Wednesday, March 5, 2014

And So It Begins...

I'm referring to school tribulations.  Navigating social relationships at school, and all the angst and anxiety that come with establishing and maintaining friendships, is a badge of growing up.  We all bear those scars.  It's just, I don't remember it starting at 5.  I'm sure it probably did.  But, when I think of the complicated social relationships that I had to navigate in school, I think of middle school and high school.

Kai is in the thick of it already.  In kindergarten.  And, it's really hard.  Especially because Kai is  very emotional -- she feels things very deeply and strongly -- but, she can also be really defiant -- especially when she feels threatened or cornered.  Plus, she has a temper and is a very physical child -- she responds with actions more than she responds with words.  Especially in a moment of angst.  The combination of these things has proven quite challenging in this new environment of complicated social relationships.

While Kai can be incredibly self-reflective, that reflection comes after the fact.  In a moment of emotional turmoil, Kai responds with her body, not her words.  Which, quite frankly, isn't allowed at school (or anywhere -- we've been working on these issues with Kai since she was a toddler.  She has always gotten immediate and consistent consequences when she has lashed out in anger.)  But, despite the fact that she knows that it isn't right to lash out at another person, she has not learned to control the impulse when rage strikes.  And so, right now, she's struggling at school because the emotional turmoil she is experiencing with her friendships is causing her to act out in ways that are simply not acceptable at school.  In the last week, this has resulted in more and more discipline at school, meetings with her teacher and the principal (and another parent), and - today - she got sent home from school early.

I'm really struggling with all of this.  On the one hand, Kai's behavior is alarming.  She should not be hitting or kicking or spitting or threatening to harm other kids.  On the other hand, Kai is experiencing very deep relationships for the first time, and she's having trouble learning how to share her friends and express her feelings.  Last week, when she lashed out, she said she did it because "her heart was broken."  Those were her words.  And, I remember that feeling so well.  My heart breaking over my friends treating me badly.  And she told me that, when it happened, her brain was saying, "hit her, hit her, hit her... over and over... and I couldn't stop it."  And I remember that, too.  I remember those intense feelings of rage and sadness.  So, I emphasize with what she is going through.  But, I also know that she cannot act on those feelings.  She needs to learn to walk away.  To take a deep breath.  To move on.  And she didn't -- so here we are.  Today, she didn't actually go through with the deed.  She just threatened harm (to the same girl as before).  But, given what happened last week (hitting and spitting) -- it was enough to get her in hot water fast.  She got sent home. 

Kai was really upset about missing school and African dance.  She told me she felt "like the worst kid in the world."  She said her tummy hurt and she was really sad about it all.  I was really sad for her -- and also upset that she had gotten in trouble again so quickly after the last incident despite all the consequences and conversations we've had over the last week. 

Tonight at dinner, we were talking about her school.  She had brought a little bird home from school that a classmate, Amy, had given her.  I commented that she and Amy were getting to be closer friends and asked if they played together.  Kai agreed that they were friends but said, "we don't play together.  We are not in the same club."  I asked her what she meant, and she said, "I'm in Talia's club and Amy is in Daliha's club.  We are not in the same club so we can't play together at recess."  I was floored.  Clubs? Cliques? Kindergarten?!  And to hear her using terms like that to describe what was going on -- my 5 year old is going on 13. I'm not ready for middle school. And, if this is what kindergarten is like -- what is real middle school going to be like?!

We talked about how she could be friends with lots of different people -- even people that are not friends with each other.  We role played some scenarios of kids excluding other kids and how to handle the anger and sadness that comes with being excluded.  She liked the role playing.  I'm not sure that it is really going to help, though. 

We practiced taking deep breaths.  We practiced telling an adult and what to do when the adult doesn't respond the way you want him/her to respond. We talked about things she could do to handle being angry or upset.  We told her stories about when we had been angry or upset and what we did. 

We did all those things -- and we'll do them again.   

After talking for awhile, we played with a puzzle, ate popsicles and reminded her how much we loved her.

I have no idea if any of it will work.  All I know is that this is hard. Really hard. 

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