Is it bad that I am happy my kid is having tantrums at his new school?

Colin started his new school on Monday. They told me that the first day would be an easy one and that they weren’t going to do much “work.” They wanted to establish a relationship with the therapist and make Colin think of it as a fun place to be. Of course, the report that came home that day didn’t have much in the “challenges” column.

Sometimes I feel like people think we are crazy for saying that Colin has issues or because we have decided to go this therapy route. That’s because most people never really see him “in action.” At parties, family get-togethers, etc, he usually behaves fairly well. However, that’s mostly because we aren’t doing any “work.” We aren’t asking him to do anything he doesn’t want to do. He is such a social little kid, so he walks around charming everyone. He gets lots of attention and people hand him whatever food/ toy/ other item he wants, and everything is fine. 

When he does have a tantrum or he misbehaves, people have a tendency to smile and say, “Oh yeah, the terrible twos!” …But this is not just because he is two. We know all about the terrible twos – our four- and three-year-olds were just there very recently, so we have a bit of experience with that. This is different. It’s much more extreme, and we’ve been dealing with it since he was about 12-months-old, well before the terrible twos should have kicked in.

It is when he is not getting whatever he wants or when we sit down and ask him to do something that it becomes a problem. I wish that the people who say, “Oh, he’s fine,” could see him in some of his occupational or developmental therapy sessions. If he chooses to do an activity, which is usually playing with trains, his attention span is appropriate. However, if we try to direct him in an activity (colors, animals, counting, building a tower, etc), he gets frustrated. He walks away, throws the items we are trying to work with, hits, has tantrums, etc. Again, some people can just dismiss this as toddler stuff, but two doctors and two therapists so far have told us that this behavior is not normal for his age.

Colin had cognitive testing done in May. At that time, the testing put him two to three months behind where he should have been. The thing is though is that it’s not that he’s not “smart.” They told us that he is behind because of his lack of attention and focus, hyperactivity, high frustration level, etc.

And the aggression. Oh the aggression. Sometimes it is triggered and appropriate, like when Noah or Zoe take a toy from him, but sometimes it is for no reason at all. Yesterday we were lying in bed watching Team Umizoomi. We were snuggling and it was sweet. Then, for no reason at all, he smacked me in the face. Hard. I told him it hurt me and he laughed. He did it again. I told him, “We do not hit,” and he blew raspberries at me and laughed again.

Christian even tried to make a spreadsheet once with the behavior and the trigger so that we could find some sort of pattern, but there just isn’t one. That’s part of what makes it so frustrating.

Prior to this school, he was in a church pre-school. The twos class was a very free-play, easy-going class. The teachers were pretty relaxed. In fact, they were too relaxed for my tastes. Colin’s developmental therapist did a session once at his school, and she agreed. She said they really didn’t ask him to do anything. I went to pick him up one day and I was a few minutes early. They were supposed to be sitting in circle time listening to a book. Two kids were sitting in circle time listening nicely. Two kids were playing with toys, but they were still sitting nicely. Colin was pushing a shopping cart around the room and running it into the walls. The teachers were making no attempt to make him pay attention. When we told the two teachers that he wouldn’t be there because he was going to this new school, they acted shocked. “Oh really? He’s been so good.”

Again, he was “good” because he wasn’t being asked to do anything he didn’t want to do. I knew the negative behaviors would come out at his new school once they started asking him to “work,” but there was also a small part of me that was terrified he would just go in and charm the pants off everyone like he had done at the other school. I was happy he had a good first day, but slightly concerned that there was not much in the “challenges” column. I have not seen his report for today yet, but he had a total of six tantrums on Tuesday and Wednesday, including two where he hit his own head on the floor so hard it left marks. I hate to admit that I was a little relieved. I mean, I am certainly not happy that he is behaving that way, but I am so glad that they see it and that they are addressing it.

I was reading someone else’s blog who was expressing similar feelings and issues. I left her the this comment:

I just had to tell you that I can totally relate to this… The problem is that he has really bad days, but he has really good days, too. When he’s having a good day, well-meaning people tell me, “Oh, he’s fine, Tracy,” and *man* does it get under my skin. I’m sure they are trying to be reassuring, but it feels like they are telling me I am overreacting or that I am crazy. It is so tough when you see behaviors that others don’t always see.

Colin has so many positives, and I love him to infinity and back, but this is hard.


9 thoughts on “Is it bad that I am happy my kid is having tantrums at his new school?

  1. hugs girl. I think it’s great that he is comfortable enough to expresss himself at school already. That’s a good sign for his transition there. Sometimes the honeymoon is over much later and that can sometimes be harder.

    People are just trying to comfort you when they say those things- but I know it can be so frustrating. No one knows him better than you and Christian, so just listen to your gut. It’s been right so far!

  2. So many times it’s the opposite way than you describe – that the parent is a bit in denial (maybe the reality is too painful?) and friends or family are more concerned about the non typical behavior.

