Tag: parenting kids with ADD

The School Chronicles: model student, picky eating (AGAIN), and possible laundry fail.

This week we had an SST meeting with Max’s teachers, counselor, and principal.  We had the SST meeting in place of a 504 meeting because Kaiser is still refusing to give Max the official testing for ADD without which the school can’t do the 504.  I can’t even remember what “SST” stands for but the school wanted to help Max with any issues he’s having now and this is one of the steps towards putting together a 5o4.  In the meeting (which Max attended) we enumerated Max’s strengths – the input for this coming from all of us including Max himself.  Then I gave them some background information about the challenges he’s had in previous school years.  We listed his current challenges and came up with some mild modifications.

The surprising thing is that the things the teachers had to say about Max made me feel ridiculous for having pushed for help in the first place.  The school files for his last two years are bulging with behavioral issues, problems with other kids, trips to the principal’s office, and all his teachers had to make many significant modifications to keep him on track and in their classrooms.

I still remember the day two years ago when Max’s fifth grade teacher called me on the phone and said “I’m very scared for Max to go to middle school” and had me meet with her, the principal, and a couple of other teachers who had complaints about Max even though he wasn’t in their classrooms.  Mrs. Mika basically said she couldn’t do any more for Max and that in order for her to be able to teach the other kids – he had to spend time in the principal’s office and the special ed room so he couldn’t disrupt the class any more.

I broke down crying.  What do you do when a room full of people are saying your kid is too much for them to handle?  That was a bad day.  I am only bringing this up now for contrast.

Yesterday’s meeting was nothing like that.  Max’s science teacher called him a model student.  Wait – WHAT?!  Apparently he’s had a challenging lab partner and dealt with the situation really well.  My kid handled a challenging situation with another student without complaining loudly or making the situation worse?  Hearing these things obviously made me feel really good.  I wasn’t expecting that.  His teachers all seemed to more or less agree that Max is organized.  WHAT?  I asked incredulously if they had actually looked at the state of his binders.  They had.  They didn’t see the chaos I thought I saw.  But then, every night I see his binders and books sprawling across the floor and papers drifting around the room like scholastic tumbleweed.  Also – he writes on the backs of the pages instead of the front.  But that isn’t the important factor.  They said he can always find what he needs for class and that’s what’s important.

They all commented on his articulateness.  I attribute this largely to his early obsession with Tin Tin.  Those comics use an impressive vocabulary and are intelligently written.  My mom attributes his articulateness to having such articulate parents.  I suppose it’s a combination of factors.  It usually is.  They all agreed that he is good at advocating for himself in class – expressing his needs.  That he is never afraid to ask for help when he needs it or doesn’t understand something.

What it boils down to is that he’s doing really well at the moment and we really only needed to address the homework situation.  Max has had some really tough nights trying to get his homework done, getting overwhelmed, and then slipping into that negative spiral where he basically hates the whole world and everything is doomed and he’s just going to give up.  I know he needs to keep doing homework but those tough nights take a toll on his over-all attitude about school and homework.  So his teachers have agreed to a case by case modification: when these tough nights occur – Max should just close his books and be done.  If he’s put in some effort and is getting really frustrated – he can shut down.  The next day he will tell his teachers he finished all he could of the homework and they will give him full credit.  What this does is gives me the freedom as his parent to call it a night and know that his grade won’t plummet because we’re managing his mental and emotional health.

Another thing that may be making a difference for him is that he changed his elective from art (which he wasn’t enjoying) to drama and to do this meant a change of his class schedule resulting in his PE class being second period instead of first – so he’s got a new teacher for that (he was butting heads with the student teacher of the other class) and his math class is now first period which I think is better than him having it last period.

