School is starting. There are pictures all over my newsfeed of happy kids with their chalkboards and excited parents sending them off for their first day. Unfortunately, this is not our situation. I am terrified to send my son to kindergarten next week. Every time the thought crosses my mind, there is a sinking feeling and a huge knot in my stomach. Will his teacher hate him? Will the staff know both of us by name by day two? How many scathing phone calls and emails will I get about him just the first week?
My 5-year-old has ADHD and generalized anxiety disorder, and often gets a bad rap for his behavior, but here is what I want you to know if you come across my child … especially on a bad day.
He’s not a bad kid.
I feel like I say this 100 times a day. This is the most important message about my son and any other kiddos out there with the same or similar diagnoses – they. are. not. bad. kids. My son is sweet, funny, sensitive, empathetic, incredibly intelligent, and is the most type A control freak kid I have ever met. I know that much he gets from yours truly.
A big part of his personality that also plays into his diagnoses is that he hates feeling out of control. It makes him anxious, and when he gets anxious, it manifests as irritability and anger. He does not mean to lose his temper, he feels horrible as soon as he does it — and that’s why it gets so bad when he has a meltdown. This is another place in our story that I feel is misunderstood a lot of times — I am in no way excusing his behavior. He cannot act the way he does when he’s upset. His meltdowns are not okay. We are working on the way he expresses his anger. However, please remember these three things: He is 5 and emotions are difficult to navigate. He doesn’t want to be in trouble, I promise.
He is not a bad kid.
We enlist LOTS of professional help.
My son has so much support because we want ALL THE HELP. We work very closely with his pediatrician, which was obviously our first step. He sees a behavioral therapist at least once a week, depending on how he is doing, sometimes more. He also sees a clinical psychologist, who specializes in his exact disorders. I promise, we are not ignoring the problem. We are literally doing everything we can.
Our parenting style is not the issue.
We have honest to goodness tried it all. (Other than spanking — I can’t bring myself to spank a kid for being aggressive — what kind of message would that send!?) We have taken EVERYTHING he loves away from him and we have rewarded him with toys for acting like a normal human for a day. We have put him in a million and one extracurricular activities, and we have tried breaking from them until his behavior improves. We have been insanely strict and we have been incredibly lax.
We have behavior charts, calm down kits (at home and travel size for when we’re on the go), sensory bins, and so many books. And the thing of it is, none of that matters. He doesn’t act the way he acts because we are too hard on him or not hard enough. He acts the way he acts because of the way his brain is wired. This is just the kid that he is. So the next time you want to judge or think to offer “advice” that’s really a thinly veiled criticism, please remember that everyone involved wants a solution, especially my husband and me. We are doing the very best job we can.
It’s none of your business if we medicate.
This is one of those tricky decisions that is only up to the parents and licensed medical professionals. The thing about these diagnoses is that sometimes it is not even really an option — it would be like depriving a diabetic of their insulin, or not giving antibiotics to someone with strep throat. Sometimes it is what a child needs to be healthy and successful in everyday life. However, from personal experience it is nobody’s go to first response, most loved solution, or desired outcome. It very much was not ours. So, judgment is not necessary. Especially if you have never been put in that position.
Hard-to-deal-with qualities in children are amazing qualities in adults.
This is one of those things that someone said to me that has become a mantra in my everyday life. I remember crying in my son’s therapist’s office that I was at the end of my rope. That I didn’t know what I was doing wrong. Why does he act this way!?
She told me to think long-term about the traits he was showing. That changed everything for me. He is defiant and argues his point into the ground. He is strong-willed and stubborn. He does not take “no” for an answer. You know what that translates to, though? As an adult in a challenging world — he won’t take no for an answer. He will chase his dreams to the ends of the Earth. He will be persistent until he reaches his goals. He will not give up on himself.
And you know what? Neither will I.