Catch your kids being good with help from Maya Angelou

Tania writes:

“Catch them being good” is the oft-repeated advice to help encourage positive behaviour in children. And it’s good advice. But when your child has a behavioural disorder such as ADHD or Oppositional Defiance Disorder, it can be very hard to do.

For one, you are probably on your last nerve and your child seems to be determined to get on it. For another, you probably feel that you’ve tried all the ‘good advice’ and your child is resistant to all of it.

But, as the parent of two, now teenage, boys both of whom have Asperger Syndrome and one with ADHD and the other ADD, I would urge any parent in this position to keep trying with this particular piece of advice, even if you have to do it, at times, through gritted teeth.

Angelou quote 1It’s also difficult to remember, especially when you’re exhausted and the mere sight of the source of your angst, little Jane or Johnny, can make your stress levels soar. You’re constantly on the edge, waiting for the next crisis to blow-up. Parenting can feel like fire-fighting, with little time for fun.

Being a parent/carer of a child with special needs can be like being in a battle zone with other parents of ‘regular children’ sitting on the sidelines tut-tutting and always ready to tell you your tactics are all wrong.

“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

The above quote by American writer, Dr Maya Angelou, is what ‘Catching them being good’ for children with behavioural issues is about. It’s not the words you use or the action you praise, it’s about the self-esteem you are building in your child by doing it.

These children may look like nothing bothers them but you would be very wrong to think that. Every harsh word, brush-off, dressing down and punishment is keenly felt as rejection and the constant message that they are bad, unwanted and not worth loving.

So how do you do it? How do you step outside your own heart-ache, despair and sense of parental failure to build up the self-esteem of the source of your stress?

Here are a few tips that worked for us. They may work for you, they may not, but watchfulness will give you clues as to what does work for your child. You have to build on this and not give up. Of course I am not a child psychologist, I’m a parent, like you, and so I am speaking from my own direct experience.

1. Make a list of your child’s difficult behaviours. This may include being super-fast to anger, screaming, hurting other siblings/children, being unable to sit still at the table, not responding when spoken to, refusing to wash or go to bed or walk safely outside etc. Making a list when you are sitting quietly and calmly can also help you begin to identify triggers for particular behaviours.

2. Now you have the list in your head, you know what to look out for. So, when your child has sat at the table for even five minutes, praise them. It’s tempting to ignore it while they’re being good in case mentioning it sets them off, but this is a long process and you will both learn as you go along. “It’s so nice to see you sitting in your seat, it makes me really enjoy being with you at dinner time.”

Angelou quote 2See, this is not just, “Well done for sitting still” which really means nothing. You are, instead identifying the positive behaviour and backing it up with a positive effect it has had.

Another scenario: If you have identified some potential triggers from your list and you realise such a situation is about to arise, don’t wait for it to happen and then react. Step in with your praise first.

Perhaps your child finds not being first in the queue really hard, or not winning on Sports Day overly distressing (both experienced by Son1). Just ahead of time, say to your child that you understand that they find not being first really tough to cope with and you will be very impressed if they can hold it together if the worst happens.

So here, you are validating their feelings so they know it’s okay to feel bad if something doesn’t go as they planned, but you are giving them another option for a reaction. Personally, in this situation, I would also offer a small reward.

If they don’t manage to hold it together, console them rather than reprimand them. I know that Son1 had no confidence that he could control this overwhelming need for being first, but by praising each small step and helping him see that he had done the best he could, helped him to eventually overcome it.

“I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.” Maya Angelou

Don’t give them mountains to climb though, praise small positive behaviours and begin to build up confidence.

Will it work first time? Maybe, maybe not, but don’t give up. Because :

  1. Your child will begin to see that you understand what makes them tick and this will increase trust.
  2. You will begin to feel more in control because instead of throwing up your hands and wondering WHY s/he does this, you will know and be in a position to help.
  3. Eventually your child will begin to see that they have a choice over how they react to situations. This is a huge skill and something many adults don’t even know.

angelou quote 3“Nothing will work unless you do.” Maya Angelou

So, it’s not a quick fix, by any means. But my child was worth investing the effort in. From being the recipient of behaviour charts in reception, alienating other children and being, at times, uncontrollable, Son1, now 15, is in one month’s time joining a school World Challenge expedition to Tanzania to climb Kilimanjaro and  carry out project work.

