It’s Not All Mary Poppins

Who Knows You, Baby?

This piece was first posted on In The Trenches, on December 12, 2005.

Later this week I am scheduled to meet with the parents to discuss with them my concerns over their child’s excessive anxiety. Anxiety to the point where I think he may have an actual disorder. This is not a child who worries a bit about going to daycare, and misses mummy a little more than most. This is a child whose level of worry and whose practice of fixating on points of anxiety interferes with his ability to make friends, enjoy his surroundings, live his life. I think it needs to be explored by people more expert than me, so that, if experts deem it necessary, it can be dealt with before it becomes even more of a handicap.

I am a little concerned about how it will go. I quite like mom. We have a good relationship. She been very open to my input on small daily events, even soliciting my advice on occasion. This, however, is not a small matter. Dad I have only met once, so I can’t gauge how he will respond. In all honesty, I think the anxiety issue probably comes from mom, but judging from what mom has told me of how they respond to their son’s emotions, they are both fostering his anxiousness. So, he gets it by nature and nurture.

And so I am meeting with the parents to discuss how he’s managing at daycare. You know that truism, “You are the parent, you know your child best”? I’m kind of ambivalent about it. I have three children, 12, 16, and 20. One thing the years have shown me is that I do and I don’t know my child. I’ve watched my fourteen-year-old bring home new friends, and I’ve thought, “Why on earth is that kid one of my kid’s friends? They’re so different! What could they possibly have to connect them?” Then I’d watch, and in their interactions, I’d see an aspect of my child I’d never noticed before. Seems that friend knows my child, or a facet of my child, better than I. In fact, I like watching my kids with their friends for that very reason: I learn more about them, things I wouldn’t otherwise have experienced.

It’s certainly true that we parents love our child best. If you have a gut instinct that’s telling you something about your child, it needs to be taken seriously. It’s also true that you know your child in his home environment. But do you know who he is at daycare? At school? In other environments with other people? If he behaves differently in these places, is it because he “can’t be himself” there, or because he’s being the rest of himself?

The other thing about parents, is we generally have a pretty small sample size on which to base expectations and from which to make generalizations. Most families in our society have one or two children; three at the very most. Anything more than that is quite unusual. Many parents have had little experience with children before having their own. So, five years into this grand journey of parenting, you know one or maybe two children intimately. That’s a pretty small sampling.

I strongly suspect that my daycare child’s parents have no idea there’s an issue. This is their only child. To them, he is normal. They have no real basis of comparison. Yes, he’s “a bit of a worry-wart”, mom tells me, but “all kids like their routines”, right? She doesn’t know. My first child was colicky, screamed for hours and hours every evening, but, being a natural born optimist and having no prior experience with babies, I told people she “was a little fussy”. It wasn’t till my second came along that I fully realized she had been a heckuva lot more than “a little” fussy!! I didn’t know.

I have the unenviable task of suggesting to them that he’s rather more than “a bit of a worry-wart” and that while children do like their routines, this particular boy’s need for it borders on obsessive. I will be the first person to suggest to them that their boy is not “normal”. When I tell them this, it will also be suggesting that they, as parents, do not in fact know their child best.

What I’m hoping is that they will co-operate with me in some new patterns of interacting with their son. I’m hoping that they will be open to trying new approaches to his anxiety, approaches that ease rather than increase it. I’m hoping that they will be willing to take him to their doctor, even to make an appointment with a child and family therapist.

But they may become angry and defensive. They may tell me that I’m wrong, that they know their child best, and there’s nothing wrong. They may say nothing, and simply withdraw the child from my care.

They may even tell me I’m worrying needlessly. Wouldn’t that be ironic…

So, I take a deep breath and prepare myself to give some lovely, loving, kind and conscientious parents some unwelcome news. I hope it goes well.

January 7, 2006 - Posted by | individuality, parenting, parents, socializing


  1. Ooh, ouch. I hope the conversation went well.

    I have to say that I have been on the receiving end of that conversation– more than once. And that I responded… badly. But at the time I first had it, I was with my son 24 hours, and I really *did* know him better than anyone else.

    But as you say, I did not know what was not “normal,” despite having had an older child. I did not see the early signs of Asperger’s (though, now I do see them, when others describe their children to me sometimes). And I was resistant to the idea that my child may have something special or unique about him in that way.

    But I have come around. And thank goodness there are good, patient, kind, and respectful daycare providers like you who will have this conversation with tact and care.

    It will be all right for them… and their child.

    Comment by jen-o-rama | January 7, 2006 | Reply

  2. So if you originally posted this on December 12, you must’ve had that conversation by now. How did it go?

    Inquiring minds want to know . . .

    Comment by Sharkey | January 7, 2006 | Reply

  3. Wow. That is a challenge. But from what little I have come to know of you, I trust that you are up to it.

    Back at you:
    “I’m rooting for you!”

    I will pray.

    Comment by jw | January 7, 2006 | Reply

  4. I totally agree that parents don’t necessarily know their kids best. No matter how much time a parent spends with the their child, they’re still almost too close to see the child “objectively.” It’s like being at a museum and seeing a painting. When you’re only an inch from it, you can’t see it very well. But when you step back 5 feet, you can.

    Plus, how a child is around us has a lot to do with OUR interaction pattern. And they may have a completely different interaction pattern with someone else, thus bringing out another side of their personality, as you illustrated. That’s why we parents need to be open to hearing what others have to say about our children, while still maintaining our protective (rather than defensive) skepticism.

    Let us know how it goes, Mary!

