Saturday, March 13, 2010

Jenga game to teach about strengthening our family

We have been having a very hard time with DS2 matching his vocal tone with his actual feelings. He is pretty uninhibited about what he will say and he will often say even innocuous items in a very harsh tone. This can grate on one's soul far quicker than one would expect. So we decided to play a game with him. Everyone was given Jenga blocks and the rule was that if you made a positive comment in a positive voice, you could add a block. If you made a neutral comment in a neutral voice, you would neither add nor subtract. If you used a harsh voice or said something mean, then you would remove a block. A rule was made that no negative comments could be made about family members. A rule we should have made but did not was that when you remove a block it has to be at least two layers down. We also practiced a round of each type before we started the game.

The game took a little guidance to make sure that we had a good balance of taking and giving. Eventually as planned the building will crash or look very, very unstable. This is the time to discuss how the building is like a family and when we make negative comments it weakens the entire structure and sometimes while we may not mean to strike a very hurtful blow, we may unintentionally do so. There is no way to know how people "hear" your comments.

Interestingly, in our game, DS2 started using his extra blocks to create a second free-form building. I did not ask him to stop and when we ran short of blocks he did hand over blocks for us to use. Then I had asked him not to cause the building to fall over so that we could talk for a second, he chose to be a little crazy and not only did our building fall but also so did his. This was a fascinating opportunity to correlate his wants and desires to the success of the whole family and how not listening can also affect both. You could see immediately in his face that he saw exactly what we were saying. I tried to my best ability to put the "family" building back together the way it was before it crumbled and then we discussed the concept mentioned above about how we may think our hurtful comments are only minor but can be accepted by the other person as very, very hurtful. We then talked about strengthening the building and filling in the holes with positive comments to create a very strong structure.

I would like to figure out how too play other games like this to work on this skill, but I must say it has had a bit of an effect. It is an area we must continue to work on, but another positive step is taken.

Note: DH and I did this with DS2, I did not have the other kids join in as I think it would be too difficult to control the comments made.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


No one told me that I’d be sitting in closets or standing on my head

If you were to describe the day to day “job” of being a foster parent, I doubt that you would include “ability to sit in a closet crosslegged” nor “flexibility and strength necessary to do a handstand” and yet in my day to day activities of being a foster mom, I have done both. You are thinking, this woman is a little crazy. She must not know how to be a good foster parent. I wouldn’t need to employ such craziness. But I must tell you that I think it is just this foolishness that allows us to get through everyday. My DS2 has many labels attached to him as a result of the abuse and neglect that he has experienced. One of the labels that he carries represents his distrust of adults, his need for control, and his general defiance. Of course, I ask you after 14 homes, how would you feel? Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD) can be very frustrating to deal with, but we have found humor to be a rather effective tool. If I come back at him in an authoritarian fashion, I can pretty much guarantee you a disaster, but if we can laugh, we can usually make some progress. So I’m thinking that instead of having RAD stand for Reactive Attachment Disorder, perhaps we can have it stand for Radical Alternative Displays of Affection. Ok, so I added an extra “A”, but you get the point.

The two specific situations that I mention are just that two of many. I am not recommending specific actions, but just that we think a little outside the box and as traumatically that previous adults have treated our children, lets dramatically show them that we will go to any length for them.

The closet situation evolved when DS2 misbehaved and went to his room for a cool down period. I gave him 5-10 minutes to relax and refocus, but when I went to talk to him at first I could not find him. His room was empty, but I knew he was there. I quickly located him sitting on the floor in his bedroom closet. I will not psychoanalyze to decide if he was there for the comfort of a confined space or if it was a form of control to watch me squirm looking for him; regardless, there he was. When we started to talk, he was as defiant as ever – negating everything I had to say. Then I switched gears and made a comment about getting in the closet. His frown suddenly became a questioning smile, “You wouldn’t come in here. You can’t fit in here.”

“I’ll bet you I can.”

He looked questioningly at me.

“Make room.” It was as if as I got in the closet, all the tension left the room. After he stopped being shocked that I was in the closet with him, we were able to talk about the issue that had landed us in the closet.

