Thursday, January 3, 2013

Catching Up

It's been a very busy school year so far, and between that and a broken computer, I've been very behind on updating my blog. But now that the holidays are over and I have a new laptop to type on, I'm back in action.
We were actually discussing putting Princess in public school this month due to some severe anxiety and behavior issues we were having at home, but now we may be moving in a few months, so we've decided to hold off. In the meantime, she has been going to see a play therapist and started taking Zoloft. They're both helping immensely, and we are no longer having daily meltdowns over things like accidentally touching a plant, or dirt getting on her hands. She is still worrying about those things, but at least it's not leading to hysterics every time, so that's progress!
Our plan right now is to have all of the kids start public school in the fall, and I expect it will take a lot of planning. Puppy will be starting kindergarten, and I'm not worried about him at all. He's an adaptable kid who is pretty happy in any situation, he's a quick learner, but not so far ahead that he'll be bored, and he makes friends easily.
Princess will be a little tougher, mostly because of her anxiety, but we've seen so much improvement in that over the past couple of months that I am optimistic about her progress over the next several months. Academically she will be fine, but between her anxiety and her sensory issues, I'm apprehensive about her behavior. She loves to make new friends, though, so I think once we get her in to a classroom, she'll find some things she loves about being there.
And then there's Little Professor, my reason for homeschooling in the first place.
Honestly, I am not expecting it to go well. I'd love to just keep him home, even with the other kids starting school. On the other hand, I feel like if we don't give 5th grade a chance, we will HAVE to keep him home because there is no way I'm starting my teeny, tiny little Aspie in middle school the first time he goes to school since kindergarten!
Fortunately, his dad and I both have the same reservations, so we've agreed that we will *try* school for him next year, and if it's not going well, we can always take him back out at Christmas like we did back in kindergarten.
And who knows? Maybe he'll love it!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Back to School!

Well....sort of. Today was our first day of school, but for the first two weeks, we're mostly just reviewing. This is partly because a particular oldest child of mine has scarcely picked up a pencil in three months and needs the review, but mostly, it's a budget issue. When the majority of your income depends on a school year only paycheck, it's hard to gather the appropriate materials needed before the school year starts. So, we still need some things like new colored pencils, glue sticks, etc. Also, this year we're actually going to be using a ready made curriculum for Little Professor for the first time, and it hasn't arrived yet.

Overall, I was quite impressed with our first morning of school. There was (almost) no whining or crying, and the older two actually wrote TWO pages worth of journal entries voluntarily, and (for Little Professor) IN CURSIVE! Princess even wrote most of her journal entry, instead of dictating like she did for her kindergarten journal. And Puppy felt so left out, I'm going to have to get one for him, too! Last year, journal time was the absolute worst part of every day, but I'm hopeful that this is a sign that it will be easier this year.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Potty Training

This is a topic that I get asked about all the time. I have a LOT of potty training experience, between my own three little monsters, the preschool classes I used to teach, the daycares I worked at, plus providing ABA for kids with autism for over 10 years. There are very few kids I haven't been able to teach how to use the potty. So, while it may not be a glamorous thing to be an expert on, it certainly does come in handy!

First things first...the child in question has to be ready. There is no magic age, and it is different for all kids.

Signs to Look For
 ~ Your child remains dry for at least an hour when in diapers.
 ~ They let you know when they need to be changed, at least some of the time.
 ~ They can pull their own pants up and down (doesn't have to be perfect, but they should be able to manage mostly independently).
 ~ They can follow simple instructions (come here, sit down) and imitate other people.
 ~ They express an interest in what you are doing in the bathroom, or want to sit on the potty.

You really need ALL of these criteria first, in order to be successful in a reasonable amount of time. If you're not seeing something, like being able to pull their pants up, ask yourself, "have I ever let them TRY?" Sometimes it's not that they aren't capable of doing something....they just haven't been given the chance! Same thing for being interested in what Mommy and Daddy are doing in the you let them come in with you? Most moms do, but if you're potty training a boy especially, it's helpful to have dad take them once in a while, too. Or older siblings, cousins, etc.
The best way to start is with imitation. Put their little potty in the bathroom, and when you go to the bathroom, they sit on their potty across from you. Don't ditch the diapers yet; this is just to get them used to the routine. They should go through the whole process with you, from pulling their pants down to washing their hands after (and there are very few kids who don't LOVE to wash their hands!). Have anyone else in the house (who is willing/comfortable) do the same thing. The more opportunities to practice, the better! 

Next, pick a good time to start. You'll need at least a couple of days where you don't have much of anything else planned, and you can just stay home. Also, don't pick times when you have some other stressful events going on in your life, or your child's life. New siblings arriving, moving, starting a new daycare, mom going back to work, etc...all bad times to start potty training. Aim for an uneventful weekend.
Then, start getting your kiddo excited about it! Take them with you to the store and pick out new undies (you will need A LOT, at least 8 pairs, more if you don't want to do laundry every day). They should be loose fitting...not so loose that they fall down, but loose enough that they are easy to get on and off. Read potty stories, watch potty videos, it doesn't really matter which ones, there are zillions of them.

