“I’m going to hit you.” “I’m going to run. I don’t want to be at school.”
Morning drop-off at the door to their preschool classroom had gone well for weeks. Weeks and weeks. But today was different. I had asked him to please not tease his brother on the way in. Was that it?
I made do. I stayed calm. We talked about what we were doing after school.
“I’m worried about you. What’s wrong? Are you mad about something? Are you sad about something?”
The blank look in his eyes told me we weren’t going to get to discuss it right away. He dragged his feet into the classroom.
Back in the van, it hit me. He was worried about whether or not I’d be home after school. Stressed about whether or not I’d be home. Where I would be. He was in fight (“I’m going to hit you.”) and flight (“I’m going to run.) mode.
I had been gone the day before from before he got home from school until right before bedtime. All had been calm when I came home. I got the hugs, and bedtime went smoothly. Even in the morning, we were good: “Mom, I like you pretty hair!”
But that interaction at the door. That was my reminder: He still doesn’t know for sure I’ll come home. He still needs the routine of mama being at the back door to let him in. This is still very new for him.
And still very new for me. I still get lost in a mess of my kids’ actions and words. I hear, “I don’t like you! I don’t want to!” and I still forget to consider what the deeper unmet need could be.
And it’s hard to not focus on the behavior. It’s hard to slow down, way down, to search for the triggers. To search for the background info we need to draw conclusions about why this narrative has suddenly shifted into anger at the classroom door. (Don’t forget sad often looks like mad.)
So, we ask ourselves again and again:
What is different about today?
Could he be hungry or tired?
Are my expectations simply too high?
Is his sensory system overloaded?
What’s getting in his way of doing the next thing?
How can I make him feel safe and connected right now?