This week I got given some forms to fill in by school because the boy has an appointment with the educational psychologist at the beginning of June. Two pages, one for the boy to answer, one for us.
Before I talked to him about his questions, I needed to tell him about the educational psychologist. He may well talk to someone face to face without questioning it (after all, he likes to meet new people), but he wouldnt answer written questions without knowing why. I wasn’t sure school had said anything, we certainly hadn’t. (We’re trying to keep a balance between keeping him informed and not potentially confusing/worrying him with our speculations on any diagnosis he might get, so we’ve decided to tell him about things as they happen). I started by reminding him that everyone has things they’re good at and things they need help with and we had a little talk about who’s good at or needs extra help with reading and maths and behavoir in his class. I mentioned that his teachers had been trying different things recently with him, like letting him do his writing work in a quieter side room or on the computer. I said that we (his parents) talked to the teachers sometimes to swap idea’s of ways to help him. And then I told him that an educational psychologist was coming to school to see if she had any other ideas of ways the teachers could help him with the things he finds difficult.
He wanted to know what a psychologist was (he already knew the word “education”) so I said they knew about how people’s brains work. Anyway, it seemed to go down ok and we started discussing the questions.
What he liked doing and what he was good at were easy. His answer for what he found difficult surprised me “making decisions”. I know he has trouble making decisions, but I didn’t expect him to say that.
Then either the questions got harder for him or he had had enough, probably both, because he started getting more and more fidgety (does rolling from side to side waving your legs in the air count as fidgety?) and harder to talk to. I’m not sure he quite got the point of “What’s going well at school”, but I got an answer (we get to play lots). He couldn’t answer “what’s not going so well at school”, but I managed to get him to answer a (hopefully) related question I made up of “What would a bad day at school be like” (just having to write, having just 10 minutes to finish your story and then having to start another one). “Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about you” didn’t get answered at all.
Of course what he wanted to talk about was why the sheet had a number 6 at the bottom (a page number). I showed him our sheet had a number 5 at the bottom and much speculation on what was on sheets 1 – 4 (which presumably are for the school) ensued. He was also quite concerned that there was a space for filling in his name and the psychologists name at the top that had been left blank – I had to fill those in before we could start.
Anyway, I’ve got distracted. We filled in his form together, just about. After he was in bed we discussed what to put on our form. I took notes, we agreed wording and I wrote it down. In small neat handwriting because we had a lot to say and there wasn’t much space. Then, of course, I felt bad that we’d written so much, that we had so many concerns about our lovely son (mother guilt again).
And I gave the forms in. And then I worried a little more, had we written too much, had we written the wrong things, how would we come accross, would the teachers read them. Why were we doing this? Is it all a fuss over nothing? He managed to write a page and a half of A4 one day this week (sometimes he struggles to complete a sentence) and his teacher commented he’d been a lot better recently. Maybe we’re just overreacting and wasting the psychologists time. I don’t actually believe this, because the Special Needs Coordinator wouldn’t have referred him if she wasn’t concerned too, and that piece of work where he wrote so much, my husband found out he planned it with support during the intervention sessions he’s having. But the worries are still there, bouncing around my brain.
I realised today, what I want from the educational psychologist (which was one of our questions) is a sense of perspective. What is normal 7 year old boy behaviour. What is unusual, uncommon even but still within the range of normal. And are some of these things beyond normal. What should I chalk up to the general experience of being a parent and get on with. And what should concern me. Which behaviours are avoidable, and what can we do about those that aren’t. Some things surely are down to bad handling on my part (this isn’t low self esteem on my behalf, everyone gets things wrong sometimes, like earlier this week when I was goaded into justifying my behaviour and we ended up arguing all the way to school and by the time we got there he was in a complete state – not my finest parenting hour) – but how much?
For example, I know that fraught trips to school in the morning are not uncommon. That rushing doesn’t bring out the best in anyone and children sometimes get cross at their parents over things that are important to them, but less so to adults. So is a tantrum over a hat that lasts all the way to school normal or not?
This is a roundabout way of saying I have doubts. But today, I didn’t. This afternoon we had 2 parents and just one child afterschool for a couple of hours. Luxury. Plenty of opportunity to help him pack for the camp he’s going on tomorrow and get dinner cooked. Lots of attention for him, tasks done, no little sister to disrupt anyone. All was going well for a whole 5 minutes when we got to the item “strong boots or (preferably) wellies for walking, with walking socks”. He didn’t know what was meant by strong boots and he doesn’t have any so he can’t choose what is best. He has wellies, in my mind this is easy, there are two options of things to pack, you only own one, and that is the preferred option, no brainer, we pack it. But in his mind this was a problem. He was upset. It was not logical. And then I added insult to injury by suggesting he put his wellie socks in. Because, wellie socks are not walking socks, they are wellie socks, and what are walking socks anyway?
There followed about an hour of screaming and shouting. A lot of shouting. Very loud shouting. Mainly at me. For interrupting him, for telling him what to do, for ignoring him, for walking off, for not helping him, for making him cross. Whatever I did was wrong, whatever I said was wrong. I calmly explained many many times that I couldn’t help someone who was shouting at me, that he needed to calm down before I could help him pack. My husband explained. We tried ignoring him, reasoning with him (only a little), distracting him, suggesting ways he could calm down. Nothing worked, except time and dinner. (After dinner a calm boy and I had fun packing together).
I am fairly certain that was not “normal” behaviour, that I am not just being a pushy parent. And I know that he’s in bed I feel exhausted and drained, physically and emotionally. Fingers crossed tonight is not one of those nights when they don’t settle and keep having to be put back to bed. (But with new bedside lights installed today, I don’t think I’m going to be lucky).