It's been a rough few weeks. The Prata Baby started kindy and "we" did not take to it like a duck to water. Or maybe he was like a duck to water, that is, kicking furiously.

I admit I was upset, embarrassed. Mortified might be a better description. And especially so after I learnt that other parents had been down to the school to complain about my child. My child beating up their child. I think every parent worries about bullying, but usually their concern centres around the prospect of their child as victim. I was unprepared, and I was horrified. And then I was angry, I guess, at him. At The Prata Baby. For making me horrified, or for being the kind of kid I didn't want him to be, or... I don't know. Does it matter?


I wasted the first couple of weeks reading up about homeschooling and alternative educational methods, and therefore missed the whole point. Then one day we had a particularly horrible morning - it was, in fact, the day before the day I posted about here. I had just dropped him off at kindy with a combination of relief, dread, and guilt on account of the relief, when a friend phoned for a chat. Naturally, she asked how I was and of course that led directly to her hearing about the whole thing.

"What... PB?" she asked, astonished, when I'd given her my troubles in a nutshell. "But he's the quiet, gentle one!" I think that was the turning point. I mean, it took twenty-four full hours for me to actually take a proper step back and start seeing the bigger picture, but I think that was the spark.


I want to write this down in case I ever need it again. I need to remember that The Prata Baby is a sensitive little boy who struggles, sometimes, to handle his emotions. I remember him at birth, crying as if to say, "Too much! Too much!" Not like Surprise Baby, who lay in my arms and blinked as if to say, "Huh, brighter than I expected. Interesting." I remember him at six months old, shattering my nerves to the point where I could barely make it through a day, let alone a week, with his constant, frustrated shrieking about all the things he wanted to do but couldn't. Not like Surprise Baby, who reaches for a toy and wriggles this way and that with nothing to say about it except for a few quiet grunts of determination.

Somebody else had to point out that my kid was "the quiet, gentle one". The sensitive soul. If there's a next time, the person who points it out should be me.


I need to remember to look for the subtle distinctions. The teacher described her transitioning method - a countdown, followed by the instruction to S! T! O! P! Stop what you're doing! I nodded and told her this was exactly how we did it at home, plus or - well, minus - the spelling out of words. But over the weekend I noticed that it's not really what we do at home. Because at home, after the countdown, I never say "Stop!" I say "Go!". Go pack up. Go get dressed. Start putting your shoes on. I don't transition him away from the activity he's working on, I transition him towards the next one. In fact, I often go a step further than stop vs go. I am the master of the segue, making it seem as if, somehow, what we're about to do next is some kind of extension of what he's currently working on. If we're drawing, for instance, and I know we need to get ready to go shopping soon, I will start drawing groceries so I can soon say, "Now it's time to look at some real vegetables at the supermarket," like everything I learnt about parenting came directly from watching endless episodes of Playschool. I didn't even realise I was doing it. I certainly didn't realise how much difference it makes.


Earlier this year, he started falling asleep unattended, but we have to be careful. If he does it for more than one or two nights in a row, we will pay for it at 2am when wakes from his sleep needing comfort. If we sit with him as he dozes off - at least, say, five times a week - he sleeps through.


One day he really didn't want to go to kindy. He shows his distress with a lot of loud bravado, hyperactivity and, apparently, bullying tactics, so the teacher didn't appreciate his behaviour as a sign of distress until I told her that it was so. Even then, she gave me this face. You know the one. The one where the person you're talking to can't even talk for a moment because they're using all their mental power to stop themselves sighing heavily and rolling their eyes at how fucking ludicrous you're being. She saw a child who was tearing around the classroom, pushing himself to the front of everything, throwing things, ripping things, shrieking and yelling, beating people up. I saw what was left when we got home - the sleep disturbance, the lost appetite, the bedwetting and thumbsucking, the uncharacteristic tiredness and moodiness. The clinginess. The wanting to be spoonfed like a baby and carried around everywhere. The unwillingness to turn up to kindy.

"Why don't you want to go?" I asked him.

"I don't like the other kids."

"Why not?"

"They push me and shove me."

"They push and shove you? Well that's not nice. Why do they do that?"

"I don't know."

"And what do you do?"

"I kick them."

