Category Archives: Learning

Six things I learned about my kid this summer

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Summer Needs Action xD

Summer Needs Action xD (Photo credit: Ghawi DXB ™)

 

It’s Labour Day weekend and the new school year is just around the corner. We’ve had a great summer – lots of weekends at the cottage, warm, sunny days and just hanging out with friends and family. Now it’s back to the routine of early mornings (school starts at 8 am), endless streams of permission forms and extra-curricular activities and going to bed on time. It means my husband and I have to be much more religious about getting lunches ready the night before and enforcing bedtimes. Back-to-school is an adjustment for everyone.

 

M has had a good summer. There were a few temper tantrums, but with much less physical aggression, even compared to a couple of months ago. We’re still working on managing the verbal aggression – M swears worse than a longshoreman when he’s angry.  We got a fair amount of attitude whenever we asked him to do something around the house, but sometimes he would surprise us by sweeping the floor or dusting his room. He claimed to be bored unless he was hanging out with a friend or on the computer, playing MindCraft, but he learned how to play a couple of new card games and beat his dad multiple times at Uno.

 

Even when you think you know your child, from time to time, he or she will surprise you. As M gets older, I find the complexities of his personality unfolding like the layers of an onion. Sometimes, his tastes have changes or he has lost interest in a particular activity. Other times, he’s clearly learned a new skill or has overcome an obstacle that has given him trouble in the past. And once in a while, I realize that I have misread a characteristic of his personality.

 

Here’s a list of six things I learned about M this summer:

 

  • He doesn’t like to swim. While he will tolerate going into a swimming pool, he doesn’t care much for open water. Apparently, it has “stuff” in it. We spent a fair number of  hot, muggy weekends at the cottage this summer and swimming was often the only relief from the heat. I finally bought a couple of extra-thick styrofoam noodles and a blow-up water recliner, which M liked to play with. But unless it was really hot and everyone else was swimming, M avoided the water as much as possible.
  • He isn’t afraid to look silly in public. Once day a week at Tennis camp was Crazy Hair or Hat day. M went for 4 weeks and on every Crazy Hair day, he wore a blue and white wig that came from the Dollar store. One week, we tied little pony tales with bright covered elastics; another weekend, he went off wearing a lop-sided tiara; and recently, he wore a triangular “hat” with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on each side, perched on the top of the wig. For the final week, the wig was decorated with an assortment of household items, using pipe cleaners. He got points for his team for dressing up, but he could have settled for something a little less conspicuous. As far as M was concerned, the sillier the headgear the better.
  • He’s an introvert. This was the most surprising “lesson” I learned about M this summer. He has always been very social and preferred to play with others than be on his own. Since he seemed to need lots of company and external stimulation, I had assumed that he was an extrovert. But watching him this summer, I could see that while he likes to be around people, he needs plenty of downtime to recharge. He would often come back from playing with another child or an activity and sit quietly on the couch, reading. Or he would go to his room and listen to the radio. Sometimes, I’ve had to adjust my behaviour and let him take the time to chill out, rather than scheduling lots of activities in a single day.  Pushing M into doing something before he is ready has always been a challenge, but now I have a better sense of why.
  • Mental attitude is key for M. Never ever having tied a shoelace, he decided to forego shoes with velcro and go straight to lace-ups. He’s still not totally proficient at tying his own shoes, but he’s discovered he can shove them on his feet, even when they are tied up. Contrast this to tennis, where is a good player. But somewhere over the summer, he let himself be convinced by a group of other kids at Tennis Camp that he wasn’t a strong singles player. Prior to that, he always finished at the top of his flight, but lately he’s struggled. I always knew that M could talk himself out of doing things, but now that I know he can talk himself into things too. Could be very useful as we try to help him get more comfortable with writing. According to reports from the school last year, most of the time, M would just refuse to start an assignment that involved any writing. Hard on his self-esteem and equally difficult for the teaching staff to assess his work.
  • He is fully capable of amusing himself. Like most 11-year old boys, M’s favourite activity is playing computer games. While he has a 30 minute-a-day limit during the school year, we were much more relaxed about allowing him media time during the summer. Nonetheless, there were limits and despite moaning and groaning, he could find things to do to entertain himself, often for hours. I expect this falls more into the category of things I suspected but can now cite as evidence to M when he complains about being bored.
  • M can handle between 45 to 60 minutes at a time on the computer. Much more than that and he gets really irritable and easily agitated. I discovered this the hard way a few times this summer, when M had been playing on the computer for an extended time and I asked him to shut it off and do something else.  He’d usually refuse and we’d argue back and forth for 10-15 minutes, until he’s slam down the lid of the laptop and storm off. A couple of times, the arguments escalated into full-blown meltdowns. Fortunately for all of us, we figured this out early on in the summer.  Once the causal effect was clear to M, it was a matter of coming up with acceptable limits in terms of computer time. Even better, these limits could be enforced, because M understood what would happen.

