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TGIM! Or Not.

Between Simon’s soccer game and drum practice on Saturday, picking up a file cabinet from a friend, clearing out my attic in preparation of making it into a play-room, piles of laundry, grocery shopping, and dealing with the annual leaf deluge in our yard (So pretty in full color! Sooooo much work once they all drop.), Monday promised a welcome bit of relief from a non-stop weekend.

Simon does NOT agree. We had more tears this morning, as we have most days since THE INCIDENT. He’s doing better with making mistakes at home, we’re getting him to bed earlier, and I’ve been getting up earlier to cook him breakfast. So I know he’s better rested and fed. But science note-booking and giving up a dollar looms large, and Simon is running anxious these days.

I have more information about the incident, fyi. He didn’t understand something in his notebook, didn’t raise his hand to ask for help, and when the teacher wanted to talk to him about the unfinished or incorrect part, he broke down in tears. Mr. Sowder then asked him to use his words and suggested this was a little thing and not a big thing, and Simon still wouldn’t/couldn’t talk.  So Mr. Sowder took a dollar, and that’s when kindergarten took a wrong turn for Simon.

And here’s the thing. I get that Simon is different for Mr. Sowder than he is for us. I get that he might just want that dollar so badly that he’ll stop crying and start talking, or maybe even hold it together and not cry in the first place. I get that in kindergarten the message is that we can cry over big things but not little things. I get that next year he needs to have better coping skills. I respect what Mr. Sowder is trying to do.

But I think the whole thing might well blow up in his face. And ours. I’m not interfering—yet—but I know my kid. If being less than perfect leads to his crying, and if crying potentially leads to giving up a dollar and therefore tangible proof of lack of perfection, Simon is going to be anxious. And when Simon is anxious, his coping skills circle the drain, making him more likely to cry than ever. It’s a vicious cycle. Positive and negative reinforcement work well with Simon; punishment does not. He would do much better with some small reward (maybe a sticker in his chart?) for holding it together than he would being punished for not.

And typing that just now is the first time I’ve been able to articulate it quite that way. I wonder how long I have to let Mr. Sowder try it his way before I can start being pushy? Or more to the point, I wonder how long I’ll be able to let Mr. Sowder try it his way before I can’t stop myself from being pushy?


4 Responses to “TGIM! Or Not.”

  1. Kate says:

    Meeting with the teacher and talking with him about your kid is not being pushy; any good teacher knows that a parent knows her kid a lot better than the teacher could, and listens to them. Beyond that, taking a dollar for crying is a really odd thing for a kindergarten teacher to do – I’m wondering if there’s more to it? Anyone who works with kindergartners knows they don’t have the maturity to have mastery over their emotional responses. Simon wasn’t being willful by crying; he was upset and couldn’t help it. A negative consequence makes no sense in that circumstance. The better approach would be to gently have Simon do something else for a few minutes and suggest he come back to it refreshed a little later. In fact, that could be a useful coping skill when his emotions threaten to overwhelm him (take a break and breath, then try again). If being able to ask for help is a particular skill Simon needs to work on, you’re absolutely right. A small reward or recognition for asking for help would be much more effective. I’d be inclined to use a game to practice asking questions. So, for example, I might say something with a mumbled key word and have Simon (or the class, if I’m doing a total group thing) practice asking for clarification. I’d ask students to do something that they needed help with (getting something off a high shelf, for instance). If the teacher knows his stuff, he doesn’t just supply the answer when a child asks for help, but guides the child to finding the answer himself as much as possible. Anyway, I’d think it would be perfectly appropriate to talk to the teacher about Simon’s perfectionism and sensitivity. You’re not going in to make accusations, but to help the teacher better understand your kid. And the I’d think sooner would be better; it doesn’t sound like it’s blowing over for Simon. Again, if I were the teacher and you came to me with this, I’d probably meet with you and Simon and explain that we were going to work on a couple of skills: coping with being upset and asking for help. I’d reassure him I wasn’t going to take any more dollars because he was upset; instead, we’d practice taking a break and breath, then coming back to it. Setting up a more specific mechanism might help (go to X place, do X thing for X amount of time – e.g., counting backwards so far, or counting things in the room or outside are ways to distract his mind from the emotion, but are also time limited). Simon would have something he could do and official permission from the teacher to do it. We’d also practice asking questions, and I’d definitely reward the first several efforts (praise would probably be sufficient – recognition of Simon’s growing skills as a learner). So, that’s my 2 cents, FWIW.

  2. tlalbaugh says:

    Oh, man, I can relate. Am just lucky I got the whole “do I intervene/talk to the teacher” thing out of the way in the first three weeks! Talking to her via e-mail and then on the phone really helped us work out what was best for Kira when she was having some coping issues. And the first thing she said: “THANK YOU SO MUCH for contacting me!” (she then assured me that I was not an interfering parent : ) If Simon is having trouble going to school over this, I would definitely talk to the teacher. Even if it blows over quickly, it’s still good to let the teacher know you are accessible and want to be involved. The most reassuring thing for me was that once I talked to the teacher I realized (a) she’s a professional who’s been through this before, and (b) she was listening to and trying to understand my kid.

  3. Jessica says:

    You guys are the best. Really. Here’s where things stand: I briefly talked to the teacher in person last week. He told me that he has a perfectionist nearly every year, and that he’s got some experience with this. He also told me that he’s been clear that crying is OK, it’s crying without being able to talk over little things that isn’t. They are helping him breathe. Kate, I love your strategies, especially the backwards counting one. Can you come and be Simon’s parent and/or teacher? Pretty please?

    What the teacher said at the time is that he thinks Simon might, with help, get a better hold of himself if he knows a dollar is on the line. That he might hang on because he wants the dollar. I think he might hang on for the sticker, but that the threat of losing the dollar makes him more likely to lose it than ever. I think it ramps up anxiety in an anxiety prone child.

    I haven’t used the “A” word with Mr. Sowder, but I think maybe I need to to break the “they are different here than at home” cycle of our conversation. Soon.

    But first, I have to count backwards from 100 and breathe deeply myself. Because I’m sure you both know where Simon’s anxious perfectionism comes from, and I’m not going to accomplish much if I look and sound like a head-case myself.

    Thanks again; I might be tightly wound, but my taste in friends is aces,

  4. tlalbaugh says:

    I loved Kate’s reply too, as “coping with being upset and asking for help” are two things my own kid is struggling with mightily right now!

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