So what’s happened to make such a great change in Max’s attitude, behavior, and performance in school this year compared to the last two years?  Going from elementary to middle school is generally considered to be a huge step for most kids and for kids like Max – especially stressful.  For years I’ve heard teachers and parents talk about middle school with a kind of tense caution – like it will either destroy or make your child.  (Just the kind of talk people with anxiety really like to chew on).  Obviously I have feared this change because Max’s teachers have feared it for him.  Yet he hasn’t done this well without lots of modifications from his teachers – EVER.  So what is it?  This is what I think:

Bigger school:

There were less than 60 kids at Ballston Community School.  Max spent all day long with the same small group of students.  He had different teachers for different subjects but the same class.  This meant that if he had issues with a particular student (which he did) they would be in each other’s faces all day long.  At his middle school there are 600 students.  With each class he is with a different group of kids.  So there’s a lot less opportunity for him to become so irritated that he blows his top.

One Grade Classrooms and Two Grade School:

Elementary school includes 6 grades – that’s a wide age range of kids on the playground.  Max’s charter school was K-12 and his classes were multi-grade (6, 7, and 8 sharing one class) and because there were high schoolers there the age range of kids was from 5 to 17 or 18.    Max had a lot of trouble with the high school kids and he has little patience for young kids – so I think being in a school where there are only two grades and no older teenagers or little kids has been beneficial for him in terms of interaction with other students.  Everyone there is more or less a peer – for him this is a good thing.


I think the more rigid structure is working for him.  Now that he’s in a flow with it and knows what’s expected of him he seems to be able to keep track of his responsibilities as a student better.

Being Five Feet Tall:

He grew 1/2″ in September alone which finally got him just above the 5′ tall mark.  Surely being the size of a small grown up increases one’s ability to deal with things more maturely?  Okay – fine – I think what’s really happening is that he’s maturing, as kids do, as he’s getting older.  He’s going to be 12 years old in a month.  All the positive change we’re seeing in him has got to be at least partly attributable to the natural process of maturing.

Another interesting thing is that it’s looking like Max’s OCD issues are the ones causing the most challenges right now.  Last year it seemed to be predominantly the challenges brought on by the ADD that were making things so unmanageable.  I was convinced it was time to medicate him for the ADD.  Now there’s a shimmer of hope that he might not need it.  We’ll have to wait and see.

There were two things that came up at the meeting that were irritating.  Well, one was irritating and the other was both surprising and WEIRD.  The principal of the school brought up her concern for Max’s diet.  Sigh.  How many times am I going to have to have this conversation and feel shamed and know that others continually make the assumption that if my kid has a poor diet it’s because I’m either a weak-ass mom who is letting her kid do whatever he wants or that I don’t actually know what a healthy diet is and think I only eat cheese puffs too.  When the principal mentioned how unhealthy cheese puffs are Max piped up to explain that the ones he eats are the natural ones and you should have seen the look on her face as she said “Cheese puffs are just bad for you.”  I have to work harder and harder to be patient with people initiating these conversations about his diet.  THEY DON’T GET IT.  And I’m tired of having to defend both me and Max and explain what we’ve tried and what doesn’t work and how long this has been an issue and a battle and a thorn in my fucking eyeballs.

We’re doing the best we can.  I’m tired of people making me feel shamed.

The other thing was just weird.  Apparently some teachers at the school have expressed concern about Max’s clothes.  Specifically – they have seen him come to school wearing the same clothes for a few days in a row.  I’m not sure if any of those teachers were in that room with us (none admitted to being the teachers expressing this concern).  I could not have been more surprised and weirded out that anyone would EVER think my kid wears the same clothes days in a row.  I may go out in public wearing tomato on my shirt or dirt on my pants because I’m a slob but the thought of putting on dirty clothes after taking them off at the end of the day to wear again is ANATHEMA to me.  For myself, for my spouse, and for my kid.  We are people who wear fresh clothes.  I never imagined I would have to assure a group of school personnel that I give my son fresh underwear, socks, pants, and shirts every single day.  EVERY SINGLE DAY.  I asked if Max looked dirty or was smelling or something?  Because I couldn’t fathom how anyone could form the opinion that he was wearing the same clothes day after day.

And then I realized how they could form such an opinion – he only wears black sweat pants.  Every day.  They look the same.  But he has something like 10 pairs of them.  All identical except for some being slightly more faded than others and now one has a hole in the knee.  And he also has three black and grey striped shirts that look identical (they aren’t actually – having different details) but he sometimes wears those shirts one after the other on consecutive days.  His socks are always black.  He always wears a black hoodie.  So to the uniformed or undiscerning eye he may very well appear to be wearing the same clothes days in a row.

