Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Daycare: The Next Frontier

In my correspondence with other parents of bipolar children, there is one (if not many, actually) repeated mystery: My child rages at home, but not at school, or the converse. I am sure that this has to do with levels stimulation, and in the cases of older children, the maturity to hold it in until they get home, letting it all out once they are in a safe environment.

The Kid generally has had his rages at school. He has definitely threw his fits with me as well, but the environment at home has been more conducive to settling down. Again, a guess.

But The Kid has three main environments. Home, School and Daycare.

So, if the first four years of his life were struggles at home (sleep deprivation, night terrors, a little something called plank, my own struggles of figuring out how to do all of this motherhood stuff, my insistence that he was exceptional to doctors' deaf ears, etc), and the next two years were struggles at school and preschool, it is only fitting that we are now having problems at daycare.

The Kid has gone to the same daycare since he turned three years old, with a short hiatus of about 11 months at a formal county-run preschool that I wrote about when I started this blog. He went back to the daycare when he started Kindergarten. My neice and nephew both go and went there (respectively). My sister and I have really come to like the daycare for its diversity (a rarity in our part of town), the teachers and the other kids. It's not your average daycare.

In March, the daycare came under new ownership. Also in March, The Kid started in on mania again. So, last Friday, I arrived to a note on the door informing me that The Kid would be suspended from daycare on Monday because he had bit another child.

The new owner watched me intently while I read the note, waiting for my reaction. I'm trying not to go into the place where I think she was judging me as she watched me read, but I can't shake the idea that she was. She had a look on her face like, bring it on, mama-of-the-terrible-child.

I very calmly told her that we needed to talk. I told her that The Kid has a disability. It's called bipolar disorder, aka manic depression. Bipolar manifests itself in children very differently than it does in adults. Instead of distinct depression or mania, you see anger. The Kid's anger has really been boiling over lately, and this is something that I am very aware of. I also told her that he knows that he is not to hurt anyone, and that it is his job to keep himself and others safe. But his fits of rage are not misbehavior in a traditional way, but a kind of chemically induced state, which inhibits his ability to process the information that other children can when they are frustrated. The end result is rage, and in this case, a bitemark. I stressed again that the rage is part of his disability. Disciplining The Kid by suspending him from school when his disability is causing the trouble would be like punishing a kid with asthma for having an asthma attack. In short, it will have no effect. I told her that I understand that she has to be concerned about the other children's safety and that this is a private daycare, and not a public school, so she can expell us if she wishes. If she is intent, however, of following a protocol of suspensions leading to expulsion, we will have to find another daycare. Basically, this kind of setup for discipline is a sure recipe for failure when it comes to The Kid, and bipolar disorder.

She was speechless. She asked for information about bipolar disorder. End of discussion.

The Kid stayed with my mom on Monday, and had an absolutely AWESOME day. Because there are no challenges with rage when you are hanging out with your favorite person on the planet.

He's back now, but I'm waiting to see if they are willing to accomodate The Kid and bipolar disorder.

It's a tough proposition to "explain" your child's misbehavior as I did. I want to stress that I'm not saying it's okay. Instead, I'm saying that there are a lot of strategies that one uses with a "normal" kid that won't work with a bipolar or otherwise explosive child. One of the recent amazing things I read recently said that if we are trying to teach our explosive child how to be more flexible and to work with his frustration better, the worst thing we can do is be inflexible. The "because I said so, that's why" style of discipline in all cases is just asking for more rage, and more than that, is setting a terrible example. For a daycare worker or even a teacher, this is a huge paradigm shift to ask for.

It's also a huge thing to ask a basically untrained daycare teacher to work the common strategies of proactive discipline that is required in dealing with The Kid.

The onus is on me as a parent to educate. I think I'm going to have to write an essay or something. Like a formal report on The Kid's bipolar disorder, his cycles, our personal 'buzzwords' for his feelings and strategies that will work for us. I could then just pass them out to anyone that has any regular contact with him. Because I'm tired of explaining it over and over.


Alison said...

I think you're absolutely amazing. You should write an explanatory essay/letter that you can give people. That way you don't have to get frustrated with explaining it over and over, and they can digest the information at their own pace. And they'll have a reference for when you're not immediately available. I think you should do it!

Anonymous said...

I second Alison. You ABSOLUTELY rock. Give the Kid a hug for me, will ya?


mr. lady said...

Josh asked the other day how plank was doing. I don't think he even knows the kid's real name. He'll always be plank to us!

molly_g said...

my mom and I were talking about the Plank phenomenon just the other day too. With hindsight, it fits in with his diagnosis, his colic and night terrors and general inability to calm himself down.

But then, we were so desperate for something to laugh at in the sleep deprivation and hours of crying that we named his stiff baby act (like seriously, head to toe), very endearingly, Plank.

And apparently, Mr. Lady's husband thinks that is his christened name. Plank G. Well. It has a ring to it.

Anonymous said...

You are a wonderful parent, and "the Kid" is so blessed to have you for a Mom. Much love to you both.

Aunt Kathy