Featuring Joy & Geoff, Big Brother , Little Brother , Sis , and various household (and outdoor) critters...

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Re-Phrasing, Personal Space, and the Whirlwind Child

Does anyone have fantastic suggestions that might help a 4 year-old move from:

"You have to..."
"Can you please..." (stated with an authoritarian, "I'm telling you, not asking you" tone)
"Do this" (and variations of the command statement, like, "Hide somewhere else.")
"No! No! No!" (shrieking)
"But, I was just..." (often with a hysterical/whiny quality)
"I'm going to..."
"I don't know..."
[loud, dramatic fake crying...over pretty much anything that isn't going his way]

...toward something more like:

"Why don't we..."
"How about..."
"What do you think about..."
"Maybe we could try..."
"Do you think it would work if we..."
"May I please..."
"Hmm, let me see."
"I need a minute..."
"I feel..."

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

This Winter (if one can call it such)

I so love being able to walk out of our door, and end up in the countryside minutes later. At times I wonder if the convenience of city living would be worthwhile, but that thought always fades quickly. Another thing that has been fading quickly this winter is the snow, but I have a few photos to prove we actually had some! I know enough not to complain too much, given that some winters are pretty rough as far as driving and snow removal go, but I would have appreciated a little more frozen ground to the mud we've been tracking around this year.

We finally got around to having our first family skate on the weekend (I had previously been skating with all three kids for a pre-Christmas school event at a local arena). The boys were hoping for push supports, but I was glad there were none so that they had to work on balance a bit more this time. Lute was more confident without the frame, and both are shuffling along well enough to get somewhere. Caye went in her boots, having hated the strap-on blades I used last time. She enjoyed puttering around the edge, watching squirrels and dogs, and being taken for a slide every now and then.

Geoff (who is enjoying parental leave, as evidenced by the above picture), managed to get the kids out on a day with *some* snow, to create this guy. I found it a bit disconcerting to keep looking out the back door and finding this huge "person" staring in at me. So far, he has lost his head, but is otherwise still standing. It remains to be seen whether he will take a tumble on top of anyone, but the kids have been duly warned to steer clear on warmer days.

Incriminating Evidence

I am supposed to be sitting here on my couch finishing a report for work.

As you can see, however, it became imperative that I address blog design issues first.

Will it come as a surprise to anyone that I have, once again, neglected to consider what I might sacrifce during Lent? The state of my self-discipline is so deplorable that I never got around to thinking about it...instead, I was likely thinking about my desire to re-style this blog.

Saturday, 18 February 2012

Patterns of Occupation

I had another opportunity to observe some differences in the boys' ability to occupy themselves today. It was evident almost right away after meeting them that Kitch (3.5) possesses a great imagination, and quickly becomes absorbed in activities much of the time (with some definite exceptions, but overall, it is enjoyable and satisfying to watch him enter into play). Lute, however (4.5) very rarely sticks with anything for more than 2-5 minutes, rarely concludes a play scenario (this also includes leaving made-up stories dangling), and even then, there is little creativity or variety in his play (which usually involves a matchbox-type car). He abandons efforts pretty quickly when something becomes challenging.

When playing independently, he constantly comes over to provide commentary on what he is doing, ask us questions, ask us to play with him, etc. (this is despite efforts to spend specific time playing, interacting, etc., and can even be worse when he has had lots of direct play with us). Even with all the hopping around he does, Lute can play on his own for some time without a lot of direct intervention, but he does need encouragement to stick with things and focus on the moment, rather than constantly talking/wondering about what is next (he does this with any daily activity, and can make it difficult for all of us to immerse ourselves in something, or linger over a moment).

Certainly there are times when Lute chooses and sticks with something constructive for a while, but I have not seen as much progress in this regard as I had hoped starting last summer. With a companion, especially an adult who is guiding or teaching him (he loves technical and scientific knowledge, and academic learning), Lute can be quite engaged for reasonably long periods of time. He will even sit for quite a while and have us read to him from fairly advanced books. He has a thirst for knowledge and zest for life that is remarkable, so I don't mean to paint him as disinterested or disengaged with the world around him - the trouble seems to lie in committing to one focus for a period of time, perhaps because he is always aware of other possibilities, and once the thought of "what's next" enters his mind, he cannot become involved enough in the present to relax and go with it. Too many choices may also be part of this, and he likely does some of his best play during rest time, when he has one toy at his disposal, along with books.

