Thursday, May 28, 2009
A Challenge and "I didn't do it!"
When you are parenting a struggling learner, you may find that you are having to correct or redirect them more frequently than other children. As a homeschooler, you have to work on academics throughout the day and behavioral issues can pop up constantly. It's not necessarily negative behavior or willful defiance from our kids, but inattention and impulsivity can cause problems that need to be addressed often. Have you ever felt like a "NO!" machine? Or a verbal "STOP" sign in your child's life? I know I have, and it saddened me to realize it because it wasn't the Mom I wanted to be or what my kids needed. But in a way, it seems necessary to keep them safe, prevent damage to property, and teach them how to behave in acceptable ways. It's especially important for kids who don't learn and remember easily, since they may have to experience something multiple times before it begins to sink in and true learning occurs. Having two children with working memory problems, I sometimes slipped into correction mode and automatically prompted my children without really keeping track of how often they were hearing negative or just neutral comments from me. I think they were probably hearing corrections about nine out of ten times when I spoke to them. Unfortunately, this would be difficult for an average child and can be devastating to a special needs child or struggling learner. Those kids need to hear encouragement and positive remarks more frequently than most, but often hear them even less than their typically developing peers. I knew I was in need of a "Mom check" when I started to hear my son say, "I didn't do it!" before he even knew what I wanted to talk to him about. If a car backfired on the street, Josh was conditioned to shout, "I didn't do it!" just to be sure his innocence in the matter was clear. If dirty dishes were left on the table and I wanted someone to put them in the dishwasher, Josh would respond with "I didn't do it!" and then he would comply with my request. Whoa. That's pretty sad, isn't it? The thing is, often Josh did do things that needed to be addressed. He didn't learn from just an experience or two, and often took up to six months to remember three simple rules. So yes, he did have a lot of Mom input in his life. And it's valid to say that he truly needed that level of intensive input. Where I dropped the ball was in not recognizing that he also needed the same level of intensive encouragement. Learning was harder for Josh, but he really tried to please and it's not like he struggled on purpose. I needed to acknowledge that more, and had to make a very concerted effort to include praise as part of my Mom skill set with all my kids, but especially with my struggling learners Josh and Beckie. So here's a challenge for you. If you are ready to take a closer look at your own Mom responses, get a couple of golf clickers or maybe a couple of row counters like knitters use. Keep one clicker in one pocket to track the number of negative, corrective, or neutral comments. Put the other clicker in a different pocket and use it to track the number of positive and encouraging remarks you say. You could track it for 15 minutes, an hour, or for one full day. At the end of your tracking period, compare the number of positives to negatives and see how you did. A general rule is to aim for 3 positive comments for every negative one. It's not easy to do for some of us, and like any new habit will take effort and repetition to develop. I'd love to hear how this goes for you!