I don't want to send an actual baby to kindergarten
June 17, 2014 12:35 PM   Subscribe

Let's say I have a five year-old daughterabout to start kindergarten in the fall. She's whipsmart, hilarious, kind, and generally awesome. Let's add, though, that she's overly babyish, timid, prone to crying over the smallest stuff, and lagging behind her peers in basic coordination/athletic things. She doesn't run well. Even with training wheels, she's a nervous wreck on her bike, constantly braking because she's "going too fast" (even as the reality is, she could walk faster.) She's prone to dramatically declarations of fear about pretty much everything. If you toss her even the softest Nerf ball, she'll cover her face and possibly shriek. Despite all of her finer points, her crying, her mewling, her uncoordination, and her babytalk are causing her peers to tease her. And as her parents, we want to help. We want to help her get the sort of confidence and basic physicality that will help her tackle new challenges without tears and panic and play better with kids her own age. What are some things we could do with her to get to kind of--if you'll pardon me making up a word--de-infantilize? Okay, now remember all of those ideas you just had for me, but here's one more thing: I don't have a daughter. I have a son. And all of the above describes him.

Why do this gender flip on you? Well, people get weird when I bring up these concerns because he's a boy. They assume what I must be talking about are matters of sexuality or gender. Conservative friends and family are quick to gay panic, urging me with maximum possible side eye to help him be "more masculine." Progressive friends chide me because they think I'm somehow trying to stomp on a special queer snowflake.

Some of this is probably fallout from our attempts to raise him as free from standard polarized kid gender baloney as we can manage. People assign too much import to "signs": he watches My Little Pony, he likes those Ty "Boo" stuffed animals, he plays a lot with girls, he likes to make cupcakes. Well, he likes ninjas, Doctor Who, race cars, and blues music, too. He contains multitudes, you know?

Labels are for canned food. I'm not troubled by the idea that my kid might not be a reg'lar ol' hetero-normative kid. We already love him like crazy. Who he chooses to be as he gets older isn't going to change that. But my gut says he's a standard hetero cis male little guy and people's fear of/advocacy for these issues are creating a lot of noise that is distracting from the real culprits: the issues he has as an only child, as well as the same kind of future nerd'/non-athletic issues and generic old sensitive/crier kid problems that his mom and I both had to varying levels.

(In any case, we're trying to make sure he's where he's supposed to be at developmentally and our approach for that would be the same no matter who he chose to be.)

And here's where I see him developmentally... He's way ahead in some things and way behind in others. He hasn't started kindergarten yet, but a specialist told us he reads and writes at a second grade level and has a vocabulary that is astounding. He speaks fluent Hungarian. He tells hilarious jokes, many of his own making. He radiates kindness and warmth in a way that most folks find irresistible. He's also stuck in a rut on a lot of things where physicality and confidence are concerned. He hates and responds extremely poorly to being challenged with anything that could be new or hard, whether it's a game, a sport, a task, or even a new food.

He has sort of found a comfortable little corner of cute little kidness and he's dug his heels in. This was fine for a while, but now he's falling behind other kids. I take him to the playground and kids his age blow him off because he can't do anything. He can't catch or throw or climb. He baby talks. He cries.

Maybe it's because he spends so much time with my mother-in-law, who tends to baby him and gush about what a sweet, adorable little angel he is. Maybe it's because I'm overweight and overly sedentary and I haven't been the mentor he needs for some of this stuff. Maybe it's because he's just a sensitive kid. Maybe it's because he's just never going to be the athletic type.

But I'd like to make sure that he's got enough self-assurance and basic physical ability that he could choose to do whatever he wants. I don't want him hemmed in to a tiny little corner of kid society when he starts school in the fall because he never learned to catch, or because he can be rendered into a bawling mess if you ask him to eat a different kind of potato.

So my question then (and I appreciate your patience for hanging in this long) is: what kinds of activities can we be doing, both to catch our kid up to basic levels of physicality for his age, and to address the baby-ish, nervous, terrified-of-anything-challenging sort of behavior that has him lagging behind in the first place? Extra points for thoughts on how I can do this without succumbing to a bunch of bogus and limiting ideas about gender/sexuality.
posted by DirtyOldTown to Human Relations (82 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
How would you feel about a dance class? He'd get to work on physicality without getting stuff thrown at his face.
posted by spunweb at 12:42 PM on June 17, 2014 [15 favorites]

I've seen kids like that do very well at our women-run, super-feminist karate school - they get both physical stuff and serious conversation and strategies for dealing with conflict amongst their peers, bullying, that sort of thing. If you're in the Chicago area (particularly the north side) I would be delighted to recommend our sister school as well. Feel free to memail me if you want details.

Otherwise, dance, gymnastics, swimming, ice skating, or other non-conflict-y activities might be fun for him.
posted by restless_nomad at 12:45 PM on June 17, 2014 [25 favorites]

Do you have him in structured activities (preschool or other classes)? Maybe being around other kids without his parents or grandma backing him up would help him absorb their behavior and relate to them better. You could tell him that he has to be involved in one structured physical activity this summer, then let him choose: dancing, gymnastics, soccer, karate, whatever he thinks sounds fun. Besides the physical issues, getting him into fun, independent activities might help with the general fear of change and unexpected situations. My city offers week-long day camps over the summer with tons of different focuses (art, science, etc.), maybe yours or the local YMCA does something similar?
posted by Safiya at 12:46 PM on June 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

You didn't mention when his birthday is, but my mother teaches pre-K, and typically, children who are super smart but a little less developed in maturity are born later in the year, and even if they aren't, mothers tend to "redshirt" their sons for another year before sending them to kindergarten.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 12:47 PM on June 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

We all develop at different rates and different skills. In this situation, boy or girl, I would consider another year before kindergarten and work on some strategies that will help him bounce back a little easier, and some slow highly supportive forays into the bumps of the world.

Could be he's just a sensitive kid. That's fine. Some people are sensitive. It would be real nice if you let him be okay with that, because my parents were most decidedly not okay with it and made me feel like shit for it with an endless parade of 'lighten up' 'toughen up' 'you think too much' which was ultimately responsible for about ten grand of therapy bills.

Helping him manage fears, experience fear and get past it, or not, at his own pace, will help. If you are really concerned I would talk to a child counselor -- not for your kid but for you, to find out how best to help him, and in fact, to determine whether he needs help. You recognize that it's possible you're bringing your own baggage into it (we all do it).

Extra points for thoughts on how I can do this without succumbing to a bunch of bogus and limiting ideas about gender/sexuality.

I'd kinda just refuse to engage in this part. Most of the things you mention are important whether the kid is a girl or boy.

But first and foremost -- make sure he knows you totally love him and accept him exactly as he is. He is not flawed.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:48 PM on June 17, 2014 [24 favorites]

Tae Kwon Do has done wonders for my 6 year old nephew's physical confidence. He is still smaller than average but he feels a lot more comfortable in his own skin than he did before, and he's only been taking the classes a year or so.
posted by something something at 12:49 PM on June 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Aw, he sounds like a sweet lil' guy. While my son was not quite as sensitive as your little one, he was (and still is) VERY firmly attached to mom and not at all into other kids' typical kid-stuff. Some thing that come to mind that might help:

- Pee-wee karate... not REAL karate, mind you, but the "Little Dragon Ninja Warrior Flying Starz" or whatever the hell they call it in your area. It IS dorky and silly and expensive... but DAMNED if it doesn't legitimately work in terms of making kids more physically confident, self-assured, comfortable being apart from mom/dad, etc.

- Not joking here: Chuck E. Cheese's or a similar indoor play area. This is where Wee Thumbscrew and I first "tested our wings", as it were, with him being more independent... it's a safe place to encourage your kid to strike out independently, to horse around, to take (small, calculated) risks. Yes, it is loud as hell. Yes, it is excruciating. I still firmly believe it helped Wee Thumbscrew mature a bit.

- You can build his independence and self-confidence like a muscle, sloooowly but with frequent repetitions. Start letting him do things that are a TEENY bit out of his comfort zone - using a butter knife, ordering for himself in a restaurant, walking around the block solo (if that's a possibility). Then build up to bigger things.

