Helping a Child Who Needs a Bit More…

For families with kids who struggle with executive function and attention, anxiety, OCD and other difficulties under the neurodiverse umbrella, parents tasked with helping their kids accomplish school work, homework, chores and other expectations can feel like they’re up against a great challenge. Simply because, it’s a great challenge for the child and they need extra help. And your job is to find out how to provide that, which is something you may have never had to do before. That can feel like a lot of pressure. We want to help our kids but sometimes don’t feel equipped. I believe God puts people in our life to speak into our lives and help us find the answers we need when we come up short.

Finding the answer to making our day to day life manageable and improving our flow as a family, has been a slowly evolving process, but we’re making great strides. It took a lot of research, reaching out to professionals for advice, then praying and mulling over advice with friends, asking people in my circle how they did it, how they do it, what worked and what failed. And then, internalizing all of that and sitting down to decide what to throw away and what to keep to make it work for our specific situation. Here’s what our challenge was and what we came up with. And yes, it is working.

The challenges:

My child was, on a daily basis, feeling and acting unmotivated, combative, anxious about each day and refusing school work (even fun games). Everything was a battle, even the things that didn’t feel like they should be. I will be honest and say that the changes we implemented did not make all of that disappear. However, it did improve the situation and give my husband and I some clear guidelines to work within and the kids now have clear expectations and goals to work towards every day. My youngest child, who is quite neurotypical, does not necessarily need our guidelines to be as specific as they are and he doesn’t really need rewards to motivate him as much, but it’s still been beneficial to him nonetheless. As a whole, making clear cut rules and schedules has helped us all be on the same page, remain accountable and find a flow.

I admit, there are plenty of days where I wish we didn’t have to be so confined to a schedule. Some days I feel like I just want to be able to be spontaneous and say yes to things that I know will turn our schedule on it’s ear; and some days we do choose to do that, but most days we don’t.  Because we all know we’re better off when we are sticking to the plan. Well, actually, my husband and I know that. My son doesn’t. He thinks that he would like to fly by the seat of his pants but at this time in his development he just cannot without having a very difficult time. That doesn’t have to be your approach, of course. It’s just ours because my husband and I get burnt out quickly when things get chaotic and we really have to be willing to sign up for managing that. We like to schedule our spontaneity!

So, getting back to the point, here is what we finally came up with to help our family succeed:

The Command Center! I know, it looks intense, right?
I found these clip art images from http://www.Twinkl.com under the special needs section. Some downloads are free and some you need a subscription for. I used sticky magnet sheets to make this magnet board.

A family If/Then chart. You make a list of non-negotiable expectations for your family. Then under each rule/expectation, you list the consequence for breaking that rule. And you enforce it calmly and matter of factly, but relentlessly for every time the rule is broken.

Each time out is 5 minutes, but it is longer if they still aren’t cooled down and ready to apologize.

The first couple of days that we did this my son pushed back intensely and threw massive fits. It was hard to enforce because I could tell he was experiencing meltdowns from being overwhelmed by the change, but we stuck it out and within two days the meltdowns stopped and he understood the new rules. At the same time as implementing these new family rules I also put out the daily schedule and screen time reward chart. Maybe I should have done it bit by bit but my son hates change, so I felt like doing all of the change at once would be better for him than dragging out the process of changes and meltdowns week after week. I felt like it would create unnecessary anxiety because he would stress about what else would be changing, when is the next shoe going to drop? So we went in full gusto and got it over with.

The daily schedule broke down our day in chunks beginning with waking up and ending with bedtime. Some days were different than others so we have a different schedule put out on the bulletin board for different days. Our dining room wall is pretty much a command center.

We have different schedules for weekdays, weekends, sports days, etc. On weekends we are more relaxed but still have a schedule.

The rewards chart tracked their expectations and chores in sections that they could check off throughout the day to earn minutes toward screentime. We blocked out a time in the day to cash in on the screentime earned.

How it all went down:

The first two days felt like bootcamp. On the morning of the first day, 2 hours into implementing the new system, the pest control guy actually showed up and I was in the middle of helping my son through a meltdown. If you’ve done that before then you know that it can sound very loud, scary and sometimes like your hurting your child, when you’re just trying to prevent your child from hurting himself or you. So to have someone in your home that does not know your situation at all, well it is a little nerve wracking. Our dining room table was tipped over on its side and the chairs were lined up against the wall and the house was trashed. I’d tipped the table over to prevent my son from running around it while I was chasing him in order to put him in a time out.

