tVolume 18, Number 37 | Jan. 27 - Feb. 2, 2006

Youth

Discovering how you compare and contrast with classmates

By Jane Flanagan

Being a parent, I often feel I’m enrolled in a relentless crash course in human behavior. Only I’m one pupil who is always behind in the curriculum. It seems I just get a handle on where my son is development-wise, and he up and changes on me.

Rusty, 7, is in first grade and at his school they don’t assign homework yet. So I was totally unprepared for his violent reaction to the one task that did come home recently. It was a “family project” and entailed gluing, pasting, cutting, drawing and writing some words. Since the subject matter was a family history, we parents were asked to help by tracking down photos, offering historical details and writing out words that were too difficult for first graders.

We had about a week to do it and one night before dinner I suggested that we sit down and begin. That turned out to be a night we almost didn’t have dinner. Here’s how it went:

“Rusty come to the table and let’s work on this project,” I said. He was playing with some toy cars at the time and started revving up his vocal “vroom vrooms” to drown me out.

“Rusty,” I said louder, “don’t you want to work on your project? It sounds like fun.” He raced his car to the other side of the room. I shouted louder still, “Rusty, we have to work on the project. It’s due Friday.”

“I don’t’ want to work on the project, I don’t want to!” he yelled.

This back and forth kept escalating until, suddenly, he threw one of his beloved Hotwheels cars across the room and said, “I don’t want to!!”

Then I started to get angry. “Rusty, come here right now, or I’m taking all those cars away.” I said. He started to cry.

And there I was in that unhappy Mom place. You know the one where you want to kill your kid. “How could he be so obstinate about this? And disobedient. All because he doesn’t want to stop playing? I will not stand for this!”

With these thoughts continuing to flow through my brain, I knew I was headed smack into an all out war. Fortunately, before I could open my mouth I noticed just how upset he seemed to be. It forced me do a “stop and think,” as his kindergarten teacher would say.

“Is he really crying just because he doesn’t want to stop playing? Or could there be more to it?

So I asked him. At first he didn’t answer, he just kept vroom vrooming. But when I asked again he blurted out. “Everyone in the class can write better than I can!”

So I knelt down and gingerly coaxed him up to the kitchen chair.

“Rusty that’s not true,” I said.

“Oh yes it is,” he said.

He went on to say that everyone else could cut better, draw better and add and subtract better, too. “The only thing I’m good at is sports,” he said. I kept assuring him that this wasn’t so and after awhile he begrudgingly picked up the scissors. But after cutting for five minutes he stopped in frustration. “Look at that! I can’t cut right – it looks terrible!”

I was dumbfounded. I knew he was doing okay at school. Why was he so upset? I couldn’t figure it out.

I was so perplexed, I stopped in to see the school psychologist. To my surprise she wasn’t surprised by his behavior. “It’s not unusual,” she said. She informed me that around the ages 6 and 7, kids go through a profound shift. Until then, they are living in a magical world where they believe they can do anything.

For instance, she explained that a four-year old might begin to draw something, telling you it was a truck. But when he finished and it looked nothing like a truck, he’d then proclaim it “a pond.” If you asked, “What about the truck?” he’d say, “What truck? It’s a pond.” What a marvelous way to cope.

But once children start moving into ages 6 and 7, they move toward reality. At this age, a child knows a drawing doesn’t look like a truck and he might just tear up the paper in frustration.

Also at this age, kids begin to look around and see where they fit in the scheme of things. They observe other kids doing certain things better, something they never had to accept before, she said. They get knocked down a peg or two to reality. I can relate to that!

This is amazing news to me. My homework assignment is to get him more comfortable with his own abilities, strengths and weaknesses. In short, to get him to accept himself. Hmmh, seems to me I’ve been working on that one myself, for, I don’t know, forever? I’d better get busy. As I said, behind as usual.


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