- My stepdaughter went through a period at around that age where the TINIEST things would send her into hysterics, and she is now (at twelve) incredibly self-assured. So it's possible that some of it may, in fact, be a phase, and may be alleviated by the passage of time.
posted by julthumbscrew at 12:49 PM on June 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

A younger person who is more agile than you are to model more physical behavior and build his confidence in a supportive non-competitive way. Like an teenage babysitter but different goals.

I would also really work on the baby-talk thing. Is that encouraged by family? Because if it is he is going to pay the price socially for that so the adults need to knock that off.
posted by cairnoflore at 12:50 PM on June 17, 2014 [17 favorites]

BTW gymnastics with him at the upper end of the age range might be good -- so if he's with 3s and 4s as opposed to 6s and 7s. Gymnastics is fun, not competitive at that age, and very free form. My daughter loves it: it allows her to see incremental improvements in things she can do every week. It's been surprisingly great for her -- she opted for gymnastics camp this summer as opposed to camp with her friend. I was stunned. (She's almost six.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:51 PM on June 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

I babysat for a kid who sounds exactly like your son, to the extent where when your son was "your daughter" I still thought she sounded like this kid.

He was timid about almost everything (and used a pacifier until he was 5 (quit due to my intervention), just to give you an idea). He really took to swimming. Obviously Ykid'sMMV, but this guy really liked the water.

Also, his two favorite things in the world were Powerpuff Girls and Scooby Doo. As long as you let him dress up like Bubbles or Daphne and people were playing along with him, he was ok being adventurous.

I don't know any My Little Pony, but if they go on adventures, maybe if you guys played My Little Pony together you could help bring him out of his shell?
posted by phunniemee at 12:51 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

My child was very much like this, although a female. We had many of the same concerns, gifted, miles ahead in many areas but socially behind, couldn't keep up physically at all, etc... Once she got older... Things really evened out, slowly but they did. We had her tested because of some of these issues at 5 and the ed psych said that sometimes gifted children do really lag on the social, emotional, physical end because the brain is so occupied with learning. It seemed to prove true for us. Being around other children on a regular basis helped, at 14, she still isn't coordinated enough to pump herself on a swing set but she is teaching herself Portuguese and can code like a mad woman. I remember those same fears you are expressing but just keep supporting and loving him.... Encouraging his strengths and gently guiding his weaknesses. It will all balance out.
posted by pearlybob at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

One more thing and I'll shut up: one thing I've noticed about my daughter is that she regresses often when she is faced with steps forward. For example, going from kindergarten to first grade, or losing teeth. I think she wants the reassurance she can still be a baby, that she doesn't have to do all of that growing up at once. So if all of a sudden she's like 'please put my shoes on for me' for a few days, even though she's way past that, we go ahead and do it, and indulge the little regressions.

Just something to keep an eye on.

We could be full of shit as parents of course; that's the beauty of parenting, you never know with 100% certainty if you're being really insightful or damaging the kid for life.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 12:56 PM on June 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

A mixed gender martial arts class. Also try gymnastics, trampoline, or dance, as recommended above.

Climbing is another good one, if he's not afraid of heights. It's a lot of fun and something you could do together. I've noticed that my kids love the sports and activities that we do together, I guess no big surprise there. So family activities like biking (use an attachment behind you if he doesn't want to ride alone), kayaking and swimming as well.
posted by Cuke at 12:57 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Is he nearsighted? Cause if you can't really see the big blurry thing flying at you til it smacks you in the face, you'd want to cower and shriek too.
posted by Sophont at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2014 [29 favorites]

I would take a page out of Jackson Galaxy's book and find his challenge line. That edge where it is just a bit too much. And then put something wonderful on the other side of the challenge line. And then set it up so he can go and get it.

What does your son really love? Reading? Painting? Hanging out with friends? Then how can you make physical dexterity or physical confidence a requisite part of being able to engage with that activity. Are his cousins playing ball? Can he read outside or at the library with strangers around? (you're there too of course)

give him a wiffle bat and let him hit a pinata until candy falls out?

How about the pool? the water pool? splash pad? on a hot day? on a disgustingly hot day? with trucks?

Stuff like that.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:01 PM on June 17, 2014

Martial arts is definitely on the table. He took gymnastics before and it was great for him, but they moved the facility an extra forty minutes away and it wasn't practical anymore.

I appreciate everyone's replies and I'm glad I brought it to AskMeFi. I can't tell you how much breath I've wasted trying to have this conversation IRL, because it always devolves quickly into either Oh noes, your kid is teh gay! or Why don't you love your queer son? And it's a no-win because I'm pretty positive he's a regular old hetero cis dude, but I don't want to sound like I'm placating when talking to the bigots or being defensive or in denial when I'm talking to the people concerned about gender/sexuality. And in the latter case, I usually can't even get them to the point where they can admit that yeah, he has stuff to work on no matter where he is on the gender/sexuality spectrum. Gay kids can ride bikes too, right? Trans kids don't have a panic attack if you give them a different shaped french fry, right?

So yeah, keep 'em coming. All of this is good stuff.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:02 PM on June 17, 2014 [18 favorites]

Is he in pre-school? If not, is there a program he can go to? It sounds like he just needs more time in a structured environment with other kids.

My friend's son was very into Disney princesses and very sensitive and he too would cry a lot. Once he got into school, he learned to regulate his frustration and got more physically coordinated and grew into himself. He's now in high school and doing fine.

Kids all grow and mature and develop differently at different times. Your kid is ahead in reading, the one next to him is amazing at T-ball but doesn't know his alphabet. Chances are, two kids in the kindergarten will arrive wearing diapers.

If you're concerned talk to the administrators at your school and see what they say.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:05 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

The issue we're talking about here is resilience, or a lack thereof. What about asking him to start helping around the house more? Sometimes giving a child responsibility and making sure their failures are treated with respect and kindness = a great way to help a kid develop a sense of self efficacy and confidence.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:05 PM on June 17, 2014 [20 favorites]

Is he nearsighted? Cause if you can't really see the big blurry thing flying at you til it smacks you in the face, you'd want to cower and shriek too.

I'm still this kid. I have a lazy eye and I have NO depth perception.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 1:06 PM on June 17, 2014 [8 favorites]

Most of that description is my kindergartener. Martial arts has helped, but it's unlikely that he's ever going to join in with the boys in ball games or roughhousing. I do worry about the socialization as a nonathletic boy, but he seems OK with that for now and happy to engage with kids in other ways and to wonder around the edge of the playground talking to himself. My greatest hope is that he will find his "tiny little corner of kid society," where he can tell stories and talk about books and so on.

But all kids do need some socialization. You talk about everything that he can do, and say that he plays a lot with girls, then say that "I take him to the playground and kids his age blow him off because he can't do anything." Well, yes, try to get him to do more physical activities, but also try to give him opportunities to do all the things he can do with boys, like play ninjas, Doctor Who, and race cars. And maybe that will have to be more structured play dates at the library or homes rather than the playground, but hopefully that will help with his confidence.

On the sexuality/gender: 1) as you said, no big deal either way, and 2) that's not a real issue for quite a few years.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 1:07 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Swimming helped my kid so much. He is not motivated to run or play sports, but he loves the water.

Five is so young. My kiddo was a lot like yours and he has grown up so much in three years. He was nearly six when he started kindergarten, but he still refused to go alone from the sidewalk to the front door of the school; I had to walk him. Every day. Until he started hanging out with a "girlfriend" and then they would walk together, adorably. But it took a while for him to get there, and we just let him set the pace.

It's ok if your kid doesn't do stereotypical "kid skills" at the age you remember doing them; so long as he is learning skills that he wants to learn and actually needs. My kid still doesn't really do bikes, but then we don't have a lot of room for him to ride, so we've put that off till he's ready/we move to a better neighborhood. He knows knots, but none of his shoes are tie-shoes, so he doesn't do that yet.

If yours tells jokes, perhaps give him an old phone with a video camera function and let him record "shows" of himself. Maybe performance (especially one he can control/do over) would be something he enjoys. Or just walking around taking pictures/video.

Work to his strengths, in other words. Help him find creative outlets (physical and mental) and that might help him find other kids who think more like he does.

But make sure he always has a safe space to come back to. Soon enough he'll explore farther.
posted by emjaybee at 1:08 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Would horseback riding be feasible for your family? He sounds like the type of kid who might like animals, and riding can bea great confidence booster.
posted by Sal and Richard at 1:11 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

If he's really having panic attacks and/or unable to deal with basic stuff like new foods without having an anxious paroxysm, you should have him evaluated by a psychologist. They can also give you ideas for how to improve his confidence and ability to deal with new stuff.

