Child Psych 101, With Our Own Kid
Babyboy has been refusing to go to school for the past few weeks. I mean, he goes, usually because we sit on him to get him dressed, drag him kicking and screaming to the car, and stuff him in his car seat, then hand him off to his teachers, wailing.
It’s his Special Ed preschool, and he used to love it there. He would go and return in the same calm, contented manner. He would chatter on about his little friends. We felt really good about the exceedingly small class size: they started with only eight students, with four staff members, not counting the occupational and speech therapists.
So it’s come in handy that back in January, we started seeing a child psychologist about some of his behavior issues, since we didn’t really know what’s autism and what’s just 3.5 year-old normal, and either way, we didn’t know what to do about any of it.
So last time we met, we told her about the school refusal that seemed to come out of the blue. sometime after Christmas break. Babyboy had had a spate of illnesses, and with coughs and colds and ear infections and diarrhea and then school vacations, he missed a whole lot of school. So we were thinking, he just got out of the rythym of it.
But she suggested that something might have scared him. She asked us if we’d ever asked him why he didn’t want to go to school. We had, and he’d told us that there were “scary monsters” there. We had kind of shrugged that off, but when we shared that those were his own words, she sat forward almost in startled sort of way, and explained that really indicated that something scared him at school. It may have been nothing much at all, maybe a fire drill or another kid had an outburst in class or maybe he tripped and fell or something, and it scared him, and he now has this association.
She said the association can be hard to break, and it may help to try to figure out what it was that scared him so we can work with him to smooth it over. So we emailed his teacher about the whole thing, (she is like the nicest lady ever), and she’s been great. She now personally meets us at dropoff and tries to always be the one who escorts Babyboy to class (the school has this really regimented dropoff situation, where you drive up to a curb and staff members take your kid into the building). We think it’s helped, but there have been some incredibly tough mornings.
Those mornings are toughest on hubby, since three mornings a week, he is solo on getting the kids out the door. I don’t know how he does it, what with the insane winter weather and dealing with all the stuff for one autistic preschooler and one sassy toddler, the clothes and gear and lunches and backpacks etc. It’s amazing that he can get them out the door and to their respective schools on time. Respect.
So there’s that. But then last week, I took Babyboy to the grocery store. Traditionally, he loves the grocery store. He loves cooking with me, so he loves investigating foods and ingredients and all the colors and sights and sounds of the store. It’s usually a fun trip.
But. He was going through this spitting phase, where he would walk around making raspberries and sometimes even leaning forward and letting spittle dribble onto the floor. Our way of managing this was to express disapproval and then turn away and ignore him as much as possible. The thinking was that he was doing it to get attention; even negative attention can feed a bad behavior.
Anyway, as we were perusing the produce aisle, and I was on the cell phone with my mother asking about a lunch we were having the next day, I guess he was making very wet raspberries. Very wet. And a lady who was walking by with her two kids, well, they got raspberried. Or really, they got spat on. I didn’t see it because I was hunting for cilantro and chatting on the phone.
All of a sudden I hear “THAT IS DISGUSTING! THAT IS SO RUDE!” and I turned and it’s this lady pointing at Babyboy and yelling at him.
“Uh, so sorry, what happened?” I asked.
“HE SPAT ON MY CHILD. SO GROSS. YOU SHOULDN’T SPIT ON PEOPLE.” She pulled her kid way, who was, actually, wiping off his face. “GROSS.” She added over her shoulder.
“I’m so sorry, I didn’t see it happen. Apologies.” I called over and went to Babyboy.
He appeared frozen. Then, his face crumpled and he collapsed in my arms sobbing, “Mommy, I want go ho-ome. I want go ho-ome.” (His way of saying “home” sounds like “ho-WEM”). I felt bad for him, but honestly, we’d been trying to break this bad habit. I comforted him and hugged him but told him he really couldn’t spit like that. And we couldn’t go home because we needed to do the shopping.
We got through the trip, with him fairly clinging to my leg the whole shop, and periodically begging to go ho-WEM.
And since then, he hasn’t wanted to go out anywhere. Now all places are scary. Today, Saturday, we wanted to try to do something fun, or go to a store, but he refused, with the same passionate, all-out, violent refusal we’re seeing for school. Hubby got him dressed and he took off all his clothes and put his pajamas back on.
Ack. So I took Babygirl out and Hubby stayed home with Babyboy for the morning… But I was plotting.
I don’t want him to become agoraphobic. But, we don’t have any upcoming sessions with the psychologist, and it’s not like I could confer with her on this one. I had to wing it.
So, in the afternoon, when he was in a happy mood, I asked him if he wanted to go feed the ducks.
This worked. Maybe because the ducks are outside, and being ducks, fairly nonthreatening. Babyboy thought about it for awhile, then said, “Oh-kaaay.” Hubby danced a hallelujah dance and off we went.
There’s a brook and a pond near us where this mallard gang hangs out and gorges on all the stale carbs of the surrounding suburbia. Everyone who walks their dogs brings the ducks some bread; and everyone with kids makes the feed-the-ducks outing every once in awhile. Hence, some well-trained ducks.
A huge bonus was the dogs. There happened to be some nice people with nice dogs while we were out there, and Babyboy got to interact nonthreatening creatures galore. “Do you like doggies?” one kind elderly person after the other would ask. “You can pet Buddy, he loves kids!”
I was thinking, “Yeah! Build up the positive associations!”
It went well. So, when we got back into the car, I decided to push it and try to go to a store. Only one type of store was going to work here, and so it was:
The toy store.
Yup, it’s not Christmas or a birthday or anything, but I just wanted him to go into a store and leave happy. So, we went to the local shmancy toy store, and Babyboy picked out a fireman outfit, and we left with him happy.
Spoiling him? Or successful application of child psychology?