Tag Archives: Child

Countdown to middle school

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Students at Mililani Middle School

Students at Mililani Middle School (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

M starts Grade 7 in less than two weeks. This is a big transition for both of us.

He’s leaving the cozy, close-knit community of his elementary school for a large middle school, with multiple streams. His old school was just under 400 students, from junior kindergarten to grade 6. The new school has about 500 kids, just in grades 7 and 8.

The elementary school was very close to our house – M could get there on foot in about 4 minutes. The middle school is quite a bit further and he’ll get there by riding his bike or by public transit. Instead of one or two teachers, he’ll have several teachers over the course of the day; – he’ll have to change classes and take his stuff with him; it’s further away. He’ll have a locker instead of a desk.  Even though he’ll still be in an Alternative program, which means less emphasis on competition and testing than in a traditional program, he’ll have more homework. And perhaps the biggest change of all, he will be coming home from school, rather than going to his much beloved after-school program.

Middle school will mean an adjustment for me too. I had a very good relationship with the principal at M’s old school. Whenever there was a potential issue, I could fire off an email and have confidence that depending on the issue, the staff would investigate or keep an eye on M. The principal at the middle school is new; not only will I  not know her, but she’ll be adjusting to a new environment. Plus, she’s in charge of all the streams, not just the Alternative program. The principal at the old school went to bat for M on numerous occasions – she worked very had to create an environment that maximized M’s success. Even though she knew M and had a good understanding of his challenges, they were always a few bumps to work out, especially at the start a new school year. As much as I’d like to think that M’s transition to the new year/school will be drama-free, I know that’s not realistic. When it comes to M, forwarned is forearmed. And even though I’m confident we’ll get everything worked out, the fact that I don’t know the various personalities makes me a bit anxious.

I’m also worried about how M will manage having several teachers instead of just one – M, like many kids with ADHD and anxiety, copes best when he has a positive relationship with a teacher and/or school staff. While I think he’s a pretty likable kid, I know full well that not everyone “gets” him. I still remember having teachers that I didn’t connect with, which made sitting through class seem tortuous. I had a math teacher in Grade 9 who I really didn’t like – I didn’t understand him when he explained equations and mathematical concepts and for the first time in my life, I didn’t get a good grade in a particular subject. I also a low mark in gym that year, but I sucked at sports – the gym teacher was also my home room teacher, so I knew she wasn’t evil (not so sure about the math teacher). I’m sure there were teachers at his old school that didn’t like M (and some he didn’t like), but he was lucky in terms of his classroom teachers.  I know he needs to learn how to manage dealing with teachers he doesn’t like and vice versa, but there’s a potential for a steep learning curve.

At M’s old school, the strong sense of community among the students extended to the parents and families. Even though I wasn’t at the old school very regularly last year, I knew lots of the parents from helping out at various events. I rarely went out in the neighbourhood without running into someone I knew from school. I also knew most of the teachers from helping out in the classroom in previous years. Since parental involvement is one of the tenets of the Alternative program, I’m sure there will be opportunities for me to help out at special events and on field trips. But middle school is much more transitory than elementary school – after 2 years, M will move along to high school. Plus middle school kids are older and encouraged to be more independent. That’s a good thing, but  I will miss the sense of belonging that characterized the elementary school.

Perhaps the biggest change will be that M won’t be attending his much-beloved after school program at the local community centre. As much as the principal worked to ensure M’s success over the last couple of years, the counselors in the after school program recognized M’s strengths and went out of their way to support him in situations where he struggled – instead of insisting that he participate in group activities every day, they would give him his space when he needed it and let him sit quietly with a book or talk with one of his favourite counselors. Last year, the after school program ran a separate “club” for the grade 6’s, supervised by a group of counselors who really understood 11 and 12 year olds. One of the counselors had a part-time job testing video games and would often bring new games in for the kids to play. Not surprisingly, he was very popular among the boys. The program staff have already identified M as a future counselor and he’s been invited to come and help out with some of the younger kids later this fall. This is a huge vote of confidence for a child like M who often struggles to fit in.