In some school districts you can get this for free! In others, not. Either way, call your pediatrician and ask them to recommend a child psychologist.
posted by the young rope-rider at 1:15 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I think you lay out three or four options for activities of differing kinds and ask him which one he wants to do.

So, for example ---

---singing lessons
---- soccer

Then do one of those at your local Y or rec (programs that run maybe 6 or 8 weeks), and then at the end of that let him pick something else. Give a mix of sports and arts or athletic arts or artsy athletics or whatever and go from there. Let him explore and decide what he likes, and this way you're only committed to one activity for a short period of time. If it doesn't go well, you can work on sticking with it through the end of the season because he committed to something (character and resilience). But that he can do something else next time, etc.

Why not let him tell you what he wants to do so he can gain confidence in his own choices?
posted by zizzle at 1:15 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry I've posted five times in this thread but I wanted to point out you mention him being an only child and spending an inordinate amount of time with his grandmother. He may not know how to be a kid, in some ways. It might be worth getting as much of that type of exposure in as you can. When our kid went to preschool for the first time you could visibly see her trying to figure out what other kids were *for*.

(Our daughter is an only with a super-indulgent grandma and two introverted parents, so it took and takes active work to make sure she's socialized. I.e. there was not one birthday party from class that we didn't attend this year. I would rather have a martini, plan my garden, or mess around on the internet than many of these things. But we suck it up and my husband and I take turns, because she needs it so much. She's not as tightly wound as your boy, but I wouldn't say she's wholly above weeping over getting smiley fries instead of THE RIGHT KIND.)
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:18 PM on June 17, 2014 [18 favorites]

4-H Cloverbuds start at age 5 / kindergarten I believe. If there is an active program near you it would expose him to a lot of different activities (from crafts to animals to sports) and probably be mostly girls, which sounds like might be in his comfort zone anyway. I can't even start to explain just how much my daughter got from 4-H, although she didn't start until about age 8.
posted by COD at 1:20 PM on June 17, 2014

Seconding the idea of letting him take on new challenges while in costume (whoever he wants to dress up as).

Maybe you can set up playdates with a younger kid. My cousin's sensitive child started making big progress when his younger brother came along and was willing to do all kinds of stuff. Older child was like, hmmm, if a 3-year-old can do it, I can do it.
posted by Bentobox Humperdinck at 1:23 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think you should separate your son's lack of athleticism from his emotional issues. I was the least athletic kid ever - ran funny, terrible eye coordination, couldn't figure out the monkey bars, couldn't swim - but I was not a cry baby.

We had a no baby talk policy in my house. I had "chores," although I'm sure that I was pretty much useless. There are ways to build agency, maturity, and emotional resilience other than sports.
posted by ablazingsaddle at 1:24 PM on June 17, 2014 [10 favorites]

Hmm, I don't know how off-base this is, but have you had him evaluated for any sort of motor skill or vision issue?

My brother was an outgoing, smart five year old who couldn't learn to things like tie his shoes, ride a bike, and struggled with hand-eye coordination and learning to write. He was years ahead of his peers in some areas, but it turns out he had a motor skill developmental delay, and his school provided him with an occupational therapist.
posted by inertia at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

It may be worth involving a child psychologist/psychiatrist in these discussions. It's really, really difficult to deal with fears if you don't know where they're coming from, you know?

nthing all the suggestions at getting him socializing with more kids whenever possible, in whatever ways are comfortable. The park seems to be out, but swimming sounds like a spectacular idea. Or if there's some sort of kids' group at your local library? Seems like that would be up his alley, and help him build confidence to start looking at things outside his comfort zone.

Worth noting also that he's 5... 'gut feelings' about heteronormativity/etc are just wishful thinking at this point. He is who he is now, and who he is later is going to be different. How different is completely unknown at this stage.
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

My older boy is a lot like your son, albeit a year younger. I've had good luck with the following:

- I don't react when he falls, gets hit, etc. I don't let him cue off of me that something bad happened. This does wonders for tolerating a little bit of rough and tumble. He still sometimes gets fussy about being hit, but this cuts a lot of it.
- I use lots of praise for taking baby steps to address fears. I recently got him swimming (while wearing a puddle jumper) just by letting him go, and then praising him a lot when he swam 2 inches to me. He liked the praise and wanted to do it again. Repeat, 4 inches. Repeat, 8 inches. Etc. Within an hour, we were traversing the pool and he was having a blast in the water.
- My boy is just not cut out for team sports (at least for now). He watches before interacting with groups. He doesn't like direct competition much. We focus on more individual activities for him to try -- martial arts and gymnastics are two we're looking into right now. He has really enjoyed kindermusik.
- Follow his lead. My little monkey is a serious climber, and as soon as he hits 5, we're going to the local rock climbing gym. He'll tell you what he wants to try.
- As someone who _was_ this kid, this stuff didn't really affect me until I got a little older. And unfortunately, when I wanted to get better at sports, my parents really weren't supportive of it. I eventually figured it out on my own and no longer am last picked, but it still irks me that I had to do that on my own after I had rebuilt my self-esteem coming out of high school. If your kid someday wants to get strong or skilled, help him! Especially because the work to become strong or physically skilled teaches the discipline and work ethic that naturally smart kids sometimes miss on while coasting through school.
- Play. My kid found it hilarious that I would do somersaults when he pushed me when he was 3, but he had no interest in doing them. A couple weeks ago, he shows me how he can do somersaults no problem. I have no idea when he learned, but just go out and play, have fun, and be a kid again yourself, and let your kid lead and follow as much as he likes. Slides are fun. Swings are fun. Playing with sticks is fun. Jumping in leaves is fun. Start remembering this stuff and doing it, and see what your kid comes up with.
- Explore. Take a walk. Collect leaves, pine cones, what have you. Go out and let the curiosity of a child guide you to things that are interesting.
- There's something to the costume thing. My boy gets in a hilarious serious/brave mode when I ask if he's going to be like Batman. And seriously, who doesn't want to be Batman?
- Even if you can't get him to do sporty things, build capability. My son loves making popsicles with me, or otherwise helping in the kitchen. Build independence skills, which breeds more confidence, which breeds more skills.
posted by bfranklin at 1:26 PM on June 17, 2014 [20 favorites]

you mention him being an only child and spending an inordinate amount of time with his grandmother. He may not know how to be a kid, in some ways.

This is what I picked up on - I was an only child who read at an early age, etc and all the adults oohed and aahed over me, but I didn't really get to be a kid. I learned behaviors that got reactions from adults. Other kids his age don't give a shit that your kid reads Hungarian.

My childhood years were ... tumultuous, so I can't really say for sure what would have helped except "don't get divorced and don't be abusive" but I do wish I'd been pushed to do more difficult things. Reading and learning about things were fun, but came easy for me. I wish I'd been rewarded for effort and persistence rather than intelligence.
posted by desjardins at 1:29 PM on June 17, 2014 [21 favorites]

Have you looked into Sensory Processing (aka Sensory Integration) disorder? Look at the "Do You Know Me?" graphic here for the high-level overview.
posted by selfmedicating at 1:32 PM on June 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

You described my son (now ten) He is an awesome kid. I got him professionally assessed - and I wished I had sone it sooner - because that way the school system legally has to accommodate his needs and has been given guidance on what to do specifically. In my area I can't red-shirt even though he is literally born on the last day before he would have been held back one year. As a ten years old, he is doing pretty good and has bloomed into a quirky and smart boy. Your boy will be ok, keep being an awesome parent.
posted by saucysault at 1:37 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I was kind of your kid, I think. As a bookish and perfectionist young child, I was more comfortable with adults and pretty fearful of injury. Typically gravitated towards girls as friends, rather than loud, rambunctious boys (still the case, actually). Typically didn't respond gracefully to challenges, especially physical ones. Participated in soccer in first grade, and spent much of my time zoning out... Until the ball hit me smack in the face, after which I harbored an intense dislike of organized sports -- and the attendant balls -- for years.

