At age 6, Sam had already experienced an overwhelming amount of emotional strain. For the first five years of his life Sam’s mum, Nicky, had a very controlling and dominating partner. Additionally, post-natal depression and ongoing mental health difficulties had also contributed to Nicky being unable to form a secure bond with Sam. Nicky had to work long hours and rarely spent quality time with Sam. By the time Sam turned 6, Nicky’s relationship broke down and she was forced to return to her parents’ home.
Sam was referred to Dandelion Time by his school due to “extreme and aggressive behaviour”. He had begun to struggle so much at school that he was only attending for a couple of hours per day. He was on the brink of exclusion. Sam’s relationship with his mother had reached breaking point and his grandparents were left to take over the parental role. Sam frequently had emotional and violent outbursts aimed at other children and more commonly Nicky. During these episodes Sam would become inconsolable, unable to regulate his feelings and behaviour.
Sam attended Dandelion Time alongside his mum and his Grandfather, Simon. Within a short time, it was noticed that Nicky and Sam’s behaviour was connected with their struggle to securely bond as mother and son. Nicky lacked the confidence and understanding to take care of Sam’s emotional needs. Her difficulty providing a secure base for Sam when he was a baby had detrimentally impacted their relationship. This left Sam in a constant state of emotional uncertainty. Due to this, Sam often found it difficult to read the behaviours of those around him leaving him confused and frustrated. Sam was exhausted and often spiralled into episodes of rage and had frequent melt downs.
Dandelion Time worked gently to rebuild Nicky and Sam’s relationship. They engaged in activities which helped them to relax and explore different ways of being with one another. The opportunity to be together, learning to play in new ways and establishing the ability to attend to each other’s feelings was fundamental in building a stronger attachment between them. This quality time together helped Nicky to develop her skills as a parent, making sure that Sam felt acknowledged, safe and loved. This in turn built upon Nicky’s confidence as a mother, giving her the opportunity to enjoy her son without fear of conflict or rejection.
As the weeks progressed Dandelion Time saw Sam’s confidence and self-esteem increase and he delighted in activities outside with the animals and burning off energy helping in the garden. Nicky and Sam enjoyed long periods of calm, wrapped up together in a blanket on the sofa cuddling guinea pigs to keep them warm. They also enjoyed preparing and cooking meals, a collaborative exercise in which they were able to share feelings of pride and accomplishment in what they had created. These nurturing shared experiences helped Sam and Nicky to develop new ways of communicating their feelings to one another.
By the end of Sam’s sessions at Dandelion Time he was coping much better emotionally, and his violent episodes had reduced both at home and in school. He had even begun to make the transition into full school days as he became more equipped to process his emotions and develop sustainable friendships successfully. Nicky and Sam are still working on their relationship but there have been considerable improvements. Simon has reported that Nicky and Sam have a much stronger bond since coming to Dandelion Time and now have ‘calm time’ every evening cuddled together on the sofa. One year later Nicky shared a Mother’s Day card with us that Sam had given her. It read “thank you Mum for all the memories you made with me at Dandelion Time”. Nicky continues to struggle with some mental health issues but has developed strategies to help herself and Sam particularly to make their loving feelings available, but also to build resilience and self-calming.
This is a composite case that is indicative of our work, names and images have been changed.