Friday, November 7, 2008

When preschoolers attack

Preschool drama. I picked Sam up from school, where he goes for about 2 hours on Wednesdays, and the teacher pulled me aside.

"Can I talk to you for a minute?" Uh oh. I know that teacher voice.
"Has Sam had anything, uh, BIG happen in his life lately?"

I told the teacher about his new room, and she nodded reassuringly. He apparently was rather aggressive toward the other kids that morning - pushing, hitting, grabbing toys, etc. They'd pull him aside and talk to him about using words, etc and I was nodding along, but the whole time I was thinking, "Oh my gosh. He's going to be THAT KID." I think the very kind teacher saw that look in my eyes, and she reassured me that her oldest son went through a tough phase like that, and now he's a delightful adult who runs his own business. Great, so he's not a serial killer. Oh, and Sam managed to get himself bitten by a little girl, complete with little pink tooth marks in his arm. The teachers were extremely apologetic and I'd feel sorry for him, but I think he had it coming.

On the way to the car, I chatted with Sam.

"Sam, I heard that the teachers needed to talk to you today about sharing."

He nods and looks at his hands, not looking at my face. "Mmm-hmm."

"If you want a toy, what can you say?"

He says in a canned voice, "Please, can I have a turn with that when you're done?"

Ok, that's a start.

I think this was a wake-up call for me about helping Sam develop these skills. Beyond preschool, he doesn't spend a lot of time consistently around other kids, and when he's at preschool they've got about one teacher for every 6 kids or so, and it's not fair for me to expect them to know all of his triggers, see trouble brewing, and head it off, let alone help him with every single interaction - that's my job. It's one of the reasons I chose to stay home, so I can do all of these things, not just the fun stuff.

So, today we went to an open play time at a local community center. Before we went in, we had a little talk:

"Sam, there are going to be other kids in there, and toys that you'll share with them. What are you going to do if you'd like to play with a toy?"

"Please, can I have a turn with that when you're done?" Sounding a little less canned.

"Good, honey. And you know I'll be there to help you if you need it, ok?"


So, we go in and we have the place to ourselves for about 15 minutes, and then the flood gates opened. About 15 kids in the preschool came pouring in, taking over all of the riding toys and the bouncy house. I braced myself. Sam immediately went after the little girl on the motorcycle he'd most recently been playing with, screaming and running after her. Here we go. I scooped him up and walked him to the corner.

"Sam, she's taking a turn with that right now. I'll let you down when you can use words instead of scream."

He nods, and I let him down. He runs up to the girl again, and to my surprise says, "Can I please have a ride with you?"

She thinks about it and sizes him up, then nods. He delightedly hops on the back of the motorcycle and she scoots him about the gym, Sam giggling the whole time.

It brought me a lot of insight about why he behaves the way he does. I really, honestly think that he loves other kids, and wants to play with them more than he wants their toys. But, he's just so intense about it. With one little girl, he ran up and started talking in her face, then said he wanted her to take her finger out of her mouth and take her glove off so he could hold her hand, which he tried to accomplish by yanking her hand out of her mouth and trying to pull off her glove. She looked slightly shell-shocked. I can just imagine that at preschool he had some sort of interaction like this, and instead of me being there to sort of coach him through it, the kid rebuffed him or got mad, and it escalated into other ways to get the attention of the kid, then his frustration set him off on other negative attention-getting behaviors of the rest of the day. As a contrast, I helped him through that first interaction with that motorcycle girl, and things went more or less pretty well for the rest of the time we were there.

So, I have a new plan. If he throws something, grabs something, hits someone, or does any sort of other negative behavior, even if it's coming from an excited intense mood rather than a mad one, I calmly pick him up and take him away from the situation, where we have a little chat about what went wrong and how to do it differently. I hope at the very least he'll get the idea that if he does any of those things he gets a time-out, but I also hope that he starts to absorb how to do it better and that it sets him on that better path.

On the way home, I had another insight.

"Sam, I am so proud of the way you played with other kids today. You did a great job using your words and sharing toys."

He's gazing out the window. "I made that boy scream."

He's thinking about the one other time we had trouble, when he excitedly hit a boy who was playing in a tunnel, and I removed him to have a talk about it. Amazing - out of all the good interactions he had, he remembers the one that didn't go well. Is he going to be like this? "Good job, honey, you got mostly A's!" "But I got one B, mom." Is he going to take not pleasing people, especially those he's close to, really hard? I'll have to be sure that he knows when he's done well, and that it matters to me just as much if not more than when things go the other way.

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