M says he looking forward to coming home from school by himself – expect it’s more the attraction of being able to play MindCraft or listen to his iPod, without his annoying parents watching the clock. Too much electronics tends to turn M into zombie-boy, so I’m a bit worried about what kind of mood he’ll be in by the time one of his parents gets home, especially if he’s had a tough day. We’ve been leaving M at home alone more and more over the summer, when we go out to dinner or run errands, but being alone for almost 2 hours every day will be a new experience for him.

Despite some nervousness on my part, I do think middle school will be good for M. Because it’s a larger school, M will have an opportunity to meet new kids and make some new friends. As much as I liked the fact that in elementary school, he had the stability and security of spending 2 years with the same teacher and a core group of kids, I recognize that this could be a bit claustrophobic. The kids all knew each other, for better and for worse. While M had a couple of friends he hung around with at school, he was never invited to hang out with them after school or on weekends (granted, he didn’t make much of an effort to connect with them outside of school). From time to time, he would often complain that all his classmates “hated” him. Since he usually said this in the middle of a meltdown, I’m not certain it was totally true. But he often felt like an outsider among his classmates. Nothing terribly unique about that – neither his dad nor I were popular at school. But no 12-year-old is entirely reassured by his or her parent’s tales of pre-teen angst. Ironically, the characteristics that make it difficult for M to get along with other kids – being a know-it-all who wants to be in charge, will probably serve him well later in life.

Even though I expect there will be some challenges over the next few months, I do  think M is ready for middle school.  He has to learn how to navigate his own path through school, both socially and academically. Now is as good a time as ever. Even if I’m not 100% ready.

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I want to be consequence free…who doesn’t?

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I wanna be consequence free
I wanna be where nothing needs to matter
I wanna be consequence free

— Great Big Sea, Consequence Free

The impact of one’s actions, or consequences, has been a hot topic of conversation at our house this week. Following a major meltdown last week, M lost all his electronic privileges for 6 days – no computer, Wii or (gasp!) iPod. The last one was particularly controversial because, as M has pointed out to me on more than one occasion, “it’s his iPod; he paid for it with his own money, so you can’t take it away.”

Given the public and profanity-laden nature of M’s meltdown, I didn’t spend much time debating whether I had the moral authority to take away his iPod.  As his dad and I have told him repeatedly, at our house, electronics are a privilege, not a right.  M had his iPod with him when he fell asleep that night, but by morning, it had been spirited away to

Unintended consequences

Unintended consequences (Photo credit: askpang)

a secret hiding place (somewhere in the closet).

M got through the first day with a minimal amount of whining. He complained about being bored a few times, but he dumped a 500 piece puzzle on the floor in the family room and worked on it throughout the day.

The next day, however, the reality of a whole week without any electronic devices, set in. M was very unhappy.  Why couldn’t he go on the computer or listen to music on his iPod, he asked?  I explained to him that losing access to his electronic devices was a consequence of his recent behaviour, which had been particularly awful. “But Mommy,” he said, “Not being able to have electronics is the worst thing ever. I’ll never survive the week. It’s too much.”

I pointed out that he was not the only one who had to face up to the consequences of his or her behaviour – one of his friend’s had gotten into trouble at daycare and had lost his electronic privileges for several weeks.

M – Why is it only kids that have to have consequences?

Me – Adults have consequences too. If I behave badly at work, I may not get to work on a special project or get a promotion. if I spend too much money one month, I won’t be able to pay my bills.

M – That’s not as bad as losing electronics for a whole week. That`s the worst thing ever.

I`m sure there are lots of adults who would disagree. But I guess when you`re an 11 year old boy, losing electronics pretty much seems like the end of the world.  It certainly got his attention. Whether it will serve as a deterrent in the future remains to be seen.

M wasn’t the only one who had to deal with the consequences of his behaviour this week. I forgot my towel one day when I rode to work and I had to use my arm warmers and cycling shirt to dry myself. Fortunately, my shirt was relatively clean so I didn’t feel too gross about wrapping it around my wet hair. Another day, I had to spend almost an hour doing 2-days worth of dishes, including cleaning out both the garbage can and the green waste bin (there’s few household task I dislike more than washing dishes).  Not to mention staying up too late several nights and then being tired in the morning. Plus, eating too many potato chips and feeling bloated the next day. 

Lots of consequences. But I didn’t bother sharing them with M. I didn’t think he’d be very impressed.

