I’ve been working on this post for days. Days. I start writing it, and then I have to stop. I can’t tell you how many drafts I’ve gone through, but this time I’m posting it regardless of how unpolished it is. My apologies in advance.
On Friday, Mister Man came home from school as usual. He unpacked his backpack and handed me his home folder. Amidst the usual reminders and completed work, he passed over his spelling test.
Mister Man scored 60% on it. My eyebrows immediately raised, and I looked more closely. Why? Well, for one thing Mister Man spelled 9 of the 10 words (plus the bonus word) correctly on the pretest – with only “very” being spelled “vary” – without a context, mind you, but that’s a different story.
The boy knows his spelling words. Spelling is easy for him. Academics are where he excels, not in sports or socially or in some of the other areas many children take for granted. How exactly did he get a 60%? I’m not so much shocked by the fact that he didn’t do well – I don’t place expectations on them – but by the knowledge that he knew those words inside and out and therefore something else must be going on.
I looked more closely at the test. Words one through six were spelled perfectly. It was words seven through ten and the bonus word that were all wrong. Interesting. More interesting? His spelling of “use.” Or as he wrote it, “ueossyzze” – like he was trying as hard as he could to spell it wrong. And “Vayarree” and “tiuwwisste” (for “twist”).
Yep, there is something else at work here.
I gently asked him what he was thinking during the spelling test. He almost broke into tears. Apparently he’d accidentally broken the crayon of a friend of his – mid test (perhaps after the sixth word, I’m guessing?) – and gotten into a little trouble for it. He decided that his punishment should be getting the rest of the words wrong on his spelling test. My boy self-punishes.
This isn’t the first time I’ve seen this tendency. He will periodically come home with his shoes untied. At first, he’d resist my retying them, insisting that he needed them untied. When I pressed further, he’d explain that he’d done something “wrong” and had untied his shoes as punishment. He was hoping that he’d trip and fall and hurt himself.
I’ve discussed this with him over and over. When you do something you consider wrong, punishment isn’t the most important thing. You want to be sorry about what you’ve done, and feeling bad about it is fine. After that, the most important thing is finding a way to make the situation right – or as right as it can be.
Hurting yourself doesn’t make anyone feel better. It doesn’t fix the icky feeling inside – or at least it shouldn’t.
But Mister Man isn’t stopping with this. I still see him coming home with his shoes untied. And I’m sure I’m not seeing everything he does as self-punishment. After all, he’s in school all day long and does activities without me, too.
Yes, I’ve contacted the school’s social worker, his teacher, and the assistant principal. The social worker is going to observe him (there are some other things going on related to games he’s playing with himself to make academics more challenging) and start working on some ideas of what we can do to help him.
But that doesn’t stop me. As soon as I saw that this I couldn’t nip this in the bud, my brain started churning. If he’s doing things like this as a six year old, what happens as he gets older? Untying his shoes likely won’t be sufficient then. He’s likely to turn to more destructive tendencies if he can’t find a better way to problem solve now. And if he’s so deeply touched by his perception of “failing” now, what will happen when the hormones kick in? Should I resign myself to the idea that he will be prone to depression and that I’ll always have to keep a vigilant eye on his moods and where he’s at? The thoughts sicken me and send my heart racing.
This is another aspect of parenting that “I didn’t sign up for” – much like having a child with Asperger’s. But it’s part of who he is, and we’re working through it. We’re focusing on his successes and showing him how many things he does do well. And when he does something wrong? We’re trying to focus on a more appropriate way to fix situations and feel better about himself when something bad does happen. When left to his own devices, he still isn’t choosing the most appropriate options. Between home, his teacher, and the social worker, I’m hoping that we find a way to help him decide that fixing things is more important than punishing himself, but we definitely aren’t there yet.
Have any of you ever had these issues either with yourself or other children you know? Do you have any suggestions to try to help him understand how to make better choices when he does something wrong?