Don't think your child doesn't perceive your growing concern about his abilities; he probably knows -- on some level, anyway -- that he's not living up to expectations. His fragility is understandably worrisome and frustrating (possibly even embarrassing) to you, but it will probably dissipate somewhat as he ages; please don't compound it by making this into a Big Thing.

Example: It took me forever to learn to ride my big-kid bike. My otherwise sensitive/patient dad had become palpably frustrated with trying to teach me, and had pretty much given up. The turning point was that I saw a slightly older friend (who I looked up to, and didn't want to disappoint) riding his without difficulty, and I instantly grasped the concept of "bikes." A lot of my eventual physical/mental toughening followed a similar pattern. Initial, intense worry/fear, followed by evidence -- provided more often by a trusted friend, than by a pushy parent -- that it wasn't that bad, followed by evidence that I could do it (if not well, at least not disastrously). Even if not into competitive activities, I loved running around in the woods with my friends and my little brother, and by my adolescence I was even comfortable doing things like back-lot, tackle football. Kids change and evolve. That's kind of the whole point of childhood.

Just make sure your son stays active, even if the activity is not highly competitive/social. Join him in those activities and model your own. Over time, he'll get more comfortable in his body and more blase about injury/disappointment.
posted by credible hulk at 1:39 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

My friend's kid (a daughter) sounds remarkably like yours, from the lack of athleticism through the astounding vocabulary and the freaking out over small things. The parents are both unathletic nerds but had her evaluated and she has some sort of sensory processing disorder and goes to physical and occupational therapy and I think it's been helping.

I know you said you're looking into making sure your son is moving along developmentally but I agree a psychologist is a good idea - he might have this exact disorder. I certainly had never heard of it before and figured my friend's daughter was just an unathletic anxious (but wonderful) kid of unathletic anxious (but wonderful) parents but it turns out no, she has a thing! And it can be treated!

Again, I am not an expert but it's uncanny how close the description is so it might be worth looking into.
posted by sweetkid at 1:39 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

He sounds like a candidate for Early Intervention Services along the lines of Occupational Therapy for coordination issues, a doctor needs to assess his Vision yesterday, and Early Intrrvention Services often include PreSchool to help with the socialization aspects.

Specifically, your son has stuff along the lines of Sensory type issues that are making things like transitions, new or different foods, and feeling his limbs kinda weird or uncomfortable. Therapies can help A LOT.

I think most kids even out by 8 years old or so, but especially if he's being singled out by his peers already, he is in need of intervention.

And please get his vision properly assessed.

Good luck!!
posted by jbenben at 1:45 PM on June 17, 2014

Answering/following up a few things:

1) His vision is good. Freshly tested at 20/20 a month ago.
2) Yeah, a lot of this may be only child/too much time with Grandma stuff. We take him to parties and the playground a lot and he's in daycare/preschool six months a year.
3) @desjardins: "I wish I'd been rewarded for effort and persistence rather than intelligence." Shit yeah, me, too. To this day, I tend to shy away from stuff that's hard in favor of stuff I can do easily.
4) I don't think we can afford horseback riding.
5) I probably make the whining/crying/freaking out sound much worse than it is. It's not so much that he's actually worse than other kids as far as I've noticed. He seems better-adjusted than most, frankly. It's that the issues he does have are repetitive and mostly seem cut from the same cloth, and I want to help him.
6) Costumes are cool. My kid has a collection.
7) The sensory thing doesn't really sound like my kid. Too many of those are polar opposites. I'll ask my partner, though.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:45 PM on June 17, 2014

Also, kids behave SO very differently at school/daycare than at home. Consider that the expectations of kindergarten will be met with no problem. He's not a baby entering kindergarten. He's a 5 year old, like all the other 5 year olds --- some of whom have been in school since they were 3 months old, and some of whom are going in for the very first time.

Instead of trying to actively work to change him for kindergarten --- why not reinforce the parts of him that are amazing? So he's sensitive -- know what that means? He might end up comforting his classmate whose pet hamster died over winter break. So he's afraid of going too fast on his bike? Maybe he'll be the kid who convinces a playground friend to come down the slide when he's too scared.

As for the coordination --- you may want the school to do a PT and an OT eval on him and get him some help in those areas if he qualifies.

(If he's going into kindergarten in September, he's too old for EI, but he can still get summer services through the public school system. You can request an eval for anything at any time and an IEP can be developed at any time. You could also request to do his kindergarten screening soon and bring this up at that meeting.)
posted by zizzle at 1:51 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I also came to suggest sensory issues. There are books that can help you, as a parent, whether or not you ever get an official diagnosis. For example, The Out of Sync Child. (I searched Amazon for "sensory integration child books" -- there are many more out there.)

Both my sons had/have some sensory issues. We jokingly refer to my younger son as a manly man diva. He can still at times read like a hysterical priss and we have some funny stories where he does both the manly man and hysterical priss thing basically at the same time. I did a lot of the stuff suggested in some of the sensory integration books, like I took him daily for an hour or more to various playgrounds when he was about three. I did this for something like six months and he got less clumsy and so forth. So if it is sensory issues, you can get a formal diagnosis and physical therapy or the like or you can just do a lot of stuff for free that is known to help these kinds of kids get their act more together.
posted by Michele in California at 1:51 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

As the dad of a pretty sensitive 7 year old, I applaud how attentive you are. At the same time, looking back at the last couple of years for us, my impulse is to say that some (many?) of these issues will iron themselves out as he gets older and settles into the elementary school routine.
posted by umbĂș at 1:53 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

(If he's going into kindergarten in September, he's too old for EI, but he can still get summer services through the public school system. You can request an eval for anything at any time and an IEP can be developed at any time. You could also request to do his kindergarten screening soon and bring this up at that meeting.)

I highly, highly suggest this. I can't tell how much of this question is (admittedly entertaining) hyperbole, but from what you've posted I think an evaluation is warranted.
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:02 PM on June 17, 2014

If he has anything, it's probably ADHD, since both of his parents do, too, but I'm disinclined to make that a thing while he's this young.

The SI thing is totally interesting and I will do my due diligence, but on that chart, there are maybe five or six that could apply to him and an equal number for which he is the exact opposite.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 2:06 PM on June 17, 2014

FYI: That chart is not a description of "if you have SI, you will be like ALL OF THESE." If some fit, it is entirely a possibility that there are sensory issues.
posted by Michele in California at 2:09 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

I don't disagree with anyone above, but I'll add this. To encourage more maturity and determination in my child, I'm pulling out some more 'adult' concepts and words lately.

I'm beginning to move beyond encouragement and towards pride as a motivator. What I mean is, rather than repeating a million times a day "Yay! Wow! Good job!" - in that patronizing, saccherine voice (I'm trying to break this habit but it's amazingly hard), I'm trying to say calmly, quietly and somewhat sparingly, "I'm proud that you did/tried x". For example, "I know you were a bit nervous riding on that bumpy part of sidewalk, but I'm very proud that you didn't give up." I make a point of stopping what we're doing, sitting kid down and looking kid straight in the eyes when I do this.

I think we're afraid to show our kids real pride as parents these days because we don't want them reasoning "if that made mom/dad proud, then they will be disappointed when I don't do that". Sure, they'll draw that conclusion, but then you prove them wrong by showing them that you still love, care for, enjoy and respect them even when they fail to do 'x'.

So, I would use his desire to earn your pride and harness that human desire for mastery, self-regard, etc., to nudge him away from the baby talk and nudge him towards trying new things. Those sounds like the most important things from which the rest will follow (if those other things turn out to be truly things he's interested in).

Off that topic, if I had a really risk-averse kid, I think I'd sneakily try to draw that kid into reckless, messy things, like maybe jumping on/off the bed or couch or getting food/paint/sand all over his clothes or having pillow fights, throwing soft things at one another...I don't know, trick him into finding the fun in chaos.
posted by kitcat at 2:11 PM on June 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

Yes to martial arts, definitely.

I wanted to chime in that I was a very eccentric (female) kindergartener, and my mom recalls being very anxious about me starting school. I immediately gravitated toward three little boys, all of whose mothers had similar worries about them, and we all became fast friends. Many kids come into kinder with quirks! There are as many pre-kindergarten care situations as there are children. Some will have years of daycare under their belts and know just how to play with new kids. Others will have no experience with children beyond hour-long playdates with other kids of their race and religion. Others will come in knowing how to read, write, multiply, and divide, and others will not own their own books at home. We had a boy in my kindergarten class who wore dresses and sometimes lipstick to school - and this was 1991. Your kid will be weird but so will all the others! And I think it'll be okay.
posted by town of cats at 2:23 PM on June 17, 2014

If he has anything, it's probably ADHD, since both of his parents do, too, but I'm disinclined to make that a thing while he's this young.

