Friday, however, when I asked him how his day was, Cava replied very quietly with, "Papa . . ."
This was not a good start. I know that when he starts his answer that way what will follow won't be something I'll be happy to hear. It usually means he had to move his strip from green to yellow because he did something he wasn't supposed to do. Sure enough, he said, "I got in trouble today in class."
"Why? What happened?"
As I would find out, both through what he told me and through an e-mail from his teacher, the class was working on a craft of making snowmen. Cava was having a difficult time drawing the circles and then cutting them out to make the snowman. As I've written before, he can get discouraged easily, especially if what he's working on isn't perfect. When he does, he becomes extremely hard on himself.
"I can't do it," he kept telling his teacher.
Then they had to draw a hat for the snowman, which his teacher drew on the board for them to copy. Immediately, Cava said, "I can't do it." This progressed throughout the process and he became more and more frustrated. His frustration continued to build as they moved on to the next project: a 2014 goals paper that needed to be folded and cut. As if that weren't difficult enough for him, he really became irritated by having to write two goals and he ended up putting his head down on his desk with, "I can't do it. I can't write." When the teacher told him she would help him if he would sit up and try, Cava didn't, so she went to help another student. At this point, he sat up and threw his pencil across the room. When the teacher asked him why he did this, Cava screamed, "I can't do it!"
This scenario progressed from bad to worse. When I first heard this, I will admit, I thought, "Why are you doing this to me?" Now, I know that he wasn't doing this to me but that he was doing this to himself. When he gets so frustrated and defeated, he does not think clearly and he simply reacts. I'll also admit, that I was in a funk for the next couple of days. I secretly, and unrealistically, had hoped that we had at least gotten past this stage. As the title of this blog states, I felt like we had taken two steps forward and were now taken one step back. I didn't want him to move backward, either for himself or for us. I wanted progression, not regression. But Cava is a child who has come through a lot and has a long, long way still to go.
When Cava feels defeated he can often become angry. Although he is angry with himself, he projects that anger outwardly. This can be seen by his hitting something or someone, or throwing a pencil, or kicking a wall or door.
At home, if either Danelle or I see that Cava's starting to get in a defeatist mode, we try to redirect his attention in an attempt of getting his focus off whatever he is struggling with at the moment until we can calm him down and then return to whatever activity he was working on, such as homework.
Cava suffers from anxiety. This anxiety shows up before big events like holidays or anything new that Cava is afraid that he will mess up if he can't keep it together. He will be all excited in the days leading up to the event or holiday, but once that day arrives, Cava can often be found quiet and rocking back and forth.
Homework can also cause stress on him. As soon as he feels like he's overwhelmed, he immediately throws down his pencil and either says, "I can't do it!" or "This is not fun for me!" or "This is not fair to me!"
This can happen quite a bit, since he is still learning to not only speak the language, but also comprehend it, which can be much harder. He is supposed to read every day for at least twenty minutes and then answer questions about what he's read. If I don't read with him and he reads on his own, if I ask him anything about the story he's read, Cava shrugs, "I dunno'." He read the words but did not understand the concepts or even the basic story. So, each day, I sit down and he reads aloud to me and we go over each page before going on to the next one. If I don't do it this way, he will just become frustrated when it comes time to answer the questions.
Like many kids, Cava thinks that he should be able to do something on the very first try. He'd seen Benjamin bouncing on his Pogo stick so, naturally, Cava wanted to do it, too. When he tried a few times and failed to jump even once, he threw the Pogo stick on the ground with, "I can't do it! That's stupid!" For awhile, he wouldn't attempt it again. One day, he asked me to get the Pogo stick out of the garage for him. Then he began to keep trying. Day after day after day. Now, he can do at least 8 to 10 bounces before he falls off. I remind him of this small success whenever he feels defeated about trying something else new.
Developmentally, he is going through a tough time. His mind is very concrete in his thinking and he struggles with anything abstract. Lately, his math problems haven't been 10-1 variety, but word problems where he has to figure out if it's addition or subtraction. I get another sheet of paper to draw out the problems so he can see them visually in the hopes that seeing the problem will help him to understand the problem.
When he got very angry that he couldn't draw a lion that was in a drawing book of his, I heard him loudly say, "Come on!" Then I heard him as he threw his pencil across the table and huffed, "I can't do it! It's too hard for me!"
Going in to check on him, I asked, "Cava, have you ever tried to draw a lion before?"
"So you think you should be able to draw one perfectly the very first time?"
"Well, I do. The answer is no. Nobody can. Learning how to draw anything takes time and practice. It takes artists years to become real artists and, even then, they may create masterpieces but they don't create perfection. I told him how there are Chinese artists who would intentionally leave a mistake in their work because only nature was perfect.
Also, when I later addressed why he go so upset about not being able to make a "perfect" snowman, he truly believed that all of the other kids could and that he was the only one who couldn't. Much of this stems from his desire to be like the other children in his class and to not be seen as different. He fears meeting new kids because they might not understand him when he talks. So when he struggles with something he magnifies his fears of being the only one who doesn't fit in and the belief that everyone else is smarter than he is. He doesn't see that there are other kids who are also struggling in the class.
We take time with Cava to calm him down, to listen to him, and to explain, as simply as we can, that it's okay to mess up sometimes and to not expect something to be perfect, that we are all imperfect and that it's our imperfections that make us who we are.
What we've learned is that Cava needs lots of structure, lots of patience, and lots of love. He needs affirmation and reaffirmation and more reaffirmation. Cava needs to understand that he is part of our family forever no matter what.