It’s still weirding me out.  It makes me feel icky.  I must appear like a real trashy negligent mom for them to question me about his diet and changes of clothing.  I’m not holding it against them – what do they know about me?  What are they supposed to think?  I’m an obese person whose son eats nothing but cheese puffs at school and who wears very similar outfits every day.  They are looking out for the welfare of children and if I was a teacher I would do the same.  And they can’t know anything about me or our situation unless they ask the questions, however awkward it might seem.

Oh, and all the teachers wanted to know what was up with the bloody noses.  God, I hope they haven’t been wondering if he has a coke habit or if we’ve been punching him in the nose every night making it sensitive?

I’m going to stop focusing on the weirdness now and focus on all the good – the many many reasons I have to be proud of my kid right now.  His really good attitude about school in general (PE excepted) and his willingness to work on issues, his general lack of complaining about homework (because those tough nights are not the majority and when he’s not overwhelmed he’s had a good attitude), and how he hasn’t been acting out.  I’m proud of how he suddenly accepted having weekly chores when we moved down here where before it was so much work getting him to do chores and keeping him on track that I would just give up.  Now he does them without fuss and though he’ll do a crappy job if you aren’t there to coach him and keep him on track – he doesn’t resist when you say ” hey – you still have things to pick up in here”.

The last thing I want to report is that in joining the drama class he is now doing extra-curricular activities and though I don’t know if drama will continue to interest him as the year goes on (I have some hopes here) he’s enjoying it right now.  Last night he did his first ever drama performance at school after school hours – he came home after school for an hour and a half and then was expected to return to set up their scenes and then he had to be part of the haunted hallway show until 8pm.  Then he had to come home after having spent a total of 9 1/2 hours at school and DO HOMEWORK.  I let him stay up a little later so he could do it.  He not only said he really enjoyed doing the haunted house (and his teacher complimented him on his performance) but he didn’t complain about having to do homework.  He crawled into bed at 10:30 and instead of staying up an hour to read (because he doesn’t get to sleep easily, even with melatonin) as he usually does – he was out like a light.  Amazing.

Bottom line for me right now is that I’m really happy with Max’s school, his teachers, his counselor, and even though the principal thinks I’m an obese junk food eating parent -her work as principal seems to be good and I appreciated that she attended the meeting with us.  This school is so much more organized than the last one and it makes a huge difference.

Now, if only Kaiser would stop chewing on its own tail and do what it should be doing to ensure the best care for its patients – we could really be moving forward.

5 Tips for Yelling at Your Child Effectively

When my kid was a toddler I discovered the surprising fact that I am not the calm patient person I’d been thinking I was my whole life.  I based this self image on the fact that I never got in yelling matches with people (excluding all the times I suddenly freaked out and started yelling at friends because they touched my stuff because repressed memories don’t count).  I yelled at my kid.  A lot.  I found myself losing my temper constantly.  It’s not a pretty thing, yelling at kids.  It’s demoralizing for you and frightening to them.

Unless you know how to do it the right way.  I have been mastering my yelling skills for many years now and have become so good at it that if you were to ask him if his mom yells at him he would tell you “No”.  I know this because I mentioned how I don’t like it when I have to yell at him and he looked mystified and said I don’t ever yell at him.  How can my child not remember that I just yelled at him three days ago?  How is it that he doesn’t remember that I pretty much yelled at him non-stop through years 3 through 5?*

Because I did it THE RIGHT WAY.  And now, because I want you all to have the same parenting success that I’ve had, I am going to share with you the simple rules for yelling at your kid the right way too.