I completely trust your judgment on this! I do want to say though that if he does end up needing accommodations in school (which can be as simple as "he's allowed to go sit in a quiet spot if he gets overwhelmed") it's good to get things started early instead of when you have no other choice, because it takes a while and you don't want him to be miserable in the interim.

Sounds like you have a great kid (and that he has great parents!). Good luck with everything!
posted by the young rope-rider at 2:31 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Agreed that your son sounds like a really cool kid! I just wanted to chime in about possible assessments with early interventionists:

Trust your gut (or maybe ask his preschool teacher) about whether getting an assessment would be a good idea. I'd tend to err on the side of caution if your gut or the teacher says "eh, maybe" -- it would be a shame to overlook some easily remedied issue (e.g., some gross motor delay that a few sessions with an occupational therapist could iron out and make his life more enjoyable).

But if they do identify any problems, I'd be very careful about what types of services to accept. My son (who is 9) has a friend who sounds a lot like your kid (and has a diagnosed sensory processing delay), and where I live the schools *love* to assign one-on-one assistants to kids with any kind of diagnosis because it means an extra grown-up in the classroom. For my son's friend this has made things 1000x worse, because the (untrained) assistant treats him like a baby all day at school so he gets reinforced for whining and using baby-talk. It's been sad watching him gradually lose friends as his behavior becomes less-and-less tolerable as he gets older, and I think his "assistant" is largely to blame.
posted by nixxon at 3:02 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Trauma-Proofing Your Kids might have some additional suggestions for activities or games you could do at home with him to help him learn how to process anxiety, fear, and feeling overwhelmed.
posted by jaguar at 3:10 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's not physical, but I'd suggest playing video games with him. Killing the Scary Monster, adventuring and winning could be really good for him. You'd have to find just the right games, though. Something that stirs up some aggression without being too scary or TOO aggro.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 3:18 PM on June 17, 2014

If you do babytalk, I'd put the kibosh on that. I've got three kids, 1, 4, 5, and at this point I don't even babytalk at the baby.
posted by jpe at 3:22 PM on June 17, 2014

Kudos to you, and your wife, for your approach to this. Your kid sounds pretty awesome... why not expose him to lots of activities he could participate in and let him choose his own? Does he like art (painting, drawing, sculpting, ect.)? Nature (parks, gardening, hiking, swimming, ect.)? Animals? Any of these could offer opportunities for physical development. And if it's a subject he's already interested in/curious about, he might be more willing to test his comfort zone.

FWIW, my nephew could've been your son at 5. He was sensitive, loving and silly. But he was also incredibly babied/spoiled, slower (physically/emotionally), and cried a lot. My parents' response to that was to throw him into physical situations to "toughen him up" and "build his confidence". So, despite protests, he went to football, baseball and karate over the years. Each year with new promises that he'd get tougher, make friends and have fun.

And you know what happened? He just continued to cry until he became resentful over it all. He was pushed into things he didn't really want to do, or have interest in - traditionally 'masculine' sports. Though he performed well (for my parents' sake), he didn't really make friends and is still a sensitive kid. He didn't want to be in a physical sport - not even karate - they were all the same: avoid being hit by your peers while some old guy barked orders at you. It wasn't ever his idea of fun - and it took him until he was 13 before he actually confided in anyone about that.

So my advice would be to explore your options and see what he's into. Let his existing preferences help you - expose him to new things through them. Good luck!
posted by stubbehtail at 3:24 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Not sure what kind of older kid/teen, non-immediate family interactions are present for your son? Doesn't sound like he is socializing much with older kids, just primarily you, mom, and grandma?
Widening his social circle will include the development of relationships with people who don't automatically wholly adjust themselves or wholly reinforce his behavioural preferences... rather, he will adjust somewhat to them, which is a chance to grow. I've noticed in both babysitting adventures, and in teaching, that kids build their capacity in certain directions based on the expectations of the older person/authority. The expectations of the older person/authority often determine the behavioural outcome.

Check out a Big Brothers/Big Sisters organization - older "cool" teen/young adult for him to want to do "cool guy/girl things" with... Get that older kid on board with with capacity building, trying new activities, etc. I would guess that your son would want to do whatever the cool teenager would be doing, and would thus independently push himself to try new things/get a bit braver. Kids usually push their limits more to win approval from the older "cool" kids - I certainly did. Since it also isn't "cool" to talk babytalk with an older Big Brother (older cool guy/girl expects normal conversation styles), he'd probably choose to stop that on his own.

Also n-thing the comment to praise committment, dedication, effort, hardwork, etc. I got major praise for intelligence growing up - now anything that seems too hard, or that I can't easily get it makes me balk (still trying to overcome that!)
posted by NorthernAutumn at 3:47 PM on June 17, 2014

Trans kids don't have a panic attack if you give them a different shaped french fry, right?

This leaped out at me. This sounds like what the folks at my son's preschool (an Early Intervention center for kids with all kinds of special needs, including those which are very mild) call "rigid thinking," which is one aspect of BUT HARDLY EXCLUSIVE TO autism spectrum disorders. It's what happens when you have both very clear, vivid expectations and a very hard time switching gears when reality is different from your expectations. It can be over things that objectively are totally trivial, like a differently shaped french fry, or not being the first one to get your seatbelt buckled in the car, or having the receipt checker at Costco draw you a smiley face on the back with hair on it instead of the plain circle smiley face you're used to. If you also have sensory issues with your proprioceptive sense, it can result in complete existential freakouts when you're unable to form those clear vivid expectations -- you don't know where your body is in space, so you appear to be hurtling through the cosmos on your bike; you have no idea how to move your hands to catch the ball, so you are defenseless as the thing comes flying at you.

I'm extremely far from an expert, I just have a kid who has propriceptive sensory issues (we think; our school district doesn't offer EI for sensory issues so we are pursuing this as though it were neurodevelopmental, because the therapies are the same) and some of his friends have the rigid thinking bit and it just. . . rang a bell.
posted by KathrynT at 4:11 PM on June 17, 2014 [7 favorites]

In relation to the food issue - could he have some food allergies/sensitivities that haven't been picked up on yet? When I was a kid, I had a really restricted diet, but I eventually tried everything once, and even got to enjoy some of them.

Except for cheese. Even now, I can't stand the stuff. But, as a 5 year old, being presented with a grilled cheese sandwich? Sent me shrieking and screaming and bawling to high heaven. I once sat for 3 hours in a chair, refusing to eat the cheeseburger in front of me, because of the cheese. I didn't have the language or the life experience to explain just how HORRIBLE it tasted/tastes to me, and making me eat it was just something I was going to protest - because I'd rather have the punishments than that disgusting horrorshow of a food in my mouth. The texture is something I can't get past, and the taste is strong and overpoweringly sour. Even mild cheeses are like that.

Parents eventually got it. Grandparents and babysitters never did, and I got punished routinely for being stubborn and defiant. So, could that be partially about sensitivities?
posted by spinifex23 at 4:16 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I don't see what the big deal is with skipping kindergarten (or perhaps part of the year) until your child catches up.

It doesn't sound like anything you're doing is affecting their development at all. Don't worry about it, all kids are different, do what's best for your child.
posted by KokuRyu at 4:28 PM on June 17, 2014

Someone upthread mentioned The Out of Sync Child, but I'd suggest The Out of Sync Child Has Fun. It's got less analysis, but it's full of great games to play-- stuff like playing catch, throwing balls into buckets, swinging and throwing balls, and all sorts of fun stuff. I'd also suggest a full occupational therapy evaluation, if you can swing it. I took my kid, expecting a sensory processing issue, and discovered fine and gross motor skill issues. She loved going to OT, especially climbing up and down different obstacle courses and swings/trapezes/tires. We bought several different swings to hang inside after that, and both my kids love them and play on them daily. (Also, I was really worried about how she would do in K after a rocky preschool experience, but it was totally fine! I feel like I worried for nothing.)
posted by instamatic at 4:28 PM on June 17, 2014

You did not say whether or not your kid currently is, or has ever been, in any type of daycare or preschool. This would be important for us to know, because as a lot of the commenters here have already mentioned, a piece of this might be a plain old lack of social skills consistent with being a kid who has simply not spent very much time in a structured educational environment with other kids yet.

