Lego Therapy

Our dining room table is perpetually covered in Lego. There is also a table in Seth’s room, and they often overflow the table and creep across his floor. There are several storage bins but the Lego can’t seem to stay in them. It is the only present he wants for Christmas, birthday, etc. Any gift card he receives, or money from his grandparents goes toward buying more Lego.

Several months back, he was having a really hard time sleeping at night. We think it is part of PANS/PANDAS because he’d never had a problem before, and it was tied to great anxiety. We had compassion for him. But we wanted him to go to sleep. Both because his tics are so much worse when he is tired, and also because at the end of a long day….Todd and I need to relax. We need to reconnect. We might need to have a gluten free pizza. Or popcorn. We need non-kid time. No offense to any kids of mine who might be reading this, but it’s true. Couples need couple time.

The only thing worse than having a kid you’ve already tucked in come out several times, is sending him to bed fed up with him. Especially when he is afraid and can’t help it.

So we came up with a plan.

“Seth we know this fear isn’t really you, it’s PANDAS playing tricks with you, but we want to trick it back. We want to see how powerful your mind is. So when you think fearful thoughts, we want you to think of a Lego mini-figure. See if you can harness your thoughts by thinking of something you love. And if you do this for a whole week, you will get a real mini-figure.”

He is always welcome to come out if he truly needs to, and we promise we will not be upset with him. We agree to come check on him every 16 minutes, until he is asleep, and usually he’s asleep by the second check.

The boy has not come out once after being tucked in, since August. On Wednesdays, he goes to what is now “the mini-figure drawer” in the kitchen, and takes out what’s due him. Some look at it as a bribe, but I don’t. I think he’s learned he can get through a fear. And yes, he’s milking it. He could totally do it without the mini-figure at this point, but what’s it hurting? Call it what you want but for three bucks a week, it is worth it to us. The kid is an angel and never asks for a thing. I can live with giving him a weekly mini-figure.

We’ve had to move to bigger measures for his fear of fire drills and lock down drills at school. Using the same concept, we are now keeping a ten dollar Lego on hand (it sits in the china cabinet, where he can see it through the glass). He knows if there is a drill at school, when he gets home that day….the coveted Lego in the cabinet will be all his.  Whereas before he was completely terrified, he now has a positive association with the drills. He hears the drill, his body reacts in fear, but a second later, he’s thinking about the Lego. It’s working. I am even able to joke with him on the way to school saying, “I sure hope there is a drill today!” And he grins, knowing the Lego is home awaiting him.

I spoke with the therapist we took him to about all of this, to make sure we weren’t inadvertently screwing him up, and she said no. It is classic conditioning. She thought it was good. One day he will not need a Lego. One day he will connect the dots and know it is not the Lego helping him, but his thoughts about the Lego. But for now, it’s getting him through. One set of fears at a time. 

Between Sleep and Waking

Standing beside his bed, in the dim of his nightlight, I think.

Do I wake him? His sister has a snow day, but his school has not called it off. I watch him sleep. His body peaceful. Calm. Slow breathing. His skin fair. His dark eyebrows contrasting against his blond hair. Bending over I squint to watch his lids, to determine if he is dreaming. I think he is.

What are you dreaming about little man?

If I send him to school he won’t be thinking about the cats all day. He’s allergic. We need to find new homes for them. Two nights now he’s cried, brokenhearted. I run my fingers through his hair and he rouses. Just a bit.

Slowly he rises up from layers of sleep, until the tipping point is reached, more awake than asleep.

At precisely this moment, comes the first vocal tic of the day.


*Seth, age four, with his beloved cat Sam.