When left to occupy himself, focus and productivity often crumble quickly. In the presence of others, he will dive into the midst of adult conversation, zooming toys in front of people's faces, interrupting conversations, sometimes jumping on people (although thankfully, this seems to have abated quite a bit recently - but if you initiate any kind of physical gesture, even a handshake, be prepared...). He has some difficulty joining same-age peers in play, is very directive with his siblings, and gravitates toward older kids and adults when given the choice. Lute rarely assumes an alter-ego - typically he plays as himself, again, offering commentary on what he is doing without fully immersing himself in a role.

Kitch can, of course, demonstrate some of these qualities as well, but not much that seems excessive for a 3 year-old. (His issues lie more in regard to task focus when it involves anything other than play, and a general lack of thoughtfulness regarding possessions, where he puts them, how to find them, whether to pick them up, etc.). In a store, for instance, Kitch is most likely to wander, start playing with something, etc. Lute, however, might start tearing in circles around the stroller with no warning at all, or grab a container of honey off of a grocery shelf and start shaking it vigourously.

Anyway, Lute does seem to be the more extroverted of the two boys, and more sensory-seeking and generally physical in his play, which would explain some of his need for frequent interaction. He appears uncomfortable not being the centre of attention. Kitch can zone out in front of a movie, while Lute looks for any excuse to hop up, moves around frequently, and is rarely playing attention by the end. When sitting on my lap, I often have to remind Lute to remain still, be gentle, etc., while Kitch melts into me.

So, this morning we headed to a local library for the first time (yeah, I need to become better acquainted with such facilities). For quite a while both boys were well-occupied with the toys and computers (Caye immediately sat at the kids' table to draw, and then puttered around with toys and computers the rest of the time). Eventually, though, I honed in on Lute a bit, realizing he was falling into his pattern of restless movement between activities, not really settling with anything for very long. I intervened when he started appearing very disorganized, literally wandering without apparent purpose to glance at something, floating away, and even developing a wobbling, almost drunken gait, kicking (unknowingly) at a toy in his path, etc. I had him sit with me at the little table, and asked if he could describe for me what I had seen, what he had been doing, etc. He had no idea. I suggested he sit with some drawing or choose a few books to re-focus. He agreed, then stood up and started walking around/away from the table. I asked what he had decided to do, thinking he was headed for books. He stated that he was going to draw, and yet he had just risen from the seat directly in front of the crayons and paper, and was now on the other side of the table, appearing totally unaware of himself.

Hmm. I realize that some of the boys' differences simply reflect who they are, and that is fine (and some of my frustrations with a child who has difficulty initiating and sustaining play are likely more my issues, and call for creativity on my part in anticipating and managing them). But...some of this seems worthy of additional attention. I have a few ideas to manage the physical/impulsive stuff, and we have seen some progress (I think some of it was actually just about teaching some basic social skills and practising restraint). I need to keep brainstorming the aimlessness and restlessness, though, as I still feel a bit helpless to help Lute in this area.

I use timers occasionally, and after seeing him grab the most convenient little car for the 4th time in day, I will sometimes re-direct him to choose something else, like a puzzle or building toy. I am not sure how much to intervene when he spends a nice amount of time building a train track, and then walks away from it without actually moving on to play trains.

I could write a whole other post about some of Kitch's play quirks, like his apparently complete lack of interest (or confidence?) in drawing and fine motor work, and the eternally mind-numbingly frustrating distractibility (both natural and contrived - sometimes obvious, sometimes hard to sort out) when it comes to accomplishing routine tasks. Perhaps sometime I will tackle that one, but I wanted to think through some of my observations about Lute today, as the disorganized/overwhelmed behaviour at the library really caught my attention.