I am immensely proud of him and the way he has been enabled to work out many of his difficulties with the help of his Dad, myself and his specialist school.

I hope this might help you with your child. Or maybe you have some tips of your own that you could share?

“What’s the difference between a problem child and a child with a genuine problem? – Video

I’m delighted to highlight a programme about identifying a child with ADHD. Do you recognise your child from the descriptions in the video?

“What’s the difference between a problem child and a child with a genuine problem?

Watch our webTV show where Lorrine Marer, Behavioural Specialist and ADHD Coach, shares her practical advice on the subject.

With Christmas just around the corner, children are sure to become easily distracted, excitable and impatient at the thought of all the presents they soon get to unwrap.

Along with all the added stress of present buying and manically organizing Christmas parties, this time of year can also be a nightmare for mums and dads when it comes to handling their child’s behaviour. This could not only be affecting home life but also having an impact in the classroom and proving to be a distraction for other children at school. Furthermore, figuring out whether your child is just being a typical excited kid at Christmas, or whether they might need specialist help with their behaviour, can be hard to decipher during the festive season.

So how can you really tell whether your child is suffering from a genuine problem or whether their inability to focus is just ordinary child behaviour? Do you feel at your wit’s end, or do you often think you might be reading too much into the way your child behaves?

If you answered yes to any of the above then watch our webTV show on Monday 12th December at 2.30pm with Lorrine Marer, behavioural and ADHD expert who will give her practical on the subject.

Watch our webTV show on: http://www.studiotalk.tv/show/whats-the-difference-between-a-problem-child-and-a-child-with-a-genuine-problem

The Misunderstood Child – by Kathy Winters

This wonderful poem has been around for a while but I thought it might strike a chord with some of you so I thought I would share it here.

The Misunderstood Child
A poem about children with hidden disabilities

by Kathy Winters

I am the child that looks healthy and fine.
I was born with ten fingers and toes.
But something is different, somewhere in my mind,
And what it is, nobody knows.

I am the child that struggles in school,
Though they say that I’m perfectly smart.
They tell me I’m lazy — can learn if I try —
But I don’t seem to know where to start.

I am the child that won’t wear the clothes
Which hurt me or bother my feet.
I dread sudden noises, can’t handle most smells,
And tastes — there are few foods I’ll eat.

I am the child that can’t catch the ball
And runs with an awkward gait.
I am the one chosen last on the team
And I cringe as I stand there and wait.

I am the child with whom no one will play —
The one that gets bullied and teased.
I try to fit in and I want to be liked,
But nothing I do seems to please.

I am the child that tantrums and freaks
Over things that seem petty and trite.
You’ll never know how I panic inside,
When I’m lost in my anger and fright.

I am the child that fidgets and squirms
Though I’m told to sit still and be good.
Do you think that I choose to be out of control?
Don’t you know that I would if I could?

I am the child with the broken heart
Though I act like I don’t really care.
Perhaps there’s a reason God made me this way —
Some message he sent me to share.

For I am the child that needs to be loved
And accepted and valued too.
I am the child that is misunderstood.
I am different – but look just like you.

Mother Needs Help For Self-Harming Son

I have just been contacted through this site by Sharon, a mother from Kent, whose son has been excluded from school following incidents of self-harming.

She writes, “My ADHD, ASD, Dyslexic, self-harming son, has just been excluded from school, because they don’t think Luke trying to strangle himself in class or him regularly saying he wants to kill himself, is a good role model for the other pupils. Their answer, discriminate (against) Luke for his disability. He needs support, not rejection and that’s all this exclusion is to him, rejection!”

This is apparently the second time Luke’s school has excluded him. His mother, Sharon, believes it is not Luke’s fault but it is because the staff in his mainstream school are not trained to deal with ADHD or Autistic Spectrum children.

Sharon is at her wits end. She says, among other self-harming incidents, her son has also tried to hang himself in the school’s P.E. cupboard. I have recommended that she contact SOS!SEN. Luke has been refused a Statutory Assessment Kent LEA and his parents have appealed to the SENDIST tribunal, which will be heard later this year.

