Category Archives: School

Q&A: tantrums from end of school year?

Molly writes:

"My oldest son turned 5 last Tuesday; his kid birthday party was the Saturday before, and we got together with family for dinner and cake on his actual birthday.  On Monday (the day before his birthday), he had a rough day with the nanny and even turned over some chairs in the living room (!).  Every day since then, except Sunday, he has had an angry outburst where he ends up moving and overturning furniture. Twice he had been sent to his room when the behavior started, and moved his brother's crib, then turned the rocking chair and ottoman on their sides.

This is totally freaking me out! He's definitely a challenging kid, but has never behaved like this before. We are reacting more calmly than we did at first, and things seem to be getting better, but I am still very concerned.  Have you ever heard of behavior like this that comes on so suddenly? I am wondering if it's a combination of sadness that his birthday is over and the transition of the end of school (and he knows that he will be at a new school next year, which may be causing him stress).  At what point is this a problem that we need some help with?"

My first thought was that Molly's son may have eaten a lot of things at the birthday party and during his birthday week that could cause these sudden tantrums–artificial colors or flavors or sweeteners are big culprits in sudden bad behavior. The chemicals just overwhelm the kids and they can't control their behavior.

But I checked with Molly, and he didn't eat anything he doesn't normally eat.

So that makes me think it's the sadness from the end of the school year and fear of going to a new school in the fall. This can be really, really hard for kids. they get used to a routine, and to the friends in their classes, and then it just stops. And the summer routine can be too much fun or kind of boring for kids, so it's a toss-up about how they'll react once they're really into the summer routine. But at this point, all they're feeling is that things are changing, and they're not going to do the same things every day anymore.

Loss is hard enough for adults to deal with. Kids need extra help. And it's important to acknowledge their loss and not try to distract them or cheer them up before you acknowledge how real their pain is.

It's probable that your child (under the age of 10 or so) doesn't even really know how to label the emotions as loss. So you might need to instigate the conversations about the end of the school year. Without leading your child ("Boy, you're really going to miss your friends, aren't you?") you can open up the topic of not seeing them every day anymore, or not going to school anymore and just ask how it makes your child feel.

Being able to talk about it may be enough help to end the tantrums, or you may just need to ride them out. As usual, the feelings that cause the tantrums aren't wrong, but hurting people or animals and causing physical destruction is not allowed.

Are any of the rest of you going through this? My older one is thrilled for school to be over in a  few weeks, but my younger one is feeling a little strange about school ending. Molly's son and mine can't be the only ones feeling bad about things ending.

Q&A: post-holiday tantrums

Theresa writes:

"Anyone else have a rough week last week now that the holidays are over? My son (6) was back to school, I was back to the miserable commute, the
babysitter (whom he loves) was back – and by Thursday we were in
full-blown tantrum mode (we haven't been there for a while).  From
Thursday through the rest of the weekend, we had multiple tantrums a
day.  I think the major triggers were interruptions on his time with me
(not so much his dad, who is more of the primary caretaker now that
I've got the commute from hell), but they could also start over being
asked to practice piano, being asked to finish dinner, stuff that is
never usually a problem.

So I'm wondering if this is just a temporary "end of holidays/vacation"
reaction or something more serious.  I'm also wondering how people deal
with tantrums generally.  I'm a bit at my wit's end right now (to the
point where yesterday, I just ended up resorting to pure bribery)."

Oh, what's a little bribery between friends?

Seriously, though, there's all sorts of stuff I never thought I'd do as a parent, including bribery, that I do without a second thought as long as it gets the job done and prevents those ridiculous, out-of-the-blue, sucker-punch tantrums that make you want to throw yourself on your sword.

And, yeah, we've been having some crazytime here Chez Moxie. I'd been attributing it both to the return to "normal" from the winter break and also to the kids having spent several days in a row with either one or the other of their dad and me (usually they see both of us on most days).

