For many years I would ask August at the end of a school day what was his favorite part of his day. That had to be quickly followed by, “Besides lunch and recess.” Otherwise, I got one of those two answers. Which was pretty predictable. For a child with ADHD and other undiagnosed learning issues as well as reactive attachment disorder, school can be a pretty tiresome and frustrating place. So I’ve put together some ideas on how to find out what your child thinks of school. In case you’ve experienced the same dilemma.
Every child usually has a favorite subject or a favorite teacher. That is the best place to start. Asking open-ended questions like, “What is your favorite teacher’s favorite word?” or “What did you work on in [insert favorite subject]?” These kinds of questions will hopefully get you more than one-word answers. And will then foster more questions and more conversation.
Asking questions about peers is also helpful. You might not be able to learn about specific children but you might be able to get a read of the room. Questions like, “Who said something funny today?” or “Who would you like to sit beside?” Now a quick word, this last question can be very helpful. August had a gift. He could seek out in any situation, the one child who could get him in the most trouble. Like a heat-seeking missile, he had the ability to find the one child he could connect with who had just as much ability to get into mischief as he did. He did it in school, summer camps, extra-curricular activities, you name it. It really was a gift.
I would recommend keeping some notes, particularly if some of the answers give you pause, to discuss at teacher conferences. You and the teacher can compare notes and it may give you both a more well-rounded picture of what your child is feeling about their school experience.
I found this article which has many more questions, some of them really funny! Whatever questions you ask, make sure your children know you are interested in more than their grades and their homework. Make sure they know you care about how they feel about being in school. Particularly with RAD kiddos, that may be harder to get to but it’s much better to put in the work than be caught off guard when the explosion happens, right?
Two weeks from today I will be visiting colleges with my younger son. A blessed event to be sure but also one that strikes fear into the heart of many parents. How do I pay for it? Please don’t let him like the out-of-state one!
With August, the money woes started long before that. I have told him since an early age he will never have two nickels to rub together. The concept of saving any money he ever got has never been an option. It all needed to be spent immediately. The lack of impulse control and need for immediate gratification was just too much. Trying to explain that if he waited to add his Christmas money from his NC relatives to his Christmas money from his Ohio relatives to buy something even better was like trying to explain how to build a space shuttle. And we were lucky enough to be fairly financially secure so he thought the money for whatever he wanted would just be there. If not in cash, then on one of those credit card things…no matter that those card things had to be paid for someday!
I’m not sure how he handled his affairs in the couple of years he was living on the streets before he was incarcerated. I know a little of how he made his money. Not the best choices. He tried a job once. Lasted three days. I even helped him open a bank account. He’s drained the money from the savings account we had for him as a child, where we insisted half of any birthday money go as a way to teach saving when he was little. When he wanted to get his own place his father and I ran the numbers with him multiple times on what it took to live on his own. He kept saying that wasn’t how much it really cost. Maybe as his pre-frontal cortex continues to develop that aspect of his behavior will grow. But I fear his impulsiveness will always run the show.
But for those RAD parents out there who may have that battle yet to wage, I have these tips for teaching money sense to your kiddos!
Preschoolers & Early Elementary (7 & Under)
Think about it like tying shoes…it’s one of those things that you learn at this age and you have to practice.
Communicate about money: Don’t hide your discussions about money. Don’t discuss your stress about not having enough to pay the bills but if you get a sweet deal on shoes or you’ve saved enough for a family trip to an amusement park, share the celebration as a family. And use the money terms (“save”, “share”, “choose”) and financial values (“save for a rainy day”) so they understand how you view and value money.
Involve them in your shopping: When you recognize a good deal and verbalize it, it shows your child that you see the value and are making a decision about buying it. At checkout, let the child buy something themselves, hand over the cash and all. One of the biggest problems we had with August when he was little was explaining to him that a $20 bill was better than having $18 one-dollar bills. He just wouldn’t buy it. He liked have more bills. This resulted in the purchase of a Nintendo handheld game thing one year with $150+ dollar bills and a very pissed off GameStop cashier.
Open a savings account: As I mentioned above, we set the rule of half of birthday money going into a savings account. The boys balked at first but they caught on and they became cool with it (at least in public) and got good at the math when they got money!
Play Games: Duck Duck Moose, Bringing Home the Bacon, or even playing with a calculator while you shop and adding up the price of what is bought. Seeing the total will help them realize the actual costs of things.
Older Elementary Kids & Tweens (8-12)
These children can begin earning money and developing personalities around money and you’ll learn which of your children are spenders (August) and which are savers.
Brainstorm ways to earn: They won’t care about managing your money but they will care about managing money they earn. Help them think about their passions and talents. Love animals? How about walking neighbors’ dogs or pet sitting? If they are crafty how about making something to sell? They can research and create a business plan figuring out how much to charge by looking at others doing the same thing in the market, considering costs and figuring out what they need to make a profit.
