My son is struggling and we are finding a solution. As parents, we know that there are seasons in raising children. Sometimes it’s easier than others. Your child is hitting developmental benchmarks, they are healthy and making friends. They listen to your rules most of the time and are eating and sleeping pretty well. Life is good.
But sometimes it isn’t. Everything feels like a struggle. Battles rage over meals and bedtimes. Maybe your child isn’t making friends or is becoming aggressive. Your happy child becomes defiant and aggressive. What do you do?
We have been struggling with one of our sons. As a baby, he was highly sensitive. Nursing was beyond challenging. He’d cry for the majority of the day and slept in twenty minute bursts. His skin was always breaking out in hives and rashes. He’d spit up or be completely constipated. He would play happily with grandparents and other family members, but only if I was in the room.
When we became a toddler, his temper tantrums were epic. He’d rage and bang his head on the floor or walls. He was an early talker, asking questions non-stop. And he still didn’t sleep. We brought him to the pediatrician. She sent us to the ENT (Ears Nose and Throat specialists) to check for airway obstruction causing sleep disturbances. They sent us to a behaviorist for an assessment. They sent us to Occupational Therapists because he had some Sensory Processing issues. They referred us to another specialists an hour way from our home.
At this time, I decided to jump off of the referral merry-go-round and parent our son the best I could. I didn’t want any more diagnoses or therapies. I just wanted to enjoy our bright little boy. I knew he had some dietary issues (food allergies and sensitivities) and some sensory issues. We made adjustments to how we parented him and tailored his world to accommodate.
When he was three, we enrolled him in a preschool. It didn’t go well. His anxiety was through the roof. He’d scream and cry, upsetting the other children. For six weeks, we worked with the teachers and I prepared him before dropping him off. We considered having school “be done” for him and try again the next year. But after a few month, he acclimated. I wouldn’t say he was thriving. He hated the noise of the classroom. The lights were to bright, the kids too noisy, carpet uncomfortable. But he was reading already and I thought he would benefit from outside authority figures.
The next year he was in a very small Christian preschool. The teacher had six children in addition to our little one. He did very well in this setting and we enjoyed this time. Then we decided to move from Minnesota to Seattle, WA. We moved the week that our son turned five years old. I didn’t plan on starting him in kindergarten for several reasons. He has a summer birthday and I didn’t know if he was mature enough to be away from me all day. I also thought that the move would be too much to expect him to jump into kindergarten.
So we found a wonderful multi-age Montessori preschool only blocks from our new home. Both of my sons would be together and we hoped that the small group environment would be beneficial. I was also hoping that he could grow as a reader. He’s a very bright little boy. But that didn’t happen. He took the freedom that Montessori offers and turned it into a free-for-all. I know that all programs are like this – it just wasn’t a good fit for him. At the end of his school year, the teachers suggested that he may not be ready for kindergarten. I was floored. Both my husband and I were very involved. He had been a reader for years at that point. We didn’t know what the next step would be.
We both worked with him through the summer and decided to enroll him in the public neighborhood school right after his sixth birthday. Again, he struggled. He cried when we left him. A lot. He avoided work that was clearly below his ability. He’d convince his teacher that he was sick. I’d pick him up and bring him to the clinic to find no strep or anything. I requested that the school nurse check his temperature before calling me. He figured out how to run at gym or recess until he was clammy and sweaty. Then he’d call for me. A few months into school, he arrived home in the middle of the day. He had run away from recess. He hid while staff searched and called for him and ran all the way home.
I knew we were in real trouble now. His avoidance was reaching a new level of cleverness – and danger. We worked with the school to keep him safe and in the classroom. His father and I coached and talked and, yes, gave consequences for each occurrence. He still hated school and there was nothing we could do to convince him otherwise.
We moved again the following summer. I met with his new teacher, an 18 year veteran teacher. I was confident that she would be able to give our son the firm boundaries he needed. But our son still struggled. He hated school. He talked about running away and avoided homework. He spent his time hanging out with the kids that needed an aid for behavioral issues. He would hide on the school property and come out when it was time for me to pick him up.
The next two years, second and third grades, didn’t go any better. He was actively trying to be suspended. Avoidance and the need for control was important to him. He was more defiant than ever. My husband and I knew that we had to change something.
Looking for Answers
Our first step was to get him back into talk therapy. We found a wonderful therapist that he enjoyed talking with. We worked on CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) and many of his anxious behaviors lessened. He was doing slightly better in class, but not enough to feel good about the progress.
We talked with his pediatrician and decided to try a low dose of anti-anxiety medicine. At the same time we asked the school for a 504 Plan. This is a document ensuring certain accommodations in school. Our son needed breaks throughout the day, a quiet place to take tests and a safe place to process when he got too worked up.
Even though we were working with his teacher, administration, pediatricians and a therapist, our little boy wasn’t doing any better. He had a few outburst at home, but nothing like what was being reported at school. He was being verbally aggressive with his teacher and refusing to participate in any work. Homework was ripped up and thrown away and he spent much of his time running away from staff.
Again, we knew something be needed to change.
We hired a parenting coach. How could we take care of this sweet, intelligent child? How could we see someone so inquisitive and compassionate at home and get these awful reports from school?
After discussing all of our son’s struggles with the parenting coach, she made the suggestion that we bring him home for at least the next school year. It was shocking. I had been toying with the idea of homeschooling for years. I was a teacher for ten years before coming an at home mom. But I felt that having our kids in school with their peers was important. Especially for our oldest! He was struggling with other adults so why would I shield him from that? Shouldn’t we push through and help him to thrive in an environment where he struggles?
Making the Change
After much thought and prayer, we have decided that he will be homeschooled next year. And our other son? He’s be invited to join the gift program and will be starting at another school where he’ll be learning with other kids at the same level. We are so excited about both of these opportunities! Excited and a bit nervous.
I’m looking forward to helping my oldest find his passion for learning. I hope that I can push him to try harder. I’m so excited that my younger son will have the opportunity for field trips and a more challenging curriculum. I can’t wait to see what is ahead.
I am a bit nervous about how to monitor my children’s education and keep my business moving forward. But I suppose as a productivity coach, I’ll be able to put into practice even more of what I preach.
Neither of my boys know about the changes coming up. We’ll tell them the exciting news in two or three weeks, right before the end of the school year. I hope they are both happy about the changes.
What about you? Do you have some big life change coming up? Are you adding another family member or moving? Are you changing jobs or going back to school. Life events can be disruptive. Please let me know what you are doing and how I can help. I’ll be sure to give you all updates on my family’s educational adventures in the following months.