A Therapeutic Parents’ guide to making pancakes

When your child only goes to school part-time, but still comes out walking an emotional tightrope, it presents big challenges. What do I do with her all afternoon that won’t tip her over the edge into a meltdown?

She is unable to play independently for more than two minutes, she’s never coped well with classes, playdates can be overstimulating and she’s just too tired for swimming or playing in the park. I won’t lie, there has been A LOT of screen time since she started school.

In a bid to inject a bit of education, creativity and play into our afternoons, I’m now insisting we do something together before the TV goes on. The magnificent Babble Dabble Do has been providing lots of inspiration, but Pops has started coming up with some ideas herself. Today she asked if we could make pancakes.

Cooking is a great bonding experience, plus lots of stimulation for my sensory seeker. I stipulated that these would be healthy pancakes, and we discussed what would go on the toppings tray (photo credit: Pops)

It was all going swimmingly, and I was feeling a bit smug about my little lesson in healthy eating. But as the oil heated up, and my attention was distracted from her, it all kicked off.

“Can I do it, can I put the pancake mix in the pan, I want to do it.”
I try explaining that the oil is very hot and it’s a bit tricky. If she could give me just a — 
“Mummmmmeeee!!! I want to do it by myself. I want to do my pancake.”
I didn’t heat the pan up enough and the pancake is sticking. I’m frantically trying to rescue it with the spatula. “You can in a minute — “
“Mummeeee, Mummmeeee, I’m not feeling very well.”
I get this all the time: around 3 times before breakfast, another 2 before she leaves the house for school, maybe 2–3 times on the walk home and maybe 5 or 6 more before bedtime. Every day. It’s her way of saying she’s frightened, overwhelmed or anxious that she’s going to abandoned (either physically or mentally). I try to respond therapeutically, showing empathy and helping to name her feelings. But it’s a stuck record and the empathy well gets run dry. 
The pancake is disintegrating. Deep breath. “I’m sorry but I’ve got my hands full right now. Perhaps if you’re not feeling well you can go and lie on the sofa for a bit. I’ll let you know when the pancakes are ready.” 
It was the first thing I could think of. To my surprise she climbs off her stool and goes to the living room. It lasts all of 30 seconds. “Mummy I’m still not feeling well. And I want my pancake.”

The burnt remains of the first pancake are being scraped into the bin. I’m having a complete over reaction to the situation: my head feels like a pressure cooker and my heart rate is spiking as Mother chimes in with her opinions. “What are you doing??!! What a waste of ingredients! What a mess!” [I remember as a child playfully experimenting in the kitchen with food colouring, sugar and anything else I could lay my hands on. I graduated to teaching myself to bake a few things. It didn’t always go as planned. One day Mother walked in as a disaster was unfolding. The baking wasn’t the only thing destroyed that day.]

I’m on to my second pancake, trying to control my emotional flashback as it too goes wrong. Pops climbs up on the step next to me. “It’s broken!!!”
“Just a bit.”
“I don’t want a broken one.”
“I’ll have it. I’ll make another one for you.”
“I don’t want a broken one.”
“I SAID I’LL HAVE IT.” I immediately hate myself for shouting. I look at the remainder of the pancake mixture. There is only enough for one more.
Pop’s starts flicking the kitchen light switch on and off. “Don’t break my one Mummy. I don’t want a broken one. Mummmeeee!!! Mummmeee!!!” 
I decide that if I manage to pull this off I am going to retrain as an air traffic controller. [Do you think you think you can keep calm under pressure? Well I made a perfect pancake while a four year old on the edge of a meltdown turned the kitchen into a disco, so yeah!]

The oil sizzles, the pancake bubbles and eventually crisps round the edges. I give it a shake and the pancake easily slips from side to side. I breathe out.

Pops decided that as well as yoghurt and grapes, she wanted olives on her pancake. She picked them all off one by one, licked the yoghurt up with her finger. Then she turned to me and said “Mummy I don’t like pancakes.”

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