by Jennifer Forte Cuomo, Blogger for a Day
As a child I distinctly remember a few things about being in elementary school. One is how terribly bored I often was with whatever lesson was not capturing my attention. The other thing I recall is how I enjoyed socializing with the other children. So much so that I was often in trouble for having limited “self-control,” as it was referred to circa 1980. My report card would come home and there were good marks (“S” or “E” for Satisfactory or Excellent) for everything but self-control. Next to that was always an “N,” for “Needs Improvement.” My mother would sigh and say something to the effect of “Really Jennifer? Again?” And life went on.
I suppose then, it should not come as a big shock to me that my son Nick has problems controlling himself at school at the tender age of 7. Maybe because he is a boy, maybe because he is a little indulged as well, his control is much less than we would hope and certainly beyond simply “needing improvement.” So much so that we’ve recently had lots of contact with the teacher, the social worker, the school psychologist, the vice principal and yes, even the principal.
Here’s the conclusion I’ve come to, after churning myself inside out over this for the better part of one year: my kid is fine just the way he is. Allow me to explain. I do not mean it is okay for him to misbehave or act out of turn. I do not mean we will not continually work to reinforce good behavior and reprimand bad behavior. I certainly do not mean that he can disrupt the classroom. All of this is being addressed on an ongoing basis and things have improved.
What I do mean is my son is an individual. He is learning about the world and himself in a way that makes sense to him. Sometimes we have to guide him in a different direction. Sometimes we have to allow him to make mistakes in order to learn something. He is just that kind of child. But he is also the kind that can add three and four digit numbers in his head since he was 6 years old. He is also the kind that reads a full grade level ahead of most of his peers. He loves math. He loves science. He asks a lot of questions. He loves playing with other children. He loves swimming, football, soccer and hockey. He will happily try any sport or game, and almost never gives up until he masters it. He is smart and goofy and athletic and social and we want him to be him. And oh yeah, he is also compassionate and kind. He doesn’t have a mean bone in his body.
We’ve opted out of getting Nicholas tested although it’s been suggested to us by more than one of his teachers. I’ve also been gently nudged into considering medication if he were indeed to test positive for ADHD. I have nothing against medication for children who need it to learn. However, my son excels at every subject in school so I can only assume medication would make life for the teacher easier, not for my son.
Do we get frustrated with Nick? Why yes, yes we do. He is a tough kid at times. But with the tools and strategies we’ve employed, his self-awareness and behavior has improved and we feel it will continue to do so. What we do not want him to feel is that we don’t like how he is so we’re going to fix him with pills to make everyone else’s life easier. What lesson will he learn from that? This is what he has been given in life–he has to learn to get it under control on his own. He can do it. We believe in him. We will continue to fight for him and his right to be himself. Because my kid is fine just the way he is.