Talk about spending choices: One of the hardest things to do will be to talk about what to spend the money they earn on without criticism. The positive reinforcement of good choices is more important than the punishment of bad ones but you can begin to talk about wants versus needs. If you are out and your child wants a toy you weren’t going to buy and you say OK, make sure they know it’s their money they’re spending not yours. It will be coming out of their savings account. That’s a powerful lesson.
Be positive about your job: This may be where I lose some of you. I know there are days when going to work may be the last thing you want to do. Or you may be working because you have to or for the benefits. But kids need to feel excited about the idea of earning money and what it allows them to do so paint on that smile!
Model Philanthropic Behavior: Even if it’s a stretch to the budget, let kids see you helping those less fortunate. Remember that kids see everything and will take those behaviors into adulthood. Even if it’s some spare change into the Salvation Army bucket at the holidays. And ask them for input into your charitable giving choices. If they want to give their money too, let them be part of the conversation.
Teens & College-bound kids (13+)
Now is the time to begin to involve your kids in your family’s financial situation. This is especially true when conversations about college get closer. Talking about credit scores and applying for financial aid and scholarships should be open discussions.
Track dollars: There’s an app for that! Current is great one which has spending, saving and giving “wallets” tied to a debit card which parents can make deposits to and set up notifications for. However it is tracked, make sure there’s a conversation that follows so they can see where their money goes. As for credit cards, most experts say not until they have their own source of income and can make their own payments.
Play “What If?”: Discuss tricky money situations and how to handle them. Who pays on dates? How do you decide? What if your date’s family is super-rich? While there may be no right or wrong answer, having the conversations will help your child become more savvy about the situations.
I know this is a lot to take in but you really only need the parts that apply to your child’s age! Money has been and always will be a monster to deal with and RAD does not make it any easier. I’d love to hear from anyone who’s found tips or tricks that have worked for them in handling money with their kiddos!
Till next time,
“If your heart is broken, make art with the broken pieces”
So what do we do? Where do we get our fuel to continue day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year? It takes resolve and training to be resilient to the blows that just keep coming and find some way to see hope and something positive in the midst of all that seems to wear us down. Here are a couple of tricks doctors say will help:
Let yourself feel sad: I know, right? So here’s the deal. It’s OK to feel sorry for yourself. When something awful happens, cry, scream, eat a pint of ice cream, binge watch Netflix. Feel hopeless. Because if you don’t feel hopeless, how can you know what hopeful feels like? You don’t have to be stone-faced and strong all the time. But watch that it doesn’t last too long because that can be a sign of depression.
Control what you can: If you’ve read about having a child with RAD this may sound like a page right out their playbook! But it’s true. If you do just one thing you can to affect your situation, you will be amazed at what it can do for your mood. If your child is destroying his or her room, clean your room and put a lock on the door. Just one little thing, however small, will make a huge difference.
But be flexible: There will be times when there is nothing going right. You know it. We’ve all been there. At those times, you can’t expect to be able to do what you had planned, go where you want, wear what you want, maybe even more dire consequences. But the key is to be able to find a way to make choices that are the best in a bad situation. Don’t be afraid to take that sharp left or right turn.
Find resilient role models: We have all been through tough times. Maybe you know someone who has been through health problems and survived and thrived. Someone who had financial struggles and started a business and got on their feet. Use these individuals as motivation that you, too, can survive your trials.
Be a role model: We are all as parents working so hard to provide the best, safest, most loving homes for our children. They are hurt and we didn’t hurt them. I am so angry that my son is paying for what was done to him that he couldn’t control. But now I want to pay it forward and help others with what I’ve learned and what will hopefully help other children. You can do that too. Wouldn’t it be great if all RAD children could learn from our knowledge and care?
Talk it Out: Having a support system when parenting a child with RAD is so valuable. And it doesn’t have to be other RAD parents, though I found that helpful. There are groups on social media, adoption groups if your child is adopted. Maybe it’s just a close friend if you’re not very outgoing. Me, I’ll talk to anybody! But sometimes when it doesn’t feel good in your heart, hearing it out loud can help!
Know that You’re Already Doing It: Did your child wake up this morning? Did you feed them? Will they wake up tomorrow? Are you reading this? Then you are doing the work to help your child and be the best parent of a RAD child you can be. You are getting it done. Pat yourself on the back and cut yourself some slack.
That last bullet is the most valuable. You are already doing it! I would love to hear your stories of resilience. Please feel free to share as you feel comfortable.
Till next time,
Say nothing at all. Sometimes a lot of help is…well, too much. Particularly in the early days of a RAD diagnosis, there is a lot of confusion and chaos as decisions are made about what is best for the child and the family going forward. And with RAD being so unknown, many well-meaning friends and family can offer a lot of unsolicited advice. Being the friend who offers to talk about football, music, cooking, books or anything that reminds us of the happy things in life can be invaluable. Or maybe offering to just come and sit in the quiet. You have no idea how amazing quiet can be.
