It’s Labour Day weekend and the new school year is just around the corner. We’ve had a great summer – lots of weekends at the cottage, warm, sunny days and just hanging out with friends and family. Now it’s back to the routine of early mornings (school starts at 8 am), endless streams of permission forms and extra-curricular activities and going to bed on time. It means my husband and I have to be much more religious about getting lunches ready the night before and enforcing bedtimes. Back-to-school is an adjustment for everyone.
M has had a good summer. There were a few temper tantrums, but with much less physical aggression, even compared to a couple of months ago. We’re still working on managing the verbal aggression – M swears worse than a longshoreman when he’s angry. We got a fair amount of attitude whenever we asked him to do something around the house, but sometimes he would surprise us by sweeping the floor or dusting his room. He claimed to be bored unless he was hanging out with a friend or on the computer, playing MindCraft, but he learned how to play a couple of new card games and beat his dad multiple times at Uno.
Even when you think you know your child, from time to time, he or she will surprise you. As M gets older, I find the complexities of his personality unfolding like the layers of an onion. Sometimes, his tastes have changes or he has lost interest in a particular activity. Other times, he’s clearly learned a new skill or has overcome an obstacle that has given him trouble in the past. And once in a while, I realize that I have misread a characteristic of his personality.
Here’s a list of six things I learned about M this summer:
- He doesn’t like to swim. While he will tolerate going into a swimming pool, he doesn’t care much for open water. Apparently, it has “stuff” in it. We spent a fair number of hot, muggy weekends at the cottage this summer and swimming was often the only relief from the heat. I finally bought a couple of extra-thick styrofoam noodles and a blow-up water recliner, which M liked to play with. But unless it was really hot and everyone else was swimming, M avoided the water as much as possible.
- He isn’t afraid to look silly in public. Once day a week at Tennis camp was Crazy Hair or Hat day. M went for 4 weeks and on every Crazy Hair day, he wore a blue and white wig that came from the Dollar store. One week, we tied little pony tales with bright covered elastics; another weekend, he went off wearing a lop-sided tiara; and recently, he wore a triangular “hat” with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on each side, perched on the top of the wig. For the final week, the wig was decorated with an assortment of household items, using pipe cleaners. He got points for his team for dressing up, but he could have settled for something a little less conspicuous. As far as M was concerned, the sillier the headgear the better.
- He’s an introvert. This was the most surprising “lesson” I learned about M this summer. He has always been very social and preferred to play with others than be on his own. Since he seemed to need lots of company and external stimulation, I had assumed that he was an extrovert. But watching him this summer, I could see that while he likes to be around people, he needs plenty of downtime to recharge. He would often come back from playing with another child or an activity and sit quietly on the couch, reading. Or he would go to his room and listen to the radio. Sometimes, I’ve had to adjust my behaviour and let him take the time to chill out, rather than scheduling lots of activities in a single day. Pushing M into doing something before he is ready has always been a challenge, but now I have a better sense of why.
- Mental attitude is key for M. Never ever having tied a shoelace, he decided to forego shoes with velcro and go straight to lace-ups. He’s still not totally proficient at tying his own shoes, but he’s discovered he can shove them on his feet, even when they are tied up. Contrast this to tennis, where is a good player. But somewhere over the summer, he let himself be convinced by a group of other kids at Tennis Camp that he wasn’t a strong singles player. Prior to that, he always finished at the top of his flight, but lately he’s struggled. I always knew that M could talk himself out of doing things, but now that I know he can talk himself into things too. Could be very useful as we try to help him get more comfortable with writing. According to reports from the school last year, most of the time, M would just refuse to start an assignment that involved any writing. Hard on his self-esteem and equally difficult for the teaching staff to assess his work.
- He is fully capable of amusing himself. Like most 11-year old boys, M’s favourite activity is playing computer games. While he has a 30 minute-a-day limit during the school year, we were much more relaxed about allowing him media time during the summer. Nonetheless, there were limits and despite moaning and groaning, he could find things to do to entertain himself, often for hours. I expect this falls more into the category of things I suspected but can now cite as evidence to M when he complains about being bored.
- M can handle between 45 to 60 minutes at a time on the computer. Much more than that and he gets really irritable and easily agitated. I discovered this the hard way a few times this summer, when M had been playing on the computer for an extended time and I asked him to shut it off and do something else. He’d usually refuse and we’d argue back and forth for 10-15 minutes, until he’s slam down the lid of the laptop and storm off. A couple of times, the arguments escalated into full-blown meltdowns. Fortunately for all of us, we figured this out early on in the summer. Once the causal effect was clear to M, it was a matter of coming up with acceptable limits in terms of computer time. Even better, these limits could be enforced, because M understood what would happen.
All of these insights are useful in terms of understanding M and what makes him tick. Figuring out a couple of his triggers is useful in terms of trying to avoid meltdowns and help M manage his behaviour. It has certainly made the summer go much smoother. We’ll cross our fingers for the fall.