Now, I do think some of this with my older one is that he's almost 7, so I'd say definitely go read through the assessments of what being 7 is like in the comments from hedra and Sharon Silver especially.

But I really think it's just trying to get back to a regular routine after a few weeks of everything being different and more relaxed. Whether your child did better or worse with a less structured day, it's still stressful to go back to a routine and school. I think the key is just to stay consistent and calm (as calm as possible) and know that your child will adjust back within the next few weeks.

How has everyone else been doing? This is the second week back for most of us, so I'm imagining that things are settling way back down from last week. How did you get through the shift?

Q&A: End-of-year gifts for teachers, daycare providers, et al.

This is another one we talk about every year. Last year I made the mistake of rolling it in with a discussion about Santa, so when you read last year's post you'll have to wade through lots of (interesting, but off-topic) Santa-talk.

The stand-out comment from last year's thread was when a teacher said:

One parent actually said to me "Youtaught my daughter to love reading…..I'm not buying you f-ing soap."
and she handed me a wad of money totaling $100.

Then we talked a lot about this idea that cash is somehow tacky, which led to the idea that women (which the majority of teachers and daycare providers are) are traditionally supposed to be "above" cash. And that things we wouldn't hesitate to give cash to men for we give soaps and candles to women for. That's just not right. Women have bills to pay, too.

So I'm going to vote that we stop with the cutesy gifts for women, and go to cash *or* things that really are just symbolic. I can't imagine that a teacher is going to feel bad that you can't afford a cash gift if your child makes a handmade card for the teacher.

Homebaked goods could go either way. Nut allergies? Chocolate aversion? A desire not to overeat? All these things could make homebaked treats not the loving act you intend them to be.

As I'm typing this I think I may be sounding a little like a Scrooge. But I'm think of all the really hardworking moms (many of them) who are teaching our kids to read and use the potty, and what the difference would be for them to be handed money at the end of the year or to go home with scented candles. Only one of those buys new shoes for their kids.

So, can we talk about amounts? Give the situation (daycare, preschool, or elementary school, public or private, how many teachers, where you live, etc.) and what the standard is there.

Also, anyone know what to give NYC bus drivers?? We have a different one in the morning and afternoon, and the morning guy has really gone out of his way to be awesome in several dimensions.

Special needs of all sorts and the school year

I had a great time at the Phila area meetup yesterday. What an interesting, thoughtful, funny, snarky bunch of people.

One theme that came up a lot was that parents seem to be dealing with all kinds of issues with their kids and a variety of special needs, and things seem to be extra amped up now that school's in session.

Food allergies. ADHD. IEPs. Therapy. Learning disabilities. Movement issues. Autism/Asperger's. All kinds of stuff. I just think about these parents standing at the bottom of the cliff, looking up, knowing they're going to have to do such an incredible haul to get up to the top to make sure their kids are OK. It's exhausting just thinking about it.

And if you're thinking, "This doesn't affect me," well, it might, and you just aren't aware of it. I found out last week that the "nut-free and dairy-free classroom" notice for my son's class didn't just mean that one of the kids, A., wasn't allowed to ingest dairy. It means that if A. touches dairy or touches a kid who's touched dairy and hasn't washed hands in between, he puffs up like a big red itchy wheezing balloon. It would have been nice to know how serious it was, so that I'd avoid all dairy things in my son's lunch. I'd been putting cheese inside his sandwich on the logic that my son knew not to give bites to other kids in the lunchroom (bonus of my short-lived gluten intolerance–my son accepts food issues). But once I told my son about the other kid's allergy *he* said, "Oh, so I shouldn't bring cheese in my sandwich anymore in case I accidentally touch A. after I eat it!" Woulda been nice to know–for us *and* for A. and his mom–three weeks ago…

So, anyway, until I get the message boards up and running, could those of you who've been there (enu, hedra, etc.) provide some emotional support for the parents who are in the middle of a long process of advocating for their kids? Also, is there anywhere online a printable list of commercial snacks that comply to food allergy specifications? (Like a list of snacks that are GF, one that's dairy-free, one that's soy-free, etc.)

