After School…What Happens Now?

When August was in later elementary and middle school, the end of the school day would send me into a panic. I was about to pick up a child who was by then unmedicated, who had homework to do that he hated, who was tired and hungry. And there was a younger brother to take care of as well. So there was the same question every day: After School…What Happens Now?

We always tried to get the homework knocked out first. This had mixed results. And the negotiations would rival the purchase of a new car. Food was always involved because when the ADHD medication wears off (it has an appetite suppression side effect) he was ravenous.

But many days homework would lead to rages and running away and battles that were so out of line with the work that needed to be done. It was one of these rages that lead to his eventual RAD diagnosis. And this is something many of you can relate to. Once he started to “spin” as I would call his raging, it would last for hours. It was a long, agonizing process which may or may not have ended with finished homework.

Extra-curricular activities worked well most of the time. He loved sports because he had endless amounts of energy. The problem with that is, if there was a game or a practice that occurred right after school, there would still be homework to tackle when we got home. And the later it got and the more tired he got, the worse the chances were that any homework was going to get done.

As I mentioned, it was one of these after school failures that helped us finally discover August had reactive attachment disorder. We had spent an afternoon after school arguing over homework which devolved quickly. His anger moved into raging and violence. He threw things at me every time I got anywhere near him. I’d never seen anything like it.

The next day we took him to the doctor instead of school and there was a moment when we considered hospitalization. Instead we got an appointment with a psychiatrist and a prescription for Seroquel. For those who don’t know, this is a super-powerful anti-psychotic used mostly to treat bi-polar disorder. We were told to give it to him until he calmed down. I had a friend with bi-polar disorder. She said she took 1/4 of one. August needed four. The psychiatrist we got in to see a couple days later was the blessing that gave us the RAD diagnosis and finally set us on the correct parenting course.

This is a cute way to show early readers what needs to be done in an after school routine.

So these are just some of the things I experienced in trying to manage the after school world. One year we added in tutoring after school. You’d have thought I was taking him to the dentist twice a week. That speaks for itself. What I learned from it is that my unmedicated, tired, hungry child is not in a good place to do ANYTHING. Least of all more schoolwork. But it’s not going to get any better later in the evening. So it’s a matter of pay now or pay later. But there are a few things I found that can help:

  • DEFINITELY food
  • Some kind of outdoor exercise for a period of time (even August knew he needed that!)
  • If your child can do homework after dinner and some downtime would be a better choice, go for it!
  • Have some flexibility on the homework environment. Can they do work outside? Then let them. Can they work lying on the floor? Sure!
  • Be an advocate for your child. If the amount of homework is just too much for them, negotiate with their teacher on what fulfills the needs of learning the material without stressing out your child. Get their therapist involved if necessary.

Here is a great article about ideas for spending time after school. Some of these ideas would be great for bonding and engaging your child and might qualify for school credit depending on what your child is studying at the time. After school doesn’t have to be a crazy, stressful angry time where we are all just counting the hours until bedtime.

I loved this and certainly it shows the complexity of everything that can happen from after school to bedtime! There was also a blank one and I dropped in on the resources page in case you’d like to create one of your own!

Find a routine that works for you and make sure your child(ren) agree to the plan. Their buy-in is crucial to the success!

Until next time,

Shannon

The Philosophy of Homework

I don’t know about you all, but homework was a problem from the first day of kindergarten. It was never smooth sailing no matter how easy or how challenging the assignment. And sometimes it was a knock-down, drag-out fight. In the end, there were no winners. My relationship with August was further strained. More often than not the homework still wasn’t done. And both of us were angry and stressed at the end of an already long day. So today I impart the philosophy of homework.

As August got older, I began to be more of an advocate for him where homework was concerned. Some nights it just wasn’t possible to do homework. His head just wasn’t in the right place. We’d added tutoring one year, and after a full day of school then tutoring there was no way I could get him to sit still for yet more schooling. We’d get home and the car would barely be in the garage before he would take off. Running away rather than do homework told me all I needed to know about his anxiety where homework was concerned.