Wouldn’t it be great, if the band just never ended
We could stay out late and we would never hear last call
We wouldn’t need to worry about approval or permission,
we could – slip off the edge and never worry about the fall

I wanna be consequence free

No means no – discussing sexual violence with our sons

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Collaborative artwork made by 138 young women

Collaborative artwork made by 138 young women (Photo credit: ctrouper)

As a parent, I’ve been greatly disturbed by several high-profile cases of young women who have been sexually assaulted and who have also had to deal with images of the incident being shared via social media. Not surprisingly, these cases have touched a chord with the public and prompted a great deal of debate. Much of the discussion has focused on the role of Facebook and Twitter in accelerating the dissemination of the images and how it has contributed to re-victimizing these young women. But in listening to various experts opine on the radio and television, I realized that it’s not about Facebook. It’s about sexual violence.

It’s not just that the alleged perpetrators in these cases, most of them young men under the age of 20, seemed to think that it ok to sexually assault a young woman.  It’s also that friends and family, and in some cases, didn’t seem to grasp the underlying dynamic.  In reporting on the guilty verdict of 2 young men in Steubenville, Ohio, a reporter from a main stream media outlet (a woman) went on at length about the impact of the verdict on the lives of the perpetrators. At best, the victim was invisible; at worst, she was to blame for what happened to her.

As a mother of an 11-year-old boy, I find these events very frightening. As a feminist, I want to believe that I have raised my son to respect and value women and girls. M certainly has lots of strong female role models in his life – his cousins, friends, aunts and grandmothers are all strong and independent. And the men is his life – his dad, grandfather and uncles – set a good example in terms of how they treat and relate to women. We’ve discussed Rhianna and Chris Brown on several occasions – maybe it’s because Rhianna is his favourite singer, but according to M, Chris Brown is a “douche”.

But I know that M’s world view is also shaped by lots of things outside my control. He may not be on Facebook (yet), but he does play video games and listen to dance and rap music. I’m under no illusion that all the images he sees and all the lyrics he hears convey a female-positive image.

So this morning, in between pancakes and the news report, I asked  M if they had discussed the most recent case reported in the news at school. He said they hadn’t but it was clear that he knew what I was talking about. I asked him if he understood what sexual assault was and we talked about whether it was ok to hurt a girl that way, even if she’s had too much to drink – it’s not ok, Mom. When I asked him what he would do if he was at a party and saw someone sexually assaulting a girl, M said he’d tell an adult. Same thing if he saw something on Facebook (he did remind me that he’s not on Facebook).

It wasn’t a long conversation – less than 2 minutes. It won’t be the last. It may not be as easy next time – as he gets older, he may be increasingly reluctant to talk to me about anything, let alone such an uncomfortable subject. As his parent, however, I need to get beyond his discomfort and mine and talk to my son about difficult topics, including sexual assault. I want to help him understand that no always means no. If necessary, I want him to be able to stand up and tell others that sexual violence is unacceptable.

So we’re starting the conversation, my son and I.

Parenting…in a galaxy far, far away

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A redevelopment of Image:Milky Way Arms-Hypoth...

A redevelopment of Image:Milky Way Arms-Hypothetical.png: details about method below. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As M gets closer to 12 years old (he just had his half-year “birthday”), we are all entering into uncharted territory. Some days it’s almost as if we’ve passed through the time/space continuum and entered into a whole new galaxy. There’s still some discussion as to whether or not it’s a black hole or a distinct new solar system. But we’re all in agreement that it’s a whole new world and none of us has a map.

As often happens, we came across this new system quite by accident. M was the first to notice the presence of a strange planet called “Hygiene.” It’s very popular with parents, but apparently the planet’s environment is quite hostile to 11-year old boys. I maintain that the planet is benign and can have a long-term positive effect on its occupants – at the very least, they smell nice and have clean hair. However, M is convinced that the planet houses destructive forces. He prefers to visit as infrequently as possible.

I discovered the next two planets – Polite and Respectful one morning as M was getting ready for school.  They are quite close to each other and share the same strange customs – for example, children  do what their parents ask them (the first time!), are helpful around the house and enjoy spending time with their families. Talk about out of this world. The populations of Polite and Respectful fluctuates quite rapidly, often during the same day. M is a pretty regular visitor to both planets, but he has been known to make a quick and unscheduled visit to nearby Rude.  It’s my understanding that the atmosphere around planet Rude is highly unstable and re-entering the atmosphere around the other planets can be a bumpy ride, often involving slamming doors and stamping feet.

