The trouble with being little

Barring the last week, Alex has been having a bit of a rough time since school started again this year. Being quite a reserved child, he sometimes struggles to fit in with the crowd. I can relate, because I was never really a mainstream kid. He has always been quite an intense child, we even saw him frowning in-utero during his 4D ultrasound! Even from tiny, he would suss things out before engaging with a new group of kids, or trying out a new activity. He doesn’t particularly care for crowds and much prefers one-on-one attention. I always assumed that it was because he only started school at three, and was naturally shy, but the more I observe him, the more I realise that he is a little different to the other kids. And specifically to the other boys. But not in a bad way. Alex is a sensitive child, and is clearly a thinker (a trait he has gained from me, and from his dad, so he has a double dose!) He is always polite and waits his turn, sometimes to his own detriment, as the other kids barge in front of him. He is a worrier and seems to carry the weight of the world on his tiny shoulders some days.

When I see the boys in his class playing fighting games and running around pretending to shoot each other, I can understand why Alex prefers the company of girls; he is just not into that stuff. So as a result, all of Alex’s school friends are girls. But by the same token, he loves typical boy things such as cars, planes, ball games etc, and his latest obsession: vikings and dragons. He has told me on many occasions that he does not like the fighting games that the boys play, because they are too rough. (But he is perfectly happy to rough-house with Gary or his older brothers, go figure!) He loves anything to do with animals, and I could fully see him being a vet, or an animal rights activist, in the future. While the other boys are watching Ben 10 and Spiderman, Alex prefers “A dolphin tale” and “How to train your dragon” (and mainly because the dragon is a pet!)


So the trouble began when we started school again this year, and his friend Bianca was not there. (She has some medical issues requiring surgery this year and her parents decided to home-school her.) The classes are always mixed up at the beginning of the year, and as a result there are new kids in his class, and only a few from last year. And more importantly, the girls are starting to only play with girls. Which leaves poor Alex in a bit of a quandary. We have many conversations on the way home that go something like this:

“Did you have a nice day boy”

“No. I had a terrible day”


“Somebody hurt my feelings”

“Who, boy?”

“Carmen…” (or Vicky or Jessica etc…)

“What did they do my love?”

“Nobody wants to play with me … ” (tears at this point)

“Why don’t you play with the boys then, sweetheart?”

“I don’t like fighting games.” (now full-on sobbing)

And my heart breaks for him.

Alex has been teary quite a lot at school too. His teacher has mentioned this to me on a few occasions and asked me if there are any major issues in Alex’s life right now. She told me that she has asked him if anything is bothering him, and he sometimes gets very teary and (after a lot of coaxing) says things like his tummy is sore or he is missing his brother (Stuart has been away in New Orleans since November last year.) And whilst on some days he is perfectly happy and full of the joys of spring, the kid is clearly on an emotional roller coaster. Being in grade 0 this year also means that the pressure has increased big time, so it is important that he feels settled. By the same token, if I see that he is feeling down at home and ask him what is wrong, he gives me lines such as “I don’t like that movie we saw… ” or “I don’t want to swim because the water goes in my eyes…” or some other random statement, but I never get to the bottom of what is really going on. And the more I ask him what is really troubling him, the more upset he gets.

As parents we just want our kids to be happy, but no matter what I do to try to understand what’s eating him up inside, I just can’t seem to get through to him!

Which brings me to another issue: the sore tummy. I have also been at the receiving end of many complaints of “my tummy is sore”, usually preceded by something he does not want to do, which at the moment is just about everything. Not wanting to go swimming, not wanting to go to bed, not wanting to go to soccer, not wanting to eat dinner, not wanting to tidy up, being refused a new toy at the shops etc. So to be honest, I have doubted that there is anything physically wrong with his tummy, and that he has just been using it as an excuse to get attention. However, I am also not insensitive to the impact that Gary’s kidney issue last year has had on Alex, as he has asked me many times: “What will happen if I get a lump on my kidney? Will I die?” And “What happens if daddy gets a lump on his other kidney? Will he die?” etc. I always try to reassure him that he is fine, and daddy is fine, and no-one is going to die right now. So for good measure, I decided to take him to the paed just to be sure, and the doc confirmed that there is nothing to be concerned about. I also got the good doctor to check his kidneys too, which are obviously fine, but I felt terrible when the poor boy whispered to me as we got into the car: “I was very nervous when Dr Slowatek checked my kidneys mommy!”