And true, some of it was good ‘ole RAD manipulation but some of it wasn’t. And now that I’m substitute teaching fairly frequently, I’m adding to my knowledge of what’s necessary when it comes to homework. I remember long ago when I was in school and got loads of homework from every teacher I’d complain, “Do they think they’re the ONLY teacher we have?” Students today have agendas and online systems and telephone systems to keep up with assignments. And so much of what they need to do can be done on computer (This is just a little whining about how good kids have it today compared to my generation!) But it seems like it’s creating a generation of students with no executive function skills at all.

But there will always be a need for homework but also a love/hate relationship where RAD kiddos are concerned. And here is what I believe the philosophy of homework should be. Homework is not:

  • Punishment
  • Busy work
  • Filling out curriculum requirements because the teacher can’t plan

Homework is:

  • Reinforcing material already taught
  • Only if necessary (if it appears the class isn’t getting the concept)
  • Only enough work to grasp the material

Now what if getting your RAD kiddo to do homework is a cage fight like I had with August? This is where your IEP can come in handy. You do have the ability to put in writing that you can negotiate the amount of homework that your child will need to complete. And in most cases your child’s teacher will work with you even if it’s not in an IEP. But absolutely do not compromise your child’s well-being and your relationship for the sake of a few math problems. Let your child know you believe homework is important, but strike a balance that preserves the calm in the home.

As soon as I started explaining August’s anxiety where homework was concerned and he and I started coming to agreements about what amount of homework was sufficient for him to complete (many times he was able to complete it all!) life got much calmer.

For some more official commentary on the pros and cons of homework check out this article from Psychology Today. And Time published research on whether or not homework is good for kids. This was in response to teachers announcing they were not giving it out anymore. As always, the solution is that you know your child best and can be their best advocate. And in the end, you don’t want to be the one doing the homework!

Until next time,

Shannon

Organizational Ideas for RAD Children

NOTE: This didn’t get done on Friday as I enjoyed my last few days with my youngest. He left yesterday (ugly crying!) so I am back to work! Thank you for your patience while I rearranged the schedule a bit!

One of the biggest issues that children with reactive attachment disorder have is with what is officially termed “executive function”. This encompasses everything that has to do with organizational skills. And for our RAD kiddos this is an area they have a real problem with.

I know for years August and I struggled to find ways to make it easier for him to keep school papers together and keep track of assignments. It seemed like we tried every combination of folder, notebook, agenda and calendar system we could find both for school and home. With mixed successes because of both his lack of executive function and unfortunately his lack of interest in school. With a dash of ADHD thrown in for good measure!

This can be a great source of stress and tension with you and your RAD kiddo. Because it’s a never ending game of “the dog ate my homework” when you are constantly trying to find assignments and papers. When schoolwork in many cases is already enough of a struggle, just finding the paper shouldn’t add to the anxiety.

So how to make the whole organization process work? There are several things you can do at home. But it really needs to be a school/home partnership to make it truly successful. 

