Thursday, November 11, 2010

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

What I wish I knew...

I got a comment and an email about adopting teenagers and it got me thinking about what the most helpful things I could tell someone, which got me thinking about what I would like to go back and tell myself. I started a list and found myself really wishing it were possible to send a note back to me. I thought I would share it with you, but let's be clear. This is what I would have like to know. You experience may differ.

1. if anyone tells you that if you do X, you will make long-term changes in the child's behavior, stop listening to that person.

2. punishment doesn't work at all and rewards systems only have short-term results. (At least for you, they might work for other people but you suck at behavior mod).

3. human beings do not learn when they are agitated.

4. children/teens change their behavior over time if/when they develop a relationship with you and start trying to be more like you. This means: (a) you will not be successful getting a kid to do something that you or your spouse do not do. As long as you leave your papers and stuff in the living room and Roland leaves dirty dishes everywhere, the kids will do the same; and (b) when you have messed up, lost your temper or whatever, you have provided the perfect situation to model appropriate response to set-backs. You don't expect your kids to be perfect, so model being reasonable with yourself. Calm yourself down, apologize if appropriate, try again.

5. Telling a teen "when you did not come home when I expected last night, I was very worried. I kept imagining bad things happening to you. It's important for you to come home when you say you will and to CALL ME if you can't" actually works BETTER than grounding them for breaking curfew (see #2 above).  This does NOT mean this is a technique that will make dramatic changes in their behavior (see #1) just that it is a better strategy.

6. Only try to make and enforce rules that are about keeping everyone safe and sane, not about trying to make them a better person (see #4 above). Keep the list short (e.g "Everyone knows where everyone is'). "Enforce" the rules by following them and reminding teens that behavior is required of everyone in this family. If you do keep the list short and reasonable and follow the rules yourself, you will be surprised at how well the kids accept and try to follow them.

7. Do yourself a favor and let go of academic goals right away. You can be helpful by asking kids what grades they need to meet THEIR goals. If they say, "All I need to do is pass" take a breath and say "Okay, do you need any help from me to do that?"

8. Telling them what the consequences of their actions is most helpful if they don't already know what they are. Reminding them that if they fail they will have to take summer school is not helpful. Making sure they know that they will have to WALK to summer school may actually change their plan for success.

9. The best training you will ever do to learn how to put this in practice you will get in Al-Anon meetings.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

May I vent?


Here's the thing: Gary loves martial arts. He switches gyms/dojos regularly, but he loves doing it. He loves feeling powerful and being able to submit guys. I get that. It makes all kinds of sense.I would prefer he stay with one gym, but I can't even explain to myself why. I mean there are certain advantages, like getting belts, but he doesn't seem to care. I should not that it is not his PLAN to change gyms regularly. It is not part of a plan to master different styles and techniques. He just changes. He has a reason every time, but I don't remember all of them.

Here is the second part: he gets hurt. A lot.

When he first came to me I learned that if Gary said, "that hurts" that translated into "I am in severe pain and I need help right now." Now however he has adapted to having a mommy. Now he says, "I hurt my shoulder. It hurts right here. I think I might have torn or dislocated something. I can't use my arm at all. I literally can't even lift it." Then I take him to the doctor, or more recently tell him to take himself. The doctor gives him some advice that he does not follow and after a couple of days he is using his arm (or other previously injured body part) without significant pain.

I get frustrated on a couple of levels. First, I am a philosopher and I accept pain as a REASON not to do something. If you put you hand in the fire and it hurts that means you should not put your hand in the fire again. I do also understand that there are sometimes reasons why you have to do something you know is painful. Normally if I am beginning to have trouble with my asthma I sit and breathe quietly. I don't keep doing the thing that is bringing on the attack (exercises in the cold, grooming the dog). However, when Gary was panicked while swimming across the lake, I just made myself keep going, knowing I was going to make the asthma worse. Then I made sure he wasn't planning on swimming across the lake again.

So I suppose I take as axiomatic "if something causes you pain, stop doing it unless you really, really have to do it. Then do what you can to avoid being in that situation again." I have assumed that even athlete held it to some degree. Injuries result in poor athletic performance and so an athlete would presumably try to avoid injury while engaging in activities that are still high-risk to injury. It is a perspective that I can imagine some rational person having. I'm have more trouble understanding the motivation for such a perspective when there perfectly wonderful books to read, but not everyone is the same.

But Gary keeps injuring himself. He describes the pain a debilitating. He tells me how serious it is. He goes to the physician of his own free will and then never does what they tell him to. Well, he will go to physical therapy, but he won't rest or continue exercises like he should.Then he does it again.

Okay, so I can accept all that. I don't get it, although if it were your child I would tell you how perfectly normal it was and how you should not get yourself too worked up trying to change it. .I would nod, hold your hand, try to get you to laugh at the insanity of teenagers, and tell you that brain development isn't complete until age 25.

But it is my child and it is making me a little nuts.

He called me early this morning.

"Remember how I said I hurt my knee so bad that I couldn't walk?"
"Well, I told you."
"I went to bed early. Maybe you just told Roland?"
"No I told you. ANYway my knee hurts really bad. like on a scale of one to ten it is a nine."
"Okay." I just don't have the oh-my-god-how-awful-let-me-take-care-of-you-response anymore.
"So what should I do?"
"What do you think you need to do?"
"Well, do we have a leg brace or crutches or anything?"
"Well, okay. I don't know how I am going to get around."
"The school nurse might have something. Remember you said you would take the dog to the groomer. If you want to drive by my work I can go with you so I can get the dog, walk it in and stuff like that."
"No, I can do THAT."
"Okay, well, let me know if you need anything."
"Okay, bye."

As you can see, I am a cold-hearted bitch.

He called 10 minutes later. "I think I should go see the doctor."
"How can I get the money for the co-pay?"
"Tell them to bill us, they will."
"Good. My knee cap is like just floating. I think I dislocated my knee and probably tore something and that is like really, really bad."
"Then the doctor may give you a brace to wear for a few weeks."
"I'll take it off! They can't make me wear a brace!"
I'm on the other end, saying nothing, shaking my head, and sort of laughing.
"I just don't understand you."
"What do you mean? I HURT MY KNEE."
"I know. and you are going to go to the doctor, not do what he says, and then get injured again."
I take a couple of deep breathes. "Honey, if you can't get the dog to the groomers, please call and cancel the appointment."
"Okay. I don't see what's so funny though."
"I love you. Let me know if there is anything I can do to help."
"Okay, bye."

True story.

Venting complete (for now).