but no one knows your child more than you do and if you feel like something is wrong, don’t be afraid to explore your options. If you suspect your child may have sleep apnea, please give us a call at 905-278-4297 and we can lead you in the right direction!