Qn. “I have a son who scratches himself a lot just before falling asleep, is this a psychological issue? He is fine the rest of the time until it gets to bed time”
One of the many wonders of the world is the comfort of having a mother (nay, a parent) who puts the child to bed. In many instances, bedtime is a matter of routine that ensures that predictable actions are carried out with precision and routine that culminates in the child falling off to sleep in an environment where he feels loved and cared for.
In some homes, the bedtime routine includes prayers, in others reading a bedtime story as well as a combination of both. In most cases, there is a period prior to going to bed where the child is encouraged to “calm down” and engage in activities that lead to a reduction in production of adrenalin. Active and aggressive play for example does not lend itself to ease of falling off to sleep.
Given the foregoing, it is possible that your child has found comfort and routine in helping himself calm down before falling off to sleep by stroking himself in a manner that seems to you to be an act of scratching. To resolve this matter, relook at the bedtime routine and see if the child gets to bed in a calm and sedate state.
That, however, is the easy part of your question. You do not tell us how old the child is, and neither do you tell us how long the child has had this habit. Is it for example a habit that is of recent onset, and if so, what else has been going on in the child’s life.
A child was brought to us a few years ago because at the age of six, she had regressed to the extent where she was afraid of the dark, could not sleep in her room, and insisted on sleeping in her mother’s room. She suffered frequent nightmares and had, for the first time in many years started to wet her bed at night. The teachers had also noticed some changes in her behaviour. At school, she had become moody, cried for no reason and was in frequent fights with other children. She did not concentrate in her class work and her grades were falling rapidly. The teachers asked the parents to go to school to discuss the child but they sent an elder sibling because they were both “too busy” to go to school. When the child passed stool in the desk of another child, the whole school was up in arms, and the parents were forced to act! A six-year-old had brought shame to the entire community and almost by way of punishment, she was sent for “compulsory” counselling. It was clear from the beginning that we were dealing with a dysfunctional family.
In her mid-30s the child’s mother was busy building her career. In pursuit of her PhD in Economics, she met a classmate and fell in love with him. The two spent many hours in study, mostly of each other. Many long weekends were spent in research trips to various parts of the country. Her six-year-old child was left to the care of a team consisting of a maid and a stepson who was in his 20s and at a local university. He and the maid became a couple and spent many hours in joyful companionship.
The child’s father, a man in his 50s had recently retired and spent most of his time in his bedroom reading newspapers. He had spent most of his life working in a local bank and when his first wife died, he had married a young graduate trainee who was now busy pursuing a PhD as well as happiness he could not give her!
The foul smell of faeces in the classroom had brought them together. The child’s father had clear features of a depressive illness. He felt sad, hopeless, useless and had on a number of occasions contemplated suicide.
It was clear that his request for early retirement from the bank was on account of a depressive illness that was not diagnosed. In the depressive state, he was a poor companion to his young wife who fell into the arms of a younger man.
Their daughter was left with neither parent and regressed to bedwetting and other behaviour of younger children. The father was treated for the depression and got better. The mother later married the classmate and now lives with the girl who is doing well in a new school.