Homework horror

BC is in kindergarten this year and the homework situation is awful. Every Monday he brings home a packet of work that is due on Friday. For him, the work is simple – one digit addition, writing punctuation, and short spelling words like “it” and “can.”

I know he can do the work, yet he seems to enjoy making things more difficult. He often claims that he forgot how to sound out certain letters when he had read them perfectly fine the night before. It takes him a very long time to get through homework and he gets upset when BE finishes before him and gets to play.

I understand that something about homework is probably overwhelming for him, and I wish I could figure out what it is. He’s not old enough yet to really put words to his feelings. If I ask why he doesn’t like homework or what bothers him about homework, he just says he doesn’t know.

As always, I was reading the BCLC monthly newsletter, and of course Heather had some great advice. A reader had asked how to deal with her teenage daughter who wouldn’t help with family dinners, which made her appear lazy. Here are a few quotes from the response:

“To solve this issue, do proactive work and develop a plan with your daughter. This is a child who needs you to join her and to assist her in order to keep her from automatically going into overwhelm…. Explore the real issue: it’s too much for her and it is threatening…. Moving a child out of a state of overwhelm happens within the context of the relationship. Focus on the relationship.”

As always, for Heather, it’s all about the relationship. She did share some ideas for discussing the issue with the daughter, but I know BC can’t have that type of conversation yet. So, it’s nice to be reminded that building our relationship will help. I think he would like more attention than he’s getting, so the challenge for me will be to figure out how to invest more time. We don’t get home from latchkey/work until 6 p.m. and there’s a lot to do before bedtime. I’ll be looking forward to July when school is out for the summer.

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Validating negativity

Right now, BC is driving me crazy. His behavior and listening skills are lacking and he doesn’t seem to have much empathy. (Now that I think about it, BE had about zero empathy at his age too, but that’s certainly not the case anymore.)

I haven’t found a solution, and it’s particularly challenging because he’s not really old enough to express what he’s feeling.

A reader question in the monthly Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (BCLC) newsletter helped to give me some more insight. The situation wasn’t really the same, but Heather Forbes’ answer gave me a few ideas. Here’s the question:

My 8-year-old son ‘hates’ everything: the particular car driving down the street, the shirt I’m wearing, the kid next door, the color of the living room, the cashier at the grocery store, etc., etc. I am having trouble understanding this and how to deal with it. Any insights?”

Here are excerpts of Heather’s response:

“A child who ‘hates’ everything is a child in a perpetual state of fear and dysregulation. His neurophysiological system has been programmed to see the world as half empty instead of half full …

“Validate his negativity instead of trying to convince him of something more positive. ‘You really do hate this shirt. Wow. Help me understand how much you hate it. Tell me more.’ As he expresses himself, help him shift into the feelings behind these words. (It’s really not about the shirt.) ‘How does that make you feel? …’

“When you can help him to move into this core area within himself by listening, validating, maximizing, tolerating, accepting, and staying present with him, you’ll be there in relationship to guide him towards feeling safe and loved. Thus, you’ll be able to guide him to see that the world is good and hope does exist. It will take positive repetitious conditioning to do this for him.”

Ok, so BC doesn’t say he hates everything, but the advice about affirming his feelings and asking questions was very helpful. Because he’s only 5, I don’t think it will make a big difference right away, but I’m hoping it will set us on a good path for the future.

If you have any advice for me, please let me know!

When your child is a hoarder

BE isn’t really a hoarder, but she does show a lot of interest in trash. She always wants to pick up things that she finds lying around, such as a broken crayon in her school hallway, or a cracked cell phone case in the grass. In her recent newsletter, Heather Forbes answers a reader’s question about why her adopted daughter hoards, or collects things. She explains:

“It could be that your daughter’s resistance to throwing things away is representative of her perception of not feeling valued and worthy. This resistance is perhaps a way to recreate a new experience for herself.”

