Sunday, February 2, 2014

expectations and anxiety

7 yo's best friend had a birthday party today. He has been anticipating going there for a long time. He checked for the correct date on the calendar. He was counting down the days. This morning, he made a card for his friend, without fuss. I thought it would be so nice that he gets to go without his older meddling brother, and have something cool and exciting just for him.

I drove him over, a bit late, but not too late. He has been to his friend's house dozens of times, so when he came inside, I drove away.

When I came to pick him up two hours later, I saw a bunch of people and kids mulling outside. I did not see 7 yo. I saw the mom, and we went inside to look for him. More people were there. I saw the father of the birthday boy. He asked me what was I doing there. I said, I was picking up my son. He said that he was not at the party. I thought he was kidding with me.

A minute later, 7 yo emerged, in tears, with the mom apologizing. He spent the whole party hiding out in his friend's room! He said that he EXPECTED the party to be outdoors, but it was inside, so he just left and hid out. Now I got it that the father was not kidding: he really did not see my kid for two hours.

7 yo also realized that the birthday boy did not even see him there. I prompted him to say goodbye and thank you, and he ran to the car.

He missed the whole party because it did not go the way he expected it to go. He said that he read books in the room. He missed cake, activities, fun, playing. He missed when the kids did go outside to play. How can a kid be so rigid? How will he function? He was so looking forward to the party, but once he had to deal with the actual party, he shut down, and sequestered himself.

Later, when I was tucking him in at night, he got all teary-eyed about the whole experience. He said that he feels stupid, but mostly he was still upset that the party did not go as he expected it to. He did mention that he saw kids working on a timeline and he did not want to do that, and that there was no space for him around the table, and nobody saw him, except for the birthday boy's older sister. Now I wonder whether I should have gone in with him, stayed, made space, pulled him out for cake... But he is almost 8. Shouldn't he figure out how to function on his own, and adapt in whichever way necessary?

He sighed in bed and said that now he will have to wait another year till his friend's next birthday. I bit my lip; his friend is possibly moving away.

It is so painful to see kids suffer. It is so hard to figure out whether my job as a parent is to swoop in and make it all better, or to hang back and let him discover the natural consequences. And it is also hard to figure out what to do about his anxiety. Lately, it has been getting worse. I have been thinking how unschooling is so good for him, but now I see that when a kid has this level of anxiety, he studiously avoids any activity which might push him out of the comfort zone.

Over the past few weeks, 4 yo not only demonstrated that she knows just about all letters, she even made her name from magnetic letters, and then attempted to write it down. She made a card for her older brother and wrote down his name on the front, unprompted. Quite a few letters were legible. 7 yo NEVER did that. Even now, just to write his name is a torturous process. He does not draw and doodle; he does not do Google searches; he does not illustrate. He avoids those activities that require writing/typing.

I have been told to establish a reward system for him. I always knew that it will not work. If a child forfeits a long-expected birthday party because he would have to encounter something unpleasant, would he work for a golden star?

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