Normally, I would be mortified that someone was in my house during all of this, but that day I had decided to let that part of me die. I let the man in and told him to help himself around the house and to not mind us as “we were just working on something.” Lol! When he went to leave 30 minutes later, I felt incredibly seen and validated when he handed me my paperwork and said, “I hope this is okay to ask, but is your son on the spectrum?” When I told him yes he said, “I thought so. I worked with kids on the spectrum for 8 years and I just wanted to let you know you’re doing a good job with him and to keep doing what you’re doing.” I literally felt like God sent an angel in a pest control uniform to reassure me that morning. Because there were definitely times I was wondering if what I was doing was somehow hurting my son because he was struggling so much and in so much distress. 

But he was right. It has been maybe two months since day 1 and making these changes and sticking with it has helped him. He still has autistic symptoms that cause him to struggle of course, but the certainty of what is expected of him every single day has helped him push through anxiety and the lack of motivation that was too much for him to move past before. He is in control of the outcome of his day and each day he gets a new start and learns from the day before. The meltdowns still happen but it’s usually not due to our rules, it’s due to other things like fatigue, hunger and the uncertainties and pressures of life outside of our daily schedule. At home, he knows exactly what is expected of him and in that he gets some rest from the confusing world.

He now does his school work on most days and if he is combative, he usually turns it around in less than half the time he used to (5, 10 or 15 minutes instead of an hour). There are occassional days that he will choose to go on strike but instead of getting mad I know I can just enforce the consequence and he will learn from it. And he does. He apologizes for things and listens to warnings more quickly. I’d like to be clear, I do still get mad. I am human! He pushes my buttons and frustrates me, there is no doubt about that. But now that I have a plan and know how to proceed, I am usually able to remind myself to keep my anger in check. I can remind myself that I don’t *need* to get mad or yell because I’ve found something that works much better. This has been worth the effort.

If you feel like this would help your kids but you want more details or have questions, please contact me and I can share the files of the charts we’ve made with you and explain how we follow it more specifically. If all of this looks crazy to you, I get that too! This is just what we do to survive and thrive in our home and it’s definitely not for everyone. It’s important to me to share what works for us in case it could be helpful to someone else who is lost and overwhelmed. There have been many who have helped me along the way ❤

-Erin

It’s not always a walk in the park…

So up until this point I’m not sure what conclusions you may have drawn about my children and I’s homeschool journey. But if I somehow made you feel like our journey is a beautiful classical education decorated with perfectly behaved kids and a well-put together educator, I’ve led you astray! My posts are written to help and they are honest because I write all sides of my truth. There are neat, organized sides. And there are messy, train-wreck sides. Let’s discuss the ladder today. Today wasn’t a train wreck but it had a few stumbling blocks.

I have young boys. They would much prefer to be wrestling and kickboxing each other in the backdrop of our dining room while listening to a Mortal Kombat soundtrack, then to be sitting and quietly coloring anything. They also have a stubborn rebellious streak. They might get it from me, but I don’t remember myself being this intense! The funnest part is that when the more rebellious one decides to put his foot down, fold his arms and refuse to budge, the less rebellious one decides he ought to do the same.

My kids totally do better with structure and limits on screen time. It’s crazy. If I don’t put the limits on it, they completely forget how to play or that they even have toys. I got a little loosey goosey with the screen time schedule mid-summer and I watched their attitudes deteriorate. But when the restrictions are on, they begin to play and act like normal kids again and my heart is happy. That doesn’t mean they become magically compliant though.

Take this week for example: we’re doing a light start to our school year this week by just doing a one hour (if even that) block for Bible and memory work and then they have the day to do chores, play, read, etc. The first two days went beautifully. And then this morning, they both decided to go on strike. We prayed and read and talked about humility. It took maybe 5 minutes. Then I took out a dreaded coloring page. Boom. Kid #1 folded his arms and said, “I’m not doing that.” Kid #2 followed his lead and took a pencil and started scribbling all over it.

Ummm…I am not a natural born teacher AT ALL, so this is the moment where if anyone wants to drop suggestions in the comments you absolutely are welcome to. But for me, this kind of behavior doesn’t fly. It really grinds my gears, if you will. I’m not asking them to do long division. And even if I was, we all have to do things we don’t want to do at times. And I feel like I am pretty fair most of the time. We work on things by earning rewards, chore money, special treats, etc. I expect them to meet me halfway if I ask them to work on coloring, even if it doesn’t tickle their fancy in that moment. So my response to their protest was, “Everyone head to your rooms. You can come out when you’ve swallowed your rebellion and are ready to do your schoolwork.”  Fun mom has left the building.

This literally just happened so I’m actually still wondering how I can get them to turn it around. I came in my room to write while I mull it over. I think I am going to try positive reinforcement, also known as bribery. I don’t know how that works out in terms of character development, but that’s what my son’s behavioral analyst promotes and it’s been working all summer on other behaviors. I will let you know how it works out. I’m going in!

