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We have some resolution to Simon’s recent bout of perfectionism and in-school collapse.

Last week I wrote his teacher, told him about the anxiety I was seeing at home, and asked if we could stop taking away dollars for falling apart in class and instead offer stickers for holding it together. His immediate response was that he could move to a reward system if I wanted, but that he worried such a switch was a short-term fix for a long-term issue. He then explained what he was doing in class to help Simon learn to ask for help and told me and Matt to take the holiday and decide if we wanted to completely switch the discipline system for Simon. He also pulled Simon aside for a chat, during which Mr. Sowder told Simon that he wanted him to be happy at school, that since he was smart and a good student he should be happy at school, and that if he promised to work hard at asking for help, Mr. Sowder would never again take away a dollar for crying. They even hugged on it.

Two days later, for the first time in two to three weeks, Simon awoke on his own earlier than he needs to for school. The bags under his eyes were gone, there was more spring in his step, and he just seemed more like his old self. Which isn’t to say we didn’t see any anxious perfectionism (he’s bitterly unhappy when he makes a bad move in chess), but is to say what we did see was back in the normal range.

By this Monday, Simon was waking on his own, woofing down breakfast, and running to the bus with a smile on his face. Tuesday, he was jabbering away in the car about having Mr. Sowder help him with something in science. And today, Wednesday, he told me that science is once again his favorite subject and that he’s reached a new level on the reading computer program they use at school.

He’s back. And I really wish you could do a double-blind controlled study in situations like this, because I’m honestly not sure why he’s back. What I do know is that this most recent hiccup coincided with five things:

  1. The days getting shorter
  2. His first academic hurdle (the science notebook) and first ever in-class discipline
  3. Daylight savings time
  4. Switching his allergy medicine from Zyrtec to Allegra

Whereas his improvement coincided with these items:

  1. Taking a one-week break from science to cover and celebrate Thanksgiving
  2. Being told he would not lose a dollar for crying
  3. Putting him to bed earlier and watching his sleep-wake cycle finally make the shift
  4. Going off Allegra*

I’m not trying to discount the psychology here. Simon is a perfectionist and he does run on the anxious side. Managing this and teaching coping strategies will be a long-term project. But it’s been a long time since he’s been a basket-case at school. The last time he had a spell like this was back in January when he had a mono-like virus for a month. Before that, you’d have to go back to the Twos. Also, during his first two years, Simon’s mood and behavior correlated directly with how regularly and well he kept to his eating and sleep schedule. If the schedule slipped, Simon’s mood and coping circled the drain.

So I have to wonder: Can this most recent episode be reduced to biology? And if so, was it the time change messing with his circadian cycles or the Allegra what done him in? I don’t know, which I find maddening. But my gut tells me that a large part of Simon’s emotional collapse earlier this month is directly attributable to physical stress.

*Allegra isn’t supposed to cause drowsiness. But it knocks me on my tush, as does Sudafed and several other medicines that shouldn’t. It seems possible that my son would suffer from the same “paradoxical effect” I do.

Coda: Today was Simon’s second report card, covering the period in which his break-down occurred. Of course it had to be mentioned. Here’s what his teacher wrote: “Sometimes Simon’s strong drive to do well causes him to break down and cry or become visibly distraught when things don’t go the way he feels they should. We are working to help him understand what’s important and what’s not and how to handle his emotions as they arise.” This is very kind, and could have described me at the same age. Or 20 years hence.

One Response to “The Great Kindergarten Freakout That Was”

  1. blg says:

    Good luck with this ongoing effort.

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