It might be that he hasn't mastered the age-appropriate social cues because he has not had enough exposure to them yet.

If you think your child may be gifted -- and from your description of what the "specialist" (what's the context there?) told you, it certainly sounds to me like he is gifted -- then please ignore all of the well-meaning but incorrect advice here suggesting "red-shirting" aka holding your child back from starting school on time. That kind of advice does not apply to gifted children, and might even be harmful to their intellectual development. You child may eventually benefit from being grade-skipped (see A Nation Deceived).
posted by hush at 4:36 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Something else to consider is that kids are always growing and always changing. The nerd today may be the athlete of tomorrow. It's really important not to assign labels on your son. Watching My Little Pony doesn't mean anything. Not being able to ride a bike doesn't mean anything. First/oldest children are often like that.
posted by KokuRyu at 5:18 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

I don't have specific tactics for you, but like a couple of others who responded, I'm quite certain that your son is gifted. All of the characteristics you describe -- including the asynchronous development -- are common in gifted children. Any five-year-old child whose language skills are at the third grade level fits the definition; I urge you to have him properly assessed so that you have a clear view of his capabilities as well as any potential deficits.

The best advice I can give you on how to help him mature is to educate yourselves about giftedness. There are support organizations for parents and abundant information about strategies for parenting the overly sensitive gifted kid, the gifted kid with exceptional abilities in some areas and learning disabilities in others, the gifted kid who's prone to fearfulness and anxiety, etc. You should be able to find lots of tips to help you guide your son through this stage in his development.

I wish those resources had been available when I was in kindergarten.

P.S. I can't recommend skipping a grade if your son continues to have issues with social interaction. I skipped fourth. It was a difficult decision for my mother, I know, and really it's impossible to tell if I would have been any happier staying with my previous class. But the right decision academically was not the right decision socially, and I suffered for it in fifth. Just food for thought.
posted by emelendy at 5:33 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

You need to ask for an early childhood assessment through your public school district. Call the early childhood office (or special ed office, failing that) and ask for one. Parents can "self-refer" and these assessments are paid for by the federal government, whether or not your child is enrolled in public school. (And, for later readers, they are available from birth, although usually 0-2 is contracted out to an agency like Easter Seals.)

Pediatricians are awesome for identifying baby developmental issues, but as children reach preschool and developmental issues get more complex, pediatricians don't have the expertise in developmental problems to identify them when they're subtle or difficult to "make appear" during a short office visit. (My pediatrician is a professor at U of I College of Medicine and she was like, "Yeah, you guys gotta go to a developmental assessment specialist because they have expertise I don't have.") The majority (in some places the VAST majority) of these early childhood developmental specialists are employed by school districts.

The issues with physical skills make me concerned that there may be a developmental issue at work here, not just immaturity. The awesome news is, many of these can be basically completely overcome or compensated for with early intervention, and you are entitled to intervention services if a developmental delay is identified -- free of charge, through your public school district, whether or not your child is enrolled in public school, whether or not your child is old enough for public school. If one is identified, your son will probably work with an Occupational Therapist (for the occupation of "being 5 years old"), maybe a Speech-Language pathologist, and maybe have a couple observations by a child psychologist in his typical environments (home, school, playground, daycare, whatever). They also have a lot of connections in the community and awesome ideas about activities you can do at home and out in the community to work on these issues.

My son is like yours -- intellectually ahead, but physically behind -- and if you want to memail me I can go into specific issues, but the early childhood people helped us find lots of great stuff for him to do that help with the physical development while suiting his interests. They were really supportive of us enrolling him in dance, they suggested particular balance toys at home, they helped us come up with ways to extend his occupational therapy into his gardening (which is like his favorite thing), etc. They were very non-judgmental about gender stuff and about family preferences -- they wanted to work with our family and our child to find ways to help him that suit him and suit us.

One last specific suggestion -- a lot of YMCA have kid exercise programs, which are a mix of silly kid stuff and age-appropriate information about exercise. That might be something to add to the mix ... less structured than a CLASS, but not competitive like gym games can be, so he could do some physical play with adult direction and with other kids, but not have to be playing, like, dodgeball.

PS -- I think you're in Illinois, memail me if I can help you with navigating the school district stuff.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 5:43 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Yup, I came in to say to get an evaluation for occupational and physical therapy. Your boy might just have some little thing that isn't clicking that is making the physical stuff hard. Some OT could help quite a bit. Honestly, I think this is what most kids below the mean get out of karate and gymnastics- they learn how to build simple skills into bigger ones and gain confidence. I would get an evaluation first bc don't want your boy to try an activity and get discouraged if he has some correctable thing that you could address. He sounds like a great kid.
posted by Snarl Furillo at 6:03 PM on June 17, 2014

You have just described my son, now almost 8. He just learned to ride a bike last May (and still isn't safe to ride on the road because he can't sort out braking). He's prone to drama. He will, in fact, freak right out if you give him food in a different shape than he's used to (triangles not rectangles, mom!).

My son also has an attention disorder, has an autism diagnosis (because of his problems reading social queues and his general processing issues), and a thing that may or may not be dysgraphia. The shrieking when a ball is thrown to him is caused by his very, very slow mental processing time (part of the package) that means that he sees the ball but his brain. cannot. process. fast. enough. to know what to do about it.

Oh, and (not to brag) my kid also has a very, very high IQ/intelligence, which served to mask his other problems for much longer than they should of -- teachers filed him as "quirky bored genius" vs. "kid who is struggling and needs help".

My biggest regret is that we didn't get him help sooner.

It is quite possible your son has none of these issues -- but have him evaluated, just to be sure. His school district is required to do it for free at your request, and as he heads into K this is a pretty good time. At the least, OT and PT can help him get more coordinated. This is not "making a thing" out of something he might grow out of. It's helping him get the specialists he needs to either grow out of it sooner or learn to cope with it sooner.
posted by anastasiav at 6:09 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

I have 3 children. Two of them have anxiety disorders with depression. One is a boy, the other a girl. Here is what I have figured out:

1) Give child tools to interact with other people. Practice basic manners. Talk about making eye contact and answering questions. Expose child to things that other children are exposed to.

2) Throw child out into the normal world knowing that child may not fit, and may come home crying. Expect the best outcome. Every single time. The moment that you stop believing in them, they stop believing in them.

3) Stay aware. If child is feeling crushed under the weight of not fitting in, talk to the child about coping skills. Build a team of adults who can help child with coping skills. Be open to medication.

4) Do not react to behavior that you do not want to see again.

It sounds like grandma may be exacerbating the situation. He would benefit from being around more kids his age. Scouting really helped my son 'man up,' you may want to look into that as soon as he is old enough. If you can't find a regular buddy for him to hang out with, you may want to look into getting him a large dog and working with him on training it.
posted by myselfasme at 7:37 PM on June 17, 2014 [2 favorites]

Given that you describe yourself as pretty sedentary and it sounds like he doesn't get a lot of remotely physical activities (I'm not talking even sports, just going for a walk in the woods, exploring etc), I wanted to highlight this earlier comment:

Just make sure your son stays active, even if the activity is not highly competitive/social. Join him in those activities and model your own. Over time, he'll get more comfortable in his body and more blase about injury/disappointment.

You and your wife set the bar for what is considered normal and fun family time. If there are never trips to parks or gentle hikes up hills, he's never going to be challenged to develop any of those skills because he figures, well, those things are weird, mom and dad don't do them, why should I?
posted by canine epigram at 7:40 PM on June 17, 2014 [4 favorites]

Aw, dammit, this was me.

First: please, even though it rankles, don't push your child forward in school grade if he is not physically even with his cohort. It sucks to be the runt. My dad had to have the BEST KID anywhere, and I wound up graduating from high school when I was barely seventeen. Two years' development behind the jocks meant I got ridiculed, and bullied, a lot. Intellectual stimulation is available in lots of places. Books, Lego, art - those things will go a long way. Discuss them with your child as though he's older. ENGAGE.