At this point, little Caye (nearly 2) is showing great promise in regard to fine motor and drawing (sat for two hours earlier this week, with markers, paint, Play-Doh, etc.), and imaginary and constructive role play. I suppose my interest in these particular areas of development say something about me, and what I value when it comes to the kids' pursuits!

Ok then, I don't really know how to wrap this up, so perhaps I will just call it a night.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Tidbits and Snippets and Adjustment Updates

Nothin' much new happening around here these days. Oh, well, other than my part-time return to work last week (so thankful for one of the most flexible jobs out there, which is mostly work-from-home). Week one went well, and any adjustment-related stress for all of us is being quite nicely mitigated by Geoff taking four months of parental leave. Hooray! No idea how we will navigate things after that point.

After a delightful Christmas, January saw a resurgence of dramatic/whiny/reactive/less-than-honest/petulant behaviour from one child, and of angry/non-compliant/oppositional/moody/sneaky behaviour in another. Little Caye has developed an even more assertive voice at 22 months of age, and overall, continues to mesmerize us with her brilliance and charm. With Lute, the dramatic stuff seems to have slowed down in the past week or two...and actually, we've had a week of less intense angry stuff from Kitch as well. Still getting the "no!" responses, turning away, and refusal to comply, but without the intense raging and restraining - there has been some choosing to settle and get back on track, which is amazing and refreshing.

I think a couple of factors may be at play here. One is that Kitch seems to be processing some of his loss and transition stuff in a new way, perhaps with the advent of increased cognitive capacities and language (at 3.5, we are seeing signs that he is shifting developmentally, both socially and cognitively/linguistically). Lute was nearly four when he came to us, and before and during transition had the chance to piece things together and express his feelings about moving (something he did NOT want to do). By the time he was home, he had verbalized increased willingness to be part of our family and let us "take care" of him. Overall, with a few ups and downs, I think his attachment and transition have generally progressed along an upward trajectory. Kitch, at two (nearly three) was pretty laid back about moving in with us. He expressed very little verbally or behaviourally in regard to leaving his first family, and focused most of his energies on grasping the basic concept of our family make-up. He easily accepted and sought out affection early on, called us "Mom" and "Dad", and basically went along with it all.

One event just a few weeks ago, in January, led to some of these musings on my part: the boys' foster/first family made a video last spring, showing the family (with our boys present), familiar sights and activities, etc. We watched it together last July, and the boys actually paid very little attention to much of it, talking and playing throughout (which surprised us a bit). While reminiscing over breakfast one day in January, they expressed interest in seeing the video again. After watching it, Lute happily went off to play, noting that it had been fun to see it. Kitch, however, looked quite glum, and identified feeling sad afterward. This is when I started wondering if he was experiencing a new awareness of his loss and transition to our family, including working through feelings of safety and trust.

His response fit with some of his other strong emotions and reactions throughout the month (things like becoming furious and fighting to get away from me in a parking lot after I snatched him away from the wheel of a car that started to back up, after he managed to scoot over and start playing with the tire with his foot while I focused on Caye for a moment. Lute's responses in similar situations - like when he pulled away from us and stopped in the street to bend and pick something up as a car approached - are more appropriate, including fear, tears, and a realization that we protected him from harm - um, these examples explain why I still rely on stroller containment for the boys when I am out with all three, particularly on my own), as well as increased intensity in his "baby" play (he often wants to be "Baby Johnny", and stays in character for long stretches of time, wanting to be cuddled, etc.).

Another observation, since seeing an increased capacity/willingness in Kitch to calm himself, and reduce the intensity of his anger, is that there may be a correlation with re-visiting some of our responses to him. I went back to the attachment books (after spending a lot of time with "general" parenting books), and tried to review what has and has not seemed effective with the boys. Generally, I have been making a greater effort to remain soothing rather than strict, give him chances to alter his behaviour before it is "too late" (likely one of the harder things for me, as I had really been leaning toward a "one chance to do it right, because you know what is expected and need to show respect the first time" approach), sticking with him through the initial stages of the anger (rather than moving away in response to repeated defiance and lashing out), empathizing with how difficult it can be to make "good/wise/respectful decisions" when feeling angry - and encouraging him to do so anyway (with examples of how he has done it before), keeping him directly under my supervision - time in - until he calms - but not insisting on a specific chair/spot so as to avoid power struggles (and while ignoring any wailing and wiggling designed to get my attention, barring unsafe/aggressive behaviour toward objects or people), and trying to be very consistent with expecting him to rehearse the appropriate behaviour afterward (sometimes multiple times).

