The wee ones start school on Thursday. For the first time in several years, the wee ones won’t go to school together. Instead, Mister Man is going into sixth grade, which has been a little bit scary for him – especially given how so many people make such a big deal about it. Needless to say, we’ve been working on erasing middle school fears (literally) before he starts to help ensure he has a successful middle school career.
Mister Man is on the spectrum, and dealing with his anxieties and frustrations can be a challenge sometimes. Then again, what child doesn’t struggle with them? As he’s gotten older, it’s gotten so much better. We are always clear with him that it’s fine to be frustrated and angry and upset and sad and all the other emotions, but that how he expresses them it what he needs to be aware of.
We’ve come up with several strategies, some of which work better than others. Just reminding him of his tone – simply by saying “Tone,” – often works. But when he starts to be upset by things that shouldn’t be as upsetting as they are, we have a scale we use to ensure we’re reacting at the appropriate level.
A 1, for example, is no big deal at all. It might be that he was walking on the street and the don’t walk signal came on before he got there. A 3 is a bigger deal and a more legitimate problem. He forgot his homework at school or something along those lines. It’s a solvable problem, but there’s definitely an inconvenience factor. A 4? Now that’s the really big deal. That’s the kind of problem where someone stole his bike where you’re legitimately upset and people understand why you’d show it. He reserves a 5 for the really big deals like an alien invasion or a nuclear attack. Fortunately, there haven’t been any legitimate level 5 problems.
When we can see that he’s overreacting, we ask him to rate the problem. When he stops to think about it, he’s generally pretty good about thinking through it logically and categorizing it where it belongs. Not always, but usually. When he says something is a 4 when it’s really a 2? Raising my eyebrows and asking if he really thinks it’s a 4 gets him to rethink it. Once he’s determined the appropriate threat level, we compare his reaction to the scale. “Are you reacting like this is a 2?” It’s amazing to me how often that works, and I love to see that he’s starting to internalize that himself, which is awesome since I can’t – and won’t – be around him 24/7 for the rest of his life.
Erasing Middle School Fears
When thinking about erasing middle school fears, I decided to implement the same type of scale. There are some things that I know he’s worried about, but when you stew over something, it’s so easy to make it bigger than it really is. Turning it into something concrete and then problem solving can really help eliminate the anxiety. I decided that literally erasing middle school fears could make it even more impactful.
And thus I was on the hunt for erasable pens – and not the kind I had growing up that only sorta erased and left a mess behind. The good news is that when we were doing our school supply shopping at Target, I happened upon the FriXion Clicker pen. They’re a gel pen that’s completely erasable, perfect for my “erasing middle school fears” project. They come in both a black 3 pack and a 3 pack of red/blue/black. Since I was planning to use the scale, I went with the multi-color three pack – and voila!
Once we got home with all our school supplies – so much more specific and expensive than when I was growing up – I used my new FriXion Clicker pens and an extra lined notebook to create the scale for Mister Man to fill in. The red is representative of the level 5 problems, the black the level 3 problems, and blue was the level one items – things we want to think about but won’t cause him to lose sleep.
Needless to say, Mister Man thought this was a way cool idea and couldn’t wait to write down some of his concerns. Many of them were completely expected. He’s going from class to class in a huge building for the first time this year. He’s going to be walking to school, and he has a locker with a combination lock. The homework load is a big question mark.
Once he wrote down a few of his concerns, he and I sat down and talked about them. I can’t fix everything, but problems always have solutions. Even just talking about them and letting Mister Man know that I’m available to help makes a difference. Having that open doorway of communication and a nonjudgmental ear makes a difference.
Some of the problems, we were able to fix. Worried about having a locker for the first time and whether he’ll be able to work it? A quick trip to the middle school before school starts, and we can practice without any stress. Once he saw that he could memorize his combination and get the lock open on the first try most of the time, and he felt a ton better.
That’s where erasing middle school fears literally comes in. As we “solved” each problem, he used the FriXion Clicker pen to erase what he’d written, symbolically showing that it is no longer a problem. I’ve found that physically destroying a described problem, whether it’s writing it down and throwing it away or the much more environmentally friendly version of writing it down and erasing it helps clear it from your psyche, truly and irrevocably erasing middle school fears.
We’re keeping the notebook – and the FriXion Clicker pens – to add to and update the list as needed. He loves that he can noodle through problems on his own or ask me for help in solving them. And the feeling of confidence he gains from erasing middle school fears from his notebook is empowering. And I love how these FriXion pens actually erase the whole thing. His middle school locker concern? It is gone gone.
And honestly, I thought those FriXion Clicker pens were pretty cool, myself. For the past several years, I’ve written a special needs teacher introduction letter from Mister Man that gives the teacher a little bit of an insight into him. I chose to not do that this year, as he needs to be a bit more independent in middle school. Instead, I created a little teacher gift that he can present to each of his teachers on the first day of school.
It’s a little gift, but it gives him a chance to quickly introduce himself to his teachers beyond what the guidance counselor has shared already. And given the amount of work and prep I know teachers do to get ready for the school year, a welcome to the start of the school year gift is not out of line at all!
I created a cute little printable to explain the gift and give a little heads up. You can download it here, and print it on cardstock to attach it via a string or on regular printer paper like I did and use double sided tape to attach it to a mug. The printable reads: Thank you for being my teacher. I know I’ll make mistakes this year, but with your help I’ll erase those problems and start each class fresh and ready to learn. Some days I’ll need some help to get through class. Together, we’ll have the best year ever. Thank you for all the hard work you do!
The FriXion Clicker pens were a no brainer for the “erase those problems” portion of the note. I also threw in a little gift card for a local coffee shop, knowing teachers sometimes need a little help getting through class, too. I hand wrote a small explanation on each that clarified the gifts and then placed them inside the mug I purchased for each teacher. The printable note was attached, and it was ready for him to share with each teacher come Friday. I know they’ll love it!
The FriXion Clicker pen by Pilot is perfect for another reason, too. Pilot has partnered with STOMP Out Bullying, the leading national bullying and cyberbullying prevention organization, to help build awareness and fund educational programs designed to reduce and prevent bullying in schools across the country. Our elementary school has participated in the blue shirt day for years, among other initiatives they support, and I love what the organization does overall.
Pilot has committed to donating at least $125,000 to STOMP Out Bulling between 2015 and 2016. And if annual sales goals are exceeded, they’ll donate additional funds. To me, that’s a great reason to include the FriXion Clicker pen in the teacher gifts – I’m doing my part to ‘erase’ negative bullying behaviors and ‘rewrite’ positive, productive solutions by helping Pilot reach their sales goals, and I’m happy to do it.
Even better? There’s a Target circular deal from 8/23-8/29/15 for 20% off both the FriXion Clicker pen 3pk Assorted and the FriXion Clicker pen 3pk Black. Perfect for stocking up for teacher gifts, right? Or for just making life a little bit easier in middle school. Because we’re all in this together.