"You kick them after they shove you?"

"No, before they shove me."

"So you kick them, then they shove you?"


"And you don't like being shoved?"

"No, I don't."

I paused for a moment, and blinked a few times. Sometimes he's younger, more naive than I think he is. I mean, he seems bright in other ways - he has taught himself to read several words, like "hot" and "cold" and "in", and he recognises most street signs. He sees something that looks like a no-smoking sign and deduces that it can't be one, because it doesn't have the red line through it. He wants to know about the age limits on cigarettes, and carries on an intelligent conversation about autonomy and paternalism to the surprise of the lady behind the counter at the 7-11. He invents things. Lots of things. Especially involving transport. He realises that it is difficult for him, with his short legs, to get on and off buses and he muses that passengers in wheelchairs must find it even harder and he comes up with the idea of a ramp that tucks up inside the bus and folds out onto the footpath when needed and asks me if I think that would work? He speaks well - people always comment. He picks up Chinese and Singlish with accents and tones, and even makes up his own, private language - for when he doesn't feel like talking to anybody. He asks the big questions about life, and about death. But he doesn't seem to work out, unprompted, that he could spare himself the unpleasantness of being shoved by not throwing around the preceding kicks.

I prompt him.


He doesn't like being bossed - finds it undignified. If you want him to do something, you are better off asking him nicely than delivering it as some kind of command. And it works to use positive language, telling him what to do, instead of what not to do. I got him to stop pulling things off shelves in the supermarket by changing the instruction, "Stop touching that!" to the request "Can you please put your hands in your pockets?"


The structure of kindy frustrates him - he doesn't really know why he should do everything in blocks of less than half an hour and then rotate to the next thing. Instead of packing up, he throws things forcefully around the room to indicate his discontent.

I don't know how to handle frustration well myself, so I google. In the end, I decide to try a sort of cognitive-behavioural technique. When he screeches at something because it refuses to obey him instead of the immutable laws of physics which bind the very fabric of our universe together, I sympathise with him as usual. "Oh, you're trying to do make X do Y? And it's not working? How frustrating!" But then, instead of pointing out that he is trying to defy the immutable laws of physics which bind the very fabric of our universe together - as I did in my previous, completely ineffective script - I say, "And at the same time, how very exciting!" He looks at me quizzically. "You've just made an important observation about the immutable laws of physics which bind the very fabric of our universe together! When you try to make X do Y, Z happens! I wonder why that is?" Then I muse theatrically for a few seconds, before drifting back to whatever I was doing before. It works. Instead of shrieking more and more loudly with each failure until eventually I confiscate the source of his displeasure, he repeats the action thoughtfully, over and over, in silence. He is no longer being thwarted. He is experimenting - and there are no failed experiments*. One day, I hope, he will internalise this script. In the meantime, his mood lifts almost instantly. His remaining frustrations are more easily put aside now that the feeling comes less frequently.


Mr Bea works hard to get home earlier and help out with bedtime. Everyone starts sleeping better within about four days. Coincidence? I decide not to get scientific enough to find out.

The extra time together also gives me a chance to inform Mr Bea that half PB's problems are down to our advice. We have told him to be nice to the other children, and he is terrorising the class with his bear hugs. The next morning, Mr Bea suggests to PB that he shake hands with his classmates instead. He has a relatively good day.

I think we are starting to internalise my cognitive-behavioural script ourselves.


I can't work on everything at once with him. If I work on everything, I work on nothing. I must focus on one or two behaviours, and learn to either let the others go, or eliminate the opportunity for him to engage in them. If we fight too often, he gives up trying to please me.


I got excited one day when he came home from kindy and tried to blame his baby sister for his misdeeds there.

"And then she shouted at the boy, 'Go home! Go home!' and then she kicked him."

"You're telling me Surprise Baby did that?"


"I see." I paused a moment and looked at him. "The thing is, PB, I know you're not telling me what really happened. The reason I know this is because Surprise Baby can't talk or deliberately kick people, and also she wasn't there. Is it possible you were the one who did those things?"

He gave me a long, careful look. "Yes."