1.  Never make value judgements about your child when you’re losing your shit.

When I as an inexperienced yeller I would say things like “You’re being so bad!” and “Why the hell won’t you nap you little hellion!!”.  This implies that your child is misbehaving on purpose and is a bad child.  I realized that every time I yelled at my child I was accusing him of being a bad kid or of purposely sabotaging my life by dumping the entire bookshelf onto the floor instead of addressing the actual thing I was mad about.  So I changed my language accordingly “What you’re doing is not okay!” and “It makes me angry when you won’t nap!”  This expresses how I’m feeling about his behavior rather than suggesting that his behavior means he’s a bad person: instead of yelling about who my child is by suggesting he’s an evil little cur, I’m expressing that his actions are making me angry.

2.  Don’t be mean.

Some people might suggest that yelling in itself is being mean.  I disagree.  Yelling serves a distinct function in your child’s growing up experience.  For one thing it helps teach them that people have limits to their patience.  Can you imagine what would happen if a kid grew up never reaching the limit of their parents’ patience and then discovered out in the world that people have serious limits and are much more likely to punch you for pushing too hard when you’re not a sweet little cherub?!  Kids have to learn this and it is best for them to learn this with the people who love them best in the world. Yelling is also sometimes necessary to keep kids out of danger (like when they hurl themselves out into traffic without looking, this is a great moment to yell your guts out to get their attention while you grab them back to safety).  It may scare them but sometimes this is useful for their own safety.  Yelling also helps them understand that everyone has to express their anger sometimes, that it’s normal to lose control of your emotions sometimes.

When you yell at your kid you should never be mean.  This is an extension of the first tip.  It’s not just about how you phrase your anger – it’s about not saying petty mean shit to your kid that they’ll remember long after you’ve made up.  Things like “You’re so stupid!  How many times do I have to tell you not to pee on the seat?!” or “What kind of loser kid are you to not understand what I told you?!”  The kid will NOT remember that the reason for the anger was an action that is remediable but will remember only that they are inherently stupid, which you only said out of anger, not because you really think they’re stupid.

3.  Remove the swear words from your yelling.

I heartily approve of swearing to relieve tension and to attach emphasis in language where it is needed.  However, peppering your shouting with swear words makes it much scarier and though you may achieve something like making yourself feel better, you will not have a positive affect on your kid.  Swearing at your kid is a lot like saying mean petty shit when what you really need is for them to acknowledge that they’ve done something you want them to stop doing.  I speak from personal experience.  Once you let the damns and the fucks rampant in your yelling, you’re just losing ground.

4.  When you have become calm again, talk with your kid about what happened.

Apologize for losing your cool but be clear that an apology for yelling is not giving them a pass for what actions of theirs made you angry in the first place.  In the adult world it is not okay to yell at someone and if you do yell at someone an apology is always necessary.  By apologizing to your kid for yelling sends a couple of important messages: that everyone loses their cool sometimes and this is a forgivable action but also that the proper thing to do is apologize for having done so.

Then discuss calmly the thing that made you angry.  Explain why their actions are not okay with you and if you feel consequences are required, mete them out.  If I lose my cool and yell then I usually give my kid one more chance to change his behavior before giving consequences.  But I let him know exactly what the consequence will be during this discussion, while I’m calm.  Often times these sit down talks become meaningful discussions about appropriate behaviors and sometimes they extend into great learning moments.  Take your time.  Give your kid the chance to respond with questions or opinions.

5.  End discussion with a hug

Then give them a giant hug and tell them that they are your most favorite person in the entire world and that no matter what they do, you’ll always love them.

This is the moment I usually inform my son that I’ll love him even if he commits crimes but I won’t lie for him or hide him from the police.

To be honest, I rarely yell at my child anymore.  I snap at him impatiently sometimes but the days when I frequently hauled off in a yelling fit are far behind me.  By writing this post I’m not saying that parents SHOULD yell at their kids, only that it’s natural, it’s definitely going to happen, and it matters how you do it.

*To be fair to me, raising a special needs toddler takes even more patience and energy than raising your usual hellion tiny person.  I was just discovering at that time how different my kid was from other kids.  The things that worked for other parents didn’t work for me.  Their patience was tried, mine was fried.

