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

First Day of School for RAD Children

NOTE: As I enjoy my last few days with my younger son before he heads back to North Carolina,
I have tried to scale back my work a bit.
So today, enjoy a Tuesday/Wednesday combo blog!

We’ve talked all around this for the last few weeks about how to be prepared for the first day of school. But now that the first day is here…what are the best ways to make sure your RAD kiddos have a great first day? The first day of school for RAD children can be overwhelming. The first day of school for ANY children can be! Let’s talk about where the hurdles might be and where to run interference to ensure a great first day experience!

The night before is where you can make a huge impact on how the first day will go. Not only in preparation but in how you set the stage emotionally. As for preparation, consider these tips:

  • Create the “launch pad” (my favorite!) spot where everything for the next day is ready to go
  • Pick out that perfect outfit!
  • Set the alarm with your child (or two or three!)

But here are some other things you can do which can help your RAD kiddo with their fears and anxiety which may be weighing the night before. 

  • Ask them to describe what they imagine their first day will look like. 
  • If they have a friend who will be going to the same school, maybe a phone call or Facetime before bed.
  • If they are smaller, draw a picture of their first day of school.
  • Ask them what you can do that will help them the most. 

The morning of school might seem like chaos and overwhelming for all of you. The best thing you can do no matter what else happens is to keep calm. Focus on your children, keep your cool and make it about their comfort and calm. You can have your nervous breakdown later after they have successfully gotten off for the day.

Some things to plan for that first morning:

  • Make sure there’s a good breakfast (protein is important for good brain function!)
  • Ask them what they want you to do at school. They may want you to be with them all the way to the classroom. They may be ready just to be dropped off. Be OK with their choice.
  • Make sure the morning is about joy. Even if it’s pouring down rain. 
  • Make a plan to celebrate after school is over.

Here are some other fun ideas on of all things a marriage site! But don’t be afraid to let your children – even your RAD kiddo lead the way on what they need on that first day. 

 

Talking to Your Child’s New Teachers

So it’s the first day of school and your RAD kiddo is starting with a new teacher. Now if you’ve done some pre-work, hopefully you’ve picked the best possible teacher match for your child. One who will understand your child’s special issues. But you still haven’t been able to talk directly to them. Now that you have the chance, here’s how talking to your child’s new teachers will be the most effective.

Depending on the age of your RAD kiddo, it may be important to consider what “baggage” may have followed them to their next grade. One of the reasons we changed schools with August after third grade was because we didn’t think he’d get a fair shake in fourth grade at the same school. And it was a good move because he had a great fourth grade year. Hopefully a new teacher will start the new year clean but it’s always hard to know.

Next you might want to make sure you have all your RAD kiddo’s “tricks” laid out for the new teachers to understand. For example, if August couldn’t be right he liked to be first. He’d always finish his tests first even if he got the answers wrong. He thought that made him seem just as smart as getting all the answers right. Something I shared with his fourth-grade teacher. Other specific learning issues can be shared in an IEP meeting but there may be some things that are not necessarily learning-related that the teacher needs to know. These things may be more about RAD behaviors than learning so you will want the teacher to understand.

We made a plan with his teacher to give August an “escape plan” for when he feels overwhelmed in the classroom. A way for him to get out of the room (he was in a trailer due to overcrowding) when his anxiety level got too high. And we did the same thing in high school. These are conversations to have as early in the year as possible. The more systems in place, the better chances for success.

If your child has any quirks or eccentricities, make sure the teacher knows about them. August preferred to stand. He would stand next to his desk rather than sit down. It wasn’t disruptive but he did it starting in kindergarten. So I made sure teachers knew he might do it so they wouldn’t continually reprimand him. It wasn’t a big deal and it made him calmer.

And definitely make sure you talk about RAD. Manipulation, triangulation, hoarding, control, impulsivity…all the big guns. One of the posts I see most on Facebook during the school year is from parents who have been called into school or worse yet by DFS because the child has made claims to their teacher about their treatment at home. Or that they aren’t being fed. Since they spend so much time at school and teachers are mandatory reporters, RAD kiddos can triangulate easily with a teacher to get parents in trouble over false claims. Make sure the teacher is aware, particularly if it has happened before. Write it down if you have to. Write it down anyway.

For a great letter to teachers that I probably have shared before, click here. And to cover all the bases, here’s one for bus drivers and bus monitors! 

While I’ve never used any of Nancy Thomas’ methods personally, the letter I’ve linked to above is from her website and it is incredibly thorough. It covers a lot of things I would have never thought of like: don’t be alone with the child, do not sympathize with the child, if you hear something from the child that sounds weird call the parents, make eye contact and many more. Use it as a checklist to remind you of behaviors of your own RAD kiddo that you want to make sure you talk over with the teacher.