The headstand was a visual representation of our ability to choose. DS2 woke up one morning and as I tried to coax him out of bed, he said, “Today is going to be a terrible day anyway.”

Visions of being called by the principal at 9:10 jumped into my head. Some days were difficult enough without him heading in to them in a bad mood. “Remember,” I said. “Our mood is our choice. You can decide to have a bad day or you can decide that you are going to change your mood and have a good day.”

“It’s just a bad day. I’m going to have a bad day.”

I took a breath (a very helpful thing these days), “Come on get up. Shake it out. Do a dance or stand on your head. Do whatever it takes to change your mood.”

“What was the last thing you said?”

“Stand on your head”

“How is standing on your head going to change your mood?”

“Watch!” I promptly got a pillow and stood on my head, lifting my legs up and against the wall.

“That doesn’t count. Your feet are against the wall.” He marveled, but challenged.

I wondered if I could do that. I hadn’t achieved that in many, many years. I tightened my abs, prayed my shirt wasn’t going to go over my head, and pulled my legs from the wall. “Ta da” I got back to my feet. “See it worked,” I winked. “You are smiling.”

I never did get a call from the principal that day and DS2 seemed to have a relatively good day.

Now you may say that these actions are extreme, but I say what has happened to him is extreme and he desearves to know that there are adults that will go to any length to let him know that he is safe and loved. RAD - - - Radical Alternative Displays (of Affection). Instead of getting caught up in their RAD, lets use our RAD.

I would love to hear stories of how others have used crazy ways to get past the frustration of defiant, angry children.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Out Illness

Do you remember the quote “Out you damn spot” from Lady MacBeth in MacBeth? I am trying to will out a cold and I am thinking that I should wring my lungs out instead of my hands like Lady MacBeth.

I yearn for the days when having a cold meant lying in bed all day and being waited on by mommy. Now I am Mommy and there is too much to be done to lie down. DH has the same problem and this cold has caught us both. We are now verging on three weeks of illness. I am just not accustomed to feeling ill. Usually we just will it gone and it goes, but this one is sticking around.

So, “Out damn illness, Out!”

Friday, March 5, 2010

CMT prep

At work today, one of the instructors gave out an article called, “CMT Preparations: What’s your School Doing?” The article was written by Laurel Kilough on February 25, 2010 for the Ct Education Association Blog. And while the ideas seemed interesting, fun, and inventive, I was left be thankful that I homeschool my children. (As many of you know we homeschool our two biological children and our foster son attends public school due to legal requirements) For those of you who do not know what CMT’s are, they are the CT Mastery Tests. While the CMT’s are specific to CT, many other states have similar type tests. The article talks about rigorous academic preparation, involving parents, pep rallies, and ideas to enliven the actual days of the test. As I said the article does put out some interesting ideas like poetry contests to encourage students on the CMT’s, sprinkling fairy dust in the form of reading strategies, or giving encouraging notes, but the whole idea left me with a queasy feeling. Why do we have to focus on rigorous academic preparation? Shouldn’t that be the standard? Why do we need to “send a letter home to parents asking them to limit absences and make sure their children get a good night’s sleep and proper nutrition”? Shouldn’t that be a consistent expectation? I cannot even begin to wrap my mind around holding a pep rally to “get ready” for the test. Isn’t the focus a bit array? Shouldn’t we be excited about learning itself and not about proving our knowledge on a test? As for “fairy godmothers”, Captain Writing, raffles, and incentives, I just ask why? Is the way we are teaching so horrible that we must bribe our students to perform?

The last sentence in the article says “What has your school been doing to prepare for the CMT or CAPT?” Fortunately, we are exempt as homeschoolers so I don’t have to answer this seriously, but my answer is learning. We are learning every day. We are learning for the sake of learning and not so that we can spew out our knowledge on a contrived test to be compared to others, but so that we can be engaged citizens, active community members, and generally better individuals. What are we doing to prepare? We are learning, acting, making changes, reviewing, discussing, interacting, discovering, creating and we don’t even need pep rallies, “fairy dust”, or Smarties to make it fun.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Quizing kids on Spelling words

I want to let you know about a program that was introduced to me called SpellQuizzer . The author of the program allowed me to test the program so that I could let you all know what I think. Unfortunately, I have been so busy that I hadn't had a chance to check it out until last night. DS2 actually had a spelling list that he didn't want to study and so I decided that I would plug them into the program to see how it would work.