    Comment by MIM | January 8, 2006 | Reply

  5. I would want someone to tell me about anything I might have missed.

    Good luck.

    Comment by Granny | January 8, 2006 | Reply

  6. I agree parents do & don’t know their kids best. ALWAYS trust a parents gut instinct if they are worried about something – I have seen this proven correct over and over again – often with years of argument from the parents. However, trust the professionals to spot “abnormal” behaviour. As you say, parents have little to base it on.

    In fact it’s something that really annoys me. Twice I have had professionals just completely disregard my concerns. Once while prgnant when I tried to explain that I did not fit a standard text-book model pregnancy. the Dr didn’t listen to a word I said, wrote his own happy opinion down & almost killed me & Mstr A in childbirth. Then again once mstr A started school. I went to see his reception class teacher three times to discuss his social skills/behaviour and each time she waved away my concerns. When he moved up to a new teacher this year it took her three days to speak to me about his abnormal social skills/behaviour. If the first teacher had been bothered to listen, how much futher towards solving this we would have been!

    OK rant over.

    I have done this talk myself a fair few times. I usually hedge my bets by suggesting that the behaviour/ability “may be indicative of” an underlying problem, and the parent “shouldn’t worry, but discuss it with their Dr at the next check up”. Very few parent wait till their next check up:-)

    Comment by Mrs.Aginoth | January 8, 2006 | Reply

  7. I agree that as a parent, I may be too close to my child to see something that a professional such as yourself could see. I would want you to bring it up. I would also want suggestions on how to deal with the behavior.

    Please let us know how the conversation goes.

    Comment by Andie D. | January 8, 2006 | Reply

  8. Oh, good luck, Mary! They need to hear this especially as they may have no idea!
    (My daughter was shy in preschool and kindergarten and is always shy with others when I’m around. So after starting 1st grade in a new school, I thanked the new teacher for her patience. “I know N is quiet and shy, but she’ll warm up to you soon, I’m sure.”
    Her teacher’s response?
    “N!? SHY? I haven’t seen that…”
    Seems Kansas has brought her out of her shell…she is a bouncy, outgoing child at school…unless she spots me!

    Comment by LoryKC | January 8, 2006 | Reply

  9. Jen: The conversation happened early in December, but I won’t mess up the next post on this by scooping myself in the comments section!

    When I went into the conversation, I was hoping only that they would be accepting of my input. I did have a second and third step in my mind, but doubted we’d get that far. First step: see if they could accept that their child might have a problem.

    Ten years ago, I’d have been assuming we’d get to the “where do we got from here” part of the conversation in this first meeting, and, just in case, I did have that part thought out, but I’ve learned better along the way. Information like this needs to be digested in small chunks.

    Sharkey: Yes, I have. The second post on this has already been written, too, and will be published next Saturday. Stay tuned!

    JW: Thanks for the support, but mostly for that kind evaluation of my character. It is much appreciated.

    mim: Wow. I’m impressed. Mothers of children the ages of yours don’t generally see this so clearly. Heck, they don’t generally see this at all – I know I didn’t!! It must be your family therapy training. That comment about the interaction pattern is so true. I see a startling difference in some the children between how they are with me and how they are with their parents. It can be huge and dramatic.

    Granny: I think most parents do, but the first time they hear it can be difficult. Denial is often the first response, followed, later, by more openness. We’ll see!

    MrsA: I love your approach: “may be indicative of”…”might discuss with doctor next time”. Brilliant! I’ll put this in my mental tool box for the next time.

    Andie: I did have suggestions in mind, but as I commented to Jen, I wasn’t sure we’d get that far in the conversation. It’s a lot to swallow in one go. The next edition of this story will be posted next Saturday.

    Lory: That would probably be evidence of one of those “interaction patterns” mim mentioned above. Even though in new situations she’s no longer quiet and shy, that’s the way she’s used to appearing with you. I would imagine that in time, she’ll dispense with it at home, too, but isn’t it odd: usually with this particular behaviour, it’s the reverse: bubbly at home, shy with others. Kids…

    Comment by Mary P. | January 9, 2006 | Reply

  10. Oh, “bubbly” at home is putting it mildly! She can be a little hellion! However, if we’re at the mall, church even a friend’s house…if we show up together, she stands by my side, meekly. I guess it is a routine. Though I wonder what I’ve done?
    I take her to the dentist: she says she’ll go if I come in. But she’ll barely talk to the hygenist and won’t open her mouth much at all. She holds onto my hand like a vice and begs me not to leave. But after a moment, if I make an excuse to step out for just a sec and go just far enough down the hallway that she can’t see me…I can hear talking a mile a minute (and between words she gets every tooth polished!)

    Comment by LoryKC | January 9, 2006 | Reply

  11. What a monkey!

    Comment by Mary P. | January 9, 2006 | Reply

  12. As a pediatric physical therapist, I often have these conversations with parents, but usually the doctor has already sent them in for therapy and they understand there is something wrong with their child. My part is eventually explaining to what extend something is wrong and what it means for their future. This can be a very gradual process(months) if the parent is not educated and/or in denial. I give most of my parents the utmost credit. They eventually seem to get to a point of acceptance and always seem to handle it so well! Of course the downside of being me is my constant paranoia of what could be wrong with my child even when they are just normal. Sometimes too much info is not a good thing =)

    Comment by Andrea | January 9, 2006 | Reply

  13. Gah, I have to wait til SUNDAY???

    Sigh. It’s worth the wait, I suppose.

    Comment by jen-o-rama | January 10, 2006 | Reply

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