Oh, what the heck?

Let's just go whole-hog on this school thing. If you hate me you hate me.

Slim writes:

"I don't want to be That Parent. I amtrying to find the right point between sending the message that the world
revolves around my child and sending the message that his opinion doesn't
count. I don't think my child's personality meshes at all well with his
teacher's, and I was thinking of sending her an e-mail asking how she thinks
things are going and, depending on her response, saying that if there's
another kindergarten parent who's really jonesing for a move, we would
be happy to have our child swap.

But have any of the Moxites ever had
their child change teachers? How and why? Looking for data points, especially
for parents who weren't dealing with an utter disaster, but who had a situation
that was suboptimal."

I *love* a princess-cut Moxite in a white gold setting.

Anyway, yeah. Good question. I was in exactly this place last year. The whole year I'd wished I'd switched.  OTOH, if I'd switched I may have convinced myself we could make it at that school and my son wouldn't be with the teacher he's with now, being a student instead of a teaching assistant.

There's definitely the opinion that kids need to learn to get along with people even when they don't like them, and I think there 's a ton of value in that. However, I really think kindergarten is too young for that, since at that age the teacher is such a huge influence and big part of their week.

The other question is how the teacher's going to feel about it. The teacher might think it's a great idea. Or the teacher might be completely insulted and then you'll be seen as That Parent for sure.

I wish I knew what to tell you. 54 weeks ago I'd have told you to talk to the principal, but I've lost a lot of my trust in the objectivity of the system and the players in it (the legacy of last year). (Which, incidentally, sucks, since my entire family are public school teachers and administrators. Nine of the people who show up for Thanksgiving dinner in my family work(ed) in public schools. It may have been extremely naive of me to think all educators were like them.)

Have you talked to any of the parents of kids in older grades? They might be able to tell you if the administration would even allow a switch, and can give you the low-down on the different teachers to see if one might be a better fit for your child.

I'd also think about whether it's just a matter of not getting along (so he isn't in love with her) or if it means bad things are going to happen to him in class. If it's just not getting along, then it may not be worth it to switch.

Anyone out there who switched? Or considered switching but didn't? How did it come out, and would you make the same decision again?

Q&A: terrified of preschool social scene

Christy writes:

"With the upcoming school year approaching I was hoping to get you andperhaps your wonderful commenters to help me through something. My
daughter (who just turned three) is starting preschool in September and
I’m so incredibly nervous. Not for HER. For ME. This child is one of
the most outgoing, excited, adventurous little people on planet earth
and she wants so much to be out of the house and exploring with other
kids. (For some back round- she was in home daycare until she was 13
months and I’ve been home with her since. Aside from a couple of gym
classes, this will be her first real classroom experience with lots of
other kids.) I certainly don’t expect perfection but I know she’ll do
great. So onto me. I don’t have an easy time making friends and parent
involvement is a big part of the preschool we chose. I did this on
purpose because I know I have to make the leap into the league of 
“preschooler parents”, but I truly am scared shitless. I really don’t
have any other mom friends my age (late 20’s) and I feel so intimidated
by the whole process. I’m not exactly sure what I’m looking for
here…maybe an idea of what other moms look for in their “parent
friends” or some helpful preschool parent etiquette? I certainly don’t
want to use my child to gain a social life but it would be nice to feel
comfortable with a couple other moms to share the experience of life
with a 3 year old. ANY advice surrounding this topic would really help
ease me in to preschool life!"

I think making friends is a system. People who do it naturally don't think of it as a system, but it's something that can be learned. I'll break it down into the steps I can think of, and if anyone else thinks of more, please add them.