 

All of these insights are useful in terms of understanding M and what makes him tick. Figuring out a couple of his triggers is useful in terms of trying to avoid meltdowns and help M manage his behaviour.  It has certainly made the summer go much smoother. We’ll cross our fingers for the fall.

 

The troubles with testing

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English: School children doing exams inside a ...

English: School children doing exams inside a classroom, 1940. Children sitting at their school desks in a classroom doing scholarship examinations, 16 April 1940. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Few of us have fond memories of taking tests when we were in school.  I can still remember completely blanking out on one of my final exams in university – one look at the test paper and I totally forgot everything I had studied.  I recall passing the course but just barely.  I still have dreams about failing an exam.

As a general rule, M’s school doesn’t rely on formal testing to evaluate students.  The teachers tend to use more informal methods of assessment.  There are standard tests that are administered in a couple of the grades, but by in large, testing isn’t a focus in the  school.

For a child with ADHD and anxiety, this approach works.  M’s performance is assessed but he isn’t required to sit at a desk and answer questions on a particular subject.   But this week, his teacher has been using a formalized evaluation tool to determine the student’s progress in reading comprehension against standardized norms for his grade.   M’s EA sends us a progress every couple of days, so we knew he was struggling with the evaluation.    We didn’t know how much until M burst into tears at supper.  

According to M, everyone else in the class had finished the questions except him.  He didn’t understand the questions and neither the teacher nor the EA were allowed to help him.   It was clear to us that he was very stressed about the evaluation.  We  tried to help him identify what it was about the process that was distressing him, but after a few minutes of tearful declarations about how dumb the test was, how he didn;t understand the questions and how stupid he was, he decided he didn’t want to talk about it anymore.

This is pretty typical for M – he will get to a certain stage in the discussion and then shut down.  If it is a difficult or upsetting topic, the shut down point will come sooner in the conversation, rather than later.   So it wasn’t surprising when he closed the door on the conversation.

Like most parents, we are not so easily put off.  We also understand that when M gets anxious, even simple things become seemingly impossible.  He is a strong reader and understands most of what he is reading.   Writing, however, is not his strength.  On one level, he probably did understand the questions, but his anxiety about having to write down an answer got in his way.  Since he didn’t even feel he understood what he was being asked to do, he felt doubly inadequate.

Given his exceptionalities, M has an individualized learning plan.  We have had a number of discussions with the school about what sorts of supports and modifications M needs to succeed.  He has a computer in class but apparently he wasn’t using it in this instance.  Why, we aren’t entirely sure.  We haven’t discussed putting in place specific accommodations for tests – more time, a quiet place to do the test, etc – because us until now it hasn’t been an issue.

Interestingly, it was M who identified what he needed – practice at doing tests.  He knows that he will have to do more tests in middle school.  We aren’t exactly sure how we are going to ensure he gets more experience in this area.  First step is identifying the issue.   We need M’s cooperation to come up with a solution, which may take some time.  We need to get beyond the stress and the tears so we can strategize on the best way to tackle the problem.  That will have to wait for another day.

A “touchy” situation

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ipod touch

ipod touch (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Several months ago, M began agitating for an IPod Touch. He already had a Shuffle, a gift from his grandfather who won it at work.  Plus he had a Nintendo DS and access to the computer and Wii (technically his dad’s).  So why in the world would he need another electronic device?

