I’ve been sitting on this post for about two months. It’s a difficult thing to write about, and I’ve had to let things sink in a bit, but I think I finally just need to hit the post button and move forward. I’ve made some updates, but this was generally left how I wrote it two months ago.
I recently found out that there is a Mean Girl in The Big Sis’ preschool class.
To say I am not amused doesn’t quite cover it.
Now, what I know about the situation comes just from second-hand knowledge, as I’m not in the classroom long enough myself to observe what’s really going on. But from what I’m told, the Mean Girl has some anger issues and can really lash out when things don’t go her way, and she can have meltdowns on steroids. Sometimes when she’s in Mean Girl Mode, she pinches or pushes or kicks the other kids in the class.
Clearly her parents are at least partially at fault for letting this happen. Why can’t they just teach her how to behave properly? Actually, strike that — her parents probably don’t even care. Or they probably model this same kind of behavior for her and it’s no wonder she acts like this in the classroom. They need to tell her what to do and give her guidance so she shapes up and acts properly in a classroom setting.
I really, really want this Mean Girl to stay away from my daughter.
Except…well…it turns out this Mean Girl IS my daughter.
No one really talks about what it’s like to HAVE the Mean Girl. Everyone makes these assumptions that the parents don’t really care and just let it happen without making any effort to prevent it from happening in the first place. Believe me, nothing could be further from the truth in our situation. Every day is a struggle teach her proper behavior and appropriate coping techniques for her frustration, anger, and disappointment. Everything we do involves managing her transitions, her behavior, and her reactions to things.
In mid-January, we were called in to have a talk with The Preschool Teacher to discuss The Big Sis’ “behavior and anger issues.” If I’m being honest, I can’t say I was surprised; she is quite challenging at home, as well, and has been for a long time. Age three was basically a nightmare for us. I had been warned that it was a difficult year, but I think we were hit more so than many other parents. Ahead of our meeting with the teacher, I started thinking about things, really trying to get at the root of the problem.
And then it occurred to me — a light bulb went off and something clicked in my head. I strongly suspect there is a chance The Big Sis has ADHD. Like for real, not in that joking way that some people say. She doesn’t fit the inattention characteristic (in fact, I think in many ways she’s quite the opposite in that regard, with an incredible attention to detail and a great amount of focus when she’s engaged in an activity that she enjoys), but I think she certainly fits the hyperactive/impulsive version. For as long as I can remember, we’ve noted that she’s always on the go. She can’t sit still, even for reasonable periods of time for her age. She gets overly excited about things. She is very intense emotionally and often very sensitive, and tantrums are a bear; often they are way out of proportion to what is warranted for the situation. She interrupts all the time, again more than what I think is normal and expected for her age.
For the longest time I’ve been convinced that The Big Sis was just more spirited in personality than the other kids but still within the realm of normal, but I’ve observed many of her peers for a while now and I think much of her behavior is just outside what is normal for the age, even more than just having a spirited personality. Though she certainly has that, as well.
So we met with The Teacher in mid-January to basically touch base, compare stories about home and school to see what we’re each dealing with, and work on some strategies for dealing with her behavior. First thing we had already decided to do was to cut WAY back on TV. We had been very good about that for a long time, but then had become more lax about it, especially with The Little Sis’ arrival. So we instituted a system wherein she gets one gemstone per day for what we deem to be good, cooperative behavior. She doesn’t have to display perfect behavior 24/7, but basically if either of us feels like we need to yell at her at any point (which, side note, I HATE doing, but sometimes it’s the only way to get through to her), then she doesn’t get her stone. She may buy a TV show for 2 stones and a movie for 4 stones, so really at most she can watch about 2 hours of TV a week, assuming she has earned all of her stones. (She earns maybe four a week on average.) Every once in a while we’ll offer a bonus stone when we need a behavior incentive for certain occasions when she might normally have trouble controlling herself, like at birthday parties. We have noticed a great deal of improvement since instituting this system, so here’s hoping that continues. I figure it’s a win-win: Either she’s good and earns her much-desired reward while we also limit TV, or else she loses that privilege and is forced to find other productive things to occupy her time. She is better behaving when she is more active than passive, so this is crucial for us and something we should have enforced sooner, to be honest. It’s no wonder we are always on the go all the time — it’s how we have to keep her behavior in check. (Well, as much as that’s possible.)
