We had an IEP meeting today, and I left feeling unsettled. Don’t misunderstand, the meeting was terrific and the team had great ideas.

We were looking for ways to help my son with positive reinforcement at school. He can get into a loop about his performance at school that results in his feeling like a failure.

It is the “feeling like a failure” part that can be most difficult because there is no middle ground for him, it is all bad or all good. This can trigger perseverative thinking which can lead to meltdowns, but in truth if it were just a matter of managing a meltdown, I wouldn’t worry so much. 

My greater fear is that negative feelings about himself will get internally entrenched, that his inner voice will be focused on what he perceives as failure instead of all the amazing and wonderful things that are part of who he is.

While I can get him to cooperate at home using screen time as a carrot or a stick, there does not appear to be a clear-cut carrot or stick that works at school. What might motivate him – and promote his feeling of success – is a mystery.

Motivation may not be the real issue. I think my son puts himself into a box at school. Or a cocoon, wrapping himself up in an emotional blanket to be able to deal with what is required of him.

He has learned very well about “expected behaviors” at school and his behavior has improved immensely since first grade. He has figured out how to walk-the-walk even if he does not truly understand it.

I think he works so hard at trying to behave that the emotions needed for motivation are mostly buried. You have to be able to feel a feeling to be motivated.

At home the pressures are much less. It is Mom, Dad, and two cats. Meltdowns are tolerated. Quiet time is available and encouraged. Figuring out how to do schoolwork is the exception not the rule. The emotions needed for motivation are more accessible.

The individual social rules and expectations of 30 classmates, and 20 or so adults that he might interact with are just not there at home.

I suspect that until he is able to open himself up more emotionally at school and still maintain the expected behaviors, until managing all that school demands of him somehow becomes easier for him, true motivation will continue to elude us.

I am uncertain how to help him and so I am unsettled.