Perpetual Awesome

A few days ago my kid said “You know what you are, mom?” I said “No.  What?” and he said “Perpetual Awesome”  Hearing things like that does not change the horror of finding out that I pretty much need a second job to pay for the self employment taxes on my first job because I’m paying 39% of my income to the state and the feds, but you know what it does do?  It makes me feel good.  I wasn’t even doing anything for him when he said it.  It was spontaneous and it made me feel like I’m doing something right in my life.  Something is so much more than nothing, if I’m measuring shit.

I spent most of yesterday lounging on the futon in the game room watching Max play Skyrim.  Have you seen or played this video game?  It’s unbelievably cool.  I don’t like video games but this one is something else.  The art and design of the landscapes, characters, and things that populate this game is incredible, gorgeous and I found I was jealous that I wasn’t one of the people who made it.  The music is also fantastic.  This is quality time spent with my kid.  Perhaps to some parents quality time means cooking in the kitchen or doing something “real” or old fashioned but my kid loves it when I watch him play video games which is his big passion in life aside from reading.  It makes him feel good.  He got to explain all the strange plants and potions his character was acquiring – the game has lots of mushrooms in it!  There are books you can buy or steal that you can actually open and read.  Yep. This game has books with actual content in them.  The level of thought and programing and detail in this game makes it a true work of art.

Philip brought back a few books for Max from the comic book store in Portland.  I caught Max still reading at 12:40 am.  I couldn’t scold him.  It was a Saturday night and my kid couldn’t put his book down.  I woke up late this morning and the first thing I see when I walk down the hall is my kid reading.  This is another indication that we’re doing something right in our life.  Yes, our kid plays hours and hours of video games a week, sometimes in a day, but he also reads and reads and can’t put his books down and doesn’t like to go anywhere in the car without books.  He’s a reader.  He hates going to the library though.  He doesn’t like browsing for books either.  We discussed his aversion to going to the library in his last therapy session and he said it isn’t because of all the people but because he finds the library overwhelming and he can never find anything and there’s just too much there.  The solution is to preview the library catalog online and make choices for what he wants to check out ahead of time then we help him find them.  It was agreed that he needs to go to the library himself so as not to encourage agoraphobia in him.  He must keep going out in the world, we just have to find ways to make it more comfortable for him.

That’s not about developing crutches but about developing solutions.  I say that because when I was a lot younger and making life choices to reduce my anxiety and nightmares I came under a lot of criticism from people who didn’t know crap.  I stopped reading newspapers or watching the news when I was eighteen years old.  This decision significantly reduced my nightmares (from pretty much every single night to maybe every other night) but others implied on more than one occasion that it was a crutch to not read the newspapers, that to not be able to read them made me a lesser citizen of my country and that I shouldn’t be allowed to vote if I didn’t stay informed.  I countered that the media didn’t do much to “inform” me of anything worth being informed of and mostly filled my head with hyperbole, lies, and fear which wasn’t useful at all.  It sunk in though.  This idea that I should fix myself so I could read the newspapers again and that I wasn’t good enough as I was.  That being broken and limited made me inferior and that to “cater” to my mental illness was to encourage me to be more weak.

My psychologist, Dr. Jay Judine (RIP), said that was complete and utter bullshit.  He explained that the only way my not reading newspapers could be considered a “crutch” or a negative avoidance is if I personally felt I really needed to be reading them, that I really WANTED to be able to read them but didn’t feel I could.  Get the difference?  If my life is good and rich and fine without reading newspapers and not reading them also improves my mental health, it isn’t something in need of fixing, it means I’ve found a solution to improve the quality of my life and everyone else can go hang themselves on their own issues and leave me the hell alone.  So I learned to evaluate what in my life and what about myself needs “fixing” or needs help or intervention not based on comparison to other people and what they think or need or want but based on what is important to me.

If not going to the library prevents Max from reading books, something he greatly enjoys, then finding a way for him to use the library in the greatest comfort is important.  How we accomplish it is not.  If picking out all the titles he wants ahead of time in the comfort of his own home makes it easier for him to go to the library to get them, there’s nothing wrong with that.

