Those of you who have followed my blogging over the years are familiar with the hitting issues we’ve had with my son. When he was not even 2 when he started “randomly assaulting” little kids. He’d walk up to them and scratch their faces. He’d push kids over, including babies, or pull their hair. It’s true that he didn’t talk at that age (he was speech delayed and didn’t really start talking until he was about 2.5), but the problem persisted even after he developed the skills to have a conversation with other kids.
Up until he was about 3 he showed no emotional reaction to the consequences of his “attacks” other than mild amusement. It took all my will to remind myself that this was normal, but finally we saw a behavioural specialist who also told me it was normal and that empathy doesn’t typcially develop until the 4th year of life. He said I could expect the situation to improve a great deal between age 3 and 4. He also recommended a good preschool since this would give him many opportunities to work on solving the problem in a supportive environment. I, for obvious reasons, was simply avoiding situations where there were lots of little kids.
I didn’t do preschool that year for many reasons. But this year he’s going and the hitting is just getting worse and worse. At first it was every once in a while but lately it’s been every day and it’s getting more violent – hitting with toys for example. He definitely shows empathy afterwards and it’s apparent he feels very bad about what is happening, later after the fact. He knows about using his words and the teachers/duty parents handle the sitautions perfectly – no shaming or blaming, they help the kids use their words to work through the situation, etc. Son knows what he is supposed to do, but in the moment he just can’t do it. Now some kids are saying he’s “bad” and I’m concerned (as is the teacher) that he’s going to get a label on him and internalize it himself.
The teacher asked me the other day for permission to bring in some kind of specialist who will do an assessment in the classroom and hopefully make some suggestions as to how to handle this. I’m relieved that there is extra help to bring in, because the situation is getting bad for everybody. Some kids are scared of him now, and he needs to be shadowed all day which takes away from the rest of the class.
So far, the teacher has been amazing and totally focussed on what is best for my son. There has been no judging or blaming (at least, not to my face) and one mum of a recent victim even reached out to me with kindness and sympathy. But it is hard because I’m a new parent to the school (most were there last year) and of course I’m the only homeschooler. I wonder if they think this is a “socialization” issue, but hopefully they are mature enough to know that these issues can happen with a schooled child, too. Certainly the teacher told me that it won’t be the first time the specialist has been called in to do an assessment.
My concerns, however, are this: the conventional way of thinking would suggest that perhaps my son should have been in this environment (group of peers) earlier on so that he’d have had time to deal with this issue before now. And the solution would be to keep him in this situation, get him the assistance he needs, and let him work through it.
The other way of thinking is that this situation just obviously isn’t good for him. It’s too much social pressure, perhaps. Too much, too soon (for him). It may be that the best thing to do is take him out of preschool and keep him away from big groups of peers until he matures and develops better self-control.
The latter attitude is one I’ve embraced fully since my eldest was a toddler, and it certainly resonates with me. But my boy really loves preschool and in so many other ways it has been so wonderful for him to have his own place and get out from under the dominant thumb of his big sister. I want this to work, but I also don’t want this to affect his self-esteem. He is already seeming a bit confused that some of his friends don’t want to play with him now, though he hasn’t said anything to me about it specifically (it’s hard to know with him sometimes).
I’m just so tired of this issue. We’ve been dealing with it for so long and I kept thinking that in another few months we’d be past it. Here we are over 2 years later and it’s just as bad and seeming to get worse. It’s not an easy yoke to bear as a mother, and I sure envy parents who can just let their kids go play without worrying that someone is going to get seriously hurt.