Monday, November 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Nine

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-nine months old.

I feel like the main change this month has been within me. I feel much more free to strategize and discipline in out-of-the-box ways instead of expecting the things that work for other kids to work for you (and just ignoring the problem when they don’t). It’s also very liberating to understand that so many of your “problem behaviours” are not really behaviours; you are not acting out because you want to get attention or manipulate people; you are, in certain situations, simply not able to act any differently.

It’s also been a busy month. For Halloween, you dressed up as Wonder Woman. You had a great time trick-or-treating with your Dad. I got to go to your school that afternoon and watch all the kids in the Halloween Parade. Also, a few days before that, I got to go on your class field trip: a hayride in a pumpkin patch! That was an enormous amount of fun for both of us. I’m so glad I got a chance to enjoy that with you.

You continue to enjoy gymnastics and piano lessons, and these two extra-curricular activities are all we’re going to attempt for the time being. I see a huge improvement in your ability and your willingness to play piano, now that you are in private lessons. I’m so grateful to your amazing teacher Mrs. H. for working with you to keep the lessons fun and engaging. You seem quite devoted to her and eager to please her, which works really well!

Your school days are becoming a bit of a challenge, for reasons that have nothing to do with your academic skills and abilities. You are struggling to get along with the other kids and fit in with them. Some of this is due to the fact that your ADHD brain works differently from theirs, but a large part of it is due to typical girlhood drama. You are in a girl triangle with two other girls (A and R) and just about every day it leads to tears. Either you and A are playing together and R gets rejected, or A and R are playing together and won’t let you join … etc. Naturally, because emotional regulation and impulse control are beyond the ADHD brain, your responses to these situations are WAY over the top and lead to time-outs, interventions from the teacher, notes home to us, and so on. It’s hard to figure out how to help you navigate through this, since I’m never going to be there with you when it happens and it’s hard to predict which circumstance you’ll be facing on any given day. For the most part you are still a brave, friendly, and outgoing girl, but from time to time this effort wears on you and you break down crying that “No one likes me, I don’t have any friends.”

Your school is trying to help, though. Your teacher recommended you for a “friendship group”; for 45 minutes once a week, you and two other girls meet outside the classroom with the school’s family support worker, who helps you learn and practice social skills like approaching people, making eye contact, initiating conversation, joining play, and so on. None of these are things that come naturally to you, and I confess I don’t have a clue how to teach them to you, so I’m absolutely thrilled that someone else is helping on that score! You enjoy the group, and hopefully it will help you interact more effectively with your friends and classmates.

We’ve found some strategies at home that are working well, too. For the first time ever, you have a reward chart. It’s a very simple chart, really just a grid of squares where I can write in a running tally of numbers. You can earn points for a variety of things: completing your morning routine is 75 points, trying a new food is 10 points, practicing piano is 30 points, keeping any house rule is 10 points, and so on. Once a week, on Saturdays, we examine how many points you have, and you get to pick one reward from the list. It could be a trip to Dairy Queen (500 points), a playdate with a friend (1500 points), a family game night (800 points) … your choice. This system seems to be working for you, and I enjoy it too. It gives me many opportunities throughout the day to point out your good behavior, and reinforce it.

My favourite part of the new system is the ‘lists’ I made for each of your daily routines: morning (getting ready for school), afternoon (getting home from school), and evening (getting ready for bed). I found clipart online to represent each little piece of the routine that you needed to follow, for example:
-        Putting hat, coat, and shoes away
-        Emptying lunchbox
-        Putting leftover food in garbage or in fridge
-        Rinsing containers and putting in the recycling or the dishwasher
-        Filling water bottle and putting in fridge
-        Putting lunchbox away
-        Getting out school planner for Mom and Dad to check
-        Removing any other extra items from backpack
This looks like a huge list, but that’s just because it’s broken down into the smallest possible steps. It actually takes about three minutes to complete, if you stay on task. I printed these pictures, cut them out, and hole-punched them so they fit on a binder ring. That way, you can take the list with you from room to room as you complete the tasks (as opposed to a checklist on the wall, which you can only see when you are right in front of it). As an added bonus, the fact that you have something in your hands already tends to remind you that you are in the middle of a job, and discourages you from picking up something else and getting involved with that. Since implementing this system, the number of reminders and nagging I have to do for these routines has decreased by 60-70%. I can only imagine how that feels for YOU – for ME, it is WONDERFUL!!

We’re gearing up for Christmas now, and you wrote your letter to Santa Claus just a couple of days ago. It’s pretty cute.

Here’s the translation:

Dear Santa I hope you can bring me one of these presents.
Ipad #1
Fluttershy train #2
Spirit #3
Barbie mermaid #4 (purple)
Nutcracker #5
Monster High toque kit #6
From: Gwen
To: Santa
Thank you very much
Have a great day

Your writing has come a long way in the last couple of months, and more importantly, your willingness to write has improved a great deal. It’s pretty fun to watch you express yourself in this way. Last week we were talking about palindromes … you know, just like any other six-year-old and her mom … and I suggested that you make a list of palindromes for your Show and Tell. You were thrilled with this idea. Last year this would have made you miserable, to do so much writing. But you happily tackled the task, first making the list and then writing the list of “cloos” to help your class guess what your Show and Tell item was (no one guessed, which you tell me is the mark of a really good Show and Tell item). Your awesome teacher then launched into a lesson about palindromes. How cool is that? I bet your Uncle Mikey would be super proud!

Mom 1
Mmm 2
Dad 3
Racecar 5
Bob 6
Otto 7
Wow 8
Aha 9
It is a kind of word 1
It has mom and dad 2
I made it 3

(Yeah … you have a thing about writing her numbered lists with the numbers after the item? I don’t know.)
Well, that's it for this month, Gwen. You are an awesome kid - bright, caring, funny, creative, interesting, and fun - and we are so glad to be your parents.


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