    It’s harder to go against the grain and I’m so glad you did. The phrase “Toddlers are so resilient” makes me want to strangle people sometimes while screaming “It depends!” or “Not all toddlers”. Don’t worry – I don’t do this in actuality. 🙂

    I know a little bit about wanting to get the professionals to understand the full picture, not the best case. I’m glad when they are impressed with my son’s progress but I want to take care of the problems he still has – I know it’s not the same with Colin and he needs help (as do you) to work with the challenges and maintain his strengths.

    It really does sound like a great school. The educators have hopefully warned you that it might be a long road – and while he’ll make great strides forward, sometimes you go backwards and then forward again. So you may still have a roller coaster sometimes. I would get discouraged when my son got off track, which would happen from time to time unexpectedly and then we would get back on track.

    BTW, I love how Christian would track his behavior on an excel sheet – that is really cool. I’m sorry you weren’t able to find any patterns but I love your willingness to find answers.

    You have great instincts. When all else fails – you can trust that.

    • They have warned us that this will be a long road. They’ve also told us that things will probably get worse before they get better.

      You’re right about us being opposite of the way many parents handle it. I hadn’t thought of that either. In our case, I am just hoping that we are making things better by getting started earlier. That’s my motivation – the sooner we do this, the better chance Colin has at being “normal” lately. Maybe that’s my denial though. Part of me thinks we are going to “solve” this now. I know that’s not the case. I know this is going to be a forever thing, but it just doesn’t make sense to wait. We can make it as good as it can possibly be if we start now.

      I know of two people whose children who just got autism diagnoses, though they had suspected it for several years. They had been getting services, but avoiding the “label.” Maybe the fact that we are willing to embrace the label does make us unusual. I wonder sometimes if we would be as willing if he was our biological son. Obviously he wouldn’t have an FAS diagnosis , but if it were an autism or other diagnosis. Maybe it would be harder to accept if we felt in some way responsible for it. (I realize that parents are in no way responsible for autism diagnoses – I’m not saying that at all – but I wonder if they might still *feel* responsible.) In our case maybe it’s easier because we don’t have to take the “blame.” Someone else is definitely responsible. Christian and I have talked about that pretty in depth. I could probably write an entire post just about that.

  3. Katherine and Kelli – You’re right, it is a good sign. I wasn’t thinking of it that way just yet. Thanks for pointing it out. Thinking positive thought, positive thoughts, positive thoughts… 🙂

  4. I don’t think it’s odd at all…it’s kind of like being relieved when your car makes “that noise” in front of the mechanic. They can’t know how to deal with it until they see what’s happening and the sooner they can see the full picture, the faster you will all be on the track best for Colin.

    As far as people trying to empthize, well, it’s tough but you’ve got to be glad they’re at least trying to understand. The thing is, they can only relate as far as their own experience and reality takes them. For a long time, it made me nuts when people “understood exactly how I felt” about my child with cf because their child had one asthma attack. I finally got that this was as much as they could understand and accept their attitude as a good intention.

  5. Let me preface this by saying that I know what you are dealing with is way, way harder than what I’ve been trying to figure out with my little one, so what I’m about to say does *not* mean I think we are dealing with the same things. I mean, I think you would completely realize that about me, but you know, I would HATE to come off like a jerk! 🙂

    I am very much like you I think when it comes to figuring out our kids. I tend to be VERY relieved when I discover that someone is having the same challenges I have with my girl. For me, I think it just gives me a tiny bit of reassurance that she can be challenging, rather than that I, you know, maybe just suck! It’s SO hard if it seems like others manage the kids with no problems whatsoever.

    I, too, get the idea of wanting to figure out exactly what is going on – even if it means signifying some labels. I’m not looking to label my child, but I feel that she has some qualities that are outside the norm, and I need to understand what is going on so I can understand how to better parent her. As a result, there may be labels applied. In our case, I think they will end up being related to positive traits that I simply need to figure out how to build, but still, I have got to figure out what is going on, you know?

    And oh yeah, I know people mean well, but hearing that all two-year-olds are busy or all kids this or that or that my kid isn’t any different, well that wears me out. Yes, toddlers are busy, and I know people mean it in a good way, but it’s generally not particularly helpful. Luckily I have a few friends who really get it, cause otherwise I really start to question myself.

    Ok, sorry for the novel. I’m not sure I’m even making any sense, I might simply be coming off as a total loon at this point…

    I think it *is* a great sign that he’s having tantrums at school. And I think the way you and Christian are approaching all of this is so incredibly admirable. Pretending there aren’t problems or aren’t labels doesn’t fix anything and doesn’t get Colin and your family the help that serves you all best. Early intervention is so critical, as you know better than anyone, and that’s what you are doing. Avoiding truths works for some people, I’ve watched it happen so much. I’m not that way, and you’re not either. I so admire how you are moving forward and working on all this, I really do.

    Again, sorry for taking over your blog! But I do get it, as much as I can considering what you are facing.

    • Stacy-

      You haven’t offended me at all. I do know what you are saying. 🙂

      And I’ve even said before on FB or on your blog that it wouldn’t hurt to have your daughter tested. If everything is normal, you can rest easier (not that you get much “rest” with her!). If it isn’t, you can get help now.

      Thanks for your comment.

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