Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Good parenting?

Last month, I called a local service that, among other things, handles the screening of children for developmental delays in language, thus taking the first step to completing one of the items on my list of goals for 2007 and beyond. This initial call took a good 10-15 minutes as the woman ran through her list of intake questions. Several times, as a question would bring up Scooter's care situation or daily routine, she would say about his preschool attendance, "It's really good for him to have those interactions. It will help his language." Which tore me up, still tears at me. Because we're thinking about pulling Scooter out of his current situation and setting up part-time care in our home.

The decision has been difficult for me, because the correct answer, in many regards, depends on what we decide is right for Scooter in the longer term, more specifically what our plans are for kindergarten.

As a 2003 baby, Scooter's eligible to start junior kindergarten next year. One of the benefits of having him in his current preschool is that he could remain there for both junior and senior kindergarten. Each afternoon, the kindergarten students are walked between the daycare and the local public school for the half day program. We wouldn't have to worry about changing Scooter's routine, and he would even have several friends with him in class. Add to this the fact that I really do like his teachers and the environment and I couldn't come up with a rational reason to change our setup.

Except for that nagging feeling. And finally I was able to articulate that his current daycare is the best situation if our goal is for him to learn to function in a classroom. But when I pull back and ask myself what the real goal is, I come up with something very different. In the broadest sense, we want Scooter to be healthy and happy and have as many opportunities as we can reasonably provide him. And at this time, one of the ways we can best keep on this track is to help him learn to express himself and all of the amazing things he has in his head.

Despite what the intake interviewer kept saying, I've become convinced that Scooter will have an easier time finding his voice if he is not around other children all of the time. I run the risk of over-identifying with him, but here is my interpretation of what he is experiencing:
  • I've mentioned before that I'm convinced Scooter is a highly sensitive child. As a result of this, he is easily overstimulated and overwhelmed by excess noise and activity. Part of my hopes in having him at daycare was that he would develop a tolerance for such an environment, but I'm not sure this is the case.
  • None of the behaviors he exhibits at school (as reported by his teachers or observed by me) fall outside of his norm. He has meltdowns at home too, dissolving into tears when he is frustrated or upset. But at school they occur more often, over less substantial things, and it's harder for him to stop.
  • I suspect that when Scooter is at school he feels constant stress, not because there are problems in his classroom or with his teachers, but because he's strained by the ever-present din and his hyper-awareness of everything going on around him. This is exhausting (and here I'm definitely projecting my own experiences of being in such situations) and leads to little upsets becoming too much to bear.
  • Because it takes Scooter some time to access his use of language, the first thing to go when he becomes overwhelmed is his ability to find the words he wants, which leads to further frustration and a larger meltdown.
  • At a gut level, I actually think that being in daycare may have made language even more frustrating for him.
When Scooter is home with us, he plays industriously by himself (although there are frequent requests that one of us join him). He talks more than he seems to at school and more often remembers to say "No, thank you" instead of shrieking "No," as he often does at school. There are protests about dinner and bath and bedtime, some tears, but those moments pass quickly and he is actually quite agreeable.

We are moving closer and closer to keeping him home starting this summer. Trillian had an interesting email exchange with our favorite weekend babysitter just this week. Our babysitter, who has taken many classes in child development, put forth a hypothesis opposite to that of the intake interviewer: Scooter's language development would probably flourish with one-on-one attention. It also turns out that she'll be working in her current nanny position for only two days a week during the summer. Things are starting to fall into place.

I do worry about the potential isolating effect of keeping him home. He does go to gymnastics once a week and we will likely enroll him in soccer or another sport class this spring, so those give him at least some time with other kids. We do, of course, want him to be ready for a classroom in the near future. But it's likely we'll move back to the States before his kindergarten year (there--senior kindergarten in Canada). I've seen several references to many language delays working themselves out by age 5, giving us a year plus to reassess our plan.

One of the hardest things in all of this for me is not knowing if we're making the right decision. There's no way to compare outcomes. And while it has helped to talk to some other moms, there's no way to take one child's experience as a blueprint for another's. So Trillian and I will most likely be taking a deep breath and following our instincts on this one.


bubandpie said...

That bullet list of yours is highly persuasive. Most children actually behave better at daycare/school than they do at home, and the way you've described Scooter's behaviour certainly seems consistent with the hypothesis that he is stressed.

In some ways, the ideal situation would be a home day-care where there was one other child his age (preferably a friendly, extraverted one!) who could provide some peer interaction. That's what I've always wanted for Bub and haven't been able to find: the kids in his homecare are all Pie's age, so there's no one who can be a good role model for language use for him there.

Good luck with your decision - it sounds like things are falling into place.

Naomi (Urban Mummy) said...

I have only one suggestion, and it is an important one. Make sure that the nanny you have looking after your son is outgoing enough to meet other nannies in the neighbourhood, and put together some informal playgroups.

My nanny is quite shy, and it's been a bit of a struggle to get her out with others, although it's getting much better.

School is a good place for learning, but it certainly isn't the only place, and, as you say, for some, it may not even be the best place!