Now all this may sound like you’re going to leave the teacher with a picture of your child as a devil-child. One that is going to scare them to death before the first week of school is even over. That is not at all what I’m suggesting. Make sure you are balancing their story with lots of information about what they are great at and what they are passionate about. That will help tons when they might need to be redirected or they’re feeling overwhelmed and need to take a break. And the more the teacher knows your child, the more comfortable they will feel when maybe things go off the rails. You know your child best; laying a good foundation with their teacher will go a long way to ensuring a successful school year.

Until next time,

Shannon

Changing Routines with your RAD

One of the things that it is hardest to make happen with any child is changing routines. But now that the start of a new school year is looming, big changes are about to come. If you’ve taken it easy this summer on bedtimes and wake-up times, on mealtimes and studying, then getting back in the groove will be challenging. But changing routines with your RAD kiddo will be even harder. Why is this? Because these children don’t like change and they LOVE control. They want to be in charge because it makes them feel better since they do not trust the adults around them.

So how you deal with changing routines with your RAD? If you’ve dealt with this for a while, you’ve probably got a long list of things that DON’T work:

  • Reward charts
  • Time outs
  • Negative reinforcement (traditional punishment)

So what will work for changing the routines so that school starts with ease for both your children and you? Here are some tips that I used when August was younger as well as some ideas I’ve gotten from friends and social media.

  • Start getting bedtimes moved to school times – I always start getting bedtime and wake up times moved to school times about a week before school starts. This was particularly painful when we lived in Oregon where it stayed light until 10:30pm! It seemed to stay light out forever after I put the boys to bed and did I hear about it! But sleeping was always hard for August. He took medication to help him sleep so getting him on the right schedule was important.
  • Practice morning routines – There is a lot more that happens on a school morning than a summer morning. Getting up and dressed, eating breakfast and getting out the door. Maybe you just head to the library or to run errands but it gives you all a chance to “remember” what getting out in the morning is like!
  • Get the kiddos involved in planning – Pick your “launch pad”. This is the place in the house where everything goes: backpacks, homework, keys, purses, lunches, permission slips, projects, ANYTHING that has to go to school. 
  • Try sleepy medicating – We did this with August and it was one of the best discoveries ever. In addition to RAD he has ADHD. We found that waking him up a half-hour before he had to get up and getting his ADHD meds in him and letting him go back to sleep while they kicked in made a huge difference. When he woke up he was calm and responsive. If he just woke up and started spinning, mornings were so much harder!
  • Make a short list of “Don’t come down here until…” – Depending on the age of your children, if they are old enough to dress themselves and brush their own teeth and hair, make a poster or a list for the top of the stairs that lists the things that have to be done before they come down. It may just be 3-4 things like: dressed, shoes, teeth, hair, make bed. Sometimes that’s all it takes to give them a little reminder of what needs to happen.

Here is a blog post from NetNanny on some other ideas for morning and after school routines to help diffuse the chaos!

As we get into the school year, making the routine simple and easy will go a long way toward making the learning go well. I wish you all good luck as the new school year gets underway!

Until next time,

Shannon

Empowering Your RAD Child

“Empowering your child” is a phrase that is used for all children to describe ways to help them learn to use their voice and find their individuality as they move through the world. But for children with reactive attachment disorder this may not look the same. Luckily for me, some super-smart people have thought of some excellent ways to help parents with the task of empowering their children. My job here is to take those ideas and put the RAD spin on how they will work for our special kiddos as well.

This article compiles a great list of ways to give your child the tools they will need to start school confident and strong. Following is my “RAD-ified” version of that list to help with adapting the list to include consideration of RAD behaviors.