Breaks my heart some more.

So as much as he seems a little happier at the moment, I still think that he is carrying around some issues, which I don’t know how to help him resolve. I would guess that the problem lies somewhere between Bianca being gone, Stuart being away, and Gary’s health-scare, but when I ask him about any of these things he just gets upset, and cannot verbalise his true feelings. Maybe its none of these things and I am jumping to conclusions.

I have considered taking him to a play therapist, but I have heard so many mixed reviews about these types of therapies. Some kids blossom during the process, and for some it’s a total waste of time (and money.) And my cynical mind thinks that we never had the luxury of therapists to sort out all our problems when we were kids, and we ultimately turned out just fine. But I also appreciate that kids these days are under a LOT more pressure than we ever were. I also don’t want Alex to become completely withdrawn as he clearly already struggles to express his feelings.

So later today I have a meeting with the school psychologist… wish me luck! (And here’s hoping we get to the bottom of this!)

7 Replies to “The trouble with being little”

  1. It could be my C you are talking about. With him it was grade 1 now – the girls stopped playing with the boys and his only male friend he enjoys playing with is in another class. So we have arranged a play date tomorrow afternoon for the two or them. He does love chess now so that could be another connection

  2. I hear what you’re saying about there being a lot more pressure on kids these days, but I don’t think the lack thereof is going to be to any child’s detriment, so we needn’t accept that. I speak only from experience with a preschooler, but, for the moment, I steer clear of that pressure with Amy. I was even hesitant to call her crèche a “school,” as that has performance requirement connotations, but, that’s what they call it, so that’s what we call it. However, I don’t put pressure on her to learn or do anything, because, like you said, we didn’t require that as kids, and it’s not fair to be treating them like little adults. Preschoolers learn. That’s what they do. They’re naturally curious and don’t require any force-feeding. She’s smart and she’ll learn everything she needs to know by first grade. Denita, you and I were in first-grade together, and we were one of, I think, three or four kids that could read when we got there. I’m sure she’ll do the same.

    Meanwhile, Amy has her grandmother trying to insist that she say “yellow” instead of “lellow,” but I find the mispronunciation endearing and I know that she will get it right in her own time and doesn’t need a lecture and an English dictionary (just yet)!

  3. My daughter of five who is also in Grade R has some of the same issues! I think it has got something to with the specific phase that they are in right now, and not that it is something specific that is wrong. She complains that nobody wants to play with her, but she only wants to play with certain children, and I have seen other children hanging around wanting to play with her. She is clingy this year, and we are worried about the teacher who is very young. She also complains about the swimming lessons and her eyes! She still throws full- blown tantrums, which have us worried and other people commenting about it…

    I don’t think we ever stop worrying about them, but it seems as if you are not doing anything wrong! Good luck!

  4. Oh D! If only there was a way to understand them. I found Amy often had a sore tummy when there was something concerning her and I read it’s an inability on their part to explain their feelings so they “feel” ït as a physical pain. She still gets it occasionally when she’s particularly anxious about something!
    I so get you on the not wanting to play with boys but from a different perspective – it’s so hard when they start a new year and things aren’t the way they expect it to be, I like the idea of having play dates with the other kids – that might be a good solution.
    Andrew struggles cos he’s a year younger than some of the boys in his class, he’s turning 7 in April and most of them are turning 8 this year. He’s not as fast or as strong as them and he gets terribly frustrated with his inability as he is super-competitive.
    I have no answers, I would just hug him and tell him you love him and he’ll know that no matter what else, he has a safe place to be when he’s with you. Hopefully it’ll change in a few weeks and he’ll be back to his happy smiley self 🙂

  5. Shame Denita. It does sound like he’s internalizing something. The whole idea of someone telling Luca that they don’t want to play with him or him being left out of something, destroys me. The scary thing is that we won’t be able to protect them forever. Someone will hurt them, emotionally or physically. It breaks my heart and it hasn’t even happened yet. I really hope you get to the bottom of this and look forward to reading your update after you see the school psychologist xxx

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