Sometimes the karma is obvious and swift. Such was the case today.
Yesterday, I was frustrated and a little bit smug, watching L’s interplay with tantrum-prone X.
Today, I started calling child psychologists, because my daughter needs a comprehensive psychological assessment. Intelligence, screening for learning disabilities, clarify her emotional health, measure her developmental appropriateness, everything.
Because something is wrong. Something has been wrong for a long time; her bossiness and impulsivity and self-focus have slowly been building up for a while. But just lately, in the past three or four months, it has gotten much worse. Rare is the day in which Willem and I don’t flail about for some new idea, some new way of helping her (or making her) to be more aware of the impact her words and actions have on others. To be less bossy. To be less contradictory. To be less sneaky.
I had thought it was just at home, so I was slightly concerned and more than slightly frustrated, but wasn’t planning on calling in the big dogs right away. But I got a call home from school today, in which I learned that she has been actively disruptive to the class at large, that she has been interrupting and impulsive during lessons, and that she was engaged in a pushing match with a kid from her class.
And lest I sound overreactive, let me say that I know kids are naturally self-focused. It’s how they function. They want what they want, and they haven’t yet learned to negotiate, to use tact, to know when to let it go. Sharing and polite words and controlling the impulse to cosh another kid over the head with a toy truck are very difficult concepts for all kids, and it takes a while to really learn and internalize them.
But Emily’s egotism is beyond that. It’s not that she knows how other people are going to feel and yet does it anyway. It’s that she literally cannot exercise empathy. We’ve tried plain old lectures, we’ve tried having her write stories and plays to try and consider the perspective of various characters, we’ve had her write apology letters and talk things out with us, in her own words and time. None of it has helped, and I am out of ideas.
The good news is, she is not a mean kid. I have never once seen her do anything to deliberately hurt someone else. She’s not a sociopath, she’s a narcissist. She can and does do nice things for other people, even when she doesn’t directly benefit from it. But she is thoughtless toward others, and will use any means necessary to get what she thinks she wants.
So she and I had a long talk this afternoon, to remind her of the situation and explain the next few steps: no time alone with Jacob until she has learned some ways to – just sometimes – let him choose what they will play and assign the rules, and going to see a psychologist who will have some tests for her to take, and starting to see a therapist who will help her sort out her problems and learn new ways of thinking and acting. It was, if I do say so myself, an excellent talk. No yelling, no anger, no name-calling or labelling. Just acknowledging that something is wrong and it’s making her life harder than it needs to be, and assuring her that I will be with her every step of the way.
I feel good, like we have a plan and things will get better. But I feel horrible, because she has hurt more than just a few classmates; it hurts me and Willem to feel like we could have somehow taught her better about other people’s feelings, it hurts Jacob to be constantly bullied and disregarded, it hurts the other people she interrupts, and so on. I know, in my heart, that we did the best we could and I believe that there is something fundamental to Emily that cannot – not won’t, but can’t – read other people the way most of us can.
But still. It hurts.