Anyway, The Preschool Teacher confirmed my assessment that The Big Sis is fine when she’s engaged in an activity, whether an art project or helping sweep the floor. We have always felt like she does better when we’re on the go, and most of our issues seem to stem from inactivity or down time (or when we’ve finished doing something fun, despite the many efforts on our part to manage that transition). So The Preschool Teacher feels like there’s some element of her being bored in the classroom, which I tend to agree with. She knows all of the material they’re going over, so once she finishes the work, she becomes restless and trouble begins. And that’s not to say that “oh, my kid is soooooo advanced” or anything, but it really can’t be denied that she is experiencing boredom, and that’s when issues arise. The teachers are trying to combat this by keeping her as occupied as possible, especially when there’s down time, but they also have a classroom of other preschoolers to deal with, so trouble inevitably.
I mentioned my suspicion of ADHD to The Preschool Teacher, and while of course she wasn’t able to declare “yes, I think that’s it!” (nor would I expect or want her to), she did say that her adult son has it, in addition to her grandson, and she sees a lot of similarities among them. We shared some strategies we each find useful (as well as things that don’t work), and agreed to touch base regularly on this topic as it unfolds.
Basically as soon as I had my first realization about this, I began researching like mad, soaking in every bit of information I could find. I really do live by the “knowledge is power” thing, and this is something I had to do. And a strange thing happened. I began to feel a sense of calm inside — a sense of peace just knowing that it was the right path to pursue. Suddenly everything from the past couple of years began to make sense and I was able to see things through a slightly different perspective. Now, she very well may not actually have an ADHD diagnosis coming, but it cannot be disputed that behavior is an issue and we need to seek help for it. I planned to talk with The Big Sis’ pediatrician at her five-year-old checkup.
However, once we met with the teacher, I pretty much cast all the research aside while waiting for The Big Sis’ five-year-old well check. I think I needed to sit on this idea for a bit and let it just sink in some. It’s not a good thing to have to admit that your child might have a behavioral disorder. As much as I know it’s not our fault and as much as I know that we’re doing what we can to deal with it, it’s a difficult proposition to admit that it might be true. I know we’re good parents, but I’m afraid that other people who encounter her behavior deem us lousy parents for being unable to “control” our child. It’s easy to say who cares what they think, but no one wants that judgment made against them.
So we had The Big Sis’ pediatrician checkup in early February, and this was a concern that I brought up. A friend had recommended the Vanderbilt screening for ADHD, so I had filled that out prior to the appointment and took that with me. Now, The Big Sis can act a little reserved when she meets new people or is around people she doesn’t see very often. So I was a little afraid that I’d talk about all these issues with her behavior and there she’d sit like a perfect angel and he’d wonder what the heck I was talking about. “What, this sweet girl? Impossible!” Well, have no fear — she provided Exhibit A right then and there for him. Thankfully it didn’t come in the form of a tantrum (whew!), but rather with restlessness. While we talked, she would climb up on the exam table, sit for approximately 2.4 seconds, jump down, run around the perimeter of the room until she got back to the exam table, where she’d climb up again and repeat the whole thing. She did this probably 10 or 15 times as we talked, and I saw him notice her doing this; we shared a knowing look as if to say, “See? This is what I’m talking about!” It was a little frustrating at the time, but in hindsight it was a great illustration.
The Pediatrician said he thinks we’re moving in the right direction with this, and he recommended we meet with a psychologist to have a formal ADHD assessment done. He had me send him a list of in-network psychologists so he could recommend two or three for us to choose from (and hopefully some or all of it will be covered by insurance). I sent that list to him and I received an email with the recommendations, but I got nowhere with it because none of them would meet with a child her age, and two of them told me I’d have difficulty finding anyone who would do an ADHD evaluation before age 7 or 8. I understand the hesitation to do this, as much the behavior is developmentally appropriate for this age, to a degree. But the fact is that whether we get an evaluation or not, we still need help managing this behavior.