Thus far, I can tell you that DS2 didn't "study" his spelling words, but instead played with the program for over an hour. These are gifts that I love; learning that take effort. DS2 worked for a very long time and enjoyed the fun of typing in the words and trying to read the words.

Frankly, I am going to try to use it a little more before I make a decision on my overall grade of the program, but so far it has helped a busy mom. You can check the program out yourself by going to and download a free trial yourself. Let me know how it works for you and look forward to future posts telling you more about this program.

Shaken Baby Syndrome

Last week, I was treated to a seminar about Shaken Baby Syndrome, otherwise known as non-accidental head trauma. At first I questioned how such a seminar was relevant to my life, but as a self-titled nerd, I knew that I could find some piece of information that I would find useful (Please note I think disseminating information about SBS is critical, but I was already aware of the syndrome and not likely to be having any new babies in my life for a long time). As I listened intently, my take away message became clear.

I learned that the majority of perpetrators of SBS are male. They are most likely between the ages of 17-27. They often are inexperienced caretakers and are often alone when the shaking takes place. Our speakers were very quick to clarify the intensity that a baby must be shaken to cause SBS. SBS does not happen as an accident. It is not a mistake. SBS is a violent, intensive, continued shaking of a baby. The speaker’s demonstration on a gym bag brought gasps from the audience.

These facts and the speaker’s discussion of these facts brought my lesson to light. While I was not likely to be the caretaker of an infant anytime soon and given my background I personally was unlikely to commit such an act, I am the caretaker of two boys who will one day possibly fit this profile unless I change my parenting. The speaker pointed out that the age and inexperience of the men who perpetrate is very relevant. One, boy’s brains do not fully develop until their later 20’s and therefore impulsivity can be an issue past the traditional teenage years; two, our culture discourages boys from taking the care giving role. How can we use these facts to enact a change? We can decrease men’s inexperience as caregivers by increasing their care giving roles as they themselves are raised. The speaker noted that many times not only does our society marginalize men as care givers, they actually demonize it and look on men’s / boy’s interest in care giving with suspicion. These points, I took to heart. This was something that I could work with. I needed to think further about how to encourage my boys in caretaking roles. I needed to make sure that my husband modeled good and involved care giving. I needed to give them the opportunity to develop as care givers and I needed to continue to work with them in thinking about options when impulses are crying for you to do something else.

Ironically due to my attendance at this seminar, my husband at that very moment was taking one of our sons to the pediatrician for the first time ever alone (that particular son is 13). DH had been with me at the pediatrician when the kids were very young, but I don’t believe he had ever actually done it on his own completely. Sometimes, we carry on stereotypes without even meaning to.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dan Brown

Somehow in the few minutes I have now a day, I found a way to finish my book club book Digital Fortress by Dan Brown. I have read DaVinci Code and Angels and Demons which are also by him, and therefore was not upset when his name was chosen as our author. While his writing does not improve my life in any substantial way, his writing does bring me joy and a bit of an escape. I must confess that I am usually more interested in his back stories than I am in the main one. This was especially true in the DaVinci Code. I think that I spent as much time in the encyclopedia as I did the novel. I needed to know where the fiction / non-fiction line lay.

Digital Fortress is different than his more current books as it relates to the digital world. Digital Fortress is actually an unbreakable code that is supposed to allow users to encrypt their email so that the NSA (National Security Agency) cannot read it. The ownership of such a powerful program leads to murder, sabotage, suicide. As with Brown’s other novels, when you think you know everything, be assured that you don’t. And you should be prepared to solve the mystery along with our heroes David Becker and Susan Fletcher.

As with Brown’s other novels, I don’t think that the word classic is likely to ever be associated with this book, but on the other hand, you will enjoy the read. I for one will be sure to put his other books, Deception Point and The Lost Symbol, on my reading list.