  • Establish A Relationship with the Teacher – Of course you’re going to go to Back to School night or Meet the Teacher night or whatever it’s called where you live. But you’re going to need a method of communicating that probably goes beyond the norm. When August started school I debated about volunteering in his classroom just to be another set of ears. But I decided that it would create too much anxiety for him. But not being in the classroom means you have to have a relationship with the teachers that lets them know you’re involved. You aren’t going to let your child slide but you can communicate their issues and problem-solve together. Sometimes I would tell teachers that their homework assignments were too much for him. It just was. You know your child best. Help them help your child be successful.
  • Write it down – When August was in middle school they issued each child an agenda. They were school year-based calendars customized for their school. They were to be used to keep track of homework and projects. Teachers had the students write their homework in the agendas for that class for that day. Well that works fine if your child knows what day it is and isn’t distracted by well…everything. And fails to write it down. Nowadays I know much more information is available online but that is only if the teacher chooses to use that tool. You can make it a part of your child’s IEP (and if you don’t have an IEP, GET ONE) that their homework notes are signed off on by the teacher. That way they bring home an accurate accounting of what they need to do.
  • Try Different Timelines – When August was in kindergarten, his teacher would give them a packet of homework at the beginning of each month. That way they could work at their own pace. If they had a bad day, then they could take the day off. This is also an excellent plan for our RAD kiddos. Depending on the age, a whole month of homework may not be feasible. But maybe you could talk to the teacher about a week at a time. That way, if there was a day in the week that your RAD kiddo just isn’t in a good place, you have time to recover and move on.
  • Let them be part of the process – When setting up a homework station, let your RAD kiddo help with the location (within reason), design, colors, pens, pencils, papers, etc. RAD is very much about control and the more they feel like they have made the choices, the more likely it is they will use the space. The same will go for other aspects of organization: picking out a backpack, an agenda, folder colors and on and on.

These are some ideas that have worked for me in the past. Here are some other tips for both school and home. And this article helps to teach organizational skills outside of the school environment. Please share your tips and tricks that have worked for you. We all get better when we work together!

Until next time,

Shannon

What Happens to You When School Starts

It may seem like parents get released from summer prison when school starts. No more trying to entertain bored children who don’t seem to want to do anything you suggest. No more endless family vacations inevitably wrecked by meltdowns or horrible weather or fights or any of a million other possibilities. And school couldn’t start soon enough. But somehow it seems you’ve just jumped off the teacups and onto the roller coaster! Now there’s carpool and homework and after school activities and lunches and summer already seems light years away. So what happens to you when school starts?

It can be very easy to go on “automatic pilot” at the beginning of the school year. We get that schedule humming and feel like we’re hitting on all cylinders because we’ve not left anyone sitting on the curb at school after soccer practice (yet). And there haven’t been any calls from the dean’s office (yet). So far none of your kiddos has had a sick day (yet). But in all of your amazing planning and scheduling you’ve left out the most important person in the equation – YOU.

If you manage to keep this schedule running like clockwork you’ll be dead by Thanksgiving. There’s no way to go full steam ahead all day every day with RAD kiddos plus siblings in tow through a busy school year and not take intentional time to decompress. And I can almost guarantee on that master schedule on the kitchen wall is no “ME time” anywhere. Go look. I’ll wait.

When school starts back up and the whole world is depending on you it is the absolute best time to double down on your efforts at self-care. Especially if you find yourself with some kid-free hours during the day. If you work an additional job on top of the parenting, then those hours may be taken, but we will figure out a time to get in some quality self-care, I promise.

First let’s look at what might have gotten lost in the shuffle. I’m going to guess reading for pleasure, sleep, exercise, healthy eating, quiet time or meditation. Losing any or all of those can start to weigh on you mentally and physically after just a few days not to mention weeks if you are deprived of them.

But you may feel guilty about trying to spend that much time when the schedule is so overloaded with the chaos of school. So we will have to move into “wild” self-care; finding time for yourself in the maybe the more unlikely of times and spaces!

