Monday, February 24, 2014

On giving in to your kid's quirks

Max has this habit of stomping his feet when he's hanging out in the family room, watching TV. He also does it when he's at his desk in his room. For years, he's loved kicking up a storm in the bath for years, but the floor stomping started last fall. "Max, stop stomping!" is a common refrain heard around our house.

I know does it because he likes the sensory feel of it. "He stomps to the music!" Sabrina has noted, which is true—when a movie has a theme song, Max's stomping is right on time, which means he might someday be a great candidate for that off-Broadway show STOMP.

All that aside, the stomping is seriously annoying. It reverberates throughout the house. We have a glass ornament on our bedroom window and the vibrations make it tinkle, along with the chandelier. We've tried to put a pillow beneath Max's feet, but he just kicks it aside. Nothing but foot-to-floor contact will do. Ideally, in the living room; he doesn't like to do this anywhere else. 

"Max, one of these days something will fall and break," I've warned him. Max has just shaken his head. I've let it pass; it's one of his quirks, and it comforts him. I mean, this habit's more intrusive than ones of the past, like when he used to make us write "Max eats spaghetti sauce!" on every picture he drew or when he insisted on sleeping next to a set of plastic purple tableware. Still, I thought, what's the big deal.

Broken stuff, that's the big deal. 

A few weekends ago I was sleeping in or, rather, I was lying there wishing I could sleep because Max was stomping away in the dining room. I heard a crash, and ran downstairs. A framed photo had fallen off the wall, and the glass broke. Max was in tears. "Sorry!" he kept saying. "Sorry!"

"Max, when you stomp it makes stuff shake—that's why it fell off the wall," I pointed out. He wailed louder. He promised he wouldn't stomp anymore.

But the next morning: STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP STOMP. STOMP!!!!!!!

"Max, you promised you wouldn't stomp!" I reminded him.

"NO!" he announced.

"It's not OK to say 'No,'" I told him. "You are going to keep breaking things."

He got more cautious. A couple of times, after he'd been going at it in the living room, I watched him get up and adjust the two framed pictures that stand on a Singer sewing machine I inherited from my dad. Max was making sure they weren't going to topple over.

But responsible stomping is still stomping, and I figured he was surely going to break something else. Continuous reminders weren't helping. Punishment didn't seem fair: Stomping fulfills a particular need he has. There's a fine line between accommodating your kid with special needs and catering to him, and this behavior fell on the boundary between the two. I can't and won't ever completely understand what it feels like to have cerebral palsy. While I've tried massaging Max's legs in the morning to see if looser muscles make him skip the stomping it hasn't worked, but still: The impact might help his legs, always a bit stiff, feel better.

I sure wasn't going to secure or move every breakable piece in our living areas. I was not up for seeing a behavior therapists just yet, because Max has enough therapists in his life, thankyouverymuch. So I decided to once again let him deal with the consequences (though I did move expensive vases to a secure location at Ft. Knox).

Sure enough, as Max stomped in the living room Saturday morning, I once again heard a crash and a wail. The photo of Sabrina on the sewing machine had fallen to the floor. The glass was intact, but the wooden frame had come apart.

Max was inconsolable for a long time. "I'm sorry!" he said, again and again. He kissed me. He hugged.

"Max, if you keep stomping you are going to keep breaking things," I said. "Are you going to stop stomping?"

"Yes," he promised, between tears.

I super-glued the frame back together. (So much cheaper then a therapy session!) (Not that I'm ruling that out.) (I could probably use some sessions, too.) So far, no more stomping.

Now, if someone has any ideas on how to get Max to quit repeatedly watching the Taco-dile scene in Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2, I am all ears.


  1. Could you have a few designated stomping places (that spot in the living room, for instance), put a square of memory foam (buy a mattress topper at Target and cut it to size) on the floor, and let him stomp away? Of course, if it's the noise that he likes, that won't satisfy him--but if it's the leg motion, maybe the vibration-absorbing foam will be just as good as the floor. Maybe even better, because the rebound from the squishy foam is sort of fun.

  2. You could allow him to do it in a reserved stomping area. Just like areas set aside for smoking. Or you could let him stomp to his heart's content in the garden.

