Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Dealing with Disappointment

I first got word via an email from Kai’s social worker at school. Then, I spoke with my wife on the phone as I was walking to catch my train after work.

Kai had had a bad day at school, and was very disappointed.

Regular readers may recall that my son’s therapeutic school uses a level system. Students are at Level 1 when they first enter the school, and progress by exhibiting good behavior. Attaining each subsequent level is harder than the previous one. When a student reaches Level 5, they may begin the process to transition back to their home school if their parents so choose.

Some students progress relatively quickly. A few of the kids who came to the school after Kai have already returned to or are starting to transition back to their home school. Kai’s progress has been slower.

It took him more than nine months to make it to Level 2, and then another 18 months to get to Level 3 where he is now. We have had a number of rocky moments since then. This summer it looked like Kai would top out at Level 3, as he had incidents nearly every day.

But this school year has gone remarkably well so far. In September, he had only one incident.

In early October, Kai’s social worker told him that if he did not have a major incident for the rest of the month, he would reach Level 4 on Halloween. Kai had one incident a couple of weeks ago that pushed that date a few weeks out. But he was still on track to make Level 4 relatively soon.

We told him that when he made Level 4, we would have a big celebration. He has been wanting to go to Legoland for a while now, and chose that as his reward for the major achievement.

It felt good that he was so confident that he could do it, as he was counting the days until we would go to Legoland.

And then yesterday happened.

His teacher had been giving out Pokémon cards to the students as a positive reinforcement. Yesterday, one student earned the privilege of opening up a new pack of cards. Kai got very upset that he was not the one to do so.

He disrupted the class and had to take a timeout. When his classmates walked past him to go to lunch, Kai tried to go after the boy who opened the pack of cards. The classroom staff intervened. And when they were escorting him out of the classroom, Kai bit one of the teachers.

In that moment, he had lost his chance at attaining Level 4 for several more weeks.

Of course I was not happy to hear that my son had bit one of this teachers. I feel bad for the teachers who work so hard and are so patient with all of the kids, but who have to endure this as part of their jobs.

But my heart also went out to Kai a little bit.

For whatever reason, he did not control his emotions. He acted out his anger. It was a very poor choice on his part, but I’ve come to realize that self-control is a lot more difficult for him than it is for most kids.

He had been doing so well in school. He had improved his behavior so much. He was motivated to earn his reward. And now he was very discouraged.

My wife told me on the phone that he was very down. He cried a lot and then wanted to just stay in bed all afternoon.

When I got home from work, he was dawdling in the bathtub. When he finally came out, he ran to his bedroom and buried himself in his bedspread. He did not want to come down for dinner.

I talked to him about the poor choice he made, but tried to be more encouraging than disparaging. He said that he did not want to go to school tomorrow. He did not want to go trick or treating.

I told him that tomorrow is a new day, and that the bad day today doesn’t mean he has to have a bad one tomorrow. But he has to make that choice.

Eventually he came down for dinner, more because of Mom’s sukiyaki than because of anything I said.

And later, at bedtime, my wife and I both tried to encourage Kai to continue to do as well as he has most of the past few months.

It will be a challenge to keep his spirits up. While positive reinforcement is very motivating to Kai, when a reward seems out of reach to him, he often gives up. I don’t want him to give up now.

Today there will be a Halloween parade at school and then the students will be dismissed after only a half day. My wife is taking Kai and my dad to a favorite hamburger restaurant for lunch. And then it will be time for tricks-or-treat.

I hope to get home from work in time for a second round of tricks-or-treat. Hopefully I will see a happy kid when I get home from work today.


  1. Rough day...and it will be a rocky few days I suppose. I am pulling for all of you. Kai's disappointment in himself is, of course, a very good sign. With his will to improve...he will in time. Perhaps a handmade and heartfelt card of apology to the teacher would go a long ways toward Kai's growth...and healing the teacher in a way no bandage could. I am sure Kai would feel better being able to express his sorrow in a constructive manner. Anyway, again, I am pulling for you all. An occasional storm gives smooth sailing a special meaning. Hopefully, more days of smooth sailing are just ahead of you.

    1. I hate to see Kai so discouraged, but also don't want to make it too easy for him to earn his rewards. It is hard to find the balance sometimes. If he can overcome this latest setback, he will be better off.

      I should have had Kai make an apology card yesterday, but will see if we can get him to do one tomorrow.

      Thanks for your support.

  2. I am so sorry that he has hit a rough patch! I know that my son is often much harder on himself than I would be...the self loathing is hard to witness.

    My son scratched his teacher and assistant during a very impulsive, angry outburst. I was horrified and honestly...very embarrassed.

    Focusing on a new day is a good strategy. It's hard sometimes, but needed.

    Here's hoping for better days!

    1. Thanks, Kelly. Sounds like you can relate to this well. I hope that you and your son have better days, too.


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