M has trouble with transitions. This is pretty typical for a child with ADHD. So we expected he would have a few challenges going back to school after the break. We talked to him on the weekend about how he was feeling about returning to school. He indicated he was a bit nervous – perfectly normal we explained. Hard to get back into the routine – for everyone. School starts at 8am, which means everyone has to be up no later than 7:30. Break week means less rushing to get out of the house.
Although we know we need to help Matt prepare for a transition, we can’t always anticipate everything. We could not have known that one of the Educational Assistants at M’s school would pass away last weekend. The principal sent out an email on Sunday, indicating the students would be advised on Monday am. The school is relatively small and the staff and teachers do their best to know as many of the students as possible. We weren’t sure how well M knew this EA, but we decided to tell him ourselves, rather than having him find out on Monday.
It turns out M did know her and was upset. He knew she had children and was worried about who was looking after them. On Monday morning, the teacher talked to all the children in the class. The teachers were all going to the funeral in the afternoon. There was likely a sense of heightened anxiety amongst both the staff and the students. Given that it was the first day back and M finds school relatively stressful at the best of times, it was probably a tough environment for him.
He had finished his book report that was due on Monday, but apparently there was a second, project that he didn`t complete. Apparently he was in good company – 2/3s of the class hadn`t finished the assignment either. Even though the teacher gave them an extension until Friday, M would have been fretting about the unfinished project.
The other thing we could not prepare M for was the weather. It was gorgeous. We skipped spring and went straight to summer. A week before we were in jackets and boots and suddenly we are wearing shorts and sandals. The sunshine and warm temperatures made everyone in the city absolutely giddy.
To top it all off, M didn`t eat his lunch on Monday. Not a bug surprise then that M got into a bit of a skirmish with another child at daycare. I`m not totally certain of all the details but M did hit another child by accident, although he admitted he hit her harder than he thought. The other child also goes to M`s school and I wondered if perhaps they were both a little worked up about events at the school.
On Tuesday, I sent an email to the principal to let her know about the issue at the daycare the day before and about the older boys who had bullied M on Monday night. I have gotten into the habit of letting the principal know whenever M encounters a conflict outside school. Sometimes it involves another child at the school. Not only does M have trouble not bringing external conflicts to school, if he`s anxious about a situation, it inevitably shows up in his behaviour at school. While the school may sometimes view M`s extreme behaviour as irrational or unprovoked, there is usually a root cause. Not always easy after the fact to figure out the catalyst. It can be like trying to find a trail of breadcrumbs in the forest. So I send emails to the principal on a regular basis – makes it easier for everyone to follow the path when something does happen.
I have learned that with M, things happen. When I came home late on Tuesday night after getting my hair cut (I looked fabulous btw), I could tell from the set of my husband`s shoulder that something had transpired. Turns out M had the mother of all meltdowns – yelling, hitting, swearing, wrecking his room – the whole enchilada. I gather it started over M`s homework, but it blew up big and bad. When I went upstairs, M was barricaded in his room by his mattress and bean bag chair. His bed was completely torn apart, right down to the slats.
M was in a state. He had obviously been crying for a while. He told me that he didn`t feel anyone wanted him around.
Me: I do.
M: You`re the only one.
Me: Your dad wants you around.
Me: What about your Grammy? Your cousins?
M: They don`t want me around either.
We went through a list of a few more people, but M wasn`t having any of it. The pity party was in full swing.
It turns out he was anxious about his homework. He had started doing it verbally with his dad the night before but according to M, “it was hard to put it into writing.“ He started resisting, his dad started pushing back and boom! They are both yelling at each other.
Eventually, I got M calmed down. I helped him put his room back together. We re-made his bed with fresh sheets and then he helped me put the linens back on our bed – in his fury, he pulled it apart too. He and his dad apologized to each other. M was in much better spirits by the time he got into bed.
On Wednesday, M had a minor scuffle with another child at school who was cheating at a game of Four Square. I have never been able to figure out the rules to this game but I gather it is a source of ongoing conflict on more than one playground. Kids typically change the rules during the game. This drives M crazy. When I mentioned to a couple of other friends with kids M`s age that he had run into trouble playing Four square, they just shook their heads and nodded. The principal at M`s school is planning on painting a set of squares on the playground to designate a rules-only space for the game. Clearly M is not the only child at the school having trouble with the rules-optional version.
By Wednesday, we had already exchanged several emails with the principal and spoken to the counsellors at the daycare at least twice. Then on Wednesday night, M kicked another child at Cubs. According to M, he was trying to get the other child to go to the meeting point; the child refused and was climbing up the slide he was trying to go down and refused to get out of his way; and the other child kicked him first. The leader who dealt with him told him he could be kicked out of the troop or perhaps demoted from his position as sixer. This approach rarely works with M – he probably dug in his heels.
Despite an extremely challenging start to the week, M was able to pull himself together in the latter part of the week. He woke up on Thursday in a good mood. He told his dad he was going to have a good day, at school and at daycare. And he did. Friday was a good day too.
On the positive side, M was able to talk to the responsible adult about the various incidents and in most cases, he calmed down relatively quickly. On the not-so-positive side, he had a series of conflicts in different settings. When M is having difficulties, it is often limited to one environment. This week, he had trouble at home, school, daycare and Cubs.
If I follow the trail of bread crumbs backwards, I can see that the events at school threw M for a loop. He probably wasn`t the only one, which would have only served to increase his general sense of anxiety. He is learning to manage his behaviour – he didn`t spiral down completely or escalate as the week went on. Although he is making progress, it doesn`t take a lot to get him off track. Nest step is to try to keep the dominoes standing up.