Posted by: Purple | 2009/05/25

New School Blues

Hi CS,

Hope you are well.

I have a bit of a concern about my 5 year old son (he turned 5 in Feb). We have had him at a lovely, small, private pre-primary, which he attended and then went to after care in the afternoon as I work. Last year I started a half day job and was able to fetch him by 3pm.
We have had him on a waiting list at a good local private school since he was 2 years old (rather late to wake up about school' s we discovered). A place came up a week into the first term, and they held it for us until the start of the second term when he started school there.

He has a lovely teacher who he tells me he likes very much. I find her to be a very good teacher and she certainly spends time with each child getting to know them and has made some very astute comments regarding my son.

My son is a fairly introverted child (so is my husband, but I am extremely extroverted). (just out of interest, my husband and I did Myers Brigs tests separately on courses we went on, and the only difference in our profiles is the introversion and extroversion). I wouldn' t call my son shy, but he does take a while to warm to new situations, he joins in and goes off confidently but is quiet and only reallly comes out of his shell properly when he knows people well and is very comfortable with the situation.

His previous school we really helpful in preparing us for the move to the new school and told me that on average children take about 2 weeks to settle in, and that they really truly settle once they make a special freind or two.

He hasn' t cried about going to school at all, and was so excited for the first day. He has told me that he likes his teacher. For the first 3 weeks he wouldn' t tell me what he did during the day, but he has now started to mention some of the day' s activities. He is in aftercare till 3pm and seems to have a friend from the same grade but different class that he plays with in aftercare. However, one afternoon I got there and the friend had left early and my son was crying in the playground because he had nobody to play with. Other times I have arrived and the friend has already left and he is happily playing with a group of girls or another little boy who is also 5 but turns 6 this year so is in the grade above. The woman whose aftercare group he is in (it' s divided up by age) is not a very " aware"  woman in terms of children' s behaviour which is a bit worrying, but as all she really has to do is watch the outside play or indoor play if it is raining, and the teachers from the other groups can see her and the head of after care can also see her, I do feel that they will deal with incidents (in private) that might occur.

The problem is that every monday morning my son wakes with a tummy ache. I know that sore tummies in children are often a sign of worry and nervousness, and I think that is the case because his loo habits are all normal and he is eating well and drinking enough water and liquids. When I offer buscopan for tummy cramps he can' t run away fast enough, and if it was very sore, I know he' d take the buscopan (sadly, my child loves medicine - even the yucky stuff because I give a sweet after the yucky stuff).
He told me last week that he tummy was sore at school but he was building with blocks so he didn' t manage to ask the teacher to phone me.
I' m worried as it is nearly the end of his first term there and he doesn' t seem to be settled yet, though tells me he enjoys going.

The other worry I have is that I' ve been asked to have his eyes tested as he is battling to do puzzles and other perceptual games (e.g. colour lines in a peg board following a card with the pattern on it). Before they recommend OT they want to make sure he can actually see the things and it isn' t just a big blur. His teacher said that whatever the problem is, we have found it early enough to fix it, but she is worried that he won' t like to come to school if he is struggling with things.
He is recognising letters, so I don' t think it is an eye sight problem. His previous school mentioned the puzzles to me but weren' t overly concerned, thinking more that it was that he didn' t like them.
At home I don' t do that many puzzles with him, becuase I don' t really like puzzles - I find them soothing if I' m sick but I don' t really get the point of them since you have to break them up again (I' m not going to frame a puzzle and hang it on my wall).
However, when he was around 18 months old and we went to a mothers and toddlers group, the other kids were all doing peg puzzles and two piece puzzles and he was whizzing through 6 piece puzzles in a flash.
However, he is not finding 35 piece puzzles easy - I think he might be giving up in frustration because it' s too hard because I haven' t kept him going with puzzles.
I feel even worse as I type this, because over the weekend he wanted me to help him build a car out of metal pieces and screws that he was given for his birthday and I looked at the diagram and with some heavy handed encouragement got my husband to build it with him yesterday (it' s really hard and they haven' t finished yet - my husband thinks he is very mechanical but I have to bring in the plumbers and handymen after he has done a project for us).
I suppose that if he is just giving up when things are too hard, an occupational therapist will spot that and give us some excercises to do at home.
I always worry though that most referrals to OT is just a bit of money making, though friends of mine who have taken their children have seen big improvements in the problem areas after a couple of sessions.

I' m also worried that as much as we think the school is great and offers a balanced educaton of a high standard without neglecting sport and cultural activites (and is reasonably priced for a private school) that it doesn' t suit him. I won' t take him out of the school before he has really had a chance to settle (and possibly before end of next year) and we have sorted out the puzzle problem, but I am worried about him. The first 3 weeks at the school he was so clingy in the afternoons and evenings that I wasn' t even able to go to gym (or even the toilet without him tagging along). This has got a lot better and I can be in a different room to him again.

For his tummy, I don' t know what to do except rub it and then hug him and reassure him that once he knows how things work there and knows more people that things will get better. I don' t want to tell him to " make friends"  as my mother used to go on at us from the first day at school every year demanding to know who our friends were, how many we had, why we had played with different people, and I just don' t want to make this into an issue for him like it was made for us. Still now I always wonder if I have enough friends to please my mother - and I' m 32 years old.

My husband and I are also both very anxious people, and I' m worried that although we have tried so hard not to pass this behaviour on to our son, that we have done so, and he is overly anxious about school.

How else can I support him emotionally through this time? And at what point do I determine whether it is working or not and look for alternatives? On the other hand, I don' t want to send a message that it' s ok, we can just give up - but as adults, if we don' t like our jobs, we start looking for jobs in better work places and just vasbyt until we find one - we don' t stick it out for 12 years because we can' t just give up on things - we find what is at fault and either fix it or admit defeat and move on.
(or am i worrying excessively?)

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Our expert says:
Expert ImageCyberShrink

Hi Purple,
Wow, this is a lo-o-o-ng one ! I wonder how Purple would respond if someone else had asked this question ?
I am really sceptical about the vlue of OT's, and wonder why so many teachers sem to drum up profitable business for IT's, either when no intervention is eneded, or when a child psychologost would be better able to help. Visual testing does make good sense. I was very bright at school, but started to struggle at one early stage, till a bright teacher noticed I was struggling to read what was on the blackboard. After an eye test, I got glasses and soared again, re-discovering with delight that grass was not a uniform green splodge, but made up of individual blades, and jerseys had individual stitches. And the rest is history ! :}
I don't hear anything that suggests any significant problem with the school itself. I wonder whether he is picking up on your anxiety and that of your husband, and amplifying that, as bright kids so often do. Relax, and see if thast doesn't help him to do likewise

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