M’s dad (or DH, as he would like to be referred to from now on) made the most recent discovery.  This planet, Healthy Eating, is another parental favourite, but M prefers to keep his visits short. Even though he visits Healthy Eating 3x a day, he takes great pains to avoid the Fruit and Vegetable regions. He`d happily hang around Pizzaville, but there`s always some adult trying to sneak a piece of broccoli or a carrot onto his plate. According to DH, what makes Healthy Eating so fascinating is that it hides a smaller planet. Electronics. Apparently,  Electronics, can only be reached by passing through the force field of Healthy Eating. This is probably M`s favourite planet and in an ideal world (e.g., no parents) would spend all his time there. But the planet’s atmosphere, while particularly alluring to boys, is actually very dangerous, except in short doses. Too much time on planet Electronics and their central nervous systems become over-whelmed and they turn into demons. Turning them back into children is very messy and unpleasant. In our experience, visits to Electronics must be closely monitored – and sometimes extraction is required. Full-body armor is recommended.

I expect we`ll continue to discover strange and far-off planets over the next few months and years. As time goes by, M`s going to start making more trips on his own and he`ll be gone for longer each time. Scary and exciting at the same time.

Everyone’s a critic

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As we were driving to the cottage this morning, M’s dad and I were listening to a CD of original recordings of George and Ira Gershwin. the quality of some of the recordings wasn’t great, but no matter what, I love listening to Gershwin.  M, it turn out, isn’t a big fan:

M: This music sucks.  It’s almost as bad as Justin Bieber.

Guess it  all depends on your point of reference.English: A theme from George Gershwin orchestr...

What a difference a friend makes

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Two children playing with a dog

Two children playing with a dog (Photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

Like many kids with ADHD, M doesn’t always get along well with other children. He makes friends, but has trouble keeping them. In the past, his behaviour has been unpredictable and outrageous at times. It isn’t surprising that other children don’t want to hang around with him as they don’t know what he will react to and when, nor what he’ll do.  He’s been known to kick, punch or even strangle another child, when he’s angry. Fortunately, he’s learning to manage his anger. But he still doesn’t always get social cues. I’ve watched him with other kids, totally in their faces and watched them physically recoiling while he chats on. This is pretty typical of ADHD kids – they tend to he have little concept of personal space and don’t clue in to social cues like facial expressions or body language.

 

Some children are naturally solitary and don’t much care if they have friends to hang around with after school and on weekends. Not M. He has always craved the company of other children. He can amuse himself, but too much time alone and he complains about “being bored.” More significantly, M’s lack of a social support network (adult speak for a “best friend”) has been a big source of his anxiety.

 

For a few years, he hung around with a couple of children who lived in the neighbourhood. They were a bit older and as the youngest child in the group, M got bossed around. As a group, they played highly imaginative outdoor games, but there was always lots of drama. It became increasingly clear to my husband and I that the group dynamics weren’t the healthiest, especially for M. But no matter how many times he came home upset at something that had happened, he couldn’t let go of this relationship. The Devil he knew was better than having no one to hang around with. Eventually things reached a tipping point and we told M he couldn’t go inside their house to play. Gradually, he lost interest in playing with them.

 

This left him pretty much on his own. Even though he seemed to get along well with a couple of the kids in his class, he was never invited to play with them after school or on weekends.

 

However, things began to turn around last winter. After defending another child in the after school program against a racial taunt, he began to be invited to play at the child’s home on a regular basis. This was about the same time that he lost several friends because he used a racial slur – one door closes and the other open. Around the same time, M also became good friends with a child from karate and they played together regularly on weekends.  Although M’s friends know each other, M hangs out with them separately. Groups, even small ones, are still challenging for M.

 

Both M’s friends have high energy siblings, so neither child is particularly put off by M’s behaviour. They are both capable of  dealing with M when he starts getting bossy. As M has become more comfortable and secure in his relationship with each child, his need to be in charge has decreased. Relationships among 11 year old’s rarely run smoothly, but there haven’t been too many disagreements. When they do occur, the kids work it out themselves.

