Another week done; in fact a whole month done now, and a little more progress with getting used to school. Actually, to anyone who sees at us at the door every morning, it would all look perfect – my small boy gives me a cheeky grin, runs towards his classroom, then turns to blow me a kiss.
And that’s the good thing – he’s happy going in, and unless his teacher is keeping a big secret from me (I do wait nervously to be pulled aside at every single pick-up) he’s doing OK in class. All of his anxiety is manifesting itself outside of school. (So far anyway. Please say I haven’t tempted fate.)
I think it makes sense. He spends four hours forty minutes every day doing what he’s asked, trying to listen, standing up when he’s told to stand up, sitting down when he’s told to sit down, reciting, singing, learning, watching, eating – all on schedule, all in small windows of time, then on to the next thing. It’s nothing like his life to date, and I imagine some kids adapt more quickly than others.
So if he has to give a pitch perfect performance every day in school, then I guess he needs to let it all out somewhere else. For the first couple of weeks, that somewhere else was the school-run – on the way up to the school in the morning in particular. But we’ve just had two full weeks of successful morning school runs, so I’m celebrating. School collection is tricky too, but we’ve just had one full week of successful afternoon school runs, so I’m celebrating that too.
Some days now there are just one or two outbursts in the evening – like when I used the wrong toothpaste on Tuesday night and he cried like I’d just tried to brush his teeth with rancid broccoli that I fished out of the bin. Or when I rinsed out an empty milk carton – apparently that was all wrong, and I should have known he wanted to fill it up with more milk. Or when he spent 40 minutes reading his Freddie Buttons books looking for breakfast inspiration, and couldn’t understand that eventually toast in the car was the only remaining option.
Something that may be helping is his bead jar – a reward chart by any other name. Back when the girls were very small, I tried rewards charts, and they were an unmitigated disaster. If they didn’t get stars going to bed at night, or if one got more than the other, all hell broke loose. The tantrums caused by not getting loads and loads of stars were far worse than the occasional tantrums we were trying to curtail, so after a few weeks, I stopped.
Then over the years, I read bits here and there suggesting that reward charts might not be a great idea in the long run, because they may teach kids that a job is only worth doing if there’s something in it for them. So coupled with the fact that they hadn’t worked with my kids anyway, I was happy to leave them aside.
But last week, desperate for anything that would help, I introduced a bead jar for the small boy. If he listens to me on the school run, and comes with me when I call him, and doesn’t run away or get really cross, he gets a bead. When he has 50 beads, he gets to go for coffee and cake with me – just the two of us – and he can pick anywhere he wants. He’s very, very excited about getting beads, and already planning where to go for coffee (our local Insomnia – he’s a man of simple needs). I don’t think the beads will save us if he comes out of school exhausted and ready to snap, but perhaps they’re helping on the could-go-either-way days.
And as a wise psychologist said to me some time ago, although reward charts might not be ideal in every situation, we all need motivation – including adults – and perhaps kids need some motivation too.
And then came today – the last school day of September – and I really wanted it to go well. We needed to end the month on a high, as a hopeful sign of things to come. I sweetened the deal with some “well done finishing one month in school” jellies, and happily, everything else just fell into place. We drove home, all in good moods, all four of us singing along to Katy Perry’s Firework (the four-year-old’s favourite song), munching on jellies, and congratulating ourselves on getting to today.
Now he’s counting his school-run beads, and working out how long it will be until he can cash them in for coffee and cake. I’m counting my school-run beads too, but since I’m a grown-up, I’ve cashed mine in early. Just don’t tell the small boy.