Turns out having the latest and greatest electronic device is the 21st century equivalent of keeping up with the Joneses. When his dad asked him why he wanted an IPod Touch, M burst into tears and started crying about all his friends had one and he was the only one who didn’t. His father launched into a lecture about how there was always somebody else who had what we wanted and just wanting stuff because our friends wanted it wasn’t a good reason…not exactly what any child wants to hear.  I think M started crying louder, just to drown out his father. 

We didn’t make any promises at that point, other than to say we would think about it. After talking to a number of friends with children the same age, we decided he could get one, with the condition that he pay at least half from his savings.  We didn’t actually commit to a purchase date.  I think we were both hoping M would forget about it. 

M continued to raise the issue and this weekend, he finally got his IPod Touch. He’s paying about 3/4 of the full price.  He has been advised that he can’t take it to school – the school board doesn’t allow devices with cameras. Of course, he spent as much time as he was allowed either playing games or downloading new games. 

I still have very mixed feelings about the IPod.  On the one hand, he has enough trouble limiting himself to 30 minutes a day of media time, just with what was already in the house. We’ve never counted listening to music as part of his electronics time, but if he is listening to music on his IPod Touch, what’s to say he won’t also be playing games?  Hardly fair to ask a 10-year old to police himself. 

On the other hand, M wanted this enough to put up most of his savings. Making decisions about how you spend your own money is an important part of growing up. If we had given it to him as a gift, I’m not sure it would have been as meaningful.  Nor do I think there would have been as much impetus to take care of it.  In both scenarios, losing it means it’s gone – it won’t be replaced.  But having invested his own money, hopefully M will be sufficiently motivated to take care of the IPod.  He hasn’t ever lost his Nintendo, although he has misplaced it more than once, at karate, the bottom of his knapsack and myriad other places around the house. 

So we’ll see how it goes. I fully expect that he will continue to protest about how much time he gets. I also expect that there will be moments when I will wonder what the hell was thinking I and/or how did I let myself be talked into letting him get the IPod Touch (easy enough to blame it on my husband, since he is a much big fan of technology than I am).  But M needs to take on more responsibility for making his own decisions and living with the consequences.  And as hard as it is for me,  I need to let him.

How we got here

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One of the primary reasons I started writing this blog is that while there are lots of blogs and websites for parents whose children have specific issues – ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, etc – there didn’t seem to be much out in the virtual universe for parents whose children face multiple challenges, especially behaviourial issues. M has been diagnosed as having ADHD and anxiety, but in some ways, his behaviour has been the biggest challenge for us. When he was 4 or 5, he would fly into incredible rages, seemingly for no reason. He would throw anything and everything he could lay his hands on (we quickly learned to grab small and/or valuable items in his vicinity as we were ducking out of the way). Transitions from one activity to another were a total nightmare and we learned very quickly that giving M advance notice of a change (we are going to lunch in 30 mins; we are going to the cottage on the weekend) was essential; otherwise, he would explode or just refuse to do things. He hit other children, even his friends. His grade 1 teacher had an evacuation plan in case he lost it in class.

Having a diagnosis was helpful – it helped us understand why M behaved the way he did in certain situations – it isn’t because we are bad parents (clueless or deluded, maybe, but not bad) or because he is a brat; his brain is just wired differently. Once we knew what we were dealing with, we were able to adapt and begin to help him learn how to manage his behaviour and his reactions – yes, everyone gets angry but that doesn’t mean you get to hit that kid who called you “shorty” in the face.  We are very fortunate to have the support of our families and friends. M goes to a great school with an amazing principal and terrific teachers who work hard to give him the support he needs. He’s making progress – this time last year, he had been suspended at least 3 times; so far this year, he’s only had one suspension and that was several months ago. Knock on wood.

Is it easy? Absolutely not. Most days, it is a struggle to get him out the door in time for school., as he needs constant supervision just to eat his breakfast and get dressed. He rarely does anything he’s asked the first time, even if he isn’t on his DS or the computer. If he decides he doesn’t want to do something (like go to karate), no amount of persuasion, yelling and/or bribing will get him out the door. It is easy to get discouraged. But we have learned to celebrate the successes, no matter how little: when M asks for help in resolving a conflict with another child, rather than lashing out; when he turns off his DS when his time is up; and when eats his brocoli spear first, rather than refusing to eat his supper until it removed from his plate. These little victories add up and they give us hope to get up – and do it all again tomorrow.