***Update***

I went out to propose my bribe. I went with the 15 minute screen time tickets we’ve been using over the summer for good behavior. I will post about those later. To my surprise, I found child #2 already at his desk almost completely done with his picture. I asked him why he decided to do his work and he said, “I didn’t want to sit in my room all day so I figured this would be better.” I gave him a ticket for turning it around on his own. Child #2 was still in his room sulking when I suggested he do his work for a screen time ticket. He said, “Fine. But I really don’t want to color this because it’s a picture with two girls and it says, ‘I am humble’ underneath it. But I am a boy.” That made logical sense to me, so I asked him if he’d like to draw a picture of two boys being humble instead. He agreed and drew a picture of himself being humble by helping another boy. I gave him a ticket for explaining why he was upset and turning it around. We were able to finish the rest of our work. Of course, it’s not always going to pan out well so quickly as it did today, we’ve had our share of train wreck days in the past despite all of my efforts. But I’ll take a win when I can get one and try to remeber this approach for next time. Time outs and bribery for the win, guys.

Stay sane,

Erin

Faith the size of a mustard seed

Welcome. If you have stumbled upon my page while looking for encouragement or practical advice relating to homeschooling, I hope you’ll stick around and check back in regularly and that I can be helpful to you. I am here writing for the beginners. For the parent that has been thrust into considering homeschooling for whatever reason and never thought they would embark upon this kind of journey. For the parent who is trying to take it ALL in and keep their head above water amidst the overwhelming sea of information and decision making that comes with making this kind of life change.

I won’t have all the answers, that’s for sure. I don’t even have tons of experience under my belt! I’ve only been doing this for 2 years. But I suppose that’s why I have such a heart for beginners and can relate to that stage so much–because it wasn’t that long ago where I was in that same spot! So as I said, I definitely haven’t been doing this long, but I am going to be as authentic as possible in everything that I share with you about what has worked and hasn’t worked and why.

And I’m going to share with you in my posts why you are the best person on the planet for the job! If you’re anything like I was in the beginning (and even still now at times) you’re not buying that for a minute. Maybe you’re thinking you’re not educated enough or have forgotten too much of your education to homeschool your children. Maybe you think you’re not patient enough, not organized enough, not focused enough….not….ENOUGH. But the truth that I have been learning along the way is this: that is a big fat lie. And you’ve allowed yourself to be programmed to believe it for too long, so it may take some time to rewire that belief.

What does it take to start homeschooling? For me it was literally faith the size of a mustard seed. And a situation that was challenging enough to put me in a spot where I would even consider it as an option! Are you there? I get it. Let me be honest with you—I said I would never homeschool my children. A friend had mentioned it to me when my oldest child was in preschool and struggling with some things. I scoffed at the idea. I was fine with the early childhood stuff but there was no way I could teach them the foundations of their education. I couldn’t be responsible to teach them to read or write or learn math concepts—I didn’t even understand math concepts myself! I had forgotten all of those as soon as I passed the required tests in school!

No, I definitely wouldn’t homeschool my kids and mess up their education. Plus I needed the break that came with them being in public school. My kids were two years apart and non-stop, on-the-go boys and we were just finally reaching the stage where one of them was heading off to preschool! I was a little excited at the prospect of my youngest heading off a couple years down the road as well and having actual ALONE time!

Well, my situation, you know, the one that put me into the spot to even consider homeschool, came in the form of my kindergartner with special needs and an IEP, struggling so badly to fit into the public school box that he was being sent home a couple times a week. The teachers and special education staff simply didn’t know what to do with his struggles inside the classroom and they wouldn’t provide the full accommodations that were written into his IEP. It was frustrating and I didn’t feel comfortable sending a part of my heart off to a place where the people didn’t know what to do other than send him back home to his mama. I’d been wrestling with the thought of not sending him back at all for weeks as things got worse and worse at school. I knew that keeping him home would mean that his education would rest on my shoulders. There were only two doors. I kept looking for a third door, but it never showed up. God just gave me the two. The one I walked through required faith. All I could muster up was faith the size of a mustard seed, but if you know of this biblical parable, then you know that God says that is enough! I’d prayed and prayed and talked with my husband and church family a lot in those weeks. We decided to walk through the homeschooling door and we decided to homeschool our youngest child as well, who was 3 at the time.

It’s been two years now and we’ve come along way. The kids have learned to read and write and do math, oh my! And they’re quite good at it, I must say. And their mama is learning to break out of the public school education box that she grew up in. I’m learning to see education differently. It’s more about quality and less about test scores. And from that, I am seeing them absorb more and have more time to study what interests them. I hope you’ll come back to visit and read about our experiences and homeschooling in general. I’m looking forward to sharing what I’ve been learning with you. If you’re considering homeschooling or are new to it and feeling overwhelmed, please feel free to email me with any topics that you’d like insight on. Thanks for reading!