Adapted from a recent online discussion.
Hi, Carolyn! Our bright, kind and clever son, almost 5, was doing well in his previous preschool, but the transition to his new pre-K class has been bumpy.
He always has been considerably behind his peers with focus and impulse control, and still DESPERATELY needs a daily nap. He is currently being evaluated and is already in speech therapy. Between his rough days at school and managing all the evaluations, it has been incredibly stressful.
How do I deal with the fact that he is quickly becoming the kid that other kids go home and talk about? I am starting to notice looks and whispers. I cry nearly every day when I pick him up.
I cannot talk about this with my family. My mother has told me for years that the problem is my parenting. I’m “not strict enough” and I “should just make them listen better.” (If you have any hints about making that second one happen, feel free to ignore my question and just pass those along instead.) We are getting ready to spend four days with them for Thanksgiving and I really may slap my mother if she criticizes my parenting one more time. My sister and I were very compliant children and she has absolutely no clue how hard it is to manage a child with these issues.
First, if you can skip the Thanksgiving visit, do. Seriously. If your little family needs a lower-stress long weekend at home, then stand up on your mama-bear haunches and seize it.
Second, there is absolutely no imperative to keep your kid on the school-readiness treadmill if he’s not ready for it. Is there another school better suited to an impulsive kid – less sitting, more movement? Start looking. Setting him up for frustration and failure serves no purpose here, educational or emotional.
Third, some hints: (BEG ITAL)Wear your kid out.(END ITAL) Active, impulsive kids behave better after they burn off energy. If your neighborhood isn’t enough, sign him up for swim lessons and ice skating lessons and a play gym and and and – whatever you can manage.
And fourth, for managing judgy relatives:
▪ Run your boy hard before you see them. There’s a reason this will sound familiar to owners of energetic dogs. Some creatures are born to bound joyfully through the fields, and some are born to sit quietly and stack blocks. Making one pretend he’s the other is something close to torture.
▪ Make these points in a come-to-Jeez-Mom conversation. (1) “SonName isn’t OtherKidNames, Mom. He doesn’t sit still, his development hasn’t gotten there yet and it might never, and setting expectations he can’t meet is cruel.” (2) “Raising him – which includes figuring out and giving him what he needs when I have no example to follow in my family – is the hardest thing I’ve ever done.” (3) “Therefore, your criticism is acutely painful without being helpful. If being strict were the answer, it would have worked by now, because believe me I have tried.” (4) “I would love your support. If you can’t give it, though, then I ask that you at least stop criticizing.”
If she refuses to, then you say that it breaks your heart but you'll be keeping your distance indefinitely. Then stick to it.
Email Carolyn at email@example.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at 10 a.m. each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.