Take your (hyperactive) child to work day

Most kids are curious about where their parents go every day when they head off to work. When my son Eric was little, he asked me about it all the time.

Where is your work?

Do you sit at a desk or a table?

Is there an elevator?

If he were a different kind of kid, I might have taken him in with me one day so he could see for himself. But at age 4 and 5, Eric had enough energy for three kids. He talked nonstop and was constantly in motion. He could be a lot of fun, but he was definitely a handful. So I resisted.

His energy wasn’t a problem in preschool, which was unstructured and full of play. But things changed abruptly when he started kindergarten.

Eric had trouble following the rules, and he couldn’t resist chatting or doodling when he was supposed to be listening to a lesson. We got called in for frequent conferences about his behavior and his difficulty focusing. And he started to dread going to school.

So when Take Your Child to Work Day came around, I decided I’d give him a break from the stress of school and bring him to the office. I figured it would be good for him to see what I did all day when I wasn’t with him. In some part, I think I also wanted to show him off to my colleagues. This was my son, after all.

When the day arrived, he woke up early and jumped out of bed. Without any pestering from me, he put on the outfit he’d picked out the night before. He wore a huge smile that only got bigger as we rode the train into the city.

When we arrived at my office, I walked him around and pointed out all the office landmarks, like the copy and conference rooms. I introduced him to my colleagues, explaining what each of them did.

Unfortunately, the day didn’t go as I’d hoped it would.

To start, Eric didn’t look at or pay attention to my colleagues when they talked about their jobs. He kept picking up the things on their desks, like staplers and folders. He ran ahead of me as we walked down the hallway. He spoke in a too-loud voice.

None of this behavior was out of character for Eric. But in my typically quiet office, it was amplified. Some of my colleagues looked annoyed. I became anxious and embarrassed. And then I felt ashamed for feeling that way about my own son.

A few of my work friends came out to lunch with Eric and me. He was so excited. Too excited. He squirmed in his seat and nearly knocked over his chocolate milk twice. I couldn’t wait to finish eating and take a half-day so I could take him home on the train, where he’d be distracted and I could decompress.

The next day, one of my coworkers who’d been at lunch with us came up to me in the hallway. “That’s one hyperactive kid you have!” he said, with a joking laugh. I think I probably turned bright red and said something lighthearted back.

But the comment stuck with me for years.

Eric’s behavior got worse as his kindergarten year progressed, and he became increasingly unhappy about going to school. He seemed confused about what he was doing “wrong,” and why he kept getting into trouble.

By first grade, it was clear that he was struggling with reading and also having attention issues. At his teacher’s suggestion, we had him evaluated.

Not surprisingly, he was diagnosed with both ADHD and . The evaluation also revealed language and .

In second grade, he began taking medication for ADHD. It made a huge difference in his behavior (he said it made him feel more “mature”) and his ability to focus. He was better able to work on his reading issues. And he was less frustrated all around.

I never brought him back to work with me, however.

Eric wasn’t the same kid he was when I’d brought him for Take Your Child to Work Day a few years earlier. He was calmer, happier and, yes, more mature.

He still struggled with reading and writing, and got frustrated and angry sometimes. But he kept moving forward — making new friends, working on his soccer skills, trying to find areas of success.

With all he’d accomplished, taking him to work again would have felt like a giant step backward. Selfishly, I didn’t want to hear people say, “He’s such a good kid” or “He’s so grown up.” I would have heard the silent part of those comments, too: “...compared to the last time he was here.”

More important, my coworkers had no idea of what he’d gone through to get there. So I didn’t bring him back to work.

Instead, whenever my colleagues asked how Eric was doing, I told them: “He’s great.”

And that was the absolute truth.


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