Second: your child is fine. There are sweet impulses in him that need nurture, not hardening-off. He may well be thinking way ahead of being able to express himself.

Third: kids' impulses are sometimes directed, not always random. I wanted a piano in the worst way when I was little. My parents were poor, so I got a toy. Limiting your child by the simple fact he doesn't have halfway reasonable tools is a shame, though if you are not well-off I understand the strictures. A request for a musical instrument may very well not be an impulse, and if you can satisfy it in a less-than-desperate manner it's an impulse to be thought through carefully. I saw myself as a piano player for years before I finally gave up on it at fifteen - and who knows what would have been had the musical impulse been fostered my way. My dad thought it would be swell if I played the French horn and I kind of tolerated it for years. Same thing for any artistic expression. It may well be a deep-seated desire and not a childish fancy. I guess it sucks you can't tell the difference.

Lastly: though I don't think you're in the same space my dad was in, allow your child to try things and find out he doesn't like them. It's at odds with the third graf, but if he doesn't get to try things and decide they suck, he'll quit trying things. Choice is a big deal when you're intelligent but unable to explain cogently to a demanding parent why playing the French horn sucks (too many after-beats, trumpets get all the good parts). If he tries the trombone then wants to switch to sax FFS let him try the sax!
posted by jet_silver at 7:52 PM on June 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

1. Look, dude, you have to send your kid to school. Your kid is school age, thus it is time to send him to school. If every parent who thought their kid wasn't 100% perfect kept said kid home from school, the educational system would collapse.

2. Your kid will be much less "babyish" after a few weeks in Kindergarten. This is kind of what Kindergarten is for. It's a transition from home life and dealing only with your parents to life on your own as a little individual. He'll figure it out.

3. Plenty of kids who go to school also have unconventional approaches to gender norms. I don't really see how this is relevant at all. Especially since, what, are people with gender nonconforming kids just supposed to not educate them? Who does that help?

4. Kindergarten isn't the Superbowl. He will not need to run or catch or ride bikes pretty much at all, period. That's not even a thing that happens in Kindergarten. Frankly I was kind of a prissy kid, afraid of everything, physically uncoordinated, etc. and didn't learn confidence with that stuff until around second or third grade. And even then, I was never going to be the most athletic kid in school. I cannot imagine how stunted I would have become if my parents had kept me out of school for such an irrelevant reason.
posted by Sara C. at 7:59 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

Okay, I hope this doesn't come across as hostile, but the first paragraph you wrote really got my back up with the amount of passive-aggressive condescension and outright contempt you seem to have for your child. Describing your putative daughter as "mewling" and "babyish," calling a kid whose reading level is above average and who is fluent in multiple languages "an actual baby," being OTT judgmental about her progress learning to ride a bicycle at age five (a physical skill some of my college friends never mastered, and which never presented an actual problem for them)... the anxieties you have about this child's physical prowess at an age when many kids just don't have all their gross motor skills seemed, at least, out of proportion.

Then I got to your gender flip and blanched, and then I got to this, and things started to make sense:

"Maybe it's because I'm overweight and overly sedentary and I haven't been the mentor he needs for some of this stuff. Maybe it's because he's just a sensitive kid. Maybe it's because he's just never going to be the athletic type."

Everyone's advice about dance and martial arts classes is excellent, but please step back and consider whether you may be projecting some self-loathing about your own issues with masculinity and athleticism onto your son. The way you talk about him hurts to read, and it cannot be easy for either of you to live with.
posted by moonlight on vermont at 8:23 PM on June 17, 2014 [16 favorites]

You son sounds exactly like my own son. Exactly. We did the following: we left him an extra year in pre-k. While he already read novels, he liked being the big kid in class. The pre-k also had a drama program where he got to be the star. By kindergarten he was one of the bigger and most confident kids,and he knew everything the teacher taught, as we supplemented his pre-k, with work at home. We were nervous about this decision, but it was probably one of the best things we did for him.

Physically/athletically he was still behind, so we did the following. Focused on his running - I put him in a track club. At first it was terrible - I once saw kids laughing at how he ran, behind his back (thankfully he was never teased as I dealt with it immediately and alerted his coaches). But the coaches really taught him how to run properly. By the end of indoor track season, he was still the worst on the team (by a large margin), but was in the middle of the pack in his school. That was 3 years ago. He just finished 3rd grade and he finished 3rd in his class' 100 meter race. We also bought a trampoline, put a slackline, and zipline in the backyard (got all three from amazon). I bought a manila rope from ebay and put up a climbing rope in the backyard. We put up the cheap half rings from ikea in front of the tv, put a pull up bar on the door of his bedroom - I have to duck to get into his room, but he can reach up and grab it, so when he goes in an out of the room he hangs on it, or jumps and holds on. He also swings on the ikea rings when watching tv. This helped him on the monkey bars at school. When we go to the playground by the house he gets a quarter every time he goes across the monkey bars.he now can do 5 real pull ups, and got the presidential fitness award this past year at school.The goal with all the physical toys were to have fun while exercising. He didn't do all of the activities all the time (some things got ignored for a year or so, but eventually he used them all), and it was always around. I also started coaching his soccer team, at first he just picked dandelions, but we've stuck with it and its been 4 years and he's halfway decent now, not great but he now knows that soccer is something we do (soccer gets more competitive as kids get older, so i started my own soccer league that's not as competitive, meets only once a week, and is more fun). We joined a local swim club, which has a swim team that is really fun. When he first raced he would always finish last, but it's an amazing sight having 20 kids cheering for you to just finish a race. He loves swim team and is pretty good now.

He still doesn't care for sports (not competitive) and prefers reading or video games, or playing with his younger sisters, but he still swims and plays soccer, because its what we do as a family, and when we play out in the backyard he use all the physical toys because they are fun. He is quite strong for his age, and is one of the leaders in his class. He's still awesome.
posted by tedunni at 8:44 PM on June 17, 2014 [6 favorites]

and her babytalk...

You can go back to basics and stop entertaining the babytalk: "I'm sorry, I can't understand you. Please use your grown-up words." You need to be very consistent about this though, even in the middle of snot-flowing meltdowns.

Maybe it's because he spends so much time with my mother-in-law, who tends to baby him and gush about what a sweet, adorable little angel he is.

Presumably, sending your child to school should at least partially overcome this issue, as he'll be spending more time in a classroom with peers and less with your MIL. In an ideal world, you'd obviously also be able to have an effective conversation with your MIL about encouraging him rather than coddling him but I'm assuming that isn't really a go-er. You can make sure you are doing your best at home, though, with things like reward charts for new and more mature behaviours you want to encourage -- eating new foods, and perhaps a responsibility like making his bed, setting the table or emptying trash bins, etc.
posted by DarlingBri at 9:09 PM on June 17, 2014

Some of this is probably fallout from our attempts to raise him as free from standard polarized kid gender baloney as we can manage.

I think that's great, OP, and I can tell your wonderful son is lucky to have you as a parent.

I wonder though - when you said: "I'd like to make sure that he's got enough self-assurance and basic physical ability that he could choose to do whatever he wants. I don't want him hemmed in to a tiny little corner of kid society when he starts school in the fall because he never learned to catch..." it seemed like you were listing some fairly strongly male gendered qualities there. (I know this fact cannot have escaped your attention, of course.)

It seems to me you also are suggesting you maybe do wish your son could learn to fit in better with Boy Culture, which rewards athleticism. Perhaps part of you thinks there is some social value in knowing how to perform the so-called "correct" gender. Going along with your original hypo, OP, if your son were instead a daughter, would you honestly be this worried about her inability to catch a ball?
posted by hush at 9:29 PM on June 17, 2014 [5 favorites]

This doesn't sound anything like gender or whatever and everything like lack of resilience and confidence. A friend's daughter also has less active parents, a babying always-there grandma, and she is terrified of trying new things, constantly requires reassurance, and lacks confidence in any of her physical skills, and is anxious about all kinds of weird random stuff.

Your kid likely needs:
- less babying from Grandma
- less indulgence of random terrors
- more activities that involve individual exploration of physical skills--swimming, gymnastics, weightlifting, running, playing in the park, hiking, climbing on rocks, camping, etc
- voicing your pride in his efforts and telling him he should be proud of himself

I disagree that this is automatically some kind of sensory processing whatever or subconscious imposition of gender binaries on him. Physical confidence is important in all genders, and there are plenty of babied boys and girls who act exactly the same as your son.