  • Reading in the carpool lane – I always kept a book in the car. Even if I was reading something else in the house. I kept something in the car to read while I was waiting to pick whoever up from whatever. Now not everyone may be able to read multiple books at once but if you can, this is a treasure. You’re alone, it’s quiet, bring a cup of tea, leave earlier than you need to be there (you get my drift…) When both boys were in school every once in a while I would be too tired to read and my youngest would read to me (if the book was appropriate). I’d close my eyes and he’d read to me. It was heaven. That’s how he got hooked on The Hunger Games at eight years old!
  • Getting Exercise – getting to the gym may not be anywhere on the schedule but it doesn’t mean you can’t get in some cardio around the kiddos’ activities. Soccer practice? Walk the track while you wait. Is school close? Walk there with the kiddos when the weather is still nice out. Or stay after school with them one day and bring a basketball and shoot hoops. Make a game out of math homework with hopscotch for the little ones. Particularly with RAD kiddos, exercise and homework seem to be a good pairing I have found.
  • Healthy Eating – The temptation to make yet another run through “insert fast food restaurant name here” is great when school is in. I know. When you have two hours between the end of play practice and the beginning of choir practice to get the kiddos home, fed and homework done, those golden arches can be your best friend. And those little body metabolisms may not take much of a hit, but boy you know you will! So what’s the answer? Make the instant pot and crock pot your friends. Throw something in there in the morning and let it cook all day and then serve it up the minute you get home. You’d be amazed and what those things can create! Also meal prepping on the weekends and freezing things that can go in a crock pot or quickly in a skillet. My kids love meatloaf. I’d make them in muffin tins and freeze them. I took them out of the tins and put them in big ziploc bags. Take out how many you need and put them on a baking sheet, bake (takes less time because they’re smaller) and throw together a salad and you’re good to go!

These are just some ideas of how to reclaim your self-care in the chaos of the school year. If you need something to put next to that master schedule, here’s a great checklist! I’d love to hear your ideas of how you keep YOU in mind when school starts! 

Until next time,

Shannon

Homework Nightmares

  • Homework isn’t necessary in elementary school. Denise Pope, Ph.D. says there really isn’t a correlation between homework and achievement at this age. Kids at this age need free time for play and collaboration and READING. Over-scheduling a child in these years with homework and activities will turn them off to learning but letting them free select will increase their ability to innovate and use their brain.
  • So what is the point of homework? It does teach students to learn independently and quite honestly it’s what’s expected by parents. It is an important link between parents and the school to see what their children are working on. But that is contingent on the parents actually looking at the work. Again, being involved is the key!
  • Decide what’s appropriate. None is the answer for kindergarten. After that 10 minutes per grade level is generally the rule. But it doesn’t meaning filling out yet another worksheet. It can be reading a book with you or drawing a picture. It teaches focus and independent study and by the time they do have actual homework in middle and high school they are used to sitting for a longer period of time.
  • Because middle and high school are more challenging. There is a correlation here between homework and achievement but it fades after 90 minutes for middle school and two hours for high school. After 3 1/2 hours there are negative effects. It can lead to anxiety, depression and stress. Add to the problem of classrooms that spend too much time on testing instead of instruction and over-scheduled kids and it’s all bad.
  • What’s the resolution? Maybe little. Here are some ideas: Look at the 24-hour day and set the priorities for sleep and school and other activities. If there isn’t enough time for homework, a conversation needs to happen. Make a contract that determines when homework happens (right after school, right after dinner, etc.) and sign it. When everyone agrees, the arguing tends to stop. Brainstorm with the teachers; explain your child’s unique situation and see if there’s a solution that works better with your child’s learning style. Maybe a packet once a month will work better than every day or week. It will allow you to be flexible when your child may have better days or back off when it’s not such a good time. Don’t help! As much as you may want to bail your child out, as they get older, they do need to learn how to learn. If they can’t finish, write a note and explain, don’t finish the work. Let the teacher know there’s an issue.
  • I spent a lot of time when August was in school doing battle over homework. We would arrive at home after school and he would bolt out of the car before I would get it in park because he didn’t want to do homework. He would run away for hours. He knew what was coming. It was an almost daily battle. Sometimes I could get him to work but when the anxiety would grow he’d say, “Mom, I need to run around the house.” And he would quite literally, RUN AROUND THE OUTSIDE OF THE HOUSE. He’d come in and be a different child. And we’d get the work done. The key is being flexible. And communicate with the teachers so they know you-and your child-are doing the best you can. And give yourself a break! Till next time, Shannon  ]]>