We have been in somewhat of a rut around here lately, as far as school goes. Normally I have our week planned out by subject – we do pages in our math workbooks, our spelling and phonics workbooks, we read our FIAR book and discuss the various topics, and we cover our History and Science reading and activities. The last two weeks, however, have not been productive at all. I think there are several things going on. I have been burning the candle at both ends around here working to get a new project ready (this will be an upcoming post!) so I have been tired and not really on the ball as far as planning out the week in advance. The house needs some additional attention lately so I have been wanting to spend more time cleaning and organizing. Life ebbs and flows so I am going with the rhythm – we read more, do chores together, and Kyri has had a lot of time to do crafts (which of course adds to the mess…). One reason I have pulled back a little from our school schedule has been because of Kyri’s behavior. I’ve been spending more time really listening to Kyri, not just to what she is saying, but also to the unspoken – her emotional needs, her feelings. I was inspired by a recent post over at Simple Homeschool to share our struggles and how listening has really played a role in turning things around for us.
A little background – Kyri can be easily frustrated, and will start getting huffy about something, and it takes very little to push her into a full tantrum once she gets like this. Once she is in a fullblown tantrum, she can’t calm herself down, and we just have to let it run its course and she wears herself out. This is obviously very difficult to deal with, and we have struggled to figure out what sets off this response. Over the past few months we have actually made a lot of progress with regards to her behavior issues. I recently read Beyond Time-Out: From Chaos to Calm and found it to be quite helpful. This book goes into the power struggle that occurs between parent and child, and how there is an unconscious push by the child to be in control.The author goes into several parenting styles, and discusses how each style elicits a (usually negative) response, and how to reestablish a healthy balance. I read this book through, and found myself nodding along as I read the section that described my parenting style. It was if the author was a wallflower in my house, observing my interactions with my daughter. The book goes through a series of steps to reestablish control and actually use time-outs as a means of correction. To be honest, we have never really used time-out – it wasn’t something we really knew how to put in place and enforce in the past. As an example, when we both worked, we frequently struggled to get out the door on time in the morning because inevitably Kyri would have a meltdown right before leaving, usually about her pants or shoes. This would turn into a major battle and involve her stripping, and us struggling to redress her and try to get out the door. This ordeal usually took close to an hour. She would be in full meltdown stage and it would sour the rest of the morning for both of us. We did not have any way of effectively dealing with this behavior. The book discusses reestablishing a healthy balance in the parent-child relationship, something I believe we were lacking, most likely due to not having enough attention on home issues with both of us working so much. Realizing what my parenting style was, and how to change it has been helpful. I am now mindful of how I speak to Kyri (on most days – sometimes my frustration gets the better of me and I find myself yelling more than I would like). We now use time-outs and they actually make a difference. We start before her behavior gets out of control – we tell her (not yelling) that this (whatever it happens to be) is going to get her a 5-minute time-out in her room. She knows she has a limited number of these “reminders” before she is walked upstairs to her room for a time-out. She’s not put in a corner, she has full run of her room. It is a time for her to collect herself and do her own thing. Most days, this works well. The days we struggle with it are when we are easily frustrated and don’t come with a calm approach. Its easy to get frustrated with a child and be short-tempered in our responses, but the kids pick up on our emotions and respond to that. One thing that I find amazing is that Kyri now calms herself down fairly quickly when she goes to her room. She pulls books off her shelf and reads aloud, and the reading calms her down. Incredible. I recently came across a “calm-down basket” – its a basket that a mom put together with several books (on various subjects but also on anger and lashing out) as well as a sensory box. I think this is a great idea and I think we might be able to incorporate this into our response rather than going the time-out route.
