My sweet son comes off the bus. I watch him walk down the steps smiling proudly at me and all I can think is, God he’s perfect.
How was I chosen to have this perfect child, this ideal example of behavior and kindness, this… just then the teacher that rides the bus with the preschoolers pokes her head out of the door. She has that half smile half grimace that tells me something is on her mind, something I might not want to hear.
“He had a bit of a meltdown today.” A bit of a meltdown?!?! What does that mean? I ask. The “bit of a meltdown” actually means a fifteen-minute stand off with his teachers about not wanting to put his boots on to go outside. The “bit of a meltdown” lasted so long that he never even got outside for end of the day recess.
I suddenly feel absolutely horrible. My child caused “problems” in school.
My child has become a problem child. I remember growing up and there was a chair always positioned out in the hallway for “problem” children. The ones that screamed at the teacher, the ones that couldn’t control their bodies, the “hooligans” as my mother called them. Now here is my beautiful son sitting in the hallway chair, being “the problem child.”
It leaves me thinking the only thing I could, I’m a terrible mom.
How can I fix this so it won’t happen again? What have I not told him? Do we need more prep time before school to talk about bodies being calm? Is he not getting enough sleep at night? Is he afraid of his boots? Is he having nightmares about giant boots eating his feet? Maybe they don’t fit right? Does he need new boots? Do I need to take him outside at 11 o’clock more so that he’s used to going outside right at 11 o’clock? The list goes on and on.
I put him down for his quiet time and instantly email his teacher apologizing for the outburst, trying to come up with a plan so that it won’t happen again. I make posters and charts. My son is on the autism spectrum and seeing things written out helps.
I hope that it helps enough to fix the problem.
The next school day comes, we prep, I use the posters, he eats a good breakfast and he’s off. I hold my breath. But inside I feel like we must have fixed it. I know that today he will make a 180, behave, listen, not scream, use words. I know it…I know it. I’m…totally wrong.
I have told his teacher to let me know via email the next time it happens. That day, he gets off the bus, comes inside and I ask him about his day. I asked if he listened, if he used his words. He looks me right in the face and says,
“No. I screamed.” The problem child has returned. An email from his teacher relays the same information. My sign didn’t work, my wishing and hoping didn’t work, my embarrassment didn’t work. He was still having issues using his words.
I email again. I say that I wish I could find a way to help him use his words better, to stop the screaming outbursts. I get the best response back.
“What he does at school is the school’s issue. We are fully capable of helping him deal with big emotions, dealing with stress… and the fallout. Please don’t worry about these moments.”
It was just what I needed to hear. It was almost as if that statement from his school was the key to unlocking the truth of the situation.
When you’re a parent, you feel that since you know your child the best, then you are the only one capable of dealing with him or her when he or she is having a moment of struggle. Sometimes I think you tend to feel that even more with a special needs child.
I began to understand that he has meltdowns at home, in the car, in the supermarket. Why would it be any different for him at school? He’s three and he, like every other student in that school, is learning how the world works. Using words is a hard thing. How many news stories would not have happened if the adults in question knew how to use words instead of fists or weapons to get their ideas across? I’m asking a three-year-old to have mastery over something many adults, including his mother, haven’t mastered.
I started thinking about the hallway chair sitters I saw growing up. They no longer were “hooligans” in my eyes since my son had joined their ranks. They were kids. Young kids learning in a place meant for learning a lot more than how to spell. School is a microcosm for the outside world, a place with all kinds of personalities, sensory input, and struggles.
The other day I was laughing with my husband about a career day gone wrong at my elementary school when I was in first grade. We were all supposed to come in dressed as a profession we would want to be when we grew up. I was a ringmaster. My costume was whatever outfit I had on with the addition of a yard stick with a piece of yarn tied to it. This was supposed to be my whip. I don’t think I even need to state that this accessory was a concept I came up with fully on my own. I went to school and for some reason, or maybe it was because I was seven, I thought it was absolutely hilarious to run around the classroom whipping other children with the yarn on the yard stick. I was warned several times to stop, but I continued. I have always had a problem with taking jokes past the point of them being funny, ask anyone at a rehearsal for Potato Sack Pants Theater. The “whip” was finally confiscated and upon its return at the end of the day, Mrs. Parker gave me an extremely stern look, saying,
“Meredith, you were about this close from going to the principals office today.” I was shocked. I had become a hallway seat sitter.
I was held back that year due to immaturity and bad impulse control. No real shocker. But I learned. I never hit anyone again with a piece of yarn tied to a yard stick.
Parents of chair sitters, if you find out that your child had an outburst in school and begin to feel embarrassment and shame as a parent, never fear. They are simply doing what they are supposed to be doing in school, learning.
And if there should ever be a career day at your child’s school, try to steer them towards dressing as a tax accountant.