Have you thought about enrolling him in outdoor groups, like summer day camps? These can be good for exposing him to a variety of new, confidence building physical activities in a fun, structured way while providing socialization.
posted by schroedinger at 10:08 PM on June 17, 2014 [3 favorites]

The bike thing ("I'm going too fast") is a flag for sensory. That's textbook. Maybe not serious enough for state-funded therapies, of course, in which case, spending time on swingsets/trampolines is good. In other words, nthing the OT eval.
posted by mahorn at 1:17 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

"My gut says he's a standard hetero cis male"

"...pretty positive he's a regular old hetero cis dude"

Even if your little boy was a super athlete who loved trucks and smashing things, I'd try not to make these assumptions. You sound like you've been really great at trying to raise him without prescribed gender role bullshit, but you won't know his sexuality till he tells ya, you know? I know you'll love him no matter what happens, just wanted to point out that you say a couple times that you're pretty sure he's cis, hetero, and regular/standard/normal, and while this may just be pushback to people assuming he's queer, it might be worth examining whether this is an outcome you're at all invested in, and what messages you might implicitly be sending him due to your gut feeling that he's a hetero cis dude.
posted by whalebreath at 4:12 AM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Awww, he sounds a whole lot like my youngest son (who is 11 now and at this moment is jumping and screaming in the pool with 2 friends) and is still a little bit less mature than his friends. He is super sensitive and dramatic, but otherwise a typical preteen boy that takes 2 minute showers and has to be sent back 3 times until he brushes his teeth completely. His older brothers (one is a cop and the other studies MMA) are always talking about how he needs to "toughen up" and how "babyish" he is, but he's just not a tough kind of boy.

He's never played any sports (70% blind in one eye, so he gets hit with balls a lot) but he's very smart and social, so karate has actually been great for him. It's a group activity that also is super big on independence, physical and mental strength and respect for yourself and others. It has helped when he struggled a bit this year as his friends all played football and decided that girls were cute and he's just not like that. It gave him a wider peer group than just the kids in his class, he has karate friends as well.

I don't know if he's gay or not, he is still firmly in Minecraft and Lego obsession and frankly, I'm happy he's staying a kid for a little while longer before we hit the drama that I know is eventually coming. If he's gay, that's ok with us. If not, that's ok with us too.

As far as worrying about your mother in law babying him or yourself being overweight, so what? I can reassure you that if your son hasn't spent a whole lot of time around other kids his age, when he goes to school and is around his classmates for hours at a time, he will grow up seemingly overnight. Also, my husband is overweight and doesn't play sports anymore but loves them. My son isn't overweight and thinks football is soul crushingly boring. You are modeling so many other important things for him and loving him so much, you're doing it right. He's gonna be just fine.
posted by hollygoheavy at 6:26 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

RE: rewarding effort vs. talent

You might want to look into some of Carol Dweck's research.

If you go googling you're going to get a faceful of her monetizing it, but you can probably get by just fine reading up on it online. I've found just keeping this idea in mind has been tremendously helpful for me and it really would have done wonders for me as a 'gifted' kid back in elementary and high school.
posted by ursus_comiter at 6:41 AM on June 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

I'd like to thank the folks who read this whole thing, took me at my word, and offered ideas. We're exploring martial arts classes now. In particular, thanks to restless_nomad and others here we have better ideas for what kind of studio we'd want, which helps enormously. We'll read a bit on the Sensory thing and keep that in our heads as well as something to consider. The reassurances and shared experiences were great.

I'll never quite understand why the longer an AskMe goes, the more likely people are to ignore key points, come to damning conclusions from lasering in on details, cast doubt on the motivations and sincerity behind your original post, blur the distinctions between what you as OP said and what other commenters said, etc. But as my mom would say, bless your hearts for trying.

A lot of helpful stuff here on the whole though. Setting him up for success in kindergarten is a thing I'm worried about with my kid, sure. But it doesn't mean my whole relationship with him is worry. Mostly, he and I have a ball. On any given day, we're a lot more likely to be having a singalong to the Flaming Lips or playing Lego than worrying. But as a parent, I always like to be looking at how/if I can help him with what's next. And there are good ideas for that here, so kudos.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:18 AM on June 18, 2014 [6 favorites]

Look, dude, you have to send your kid to school. Your kid is school age, thus it is time to send him to school. If every parent who thought their kid wasn't 100% perfect kept said kid home from school, the educational system would collapse.

Aw, I disagree with this. I was a summer kid, so an early five, and I should have been kept home. I was intellectually ready but an emotional mess and I spent the first few months barrelling out of the school down the sidewalk in tears because I wanted to find my mommy. The teacher had to chase me down the street. That must have really impressed the other kids.

I really wasn't ready, couldn't relate to other kids, felt totally overwhelmed on a sensory level, and it set me up for a really, really, really rough time in school that lasted throughout the whole school experience. My daughter is also a summer kid, and was absolutely fine going right into kindergarten. I just really wasn't, so I always feel for kids who get in too early.

I think as a practice, it's probably over used (I swear most of the boys in Little Llama's class are a year older than she is) but for individual kids it really can help with their adjustment and self-confidence, and if I'd felt that Little Llama was in for a rough time temperamentally I absolutely would have given her a little extra time and I wish someone had hooked me up with that time to grow up just a bit more.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 10:43 AM on June 18, 2014

For what it's worth, I remember my kidnergarten gym class vividly and a common activity was playing catch with a fist sized yarn pom pom (read: lighter than a nerf ball) and the teacher playing a record with various animal sounds and we had to walk around pretending to be that animal and switch when the sounds switched. I guess this was all because the typical kidnergarten student is expected to be lacking in physicallity and that is part of what school (and gym class!) is for.

I think you should have him evaluated to see if he is really that far off from other kids his age. He'll definitely be going to kidnergarten with kids that don't know the alphabet and other such "delinquencies" because...jeez it's their first time in school!
posted by WeekendJen at 11:25 AM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I think if a kid isn't ready to be in school all day, because of previously demonstrated separation anxiety or "just too young for this" type stuff, that's one thing. But can't ride a bike or catch and is kind of "babyish"? That's typical for kids who haven't started school yet, not a signal that something is wrong with the kid. I'm with Weekend Jen that this doesn't sound super far off from typical. And I say that as someone who was that same uncoordinated kind of weird little stressball, at that age. If the kid is handling preschool OK, and he's not literally a young kindergartner, kindergarten is probably the remedy for what ills him.
posted by Sara C. at 1:21 PM on June 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have literally never entertained the notion of redshirting him either in this post or IRL and am extraordinarily unlikely to do so now or in the future. We could probably drop that one.

(No disrespect to anyone who has shared their story of doing this. It's just not right for us.)
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:25 PM on June 18, 2014

I was like your son, although I'm female. Other kids freaked me out a bit and I preferred adults. I would worry about things other kids never considered (what would I hurt if we were in a car accident?). I tended to doubt myself when it came to doing anything I considered difficult or that other people thought would be difficult for me.

I suggest encouraging your son to push past his limits, without forcing him. I remember making my dad absolutely promise he wouldn't let me fall after he took the training wheels off my bike. He had to explain to me how he was going to stop me from falling. After I got past any hurdle, I would tend to do well and not have any more issues. For me, it was a matter of getting over that hump and it took lots of encouragement from my parents.

I'm guessing your son is doubting himself and needs some reassurance from you.

I also participated in a lot of non-team sports outside of school. Outside of school, I would be with friends who wouldn't tease me. My parents would sign me up for various activities and I would tend to do well at them as long as the other kids weren't judging me. I especially liked it when she would sign me up for a class that a friend was also taking. I did well and had a lot of fun with horseback riding, swimming, and bowling. I think signing your son up for classes outside of school, will help take some of the pressure off of him having to impress his classmates.

Lastly, if possible, could you send him to a progressive school where the teachers try to find each child's talents? My parents made huge mistakes with my early schooling and I ended up in a situation where I was teased frequently and it affects me to this day.
posted by parakeetdog at 1:52 PM on June 18, 2014

« Older On transitioning to the 'alien' corporate world...   |   Resources to better understand Einstein's Theory... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.