It started small. Being silly while they were taking his weight and height. Walking “like a spider” to the exam room. K likes to make people laugh, and when they respond, he just gets more silly. So when the nurse said, “wow, you’re funny!” he took that to mean, “Amp it up, kid!”
Which he did. After giving the doctor a brief moment to examine him, he spent a couple of minutes appropriately discussing his reason for being there, and then decided that flopping like fish on the exam room table was exactly what he should do next.
While I talked to the doctor, I kept trying to give him directions. “Lower your voice.” “Inside voice.” “Don’t jump on the table…actually, just get off the table.” But there was no stopping him. Once he moves in the ultra silly direction, there’s usually no turning back, until I remove him from the environment….which is why I try to prevent these situations when I can.
The office visit was one of the worst, behavior wise, for my son. And I even got to the point in the visit where I asked the doctor, “Is this normal??”
What a stupid word. I know that. As an educator, that’s a word I avoided using at all costs. There is no such thing as normal. Every child is different. In this age of different learning styles and differentiated education, assuming that there is a “normal” is almost ridiculous. (The irony here, of course, is that even in this philosophical age, all students are required to sit for and pass multiple standardized tests, but that’s a WHOLE other post.)
The doctor assured me that while she would hope he doesn’t act like this all of the time, (he doesn’t), it’s normal for a three year old to act out when he’s bored. And my son even informed me, thirty minutes into the visit, “I’m tired of the doctor.”
But for a split second, I was worried.
This isn’t the only time this has happened. Sometimes, my son gets this look in his eyes, and it’s very difficult to focus his behavior back to what we need it to be. The “1-2-3 method” has been working well, and I can see that as he gets older, he can handle more pre-emptive talks, which almost always work. Course, in my haste, I’d forgotten to have the behavior talk in the car before we got to the doctor.
But there was still that little voice. What if my son is incapable of following directions? What if he can’t still sit? What if…
The thing that bothers me though, is this. Why, after some “normal” behavior episodes does my mind go straight to ADHD? Is it because it is always in the media? Is it because there is a separate extension at my pediatrician’s office…just for “attention and hyperactivity” issues? ADHD and boys; it’s everywhere. The number of American boys being diagnosed with and being treated for ADHD is increasing. And for some children, medication and treatment for ADHD is warranted. It is a real problem, with certain kids. But I was in the classroom long enough to know the difference between a child who worked better with medication to help him focus and a child who honestly, just needed a space to play, run, and be loud.
Sometimes I think that as a society we are trying to push down the natural tendencies of boys. That we are not allowing them to be who they are wired to be; that we are forcing them to sit still longer than they should, not encouraging enough physical activity, and with the addition of ubiquitous technology, which sedates some kids, there’s always something to throw at them that will turn them off.
This is not to say I believe boys should be able to grow without boundaries. I actually believe there should be strong boundaries; behaviors that are accepted and behaviors that are not. Boys need to learn when certain things are okay, and when they have to suppress their impulses. For example, while I’m happy to allow my son to run and play and yell outside, I want him to walk with me while we’re in stores. (That doesn’t always work either…)
But it worries me; the culture of boys. I want to raise a boy who is tough, who can hang with boys and not be intimidated…and I also want him to be sensitive and emotional enough to be able to have an equal, loving relationship. But I’m afraid that too often, his high energy level and need to be in near constant motion, this behavior that comes naturally to him and to lots of boys, is the thing that gets suppressed in so many American institutions.
“He has a lot of energy,” my neighbor commented when she saw my son running up and down the driveway, at 5:30 tonight, after a full day of playing and a swim lesson.
“Yes, but he’ll be in bed by 7,” I responded.
She was just making an observation. But many times, that type of comment is meant with an undercurrent of “doesn’t he ever stop?” or “are you going to do something?”
Sometimes, yes, I’ll tell him to calm down. But sometimes, I won’t. I don’t want to manage my son’s energy right out of him.
He plays hard. He sleeps. And early, before the sun rises the next day, he’s up and ready to do it all again.