My son attends a public therapeutic school. The kids who go there have social and emotional challenges that result in behavior issues. As the staff works with each student to overcome their challenges, they celebrate achievements along the way.
One such milestone is a Safe Month.
My son has had stretches of good periods, but going an entire month without a major incident has proven extremely difficult. It has been relatively rare for Kai to go even just a week without chewing up his clothes, attempting to bite or hit his teachers, or display other unsafe behaviors.
While we don’t like to compare, we can’t help but notice that virtually all of Kai’s classmates have achieved a Safe Month some time in the past year, and some of them have done it several times.
The Safe Month award is announced on the first Friday of the month. Kai tells us which classmates were honored, and when he does, I always sense the disappointment that he had, once again, fallen short.
We encourage Kai to try again in the new month, but I sometimes got the sense that he felt it was beyond his capabilities.
There have been times when he was really motivated to go for the Safe Month. He might have a good first week or two and we would start to think that this would be the month.
But then something would happen – a disappointment that he couldn’t accept, a change in the routine that he couldn’t handle – and there went the Safe Month.
“It’s too hard!” we heard him say many times. “I can’t do it!”
This month, he has been teetering on the edge of not being safe all month. We have heard him express anger several times at something a teacher did. His daily point sheets have shown that he wasn’t always respectful to staff. But while he’s had several timeouts at school, he had not crossed the line into unsafe behavior.
As we entered the final few days of the month, my wife and I wondered if he could actually do it.
This evening, as I walked from the office to the train station, I made my usual call to my wife to let her know which train I would take. Kai asked to speak to me.
I could barely hear him over the street sounds, but I made out what he said.
“I had a safe month!”
It was great to hear, of course. I don’t have illusions that we will never have anger issues again, or that it will be smooth sailing from here.
But I hope that this will let Kai know that he can stay safe at school for an extended period of time, and that he can achieve things that he perceives to be very difficult if he really sets his mind on it. I hope he gets a sense of accomplishment that sticks with him for a long time.
But enough deep thoughts for now.
Tonight, we celebrate!