My sweet boy has been struggling lately. Especially when it comes to digging deep inside of him for the courage to go to school.
Some kids jump up at the thought of seeing their friends and teachers, and seeing what new object will be featured on the sensory table or in the discovery center of their classroom. My child loves all of those things too, but he is completely overwhelmed with the “what if” thoughts and the crippling worries he associates with getting into that classroom.
Every morning he tries to stall our routine. Every morning he argues with me about what clothes he’s going to wear and how scratchy they are or how big the tags are. Every morning he argues with me about going to the bathroom. Every morning he takes forever to eat breakfast. No matter when I wake him up, he adjusts his procrastinating accordingly, hoping that if he does just enough to make us behind in getting out the door then I’ll throw my hands up in defeat and declare it a stay-at-home day. That never happens, but bless his heart how he tries.
Today as we were about to run out the door (per our usual exit strategy) he had to run back in to get his stuffed puppy that his Nana gave him for Christmas. He wasn’t a big stuffed animal kid until just a few months ago, and his clinginess to them has recently accelerated. I told him he could bring his puppy in the car but he couldn’t take it into school. He said he was going to do it anyway. He’s four, after all, and they tend to (try to) do what they want.
We drove to school, chatting lightly about things and saying “hi” to an iron stick man sculpture and a crazy tree we see on our route. I rounded the school parking lot in the car line pattern and pull up to the front so G can get out. He gets out of the car and looks in his tote basket, quickly realizing his puppy isn’t in there. He turns back to the car and desperately asks for Fluffy. I can see the panic seeping into his eyes. He’s pleading with me with that look, and I can’t say no even though I know he’s not supposed to bring outside toys to class. I can tell it’s a day he needs a little extra comfort from home.
At pickup, several hours later, he’s walked to the car by one of his teachers. He looks sad. He’s in “shut down” mode and I’m immediately wondering what happened. His teacher leans in the car and tells me they had an issue with his puppy because he was told not to take it outside because he would get dirty and that maybe puppy was better left in the safe, warm car during school. I interpreted that as “lady, follow the rules and don’t let your kid bring toys from home.” She was nice about it, but note taken.
G was visibly and verbally upset. He told me “they said I can’t bring my puppy back, never ever ever again.” He has two classes in a day. His morning class and then lunch bunch, which has completely different teachers. I asked him what his first class teachers said and he said “she didn’t even care. She was asking me questions about Fluffy and even said maybe one of the days all of the kids could bring a stuffy from their own house.”
He was pretty confused why one half of his day was supportive of his comfort item and the other half didn’t embrace it. His first class teachers are aware of his struggles with anxiety and are a bit more compassionate in allowing him to do what he feels he needs to do to cope. His second class teachers may not be aware of how severe his anxiety can become.
He doesn’t always want to bring his stuffed animal with him places, but I can always tell what kind of a day he’s having based on his level of attachment to whatever item/toy he chooses to cling to. If he’s experiencing any emotional discomfort he will not leave the house or car without a toy in his hand. It’s needless to say, he’s had some pretty rough days lately.
And needless to say, I’m very much looking forward to immersing him in play therapy with his psychologist so we can start tackling those anxiety-coping skills.
That all said … teachers, I have a small request. If you have a student who is carrying around an object or a toy even if the rules don’t allow for them … I implore you to please consider the child’s individual personality and reasons for carrying said toy before you risk embarrassing them or causing increased levels of anxiety by pointing out their “mistake” in bringing it. That toy might be the only thing that got them through the school doors that day.
Hoping for a happier day tomorrow.
P.S. while I’m struggling most days with my own anxiety, I’m thankful for the blessing of empathy for G. He will not have to fight this alone and will always, always, always have someone with a deep understanding and who loves him unconditionally in his corner.