There’s not an easy way to admit this: My son is having trouble in kindergarten. Lots of trouble. And not the usual kind of trouble. Most kids who struggle in kindergarten struggle with the academics, the learning part. Not my kid. He’s a year and half ahead, according to the principal. Yes, the principal was at the meeting.
The learning part? No problem. But that’s not all kindergarten is. It’s also doing part. It’s knowing how to line up, how to hold a pencil, how to raise your hand, how to walk down the stairs, how to sit on the rug for a minilesson, how to put your folder away, how to find your partner, how to bring your lunchbag and gloves home again. It’s the business of school. And that’s where the trouble is: in the business.
Before I threw away my promising career, I was a teacher. And I specialized in the lower grades. “I know about kindergarten,” I told myself. “I know about kids who are 5. School is going to be easy for my kids.”
Wrong. Wrong. Wrong. And let me tell you, I have a whole new perspective on parent/teacher meetings. My son’s kindergarten teacher couldn’t be more patient, kind, diligent, willing, resourceful, and all-around-awesome, but it is very hard not to leave the third meeting about your child’s behavior and not think “I have screwed up my kid so much that he is doomed to failure at school.”
So, what’s the trouble, you ask? Is he hitting other kids? Is he throwing blocks? Is he inciting rebellion? Nope. But he’s not listening, or if he is, he’s not doing. His class is late for everything because they are all waiting for him to get his act together and get in line. Does he hurry, knowing they are waiting? Nope. Instead, he creeps down the stairs during dismissal, seemingly unaware that the entire school backed up behind him. He has missed all of choice time some days because he took 15 minutes to put his folder in his backpack.
Hey, maybe he can’t focus, right? Except he can focus. We’ve all seen him do it. Maybe he can’t hear! Except he can hear, we had him tested. Maybe he can’t hurry. Well, take it from me, there’s no rushing this kid. He goes at his own pace. But sometimes that pace is really fast. It’s just not when I want him to be moving really fast.
Is he doing these things on purpose? I don’t know. The principal called it “determined defiance.” I’m not sure if I totally buy the terminology, because to me, defiance has an angry connotation, and the child isn’t angry. He’s just not. doing. it. Maybe it’s just blank stubbornness, abject cluelessness or sheer bloodymindedness.
It’s just sometimes . . . sometimes . . . the imp of the perverse sits on his shoulder and doesn’t let him shift gears, doesn’t let him transition to the next thing, doesn’t let him put his pencil down before he scribbles on his (completely awesome and well-executed) writing, doesn’t let him do the obvious and sensible thing, doesn’t let him give up and join the rest of the crew.
Maybe it’s a question of priorities. He has his number one priority, and that is whatever he is doing at that moment. And any other thing is second to his number one priority. And nothing overrides his number one priority.
It seems now that I was naive in thinking that school wouldn’t be a problem. I assumed that because he isn’t violent, aggressive, and has a great capacity for focus that school would be no problem. I thought coming from a family of educators would mean that school was just in him somehow. He has a natural love of learning, so school is the place for him, I always thought. Completely deluded, as it turns out.
I’d almost rather he struggled academically. That I could do something about. A few flashcards, a little extra practice playing games at home and we’d be back on track. But this is harder. There aren’t flashcards for compliance at home.
But there are opportunities for compliance at home, right? Sure. And I could be using each one to demand compliance at every moment at home. But that’s not my style. When we get in power struggles, I know that I lose when I win, because power struggles with a little kid mean, sure I come out on top, but look who I’ve beaten: my child. So I try and create a sort of obliqueness when our train seems to be heading for power struggle station. I divert the track so we don’t go down the tunnel, because a power struggle is his turf, he can stay engaged in it all day and isn’t afraid to let it get ugly. And I have to stay in it too, and come out on top. Believe me, we do go there, and I hold the Kind-but-firm-no-means-no line, but it’s messy. And I hate it. So when I can, I try and detour around. It takes effort, but we didn’t have to crawl through the screaming tunnel to get there. Hey, it doesn’t always work, but I’ll say this, I’m all for avoidance.
But when these times come up (and they do seem to go in waves) the thing that ultimately helps to dissolve the problem is . . . . well, love. Covering him in love, affirmation and attention, we can do it. Spending quality time wherever we can grab it, that works. Slowing down to his pace to see what’s important to him, that can work too. Somewhere in there, the problems start to ebb and we tug ourselves free, back into sure-footed-five-year-old waters again.
So that’s your solution, you ask? You sidestep a struggle and love the bejesus out of him? Yeah, I guess it is. Not much to go on, is it? All I got, though.