Her solution is a real challenge for me. Both my kids, but BE especially, seem to have an unusual addiction to sweets and even having them in the house can cause a real problem. I think that for my kids, this addiction and the hoarding come from the same place. Here’s what Heather said:

“By accepting her desire to have these items and by working with her on this issue, you are giving her the message that she is valuable, that her ideas are worthy, and that she is lovable — the core issues that are behind this behavior to begin with!”

This is really tough because I want to be in control. I just need to work on accepting my kids where they are. I’ve come a long way, but there’s still a lot of work to do!

Check out Heather’s newsletter on her Web site.

Dealing with uncertainty

I hate uncertainty as much as anyone, and I like to be in control. This is probably why I lean towards a more rigid parenting style. But, I’ve been trying to achieve more of balance with the Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control method. In her recent newsletter, author Heather Forbes addresses how to handle children who have a hard time switching from one task to another. This definitely applies to my kids, and Heather attributes this to a need for consistency. Here’s an excerpt:

“For children with traumatic histories, they have experienced an over abundance of uncertainty. There has not been a balance between the amount of uncertainty and certainty in their lives. If an imbalance of the two creates a level of fear for the average adult then it is understandable for a child, with limited coping skills, such an imbalance creates an exponential amount of fear.  The result is a child who will constantly seek certainty, at all costs.”

My normal reaction is to take my children’s refusal to comply as a personal insult. But Heather recommends the following approach:

“If the parent can understand that the child is simply working to create certainty in his uncertain world, this negative loop can easily be interrupted. The parent can acknowledge that the compelling behavior (as given in this question) is helping the child feel better and that switching to a new task is incredibly difficult and scary.”

When I can manage to pull off a reaction like this, the end result is usually much smoother. Check out Heather’s complete newsletter on her Web site.

BCLC: rejecting positive messages

Heather Forbes recently sent out her latest e-mail newsletter, and as always, she answered a reader’s question. Here’s the question:

“My son had a terrible early childhood history and constantly tells me he is a bad boy and that nobody loves him. Yet, no matter how much we tell him what a good boy he is or how much we love him, nothing seems to help. How can he continually reject these positive messages?”

As usual, Heather’s response focuses on her belief in the two primary emotions: love and fear. And, as she often reminds her readers, it takes time to establish new patterns and beliefs. Here’s just part of her response.

“While the emotion of fear keeps this child locked in this negative belief system, it is also true that the emotion of love will release this child from this negative belief system. It takes parenting this child in a loving, safe, and emotionally available manner. And it won’t be just one experience, but several experiences, over and over again, with this child being met at an emotional level, in order for new neural pathways to be created.”

I’m very impatient, even with myself, and I tend to think that my family should be making more progress. At this point, the time that we’ve known BE is about equal to the time that we didn’t know her. The time that we’ve been a legal family is less, and the time that we’ve really been working with BCLC is even less. Considering all that, we probably have made significant progress!

Learn more about BCLC and subscribe to Heather’s newsletter at her Web site.

National Adoption Month: the future of adoption

It’s National Adoption Month again. In honor of this “event,” I’m starting a new series called “The Future of Adoption.” In this series, I’d like to explore what adoption can and should look like in the future. I’ll also make suggestions on how we can get there. I’m not a social work, law-maker, or adult adoptee, so I certainly can’t claim to be an expert on the topic. So, if you are an expert, please feel free to kindly correct my misconceptions. And, even if you’re not an expert, I still want to hear your thoughts.

If you’re a regular reader, you may be sick of me talking about Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control by Heather Forbes and Bryan Post. One of the book’s foundations is that there are only two primary emotions: love and fear. I’d like to build on this idea for “The Future of Adoption” and use it to explain what could be changed in a very broad sense. In future posts, I’ll talk more about specific changes.

What if, in the future, those involved in adoption did not make their choices based on fear?

1. What if pregnant women did not choose adoption based on their fear of being rejected or being an inadequate mother?

2. What if adoptive parents weren’t afraid of their children’s first family?

3. What if adoptive parents and their friends and family (and society as a whole) were not afraid of those who are different? (older children, children of other races, same-sex couples).