"Ok. Well. When you say something like that that isn't true, it's called "lying". And you'll find that, for lies to be effective, they should at least be plausible. Now. There are a few exceptions to that rule. Advanced liars sometimes use what's known as the "double bluff". This is where-" All of a sudden I cut myself off. "You know what? The most important thing for you to know right now is that lying is generally wrong, and I don't want you doing it."

I bit my tongue before I started to confuse the issue by launching into a philosophical discourse based around the classic murderer-at-your-door conundrum. At that moment, I just wanted to enjoy the thought that he had demonstrated a major milestone in his social and cognitive development - one that, though it might not always be welcomed - could deepen his understanding of why he shouldn't kick people. Somewhere, he had cottoned on to the knowledge that other people have their own, unique viewpoint, which might be different from his own. From here, maybe we could make him properly appreciate that when he kicks people they hurt, even though he doesn't, and that making them hurt is bad in the same way that it is bad when someone hurts him.


We are walking home from swimming when I turn to find that he has stopped following me through the park, and is instead running towards a very busy road. I make after him, but I am carrying nearly 9kg of baby plus a swim bag and he has one hell of a head start. I call out to him, but get no response. Behind me, a woman starts shouting in panic, and my heart goes into my mouth. Then suddenly, he veers. He bolts around by the footpath and, when he gets to a driveway, he stops short and holds his hand out for my assistance with crossing. He seems surprised that I am flustered. Don't I believe he understands the road rules?

A week or so later, I am talking to a friend in the shopping mall when The Prata Baby wanders off into a nearby coffee shop and starts browsing the display case. I keep an eye on him distractedly, and after a minute or two he speaks briefly to the woman behind the counter, and walks back out to where I'm standing. "Mum, I'm hungry," he states calmly, "so I have ordered some raisin toast." Then he starts rummaging through my market trolley.

"What are you looking for?" I ask.

"A library book," he explains, pulling one out and holding it up in demonstration. Then he returns to the cafe where he seats himself on a couch and proceeds to engross himself in his reading material. Whilst he waits, you see. For his raisin toast. Which he is sure they are just now toasting.

I check the time. It's a bit past morning tea, so it stands to reason that he would be hungry. My friend pipes up in a bemused voice and says, "Well, he's got that all sorted out, hasn't he?" and at the same time my eyes fall on the display case and I notice something.

The raisin toast is on the third shelf, above his head height. To choose it, he had to stand on his tippy toes and ignore a wide selection of various cakes and biscuits, some of which had smarties on top. He has chosen something he might plausibly be allowed to eat, and then, without pulling on my skirt or whining or sinking to the floor to beat his fists in a three-year-old tantrum, he has calmly and optimistically ordered it and sat down quietly to wait. I start to think that maybe he is doing alright.

Maybe I am doing alright.


I develop a theory. Perhaps when children start driving you crazy by testing all their boundaries, it is time for those boundaries to be reviewed. I mean, gosh. Isn't it what I want, for him to become independent? How else does it happen?

I decide that there are several issues on which I should stop fighting him and start letting him take care of himself. Suddenly, plus or minus a few bumps - a soiled set of clothing here and there, for instance, because he hasn't yet learnt to make a good decision when I tell him it's his last chance to use the toilet for a while - we are just about having fun. And honestly, a bit of skanky laundry is nothing compared to the arguments we recently had to have over going to the toilet before leaving the house.


The kindy teacher seems to decide she believes me. She works with him as if he is, basically, a good kid but scared. On the last day before the holidays he gets a sticker. "He is still kicking the chairs sometimes, and he has trouble sitting still, but he hasn't been fighting with the other children." I tell her that sounds pretty much perfect to me. Especially since, I notice, he has actually made a kindy friend. When school finishes for the mid-semester holiday, I am genuinely looking forward to having The Prata Baby around. I want to ask him about that stroller invention of his with the electric motor and the running board behind with the chair on it for mum so she doesn't have to walk and the roof over the top to keep her dry in case it rains.


I need to write these things down so I remember them. I may need them again, when he's four. Or perhaps when he next changes schools. Or even with Surprise Baby, different though she seems to be. Next time, I want to be better prepared.


I have a couple more book reviews. More along the parenting lines this time. Bear with.

*There are no failed experiments, only failed hypotheses.

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