We’re several weeks into the new school year now, and for the most part it’s gone well. We had bus issues at the beginning, but since they readjusted the pick-up time in the morning, we haven’t had any problems with the kids arriving late to school. We’re still choosing to pick them up from school each day because no solution could be found to shorten the afternoon bus ride to under an hour and a half.
I had originally worried Mira might be challenging for her kindergarten teacher. She’s not only smart, but she’s clever and knows how to manipulate a situation to her favor. But so far everything has been great. She’s already gathered her own gang of friends, she’s progressing quickly with learning to read, and she claims she’s never had to move her name once on the behavior board. (If they get in trouble, they have to move their name to a different spot – the lower you go, the more privileges you lose.)
Cordy’s year has been a little more of a struggle. When the bus was running late and they were helping her deal with the anxiety related to that, she quickly picked up on the concept that if she had anxiety in class, she was taken to the special needs room where she got to swing and relax. So, like most kids would do with this knowledge, she’d fake anxiety to get out of boring class time and go relax.
I realized what she was doing very quickly and collaborated with her teachers to remove this as a reward. Now if she has to go to the special needs class, she loses computer time. With that change, her behavior immediately improved and she remained in class all day for the past few weeks. Other than her complaints that they’re only learning “kindergarten-level” math (can you tell she’s bored?), she’s enjoying school.
This week has been harder, though. I don’t know if it’s the weather change or the full moon earlier in the week, but she took a full step backwards in behavior. Unfocused, hyper, irritable – it’s been a challenging few days for her.
Then yesterday I received a call from the special needs teacher. A group of kids were playing “zombies” at school, and the play got a little rough. Cordy, trying to protect other kids from the zombies, grabbed a boy around the neck and left small scratches on his neck. There’s no way she meant to hurt him – the teacher said all of the kids were playing rough and that’s when they were told to stop.
But because Cordy had hurt another kid, school policy required her to lose her second recess and spend it in their behavior correction class. It’s a classroom with a behavior specialist in the room at all times, who helps kids work through better choices for their actions. Some kids spend most of their day in that room, others (like Cordy) only are there for a recess and hopefully never return.
For a perfectionist like Cordy, the world came to an end. That is where the Bad Kids go, which means she must be a bad kid. Unable to separate out the difference between a bad action and a bad person, she immediately became upset. Her teacher said she was crying in class and couldn’t focus on her schoolwork, so she was taken to the special needs room to calm down.
She told her special needs teacher that she should be “thrown away” or that we should “kill” her because she’s such a bad person. They were shocked at her reaction and didn’t know what to do. My heart ached to hear it, but I wasn’t shocked. Cordy often overreacts like this when she makes a mistake, and we have to walk a very thin line in discussing the problem with her while also protecting her ultra-fragile self-esteem.
No matter how often we tell her that everyone makes mistakes, and we learn from our mistakes so we don’t make them again, she still believes that a mistake means she’s a failure as a human being. Her inner voice – or inner demons, really – convince her that each mistake is THE biggest mistake she could possibly make, and she will never be able to right the wrongs or redeem herself.
Cordy did eventually calm down after her teacher repeated much of the script we use when she overreacts, and she served her sentence of missing second recess. But she was still upset when she came home.
I was fighting back tears the rest of the day. Cordy is our gentle soul who doesn’t understand why anyone would hurt someone on purpose. She internalizes every mistake as a personal failure, with even the smallest error on her part worthy of the most extreme punishment in her mind. It hurts to see her struggle and tear herself down so much. She is a smart, happy, and kind child who likes to please others, but no matter how much I try to show her that and praise her, she only sees her flaws.
Also, at the moment she’s still mostly unaware of what her classmates think of her, but I’m sure that she’ll find out eventually. How long will it be until someone calls her “weird” or a “freak” and it sinks in? How will we handle that? I love this kid with all of my heart, but I know I can’t protect her from the rest of the world forever.
No one prepares you for this part of parenting. What To Expect When Your Kid Navigates The Social World of Elementary School and The Happiest Elementary School Kid On The Block aren’t handed out at baby showers when we’re anxiously preparing to become parents. Add in special needs and autism, and it’s three times as difficult. My heart aches.
(And yes, I’m already starting to worry what’s ahead when puberty sets in and kids get really mean.)