Fall back on a heartfelt cliché. Here’s the honest truth, not a fan of this one. Anyone who’s ever been in my life knows I hate birthday cards that rhyme so naturally clichés wouldn’t work for me either. But in a pinch, they work. A sincere, “I’m sorry for what you’re going through,” can go a long way for tired, sad parents. Don’t be afraid to reach out even if that’s the most you’ve got to say.
Acknowledge specific pain. Parents of children with RAD didn’t ask for this. And they didn’t cause this. And neither did their child. They are dealing with the results of either early abuse or trauma prior to the child’s adoption or early medical issues which prohibited infant bonding. But quite possibly the behaviors their child exhibits may cause shame as if they should be “better parents” and that they should be embarrassed over how their children are acting. This pain over feeling this way about their own children can be overwhelming. Listening to your friend or loved one and helping them take away its power will help it dissipate.
Open the door to conversation. When a family has a child with any kind of special needs the instinct is to hide away. It’s just easier. So as a friend or family member, one of the nicest things is to keep them in the light. Don’t let them go down the rabbit hole of being consumed by the child or crisis of the moment. Giving the opportunity to talk of successes or accomplishments will help keep the balance and remind them that it’s not all chaos and disaster.
Say (or text), “Dinner is on your doorstep”. So not everyone is a social butterfly. Some people would rather pull off their fingernails than initiate a conversation. If this sounds like you, but you’d still like to find a way to help out those families with a child with RAD, consider trading words for deeds. Taking a meal is a great option. If you have children of a similar age, offer to take the non-RAD kids for a movie or overnight. If you are a neighbor, shovel the walk when it snows. These may seem like small efforts but you have no idea how much relief they bring a family who is in crisis mode 24/7.
I’d love to hear other ideas you may have about what has helped you when you’ve needed it most. When you’ve got a child with RAD it can feel very isolating because the disorder is not very well understood. Thanks for reaching out. We love you friends and family!
Warning: Some of the following uses some colorful language. Apologies to those with sensitive ears/eyes.
You have a small child who has a chubby little face with a precious smile and kissable cheeks. At this stage you don’t know what the future holds and occasionally you’re getting kisses from this button mouth and he’s funny and curious and charming.
Fast forward a few years and you’re sitting in a restaurant in Hollywood, CA where you’ve paid a lot of money to go and you’re trying to have a special moment and you get this:
Much of it is normal sullen teenager but changes have started happening that are not what you expected. There is rage. There is hatred. He’s on medications that treat the symptoms but the cause lives in his body like a parasite you cannot kill.
And words come out of him sometimes like he is possessed. And you wish that he was because then you could blame the devil inside him and not the sweet boy you wish he still was who is now saying he hates you.
When August first got diagnosed I thought, “If I’d just never put him on the school bus…” He learned a lot of his colorful language there. His father and I were very careful not to curse in the house though as his RAD emerged that got harder and harder! When he would be raging and want to push our buttons he would just say, “shit, shit shit” over and over again. That’s when I learned from his psychiatrist that putting soap in a child’s mouth isn’t appropriate any more. As I have mentioned in past blogs we did as much harm as we did good early on in learning about RAD and how to parent August effectively but in that instance it was the only thing that made it stop. This was when he was maybe 10. He went on to use many more curse words but for some reason early on that was his favorite. He seemed to like the sound of it best.
As an adoptive parent you fear hearing your child say, “You’re not my real mom.” It’s like a dagger to the heart. Children have the ability to fill you with more love than you ever thought possible and also take it away in one breath. With August, for better or worse, that became one of the least horrible things he said. He talked in his middle school years about killing us, killing himself, wishing we were dead, all of which prompted his placement in the residential treatment center in Missouri. When we got ready to leave, I hoped for a tearful goodbye to show some signs of attachment and he was able to provide another kick in the gut with, “If you’re not going to take me with you then just leave.”
As a high-school age man-child he felt entitled to use all the curse words he knew. Which were plenty. “Fuck” became a punctuation mark, an adjective, a exclamation, you name it. He didn’t care that it upset me, that only made it more fun. He didn’t care about using it at school or with the police. That adorable face became unrecognizable to me whenever it spoke because it spewed hatred-filled, awful words. He manipulated and threatened and spoke with no feeling in his voice at all. But you could feel all the hurt in every word that came out of his mouth. All the pain he didn’t know how to process. All the loss and anger he feels and doesn’t know what to do with. It’s all in there trying to find an outlet and he is trying with every horrible word to control it. Not letting anyone else help him and making it worse every time he pushes someone away with the hurtful things he says.
Since he’s been in prison much of that has not changed. He’s tried some amazing cons on his father and I to get money. When we don’t fall for them the tirades are pretty amazing but at least now I can hang up the phone.
But more often there are these pleasant, calm phone calls. He asks me first what I’m doing and how I am. We talk about books and movies and my garden and my job. We talk about the family. When we visit together we talk about the past and things we used to do. He tells me about things that happened when he was living on the streets that both scare me to death and break my heart. Both of the phone calls and the in-person visits end with his saying “I love you” first. With a tone that says he means it. Hard to know for sure but I think so.
I’ll take it.