School is hard on lots of kids. I know it. For a long time, my work during the school year was to run friendship circles for girls, present Kidpower in classrooms, and provide social/emotional support during recess. I see what happens when kids get over or under stimulated, when they don’t have enough tools for emotional processing or simply when supervision is limited. School can be a place where emotions run high and hitting feels like the only way.
Still, when I go to pick up the Squirrel from school and she’s in the office…again…my heart sinks. The secretary and her teacher have that harried look like they’ve tried everything and are at their wits end.
The hitting started back in January. Every once in a while, the Squirrel would lash out at a kid who did something she didn’t like. Then, it escalated. Pushing kids out of their chairs, kicking them on the ground, pinching, kicking other girls in the crotch, beating kids with hard plastic jump ropes, hitting the same girl over and over…this has been happening every single day. For months. Her school threatened suspension. I didn’t know that could even happen in kindergarten.
What is causing this level of acting out? What do we do about it? How out of control she must feel. Is it the environment? Her past trauma? Frustration over a learning disability? Being away from home too long? All of the above?
Of course, we had an SST with the principal, her teacher and our social worker. We all agreed that, as the Squirrel deepened her attachment to Lynn and I, being away from us for a whole school day, was just too much. She needed to be able to picture where we were and what we were doing. She needed to know we still existed. Like a toddler who circles back around to her mother’s lap 1000 times a day.
So I volunteered in the classroom more, presenting Kidpower skills every week to all the kindergartners. We set up a daily phone call for the Squirrel to hear our voices each morning and picture where we were. We gave stickers and special time with us for each day she kept her hands and feet to herself. We practiced great ways to deal with big feelings in therapy. We repeated how much we loved her and were there to help. Nothing, however, seemed to actually help. The daily beatdowns continued. And she was crying every morning and faking sick to get out of going to school at all.
Finally, our therapist suggested I stay at school with her for a few weeks, like a behavioral aid, and find out more about her triggers. Frustrated and exhausted, I agreed. I saw that the Squirrel behaves very much like a two year old in her classroom. She wants things her way and when they don’t match up, she freezes, fights or flees. It is heartbreaking. Our kid is nowhere near ready for school. There is not enough containment or support in a traditional classroom. And there is not enough mommy. She wanted to be in my lap all day. Being her aide wasn’t sustainable, of course. I lasted less than a week. But I learned a lot. And I switched to picking her at noon every day instead.
Investigating new schooling possibilities has been at the forefront these days. Public school? Private school? Charter school? Homeschooling is not allowed until we formally adopt her. We are not in charge of when that happens. Most folks who have been parents for 6 months don’t have to deal with school at all. I miss that opportunity to get to know my kid at home with the curtains drawn. No sad and sorry looks from teachers with the best intentions. No pressure for the kid to make friends before she actually knows how.
One morning after Spring Break, the Squirrel announced that she had decided not to hit anyone at school. Great choice! She’d never said anything like that. I admit, my hopes were up. Could it be this simple? Did all our interventions finally sink in? Sure enough, the hitting stopped. 4 days of no hitting. 5 days…I started picking her up 30 minutes later each day.
Yesterday, we got to pick up another little girl in class for carpool and the Squirrel was so happy she could barely stand it. They ran down to class together holding hands while I watched. This had never happened! Maybe we’ll make it through the next few weeks to summer and she’ll feel even the littlest bit connected and successful.
But the Squirrel was in the office when I came to pick her up later that day. She had pinched and hit and kicked the very same girl we picked up for carpool. I’m back to picking her up at noon. And I’m up at 4:30 in the morning writing this blog post. I’m noticing how triggered I am about her hitting. I’m noticing how much I want her to “be a good girl” in school. Mostly, I’m just tired and out of answers. But I’ll help her write her apology card this morning and give it to her friend. I’ll help facilitate the repair and try to trust that at some point she will grow through this. However, I am so frustrated… I could hit someone.