1. Be yourself. Your mother's been saying it for years, but she's right. You have a ton of outstanding qualities that would make people want to be your friend, whether you're shy or loud, an optimist or a pessimist, snarky or earnest, or you like dark chocolate or milk chocolate. People want to be around people who are comfortable with themselves, so make no apologies, let your freak flag fly, and be who you are.

2. Pick the right school for you and your child. This all goes back to #1, which is that you have to be able to be who you hare. If you've gotten yourself into a school in which everyone else is waaay different from you, you're going to feel like the odd woman out all the time.

If your interests are in sustainable agriculture and environmentalism, then you probably won't be super-happy at a school in which everyone drives Denalis or Canyoneros or whatever the hugest SUV is. If you like lots of structure then the crunchy preschool where the only curriculum is running around and painting each other purple may not be the place you're going to find bosom friends. That doesn't mean you focus on externals, because the mom wearing the Motorhead T-Shirt and the mom in heels and a suit for work could be best friends because they just click, but if you find displays of wealth crass and your preschool is a feeder school for the cast of Gossip Girl, then things may not be a great fit.

3. Join up, in a way you feel comfortable with. The best way to get to know other parents is to be around other parents. So volunteering is a good way to meet people. But pick something that you'll at least halfway enjoy doing. Maybe you want to help sort and label books for the library, or plan fundraisers or put together information packets or do the newsletter. All of these things are giving you opportunities to talk (or email with) other parents. I definitely believe that 90% of life is showing up, so pick something and keep showing up.

4. Take it off site. After a couple of sessions of sorting permission slips or editing copy, you can suggest that you take it off school grounds or off email. "I could use some caffeine. Do you want to get a cup of coffee?" Memorize it, then use it.

5. It's for the children! If #4 scares you too much, then turn it into a playdate. "Poindexter comes home every day talking about Tigerlily. It sounds like they like to play together a lot. Do you guys want to come over on Saturday at 10 for a playdate?" Because then it's not about you, it's about the kids. But you'll be talking and getting to know each other. Unless the playdate ends in violence, you'll probably have another one.

6. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Sometimes it's easier to approach someone if it's kind of a group thing. Plus, if you end up not really clicking with one person, there are a couple of others to mitigate at that, and maybe you'll click with one of them. You can approach it as a group playdate (outside works really well for groups of kids) or as a kind of "parents night out" kind of thing.

Anyone have anything else?

Calling extroverts and SAH parents

Now that school is starting, you guys (whether you're an extrovert or a SAH parent or both) have the chance to do a really good deed.

If you're a SAH parent, you could buddy up with a WOH parent to make sure s/he knows what's going on in the classroom. Yes, you're supposed to get all the same notifications and stuff sent home, but any SAH who's been in any school for a few weeks know that the ones who can put in face time know lots more about what's coming up and what's really going on than they ever send home.

If, perhaps, a WOH mom should hand you her business card with contact info, it means she really wants to be in the loop and wants to be your friend, and you'd be doing a super-good deed by keeping her connected about what's going on.

(I'd like to give a super-special thanks to Brandy, Kim, and Amy for telling me what was going on all last year.)

If you're an extrovert like me, please be aware that there are introverted and/or shy parents in your class that would love to be your friend but won't make the first move. They are fabulous, interesting, funny, snarky, trustworthy people who just aren't hard-wired to approach you. You'd be doing them and the world in general a big favor by approaching them and including them so they can give what they have to offer. Because they're not as enthusiastic about meeting a zillion new people as I am you are, don't give up if your first two volleys aren't accepted.

Thank you.

First day of school

And I am so relieved. My older son started at a new school today. You may recall that I hated his teacher last year–not as a person, just as a teacher–and thought the school wasn't set up to deal with kids who were already reading. It's a long story about why he was going to our neighborhood school, but the short version is that we had been planning to move to another city in another state, and I'd done all the school search stuff there. He'd gotten into my dream public school (K-8, with siblings automatically accepted). Then I had my gut-wrenching epiphany and asked for a divorce, and that plan fell apart.