 

Over the last couple of months, we’ve noticed that M seems much happier and confident. Knowing he has friends who “have his back” has significantly boosted his self-esteem.  He seems less anxious about going to school. In the past, M has spent a fair amount of time trying to get attention from other kids, even though they may not be the best fit for his personality or share the same interests. he doesn’t seem to be doing this as much. Since school started, he’s been much more willing to participate in class activities than he was when school ended. He’s getting along with his classmates and not getting into conflicts with other children, either at school or in the after school program. He’s not suddenly perfect – he told me tonight that he’s been bumping into classmates with his scooter as they go up to class in the morning and this morning, one of them kicked him after M bumped into his foot.  Typical M – he didn’t seem to understand why the other child reacted badly.

 

No doubt some of M’s new attitude can be attributed to the fact that he’s a year older and is gradually becoming more mature. He is increasingly able to control his temper and react appropriately. But I think having two good true friends has played a big part in his growing confidence levels. Even though he and his friends go to different schools, he knows he’s not completely alone. Since he doesn’t feel so socially isolated, he’s less anxious, which means he can make better choices. The more he succeeds, the more positive feedback he gets from his teachers and other adults. We’ve seen first hand the impact of the vicious circle of negative feedback; now we’re seeing the impact of positive feedback.

 

Most kids need at least one close friend – one person who shares their interests, and with whom they can do stuff with and sometimes just hang out.Kids like M, who have  social and behavioural challenges, really need one or two close friends. But that very behaviour can get in the way of making friends. In the past, the odd time M was invited to another child’s home, I can remember mentally crossing my fingers and hoping he would be invited back. More often than not, there would be some sort of conflict and M wasn’t invited back. Now, M has two good buddies and knows he will be invited back.

 

Back to school – so far so good

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Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B...

Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B66%u6821 _18 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost 2 weeks into Grade 6 and M’s had the best start to any school year so far. I’m probably jinxing it, just by talking about it. But no calls from the principal. Not a single one!

No news is not always good news – in the past, the school has not always advised us when there’s a problem looming, until M’s in crisis. This year, the supports the school committed to last June were in place on Day 1. M has an EA, the same one as past year, at least for a few weeks. He will continue seeing the school social worker. And we finally got the psychologist’s report (the assessment was done last spring), so he can get a computer on a permanent basis, rather than from time to time, depending on availability.

It also helps that M has the same teacher as last year. Most of the kids are the same too – last year, it was a Grade 5/6 class. Rather than re-distribute the students among the two Grade 6 class, they kept the group together. Having combined grade classes is great, but school is chaotic enough for M. Any amount of continuity is a good thing. M had a couple of good buddies in the class, so he had a social safety net going back this year. The school post the class lists a couple of days before the first day back, so M knew who else would be in his class.  usually there’s one child that M doesn’t get along with, but he said he likes everyone in the class.

Since it’s only Week Two, we haven’t had much feedback on his behaviour or his academic progress. His EA told us last week that M had been participating actively. After a little pep talk from the teacher and the EA, M even did part of the class’s cursive writing assignment. Last year, M consistently refused to do the writing assignments,  even with the computer. He claimed not to be able to write in block letters, let alone cursive.  If he started an assignment, 9 times out of 10, he didn’t finish it.

From the school’s perspective, managing M’s behaviour has been a much bigger issue that whether or not he completes his work. The EA’s primary function is to assist M in resolving issues with his classmates and other students when they happen. The EA also acts as a buffer between M and other children, especially during recess and other less structured activities. When M is stressed, his ability to make good decisions is practically non-existent. He would often misinterpret another child’s behaviour as a slight or aggression and either lash out or obsess about what had happened. We’ve learned the hard way that M’s anxiety can trigger some pretty rotten behaviour. Other kids don’t want to be around him, which makes him feel even more anxious and socially isolated. It’s like watching a hamster running round and round on a wheel. Except in M’s case, we know the wheel’s going to hit the wall at some point. That’s usually when we get a call from the principal.

But the phone lines are quiet so far. We’ve had a couple of emails from the EA, indicating that things are going well. M still isn’t doing what he’s asked the first time, but when prompted, he usually complies. That’s progress too.

Over the last couple of years, whenever I’ve remarked about how well M’s doing, he’s hit a rough spot almost immediately afterwards. But it’s hard not to share good news. So if I get a call from the principal tomorrow, I only have myself to blame.