Several days ago, my son had a bad day. It’s not unusual to be greeted by Damian with “This is the worst day of my life.” Damian is a dramatic boy, which can be helpful because he expresses his feelings very clearly. By the end of the day, when the pressure of performance at school starts to build up (pressure to sit still, keep quiet, listen and do, organise and transition and accept the unexpected), Damian is at his most vulnerable. When Damian is at his most vulnerable it isn’t hard for seemingly little things to upset him.
That particular day, we got off to a bad start. Ironically, we were early to school (it doesn’t happen very often). In fact, we were early enough that my boys had time to play before the first school bell rang. Jeremy’s friend P was kicking a football with his dad and a few other children so Jeremy and Damian joined them.
I was relieved when Damian got a couple of touches of the ball, it’s a trigger for a meltdown when that doesn’t happen (attending Auskick presents many challenging situations) but when the bell rang Damian’s bottom lip had dropped and he looked dejected. He hadn’t kicked a goal. Everyone else had kicked a goal except him, the fact that he was 18 months younger than everyone else did not matter to him.
On finding out why Damian was upset P’s mum (N) thoughtfully insisted that the boys give the ball to Damian for him to kick a goal and Damian was momentarily happy again until one of the boys told him it didn’t count because the game had ended. N and I tried to fix it by telling him that we saw his kick and it was definitely a goal but I guess the opinions of parents start to matter less as they get older because it was no consolation for him. It’s always a worry when Damian starts the day upset.
All the children piled out of the classroom at the end of the school day, I was used to Damian being last one out due to the amount of time it takes him to organise and pack his school bag but that day I was called into the classroom for a discussion. Damian was sitting down on the floor next to some cushions, holding onto some damp tissues, bottom lip out and eyes cast down. Mrs L (his teacher) said “It’s only been the last 15 minutes, he’s OK”.
Mrs L went on to explain that they had decided to do a craft activity in the library (something they didn’t normally do) and it involved making mini-beasts (invertebrates like insects and spiders) with cardboard and other accessories. Damian loves mini-beasts and he was really pleased with his exceptionally hairy spider.
When they got back to the classroom Mrs L said they were going to display the mini-beasts in the classroom. Mrs L was so pleased with their work that she said to some children “Wow, I might even keep them up for the whole year!” Of course, Damian overheard and was instantly devastated. Damian loved his spider so much that he wanted to take his hairy scary spider home with him.
Mrs L did not want to make an exception ‘then and there’ for Damian, which was probably a good idea for the long term because if she allowed him to take it home straight away, then he might always expect that, which might cause further problems down the track. It took me back to a couple of years ago when Damian would become upset from time-to-time in kindergarten when he wanted to take his paintings home straight away but they had to be left to dry overnight. However, it always remained a challenge for him.
With all the children now gone, Mrs L openly negotiated an earlier time for Damian to take his mini-beast home. Mrs L asked Damian “What do you think would be a reasonable amount of time to have the work displayed for?” and Damian said in a resolute and unimpressed way “1 day!”
Mrs L finally accepted a negotiated time of 1 week. I told Damian to thank Mrs L for negotiating a shorter time but Damian chose to ignore me. However, I believe that he heard and hopefully he registered that Mrs L had considered his feelings and that she had compromised her position with that in mind.
The first thing that I said to Damian when informed of his disappointment was to say “How about we go home and make some bugs with our craft stuff at home?” Fortunately, we didn’t have any extracurricular activities planned for that afternoon (we often do) so I could afford the time to sit down with him and help him. The offer didn’t seem to help his mood straight away.
Mrs L began attaching Damian’s spider to a string ready to hang with everyone else’s work while I was there and she asked Damian where he wanted to put it. If Mrs L had of asked simply “Where would you like to put it?” I’m sure he would have said “In my school bag!” but fortunately Mrs L anticipated that potential response and gave him a choice of hanging it from either end of the line of mini-beasts.
Damian chose the end furtherest from Mrs L’s desk and Mrs L said “I’m glad you chose that end because it might scare me if it is too close to my desk”. I looked at Damian and his expression changed a little, I could see he was reconsidering the position. I smiled and said “You want to put it near Mrs L desk now don’t you!” He laughed and so while Mrs L hung it near her desk she pretended to be worried (in a humorous way) that she was going to bump into it whenever she passed it.
As we left the classroom, Damian started thinking about what kind of bugs he wanted to make at home but he was still upset. When we passed one of Damian’s classmates who waved goodbye to him, Damian said goodbye in a glum voice without making eye contact. I said “You should use a friendly voice because your friend might think you are upset at him” but Damian said “He knows why I’m upset!”.
He was right; all Damian’s classmates had seen him get upset. In fact, Mrs L had said to me (in front of Damian, for Damian’s benefit) that he had some good caring friends including one who had suggested that his spider hang next to his bug and the mini-beasts could play together. Although, I’m guessing Damian’s spider would have eaten his bug in reality.
At home, after spending some time making stick insects, centipedes and scorpions with pipe cleaners and googly eyes, Damian’s mood improved dramatically especially when I mentioned that he could take them for ‘show and tell’ at school the next day.
Well, the next day came and Damian helped me pack his craft bugs into boxes to take to school. Jeremy was unwell (nothing too serious) so Damian had my undivided attention and was in a happy mood. To make my day even brighter, after dropping Damian off at school, I received a book I had ordered a week earlier called ‘The Disappointment Dragon’.*
I’m hoping that like it’s sister book ‘The Panicosaurus’ that Damian loves it because the more times we read about and discuss emotional challenges and strategies for coping with them (when he is in a good mood), the greater Damian’s ability to understand and manage his feelings of disappointment so that they don’t take him to the ‘Valley of Despair’.
I have also used images from the book (not copied in this post to avoid copyright issues) and used similar terminology, to make a summary/checklist/ tool for my boys to read anytime they like. I have copied the text below**:
Tonight, 2 days later, without prompting, Damian chose all 3 books ‘The Disappointment Dragon’, ‘The Panicosaurus’ and ‘The Red Beast’ to read before bed. Something good has got to come from that 🙂
*I don’t agree with the phrase “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” briefly referred to in ‘The Disappointment Dragon’ for political reasons but otherwise I mostly found the book to be exceptionally useful and entertaining.
**Another book in the series that I don’t love as much but still find useful is ‘The Red Beast’. I have also used terminology from that book in the tool that I constructed for my boys (above) for consistency. The emotion level thermometers, which I refer to in the checklist/tool above, can be constructed pretty easily (search for images on the internet to give you an idea) but I use one provided in a resource that I have called The C.A.T -kit (by Tony Attwood).