  • Give your child a choice – RAD kiddos are control freaks. This is one of the hallmarks of the RAD diagnosis. But choice doesn’t mean running the show. Don’t give them the whole closet to choose from; it’s the blue dress or the red one. And it’s not the whole fridge; it’s peanut butter or ham. Your sanity gets a role here too!
  • Listen to your child – This was huge for me when August was young. One day he got in the car after school and he was complaining about his shoes. He was so angry! He went on and on about his shoes and some kid and just was word salad yelling for 5+ minutes and I didn’t even move the car. I just listened and let him go on and asked a question here and there. And finally I got to the root of the problem…he didn’t make the football team. After he got there and got that bit of news out he was fine and much calmer but he needed to go through that process and have that catharsis.
  • Teach Your Child Body Safety – If your child might have also had some sexual abuse this is huge. There is no age too young to teach about what is acceptable and what is not. Do NOT be afraid to have the tough conversations where this is concerned.
  • Allow Your Child to Take Risks – This is a tough one for our RAD kiddos because they do not have a great sense of boundaries. And they usually have no fear because they have experienced more in their little lives than a lot of us will ever know. But finding their confidence and learning that you will always be there when they step out of their comfort zone requires that they test the limits a little. So you have to let them.
  • Use Your Words Wisely – RAD kiddos are hyper-vigilant. They do not miss a beat. So what you say and do are measured constantly. I have experienced that with August many, many times. Don’t blow smoke but make sure that they know their efforts are seen and you are proud of them no matter what. 
  • Encourage Your Child To Follow Their Interests – Want your child to follow in your football footsteps but they love art? Well, deal with it. Children will stick with those activities which feed their passions. And as much as we don’t want to waste the year’s worth of art supplies, it may not last and we need to understand that. RAD kiddos do not always have the long-term attentions that other children do. It may take them longer to find their “thing”.
  • Allow Your Child to Greet Other in a Way They Are Comfortable – RAD kiddos will not form the same attachments to all relatives and family friends. If they prefer waves or “knuckles” to hugs that’s fine. Also make sure teachers know this as well. While schools have stopped allowing hugging, many elementary school teachers still do it in the lowers grades. If your child doesn’t like it, make sure the teacher knows.
  • Discourage Gender Stereotyping – This one isn’t RAD specific but it’s pretty self-explanatory. Children should know that whatever they want to do and be is not dependent on their birth gender.
  • Encourage Perseverance – August had ADHD in addition to RAD and this is common in a lot of kiddos. Sometimes sticking with school projects or subjects that are harder for them are tough. August hated reading; it was really difficult for him. Keeping him working on it was a constant project.
  • Teach Your Child the “Pirate Stance” – I hadn’t heard this one but I think it’s a hoot! I think having your child stand like they rule the world whether they’re a RAD kiddo or not is a great way for them to feel like they have it together and can conquer anything that comes their way. 

Here’s wishing all the RAD super kids great years this year as well as their super parents!

Until next time,

Shannon

 

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The Importance of the Teacher Match

When it’s back-to-school time one of the most exciting things for school children to find out is, “Who is my teacher going to be?” The learn from older brothers and sisters and friends what the personalities of the teachers of the higher grades are and they know who they want to have. And they hope their friends get in the same class! But for RAD kiddos, the importance of the teacher match is even greater.

When August was in 3rd grade, he had a teacher (whose name I’ve blocked out) that was a disaster. Not just for him, but there were so many things that I didn’t agree with. Making reading scores public on the board among other things that were demeaning to all the children. August had just gotten his IEP the year prior and I wasn’t good at advocating for him yet.

So when she started having problems with him I didn’t quite know what to do. She put a presentation board around his desk to block him from other students. They were in a mobile classroom and she lost him once when he ran away. After Christmas break we were meeting with her and she asked if we’d ever thought about homeschooling. When we said we were looking at lots of options for the next year she replied, “You don’t have to wait until next year.” That’s when we decided to move schools…

I had gotten enough of an education from that experience to be on it when it came to knowing what would work for August for 4th grade. He got a male teacher who was cool and athletic. When we had his IEP meeting in October, the team was astonished reading his file from the previous school because of how well he was doing. The importance of the teacher match.

The next example showed up in middle school. August had always done best in science and math. He seemed to have a block when it came to anything language-based. Nothing we could identify by testing but reading was very tough for him. We show up in middle school and the system is to team teach with a pair of teachers: one does math and science and one does history and English. All of the sudden August is doing great in history and English and awful in math and science. He raves about his English teacher and he can’t stand his math teacher. What do you know? The importance of the teacher match.

What I learned from these and from conversations about this with August’s psychiatrist is that this is RAD in all it’s glory. RAD kiddos do not trust. And very quickly they size people up and label them as good or bad. And once they get into one of those categories, it is hard if not impossible to get out. August did not trust the teachers he had problems with because they did not choose to understand him. In spite of my efforts to let them know what would work, they chose to try and make him conform and the result was disastrous. The teachers that listened and learned and were willing to give just a little had a great year with a great kid.

I had conversations with the principal about August’s teacher choices. Do not be afraid to start at the top. Everyone will benefit from your child having a good year. Bring your resources; I even had August’s psychiatrist in a meeting to explain the “good person/bad person” concept so they didn’t think I was making it up. And if the teacher match isn’t working, get the IEP teacher and principal involved and make a change as soon as possible. I was trying to be nice and assume it was always August’s fault. When I recognized the pattern and saw that it wasn’t always and took charge, it made a world of difference!

Until next time,

Shannon