4. What if families could stay together because the parents did not make unwise choices based on fear?

I think many people believe about adoption as others believe about abortion: both should be legal, but rare. If we addressed these fears, could we make adoption less common? Could we keep families together? Please share your thoughts in the comments, and I’ll be posting more specific ideas and action items at a later time.

Changing choices, not personality

Like many adoptive parents, I’ve often wondered about the balance between nature and nurture. How much influence can parents have on their children, and how much has been predetermined?

For now, I’ve come to the following conclusion: I can’t change my children’s personalities, but I can influence their choices. I don’t believe that my children’s preferences, talents, strengths, or weaknesses would be any different if they had been raised in a different family. But, I do hope that in this environment, they will feel secure and loved enough to make choices not based on fear, but based on love. Of course, this belief is strongly influenced by my immersion in Beyond Consequences, Logic, and Control (BCLC), which states that there are only two primary emotions: love and fear.

What are your beliefs about nature vs. nurture? I’d love to hear some other points of view.

Addressing food-related issues

In Heather Forbes’ latest newsletter, she answers a reader’s question about a child’s refusal to eat dinner. Here’s the question:

“My four-year-old sits down to dinner and says, ‘I don’t like that.’ He either won’t eat at all or won’t eat his vegetables. He then gets annoyed, trying to leave the table, whining and refusing to eat. This happens five out of seven nights. How do I respond without consequences?”

We’ve certainly had our share of meal/food related issues, so I paid close attention to Heather’s response. Here’s the part that resonated the most with me:

“Create new experiences around food for you and your child (and your entire family). Have your child sit in your lap to eat. Feed him as you would feed a young toddler. Emotionally your child is probably much younger than four years old. Expecting him to be able to sit down at the table during mealtime is probably well beyond his developmental capabilities … We also need to recognize that we shouldn’t eat when we are stressed anyway. Our bodies can’t digest the food properly and it can become toxic in our bodies. More importantly, forcing children to eat during this time or giving consequences around food only creates negative food related issues as adults. The refusal to eat vegetables has a direct link to being stressed out. As a human species, we gravitate towards sweets, salts, and fats when we are stressed.”

This advice made a lot of sense for our family. The kids’ food issues have certainly improved as they’ve become more secure and regulated. What works for your family at dinner time?

For more information, check out the Beyond Consequences Institute.

Chores: what a difference a year makes

When BE was still in kindergarten, we began assigning her chores. It was a total disaster. It completely overwhelmed her and she often had meltdowns. We would get very frustrated and the whole situation would escalate. The worst chore for her was vacuuming under the dinner table.

We hadn’t yet been introduced to BCLC, so we saw her behavior as defiant, not fearful. At the end of that summer, BE broke her wrist and was in a cast for several months. Chores were suspended, and were finally reinstated a few weeks ago (about a year later).

My laziness in restarting the chores turned out to be a great idea. As BCLC points out, many traumatized children are emotionally younger than their chronological age. At age 5, it’s likely that BE was emotionally much younger, and our chores were completely unreasonable for her capabilities. Now that BE is a little bit older, both emotionally and chronologically, chores are much easier. We haven’t had one fight or tantrum over chores the last few weeks. For me, the lesson is – be sensitive to your child’s emotional age.

Back to school, BCLC style

In Heather Forbes’ latest e-newsletter, she answers addresses the following issue from a reader:

“My son is an angel at school but a terror at home. He was even student of the month last school year. But when he gets home, our home is absolute chaos and he is just nasty to me.

BE struggles at school just as much as she does at home, but Heather’s advice still applies. Here’s an abridged version of her response:

“Many children work to be ‘normal’ all day long at school so when they get home, they are exhausted. The result is they collapse into negative behaviors. When they are stressed at school, they hold it together all day long and then in their ‘unwinding’ of the day, they become ‘terrors.'”

She suggests looking for ways to reduce stress in the following areas:

  • Social stress
  • Transitioning from one activity to another
  • After school care
  • Teachers
  • Riding the school bus
  • Stress-inducing requirements

For Heather’s complete response, or to sign up for the newsletter, visit her Web site.