Incidentally, this is also one of the main ways to decide if your issues are in need of addressing, to decide if you need to be professionally assessed and treated for your mental quirks and challenges.  You could be very much like me in all your anxieties, maybe even have the anxiety levels I do, but if you’re comfortable with the way your life is – if these anxieties don’t get in the way of what you want, if they don’t destroy relationships or impact your ability to function – then it doesn’t matter that we’re anxiety twins, you don’t need help.  That’s a major criteria for diagnosis – how these mental challenges impact your daily functioning.  Mine impact me a lot.  They impacted my ability to parent my child when he was a baby – I spent most of my day just meeting his most basic needs but wasn’t truly present for him – that was a problem that needed addressing.  I didn’t want to miss his whole childhood under a cloud of depression and anxiety.  Getting treatment (both therapy AND medication) made an enormous difference in my quality of life and therefore, my child’s.

If we’re depression or anxiety twins but you function pretty darn well and don’t feel the need for help or assessment – I think that’s great.  I’ll still recognize you as part of my tribe.  Don’t be offended.  You can’t be wired just like me and not be in my tribe – you just don’t have the name tag.  And I’m not eager to give you one if you don’t want one or need one.  But I still know neurologically challenged people when I meet them.  I suppose if you were offended by me considering you a part of my strange mentally ill tribe then we aren’t bound to be good friends anyway.  My tribe, diagnosed or not, is full of the most amazing, talented, bright, cool, kooky, weird, genius, and interesting people in the world.

I realize that I’ve been talking about mental illness a lot lately.  I’m definitely trying to keep momentum up on my informative series but being in such crisis right now as I obviously am in – it’s an important topic for me personally.  I have started using my blog to spew again, as I used to do in the beginning.  Catharsis.  Without being able to afford therapy I must seek it in whatever way I can.  My fiction writing has completely stalled, as I mentioned a post or two ago.  It may be because my head is such a mess and there’s so little light in there.  I need some light to write in a pointed manner.

Spring cleaning has been helping too.  We have unloaded at least 3 boxes full of books, 3 boxes of Max’s Hot Wheels cars, 3 boxes of bathroom stuff (unused soaps from the store stock that I don’t use because the fragrance is too strong and other non-creepy bathroom stuff), 3 boxes of clothes, 5 boxes of fabric and crafts, and at least 3 boxes of miscellaneous house crap that might be useful to others.  All these things to both friends and to families in need.  I’ve got a long way to go.  I’ve been letting go of things I didn’t think I was ready to let go of.  I’ve come to a point in my life where I don’t need so much stuff.  I need my tools (kitchen and sewing and preserving tools, for example) but I don’t  need nearly as much stuff as I have.  Not only do I not need it, I don’t want lots of stuff.

On the other hand, in place of the many books I’ve given away and sold – I have discovered a series of cookbooks I intend to have ALL of.  I already mentioned it – the Culinaria series.  I find it so inspiring – the photographs, seeing a culture through its food traditions – this is the first time in a very long time that I’ve coveted things as strongly as I covet these books.  I’d like to have them all in hardback  but I can’t afford that.  The Powell’s credit that Philip generously gave me will allow me to get the Culinaria: Greece in used hardback and the Culinaria: Russia and the Culinaria: Hungary in paperback.  Perhaps someday I’ll replace the paper ones with hardback but I can’t wait to get my hands even on the paperback.  I feel like a kid collecting Barbies.  (I was a serious Barbie collector).

Today is Sunday.  So much better than Friday or last Tuesday.  I cleared my work schedule so that Friday I could go to the CPA (poor dude has to face our hysteria and anger – he did it with complete compassion and grace) and meet with a couple of friends, so that Saturday I could hang out with my kid all day, and so that today I can cook.  I’m going to make a mushroom side to put on Stitch and Boots and I’m going to work on a secret pet project involving marshmallows and bacon, because I need something really silly to amuse myself with.  You know you wish you were in my kitchen with me today!  I may also be making biscotti and a stir fry of cabbage OR perhaps I’ll finally try to make Aloo Gobi.  Whatever I do in there – I’m just going to play.  My kitchen is my playground.

I hope you all have something good and silly planned for today to lighten you up before facing yet another week.  Let go and have fun!