So I did some research and found some ADHD specialists at the local university. We have an appointment for a meeting with a LCSW as a starting point. He will not do an evaluation for ADHD until age 6, but we still need help here and perhaps he can set us in the right direction, especially need help from an actual M.D. We will meet with him on May 1.
I’m hesitant to put a label on this. I know ADHD is sometimes overdiagnosed (yet it is also a missed diagnosis in many cases, especially for girls). I also know how people perceive others with labels, and it’s hard to shake a label. Knowing that, however, it’s not really too upsetting to me at this point. Whether we receive this diagnosis or not, we will still be dealing with the same behavior, so we might as well seek out some guidance to help us manage it well, especially in light of the fact that The Big Sis starts school in less than four months. There are going to be many aspects of school that will be difficult for her to deal with, and we need methods in place to help her cope, especially if much of the first part of kindergarten ends up being a review of her preschool time, which is what I’ve heard from other parents who have kids who used to go to our preschool. As mentioned, The Big Sis has trouble with boredom, and I don’t want her to be bored and end up causing trouble and getting things off to a poor start and setting herself up for continued trouble.
I received another request from The Preschool Teacher to talk today. She asked how things were going for us at home (eh — some good days, some bad), and she informed me that things are probably worse than ever right now at school. [sigh] She is hitting and kicking her friends at even the smallest trigger and doesn’t back down. Most of the issue seems to be her reactions to when something doesn’t go her way, doesn’t go as she’d expected it to, or when her routine is altered. I’m at the point where I just don’t know what to do anymore. Clearly what we’re doing isn’t working, but I don’t know what will be effective. I’m just at a loss here.
In thinking about things further, I’m also wondering if oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) is also something we’re dealing with. I know it can both stand alone or be present in conjunction with ADHD. In fact, our current challenges seem to be more ODD-heavy with a side of hyperactivity. She is usually cooperative with things she wants to do, but if she has to do something she don’t want to do, she fights it tooth and nail. She is defiant to both me and The Husband as well as to her teachers. Basically she has all of the symptoms listed in the link above except perhaps the last one.
So, she’s not a Mean Girl in the sense that you think of it with kids a little older, where sometimes girls will gang up on another girl and purposely exclude her — but I also don’t want it to head that direction, either. The fact is that right now she’s a Mean Girl because she doesn’t have socially accepted ways of dealing with her intense emotions, and her friends don’t react particularly well to that (understandably), and I want that to change. We need that to change. What makes me a little sad is the thought that other parents might have about The Big Sis and us — they may think that we don’t care, or that we are mean ourselves and she learns from her mean parents. But that’s not true at all. We care very much. We, in fact, have to manage most of The Big Sis’ reactions to things, whether beforehand with easing her transitions or afterwards with trying to get her to think logically and not nearly as emotionally. Would parents who don’t care really devote that much to it? Because I’ll tell you — it’s draining and exhausting. We have to be “on” at all times, ready for the next Bad Reaction or preparing her for What’s Coming Next, more so than other parents need to do for their children, I think.
Several people have asked me if I think The Little Sis’ presence is the reason for her behavior, but I really don’t think that’s the case. I mean, I think we’d be a bit naive to think there’s NO effect from that huge change in her life, but I don’t think that’s the root of the problem here, especially considering we’ve been dealing with this for way longer than the amount of time The Little Sis has been with us. In fact, I would almost argue that The Little Sis acts as a salve for her behavior at times…a place where she becomes more focused and centered. She acts out against her parents, her teachers, and her friends — but not her sister. About the worst offense so far with The Little Sis is when The Big Sis gets excited to see her and gets in her face too much and we have to remind her to give the baby some personal space.
So that’s that. We’re in waiting mode until our appointment in just over a month, and in the meantime we’re doing the best we can to manage all of this. I’m trying to remain positive that we’re going to get some useful help shortly and we’ll be on the road to better behavior. I have to think that, anyway, because the thought of this continuing as is, unchecked, is so incredibly daunting that I can’t let myself think that’s going to happen. We’ll get to a better place before long.
The good news is that she’s not like this all the time. In fact, most of the time she’s incredibly sweet, funny, polite, goofy, clever, active, healthy five-year-old and I love her with every cell in my body.