So I hadn't done any leg work in Manhattan, including taking the G&T ("gifted and talented") test. Rumors were that our local school was good, so we went there. I don't really believe in pulling kids out for special G&T programs, in the abstract. I feel like teachers ought to be teaching to all the kids, and it's possible to structure things so that you can give kids at each level what they need. But the problem with that theory is that if everyone else has pulled their kid out into a G&T program, then your kid is going to be the one coming home complaining of boredom every single day. And, compounded by a teacher like we had who just shouldn't be in the classroom, it was even worse.

So we did the G&T test. And then had a wacky adventure with the NYC DOE that caused this crying in the conference room episode. And then we got assigned to his current school, in the G&T classroom for his grade. The school is a solid 25 minute walk away, unless some miracle occurs and he gets assigned to a bus route. But, but, but–his teacher! She's young and idealistic and not jaded by the whole thing yet. She's going to come in with her A game, instead of just phoning it in to accumulate years until her pension. And she looks like she isn't going to be tipped over by precocious, mischievous boys.

I walked out of his classroom and burst into tears. Not because I was particularly sad about school, but because I'm so relieved.

The next couple of posts are going to be more about you as parents and school and the social scene, but if you want to talk about anything specific to your kid or teacher or any of that, please post here. Homeschoolers, feel free to express your frustrations and happinesses, too.

Q&A: special needs child

Katie writes:

“I have a 3-year-old son with autism and figure at least some of your readers have experience with special needs. My boy was diagnosed as having moderate autism just before he turned 2, and I am so proud of how far he has come. (I could write a whole separate e-mail about all of the therapies and interventions he has endured.) He is very verbal now and, though he is in a special preschool class, I believe he will be mainstreamed into a regular classroom by elementary school and be almost indistinguishable from his typical peers.

My dilemma is whether I should ever tell him about his autism. He hears me speak of it often now; I have no qualms about telling someone he is on the spectrum, partly because it explains some of his behaviors that new friends may find odd, and partly because I am so proud of all the progress he has made. But he is getting closer to the age when he will really pick up on what I’m saying when I speak to others about him.

I don’t want to completely ignore it or act as if it never happened or make it into this big secretive talk–“Son, let’s sit down for an important talk about something terrible about you.” It is a part of who he is, a part of his past and present. I guess what I’m looking for is wisdom from others who may have gone through this before. Do I stop mentioning it so much? Do I wait for him to ask me something down the road? Do I phase out the word “autism” as his symptoms show up less and less?”

Hmm. On the one hand, I feel like he’s going to know there’s something different about him. On the other hand, you don’t want him to grow up thinking there’s something less about him. So how do you balance the two–acknowledging that he’s got some things that are different about him but also letting him know that he’s great the way he is?

I wrote that first parapgrah three weeks ago, and have been sitting on this post ever since, trying to figure out what to write. The fact is, I don’t know what it’s like to have a special needs child. It would be disingenuous of me to talk about it, I think, because I’ve never had the experience of parenting a child who isn’t always going to be received easily by the world. (I definitely think I have a special responsibility in raising two white men in America, but that’s a different post.)

I’d love to hear from moms and dads of kids who don’t fit neatly into the boxes that we expect kids to fit into. Not just kids who have autism, but kids who have any other kind of developmental issue, kids who have chronic illnesses, kids who look different.

How do you manage their “issues” (treatments, therapies, medical inteventions, etc.) while still loving and respecting them as people? How do you straddle the line between living your experience as the parent of a special needs child and honoring their experience as a special needs person? What if the “special need” is something that isn’t recognized by the larger world (like being a highly sensitive or spirited person)?

Please talk about it. If you want to link to other supportive areas of the internet, please do. (If you type in the http:// before the www part of the address it’ll automatically hyperlink so people can just click through your comment.)