Another resource I have found recently has been Simplicity Parenting: Using the Extraordinary Power of Less to Raise Calmer, Happier, and More Secure Kids. Its been incredible reading how a lot of behavior issues with children can really be attributed to them having too much. Too much to choose from, too much stimulation. In our household, we are not big television watchers. We ditched cable and use Netflix for shows or movies if we want to watch something. Kyri watches kids shows like Kipper, and Backyardigans and Disney shows – she was never allowed to watch Nickolodeon or Cartoon network type shows. But with both of us working, it was easy to come home and plug her into Backyardigans to have a little while to unwind and make dinner. Now that I am home with her during the day, she watches a lot less, but still more than is healthy. The television really IS the electonic babysitter, used to keep kids out from under your feet when making dinner, or when mommy needs a break for a few minutes. But television sucks the children in – taking their full attention and overstimulating their brain. Then when we turn it off and expect them to behave calmly, their brains are still wired, and we have behavior problems. The solution is simple – turn off the tv! Simple solution, right? We know, without a doubt, that television watching negatively affects Kyri’s behavior. When we allow her to have a lot of screen time, day in and day out, we ALWAYS see problems. We have cut out screen time previously and have seen positive results. We tend to slip and use “the babysitter” when we have a lot of household issues that need tending and,honestly need her out from under our feet. But we always pay the price, and we know better. One thing that has worked has been to limit television to the weekends. Screen time is a weekend priviledge and good behavior and helping mom out during the week results in this priviledge. She can watch a few shows or a movie. She looks forward to it during the week. An interesting thing that I have observed, however, is that doing it this way results in her watching less tv on the weekend than I would expect. She watches a show or two and then finds something else to do. She doesn’t seem to want to sit and watch hours of television. I think this only happens when she watches tv day after day. Another point made in this book was about children having too many choices for toys. A room full of toys can be frustrating, because its overwhelming. Kids need simple. I actually boxed up a bunch of her toys, and on occasion I take some out to put into rotation. She plays happily with what is in her room.
Okay, so back to listening to Kyri. We have come a long way from where we were a year or even six months ago as far as her behavior goes. But we still struggle sometimes. Sometimes she is tired and cranky (I NEVER expect much from her around 3 or 4 PM) and sometimes I am cranky and short-tempered with her. But overall we are doing much better. But sometimes, when we are doing our school work, she gets a bit of an attitude and does not want to participate. There is a fine line between pushing her to do her work and making school a negative experience. I push a bit because she needs to know that sometimes we are not in the mood but we still need to do our work anyway. But I don’t want to be a drill seargent and make her hate learning. So I will back off a little and go on to a different subject and (hopefully) go back to whatever was frustrating her near the end of our school time. She will turn around in her chair so that her back faces me and won’t talk to me. If I push a little too much, she gets huffy and then it progresses quickly to a tantrum. So I am in a tough spot – when she tantrums she goes into a time-out in her room to calm down. But I don’t want her to associate school with time-outs and negative consequences. So I am trying to figure out WHAT it is that is eliciting this response from her. Sometimes she’s fine doing math sheets or flash cards. Sometimes she hates math. Lately I have been trying to be flexible (not always easy for me!) and remind myself that I am teaching HER and not the other way around. I need to use methods that SHE responds to. If it isn’t a workbook day for HER, I need to adjust accordingly. I don’t want her hating school. For example, we have been doing addition, subtraction and place value. Place value frustrates her. But I know she is a tactile learner, so we sat down with river rocks from the craft store and essentially did what the place value workbooks were doing, but instead of her getting frustrated, she responded and enjoyed the lesson. Then, to get her engaged with addition and subtraction drills, I put a giant number line on my livingroom floor using blue painters tape. I marked off 0 – 20. Kyri started off at 0 and I would read the flash card math problem to her. She had to go the first number, move forward or backward and then tell me the answer. She LOVED this! We did this for quite a while – I finally had to insist we stop for lunch. Then she was so excited to show Daddy when he got home from work! I have to let go of the need to “do” school my way – if teaching her math involves jumping around on the floor doing drills, or counting rocks, rather than pages in a workbook, then so be it. I don’t want to be a bully teacher – its not worth it. She will end up hating school (and learning!) and I will lose out on the wonderful relationship we have. This flexibility is part of the beauty of homeschool!
I have also been listening more to Kyri about what she is feeling. When she gets upset, she bottles it up and won’t tell you what is bothering her. I have not figured out a way to get inside her head during moments like this until recently. Kyri LOVES writing – she writes little stories and sentences and notes to people. So recently when she was upset about something but didn’t want to talk about it, I asked her if she wanted to write it down. She nodded her head. I got a simple spiral-bound notebook and told her that she could “narrate” to me what she wanted to write down about was upsetting her. She might say words or phrases, and I help her form sentences, but I don’t respond to what she is saying – my role is just to help her get her feelings down on paper. This has been an amazing tool – I help her express her feelings without judging her, being critical or even trying to “fix” what is bothering her. I just listen and write down her words. Listening to her, really listening to her, has made such a difference in our day.