Bring it on experts. I am ready for another touch base meeting with daycare provider number 5. I actually have these parent-teacher conferences down to a science. Surely, the topic will center around Kannon, my strong-willed toddler’s inability to focus during story time, as well as during other moments of structured play. He’s a distraction to the orderly kids, he pushes without reason, he flips over food, he yells, and every now and again looks at you intensely with a devilish little grin, as if he knows what he is doing.
I bet he does.
Little does everyone in the circle know, I’ve had conversations about Kannon’s behavior with a bunch of different faces over the past year, and for some reason everyone except for his parents are the experts.
On that note, let me put my power suit back on.
As parents, with so much tips and to do’s in the parenting-sphere, we often forget that we know our children best. For goodness sake, aren’t we the ones who can tell when our child is sick just off a simple little squirm in the middle of the night? So when we exclusively let doctors, teachers, aunts, uncles and in-laws step in the way of our parenting-intuition, we kind of take a back seat in our children’s lives—and forget to think for ourselves.
I am not a naive parent. I don’t try to pass my son’s temper tantrums off as ‘just a bad day’ type of thing. Sometimes I want to just clutch my pearls. He fights, he tussles, and in his toddler language I think he curses, too. Yes, my son can be off the hook when Dora the Explorer doesn’t have his attention. Trust me, if you leave him in the presence of liquids he will turn a cup over on the couch and yell “uh-oh, Mommy”. He is mischievous and manipulative when he wants to be, so I really don’t need a briefing on that.
However, what I need a briefing on is the steps to a successful outcome. As providers, instead of pegging, labeling, and treading carefully over the ADD/ADHD topic, how as a union are we going to work towards a better tomorrow in the classroom?
My son doesn’t want to sit still for 10 minutes of story time. Hell, he doesn’t want to sit for 5 minutes in front of his favorite toy car, either. Does that mean he is walking the fine line of an ADD/ADHD diagnosis? Or could it just be that he has a healthy, yet overactive, imagination, and is simply not interested at 2 1/2 in structured play from 10 to 10:15 AM every single day as the curriculum notes? Maybe he is an unconventional learner, who is more drawn to free play and the creative arts. Maybe he is not emotionally ready for a carefully constructed day, just because every other child is. Maybe he’s different. Um…maybe he is a leader that walks to his own beat and gets frustrated because his environment doesn’t get it.
So let me be my son’s advocate.
In many conferences, it has been noted that once my son engages in creative projects—coloring, painting, play-doh, or any other sensory activities—he is focused and thoughtful. Also observed: my son is more manageable on days where the ratio is 2 teachers to 5-7 kids. So based on those observations, his day is most successful when there are less kids, which equals more attention on him, and more activities tied to his interests, the arts.
In a nutshell: he is very creative, loves attention, and doesn’t like when anyone disturbs his groove. So why are we having the ADD/ADHD conversation again? I thought I explained his needs upon enrollment. Were you listening?
A year ago, I was on the brink of losing my mind. I contacted New Jersey Early Intervention System for a behavioral evaluation. I did so, just to make sure I wasn’t the parent wearing sunglasses in the dark. You know those parents who just can’t admit that their child may have some developmental issues. NJEIS came in within a week of my call, and did a full two-hour assessment of my son. My, how well-behaved he was, I thought. Could it have been because he was observed in a controlled environment? Maybe, maybe not. However, what I did learn was that he knows when to shut off the overly busy button.
After analysis, the therapists wrote a detailed summary of their observations and told me he didn’t qualify for any intervention support services. In fact, they noted that he was above average in the Adaptive, Personal/Social, Communication, Gross/Fine Motor parts of the evaluation, and was slightly behind in the Cognitive, which was really centered around him not being able to identify the primary fruits and primary colors such as yellow, blue, and green. Their recommendations were more discipline tactics like timeouts per say during bad behavior spells, and more complex conversations to help with his speech. Out with the baby talk.
So for parents struggling with toddlers with behavioral issues, put down the drink and cigarette and try these tips before you chalk it up to a medical condition:
Be the expert on your child.
It’s easy for teachers who spend most of the day with your children to become Mr. or Mrs. Evaluation, but there are certain parental cues that they can’t send to your children. Children know who they can manipulate and will truly flex that muscle when they want something. Work closely with their childcare providers, but also remind them that you understand your child’s needs as well. Set goals that you expect providers to meet and make sure they are being met. Reality check all conversations that head down the child-comparing trap. Remind your providers that your child is different, and have no expectations on them being the same. Reinforce leadership.
If you have professional evaluations on hand, show them. Track your child’s behavior patterns. Understand what makes them dive off the deep end and do a host of strategic redirection at home. Just be a strong observer of your child’s moods and needs.
Be open to the fact that there may be a bigger issue going on.
In the case of my son, I am not ruling out ADD/ADHD as a possible backdrop to some of his behavioral issues. But, before I accept that diagnosis, I have to exhaust all possible learning environments and curriculum structures before I just accept that he has trouble focusing due to a medical condition. Assess their school’s overall environment. Observe how teachers describe your child’s day. Is it with a frown or smile? Look for body language. Do they always look overwhelmed, exhausted. or frustrated? Alert: Bad sign. Also monitor how your child interacts with his teachers. How are they greeted during drop off and released during pick up? At one school, Kannon never made eye contact with his teacher and vice-versa.
Consider non-traditional learning environments.
Maybe you are like me, who is truly turned off by overly structured learning spaces. Or maybe I just haven’t stumbled on one that has worked well for me or my son. However, because non-traditional schools are limited, I feel somewhat stuck with my local options. I am not in the position to be a stay-at-home educator, nor do I have an interest in being one, but I research alternative learning arenas. Montessori, and at-home childcare centers are all options. They all have their pros and cons.
My motto is, “if I’m paying for a service, I can ask as many questions as I want.” I used to feel overwhelmed by contacting Kannon’s school to check in on his day. Now I’ve accepted that I care that much, so if I call everyday at noon, get used to it. Pick up the phone and be prepared for a dialogue. My concerns about my child shouldn’t be a bother. In fact, it should be encouraged.
Pay for what you want.
If you want the best, get used to putting your money up. Whether that’s for tuition, books, or after-school resources, get used to investing in your child.
Discuss your childcare concerns with your colleagues.
Colleagues usually have resources, or know someone in a similar situation. Remember you are not alone. Be sure to express what is going on with your work supervisors, though it is a personal matter. Childcare issues can take a toll on your work performance because you are always worrying about your child—and it shows. You may be operating on an empty tank while smiling at your work peers. Be honest with everyone around you. If things aren’t good, they aren’t good.
Kay Konnect, Deputy Editor of MommyNoire and mom to a strong-willed toddler named Kannon Ball, holds a B.S with honors in Liberal Studies (self-designed focus) in The Art and Structure of Storytelling from Northeastern University, and is completing her M.A in Media Studies. She developed her Konnecting with Kay column after countless battles with childcare providers and her sons’ often unbearable temper tantrums. She realized it was important for her readers to connect with content that provoked thought and discussion. She also felt it was important to highlight the not so picture-perfect parenting journey. Kay has written extensively for Allhiphop.com, Mixtape Magazine and additional publishing outlets targeting the Hip Hop culture. Follow Kay Konnect @Kaykonnect and MommyNoire