April Moments

Maybe, just maybe, telling the story is just as important as the story itself

Everyone has a bad day now and then

One of the harshest realities of being a working mom is knowing that Elliot spends more time with his teachers and classmates than he does with me on weekdays. Thus, much of the information I obtain about his day comes to me in a second-hand form, whether one of his teachers chats with me in the hall or leaves me a note in his cubby.

There are some days when Elliot recounts entire episodes of someone getting in trouble or what the lunch menu was. Other days, when I ask Elliot what he did in school, what books they read or who he played with, he doesn’t respond. I think he is simply exhausted from the day – from learning, singing, playing and being told what to do.

At the end of a “bad day,” however, Elliot is usually not forthcoming with information at all.

During the past two weeks, Elliot has pulled the hair of one of his classmates on two separate occasions. This is his fourth week in his new classroom with three new teachers. Most of his peers are the same because all the classes at the center “move up” together. There are three children who are brand new to the Pre-K room.

So, perhaps he is frustrated somehow by his new environment? My Elliot is a tester for sure. Maybe he is still pushing boundaries and seeing what he can get away with.

But, he knows pulling hair – and hitting and pushing, for that matter – is wrong. We had some of these aggression issues with him when he first entered day care at 2 years old. I thought those days were long gone. He is 4 – almost 4 and a half.

So, we have discussed at length why pulling hair is rude and unacceptable. I told him it’s OK to feel angry or frustrated, but pulling hair is not the way to express those emotions. I explained that he is allowed to say, “That makes me angry” or “I’m upset.” We rehashed all of these guidelines.

In addition, Elliot’s teachers use a reward/consequence system that includes paper dollars, which can, at the end of the week, be exchanged for prizes from the “treasure box.” I have mixed feelings about this method. Elliot doesn’t seem to care if he wins a prize from the box. For the past two weeks, he has lost all his dollars by Friday and comes home empty handed. I’ve tried encouraging him to exhibit good behavior – to follow directions, to clean up toys, to be kind – so he will earn dollars. I started thinking that maybe seeing how many dollars some of the other children have will plant in him a desire to earn more dollars. Then, on the other hand, I began fretting that Elliot will feel like an outcast because his classmates have droves of dollars and he has none.

Elliot’s Pre-K program also selects two “Terrific Kids” each month. I must admit, even though it’s still the first month of Pre-K, I have a fear that he will never get to be a “Terrific Kid.” The real issue though, the issue with which I struggle more than any other, is the guilt. What have I done wrong that is causing Elliot to pull this girl’s hair? What can I do differently so he will behave well and earn dollars?

I asked my husband if he ever feels this guilt. “No,” he answered without any hesitation. “It’s good for Elliot to learn these lessons now. My behavior was horrible when I went to kindergarten. I had been home with just my mom, and my brother was only a baby when I went to school. I had no social skills, and I refused to share.”

“Why do you think I let this eat away at me then?” I questioned him again.

“Because, deep down, you feel like if you had been able to stay home with Elliot and not work, he wouldn’t be acting this way,” he replied.

Interesting. His responses contradicted themselves. I pointed this out to my wonderful husband.

“Exactly,” he added. “You shouldn’t feel guilty. It’s not your fault he’s pulled her hair twice.”

I heard what he said, and I would probably offer the same advice to any of my mom friends. Believing it for myself, though, is another story.

Then, I remembered a day several months ago when I posted as my Facebook status: “The director at Elliot’s day care said he had a ‘bad day,’ so naturally, I got in the car and cried.”

I don’t recall why he had a bad day or what particular behavior was a problem at that time. What I do remember are the comments I received from other moms. I actually searched through my Facebook wall to find them. I have decided to post a few of the best remarks here to remind both myself and other working moms that we all have bad days.

“Don’t worry. For every bad day he has, he has a dozen good days. Chin up.”

“That is the only way that he’ll appreciate the good days. He’ll be fine. :)”

“Every child has a bad day or two, no matter how sweet and demure they are. I have been teaching Headstart for six years. I have seen it all! Don’t worry. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent or that Elliot is a bad kid. We all have bad days, don’t we?”

“While I don’t work with Elliot’s age bracket, I know that (the previous commenter) is right. I also have this theory about the reaction to the bad day being more important than the bad day itself. Even a bad day can teach him something! Hang in there!”

“April, he is testing out new behaviors to see the consequences. It doesn’t reflect on you. It’s just part of growing up. How boring would a perfect child be?!”

And, my personal favorite: “I do the same thing, April! Nothing makes me cry more than when my kids are terrible in public! It’s bad enough when they’re bad for me! I always think it must be my fault; if I were a better parent, then my kids would behave better. But that’s NOT TRUE! My kids act terrible because they are human! I am praying for you, that you will know that it’s OK for Elliot not to be perfect or you either. That is my biggest struggle, to allow my kids and myself to be human. It is a good reminder to me that God loves me no matter how many times I misbehave. He knew I was going to do awful things even before I was born and he still LOVES ME! Ditto for you and Elliot! It isn’t your fault; he is a kid and a human just the way God made him to be!”

Originally published on ovparent.com.

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