All this is not a total about-face in terms of our response, but there is greater commitment to working with him during the anger, and increased effort is being made to remain very gentle and calm, while also making the expectations and consequences very clear (e.g., trying to avoid being unnecessarily military in getting my point across while still being consistent). I would like to think the shift in approach is helping, because then I have hope that things may continue to improve incrementally (but we have had a few such weeks of reprieve before, so time will tell). Now, I am still seeing ridiculously frequent and excessive defiance over very minor requests (from my perspective, although I realize Kitch is feeling things strongly in those moments - to him it is a big deal). So, the intensity has vastly improved, and the frequency has likely gone up a bit. But at this point, I am celebrating some progress toward greater self-control.

Today we had an interesting incident. I intervened as the boys squabbled over a pair of moccasins (Kitch was convinced they were his, only because they were the only pair he could find - wishful thinking)! When I quietly removed the moccasins because both boys were not using words or respectful actions to resolve the issue, Kitch became angry with me. After calming down, I sat down with him, and said something about him being angry at me. He replied that no, he was not angry at me, he was angry at himself. And it seems that my flighty and stubborn little three year-old, who avoids the mental effort of self-reflection at all costs, realized that he was actually upset with himself for not being able to find his moccasins, and simply directed his anger at me when I arrived on the scene. Insight!

Ok, my brain and eyes need to rest. I have a quick, cute Kitch story from Sunday. I wore my Karen skirt to church (a colourful, woven item, purchased and sewn for me in a refugee camp we visited in Thailand). Geoff was describing the male version, which he owns but was not wearing, and Kitch asked Geoff if the folk in the camp threw him into a pit while he was wearing the "taku". We were confused for a moment, but then pieced together that Kitch must have seen my skirt and been reminded of Joseph's "coat of many colours", which led to the pit association. We assured him that the Karen people we met were incredibly kind and friendly, so there was no risk of being tossed into a pit and left to expire, while wearing a colourful woven garment.

And finally, Caye freaked us out a little at supper-time (fluke, I'm sure, but quite funny - or she is reading tone and context really well, which is also impressive): Geoff spelled out to me, wondering whether the kids needed a b-a-t-h this evening, and Caye, who had been listening, exclaimed, "Bath night!"

And on that note, good-night.

Wednesday, 1 February 2012

Hot Off of the UPS Truck...

Hmm, in between cramming for book club and desperately re-visiting my favourite attachment and parenting books (it's been a little wild around here since the new year), I now have a few new titles to explore:

Home Learning Year by Year: How to Design a Homeschool Curriculum from Preschool Through High School - Rebecca Rupp

Teaching Montessori in the Home: The Pre-School Years - Elizabeth G. Hainstock

For the Children's Sake: Foundations of Education for Home and School - Susan Schaeffer Macaulay (as I understand, this is based on the Charlotte Mason philosophy)

The First Year of Homeschooling Your Child: Your Complete Guide to Getting Off to the Right Start - Linda Dobson

The Unschooling Handbook: How to Use the Whole World as Your Child's Classroom - Mary Griffith

This is a collection of books recommended on various homeschooling blogs, and by other Amazon purchasers. I'm not making any commitments yet, but figure I can't make an informed decision about the kids' educational path without buying a vast number of books...I mean...doing some research...

(If any of you would like to recommend other books & resources, feel free. I am not sure how confident I am broadcasting to the world that we are considering homeschooling, given some of the strong opinions out there...I will likely, eventually, get around to posting a bit about how we have arrived at this as a possibility for our family - it is certainly something I have contemplated off and on for years. Oh, and if anyone has homeschooled while also working part-time, I'd love to hear how that all worked out).