  3. My brother enjoys slamming our oven, which has caused it to break many a time.

  4. I'm a young adult with neurological stiffness in my legs, mild sensory issues, and an anxiety disorder. And I pace. Not quite as intrusive as stomping, but it can still be loud enough to disrupt a household. I have stopped for short periods before; however, that does not last long, because, as you noted, it meets a need and I have yet to find an equal alternative. To adapt, I have made sure to select an area of the house that I know I can pace in without disturbing others, and to know that I can go there when I need to. Perhaps you could do something similar for Max? That way, he can stomp, but the glass -- and your sanity -- will be safer.

  5. Could he stomp all he likes outside or in the garage, but not inside the house? Mind you, my son would insist that was not an option and that he just needs to do it. At this point we are trying to make peace with the fact that E is going to break our house and hope it's all fixable. Good luck!

  6. Figuring out what sensory need or needs the stomping fulfills, if you can, is probably key to finding a way to redirect it to something there's less worry and guilt over. How much of it is the feel of the impact, how much of it is the movement, how much of it is the sound, etc? Depending on the combination, things like a small exercise trampoline or tension bands to stomp against between chair or desk legs, might or might not do the trick. It would not get the household around the sound issue, but you might be able to provide the sensory fix while solving most of the vibration problem, if you created a small, migratory stomping spot. A piece of gym mat foam with a wood cutting board (the edges and corners are already rounded and smoothed) glued onto it, and perhaps a handle attached so it could be moved more easily....that would provide a solid piece of wood to thunk feet down against, with its own shock-absorbing buffer zone between it and the real floor.

  7. How about getting him a memory foam and a mini-trampoline (the kind with handles to hold on to)? Put the tramp on the foam pad in the basement (or someplace far from where you can hear him) and let him stomp away.

    Nothing will be broken, Max's sensory need will be met, and well, jumping on a tramp is presumably good for developing balance/stronger leg muscles, etc.

  8. I know this is off topic but that picture of Sabrina is so adorable.

  9. My stomper brought down a large patch of ceiling on our downstairs neighbors, who, thankfully, like us all very much.

  10. At least he's not subconsciously fingering through Tambourin during math class!

  11. Max is probably getting multiple things out of his stomping. My guess is that foam or a trampoline aren't going to meet those needs. My guesses at what feels good are: the sound, the hard against his feet, ankles and knees (maybe hips?), the slight give a floor will give that a floor will give where concrete won't. My son like to stomp in the shower. A possible replace could be made out a wood palate. A palate would be raised off the floor and therefore provide the give, the wood would be hard. You could put it in your basement family room or outside. I would make sure the top is filled in (most palates are solid across the top). I say this as if I am capable of making something like this - NOT. Adding a rail 3/4 around would allow him to stand and stomp with something to hold on too. Another option is to put away the breakables for the time being :-(

  12. Thanks for sharing. It is so hard to know what is right in these cases because Max is getting something that he needs. It breaks my heart that he gets so upset when something breaks but it is so hard for him to not stomp. Good luck!

  13. My almost 3 year old loves to stomp. We live in an apartment so I feel bad for our downstairs neighbors. I could possibly make him stop, but I know I would need to replace it with something else. Otherwise, it might lead to a worse behavior, in order to get the needed sensory stimulation. I'm going to try a trampoline. Hopefully, it works. Though I like the pallet idea too;)

  14. Thanks for the suggestions, all. We've considered foam, but like I said, only foot-to-floor contact does the trick for him. Sometimes, we've let him stomp away in the basement, but his choice of spot is the living room. I would like to report, however, that MAX HAS STOPPED STOMPING! Still, I am wondering about a trampoline, I'm going to ask his PT at school.

  15. What annoys me is when you write something and finally come to grips and decide it's not a battle that's worth it and are still told 100 things you've tried. Im glad he stopped. I think (at least with my boys) and their asd mangy things just need to pass. A trampoline would be great! We have been without a sofa for a month now and I moved a springy mattress into our living room as a soft place to sit. Happy accident because my kids get their sensory out whenever they feel.


Thanks for sharing!

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