Sharon says, “It looks like Luke will not have a secondary school to go to this year. The tribunal is only for a Statutory Assessment, then we need to go through the whole process yet again for a statement! We have already been to CAMHS for over a year now. No counselling, he was put on a waiting list for a ASD assessment, but there was a 13 month waiting list for that. The last time we went to CAMHS a new Dr. saw Luke and we now have a diagnosis of ADHD & ASD tendencies. Were awaiting a dyslexia test, and counselling for the self harming, which is quite evident to everyone, but they chose to ignore it, or put it down to bad parenting!”

Sharon says that Luke’s primary school failed to get him the help he needed and his problems are now worse as a result. I don’t know all the details of Luke’s case but it certainly seems to be an impossible situation to be in. However, it isn’t sadly, unique. Why is it that children in severe need of help with psychological problems are so often failed by those professionals around them?

I send my best wishes to Sharon and hope she manages to get the education and counselling for Luke that he deserves. If anyone reading this can offer free legal or medical advice to sharon, please contact me at info@specialneedsjungle.co.uk or make a comment below. Thank you.

Celebrate Calm – well worth signing up for.

I am taking the liberty of quoting from an email newsletter I subscribe to ‘Celebrate Calm, written by Kirk Martin. It is about his son who, like many of our children, marches to the beat of his own drum:

“The following message is very personal and my wife never likes me sharing it, but it seems to strike a chord with people and provide helpful perspective. I wrote this about Casey several years ago–for those who have met him at the workshops, you know that Casey is no longer a little boy (except at heart)!

I look at other people’s kids who are compliant, excel in school and are sailing through childhood. And I really like those kids, I do. At one point, I wanted a child like that and wished I had an easy kid at home. But now? I wrote the following one night after peeking in at my son sleeping. I encourage you to do the same. I hope you will discover some common feelings toward your child.

The Beat of a Different Drummer
I peek in at him late at night lying in bed, fast asleep, my no-longer-little guy sprawled out across his bed, long unruly mess of hair covering his face. . .and I smile. I smile because he is full of personality. He is so different than me in many ways, different than my expectations, different than the little boy I had always imagined. And for that I am grateful. He’s his own person, knows what he likes and doesn’t like. I look in at him, peaceful and innocent while he sleeps. The fight is gone and his little mind is resting. He’s gone full force for the last sixteen hours, he needs a break.

I like it that he pushes the limits, like it that he questions everything, because one day he’s going to do something spectacular. Along the way, he’s going to make some big mistakes, but he’s going to live large and dream large. Underneath the spunk and mouth is a heart not only lined with gold, but filled with it. It is large and feeling, and it wants to do good even when his impulses lead him astray at times.

I think God must look down and confuse him with a little tornado. But I also think God looks down and likes what He has created, likes the little tornado who is growing into a man.

I think He sees Himself in my little boy, funny as that sounds. The part of God who is the Creator, who by the sheer force of His energy and being created life and all that is in the world. The part of God who was willing to step into humanity and persevere on a rugged cross because it would help people. The part of God who walked among men, largely misunderstood, often reviled because He was different and didn’t do things the way the rulers of His era thought they should be done.

But He kept going. Because He, too, had a mission. He didn’t care what others thought. His vision was larger than a mere thirty-three years on earth.

I think God must see Himself in the part that sometimes misses out on earthly things because he’s in tune with something deep inside another person. The part who remains an idealist even when the world around him is less than ideal. The part that isn’t afraid to look into eternity and see better things in all of us.

That is my son sleeping there. We fought each other until we couldn’t fight anymore. Until I realized that I was the one who needed to change, because I wasn’t going to change his nature. Perhaps he has been given to me so that I would change.

That is my son. Sometimes he inspires anger, sometimes frustration. Then he makes me laugh, even smile in resignation. And as I look at him, he makes me cry. He is a wonderful creation. Through all the struggles, I can see the imprints of the Creator.

He is my son. He marches to the beat of a different drummer. Thank God.”

I hope he won’t mind me republishing this but these emails have always been very helpful to me and are well worth signing up for. He also has a range of self-help CDs, and is US based. Find him here: http://www.celebratecalm.com/