Finally, the big day is here! Dress your child in just a t-shirt and underwear. Then have them go potty, starting with pulling their own undies down. Let them sit for 1-2 minutes, or as long as they can stand it. I liked to keep a stack of books in the bathroom to keep them occupied while sitting. Make it fun! You don't want them to dread the next trip to the bathroom. And don't make it too long. A couple of minutes is plenty to start with. On the off chance they are successful on the first time sitting, make a big deal about it! Kids love the potty song and dance (it really doesn't matter what version you do; make something up and have fun with it!). Stickers are also a big hit usually. An M&M or something else small is fine for a reward, too. It's easy to stop giving them the rewards when going potty becomes a habit. Most likely, though, they're not going to do anything the first time. So, praise them for trying and sitting nicely, have them pull their pants back up, wash their hands, and set a timer for 15 minutes. (If they are successful, make it 30).

 Then, this is VERY IMPORTANT!
  In between trips to the potty, periodically ask them if their pants are still dry.

Remember, there are two goals with potty training:
First, of course, is to get them peeing and pooping on the toilet. That one is pretty obvious.
But secondly, and possibly more importantly, is for them to NOT pee or poop in their pants any more!

There are a lot of kids who will happily pee every time someone sticks them on the potty, but they will also happily pee wherever and whenever! That is hardly successful potty training! So, you ask, "Are your pants still dry?" Show them how to check (and double check, because sometimes they really aren't sure, and sometimes they lie). Then praise them, a LOT if they are! "Wow, you are such a big girl/boy! I'm so proud of you for staying dry, etc!"
The other reason this is important is that THIS is their motivation to STAY dry. You want them, eventually, to be telling you when they need to go. It takes some time for kids to start recognizing that signal sometimes, because odds are, they've never had to pay much attention to it before. It also keeps the potty idea in their mind, without having to spend the whole day sitting there.
After that, it's basically just repeat as necessary until they start to actually use the potty and stop having accidents. This can take anywhere from half a day to several weeks...just stick with it, be consistent, and try not to get discouraged. They will get it eventually.

So, what do you do when accidents happen?
First of all, be prepared, there WILL be accidents. If you can't handle cleaning up puddles, well, I suggest just waiting until they're old enough to say, "What the heck am I still doing in diaper?" (It does happen; that's the approach a relative of mine used with her oldest, and what do you know? He was potty trained in one day. Of course, he was 4 1/2.....)
So be prepared! Put down towels if you don't want your couch to be peed on. Buy a bottle of Nature's Miracle from the pet store for your carpet. And most importantly, RELAX! Do NOT freak out at your child! Accidents are just that: ACCIDENTAL! Remember that potty training is a learning process, and is all completely new to your baby!
When accidents happen, you say, "Uh oh! We don't pee in our pants! We need to go to the potty!" Then, have your child take off their wet pants and put them in whatever laundry basket you have designated for that job (or right in the washer, which is my preference!). Have them help clean up any messes. This is another built in motivator for not having accidents! No one wants to clean that up! At the same time, though, it's not a punishment. It's a natural consequence. You make a mess, you clean it up! As long as you are not yelling or freaking out, it's not punishment.
So, they clean up the mess, and then go back and sit on the potty again, while you remind them, "The potty is where you go pee (or poop, or whatever terms you want to use)!" Have them go get clean undies and put them on. Then it's back to repeating as necessary.

Gradually, your child will have more successes than misses, and you can slowly increase the time between potty trips.

So...what happens if you do all of that, and you're still not having any luck, and you and your child are getting fed up with this whole process? Back off! Sometimes even when kids meet all the signs and can follow through with the routine, they aren't actually ready. So you can STOP! Before it becomes a huge source of frustration and turns into a daily power struggle. And that's FINE! In fact, with my second, she was 100% completely day time potty trained at 21 months...for about 2 months. And then she started having tantrums over getting her potty seat dirty. Yes, really. She would also freak out about having wet panties. AND, she was so tiny, that even with the ring insert on the toilet, she was in danger of falling in (or, at least SHE thought she was in danger, so she wouldn't sit there). So even though she'd been in underwear for months, I put her back in diapers. She was mad the first couple of days, but still less upset than she had been about all the other issues. A few months later, when I was off work for Christmas break and she was bigger and 26 months old, we tackled it again with the ring seat, and TA-DA! Back to using the potty in less than two days, with no screaming or frustration from either of us! Never had a problem again! So, even though she met all of the physical and developmental milestones that showed she was "ready," and even though she had every capability of being successfully potty trained, emotionally, she just wasn't there yet. When she was *really* ready, it was remarkably easy!

Monday, August 13, 2012

Kristen and Luhk's Fund to Fight Cancer

My friend Kristen is one of the most amazing people I know. She is an inspiration to anyone who knows her! Kristen has already kicked cancer's ass TWICE, while also managing to single-handedly raise her 7 year old son, Luhk, who is adorable, funny, smart, and autistic. Unfortunately, Luhk has also been diagnosed with cancer. He has at least one tumor in his pelvic bone, and possibly more throughout his little body. He also has a brain malformation that is causing his brain to sit too low in his skull, sliding down toward his spinal column. So far, it's not slowing him down much! But they definitely have a fight ahead of them, and they can use all the help they can get! Every little bit helps. I know I have a lot of friends out there who are compassionate and generous...any little bit makes a difference!

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Bribery vs Rewards

We've been crazy-busy this summer, so I haven't had a lot of blogging time available, and since none of our summer activities are really homeschool related, I haven't had much to write about anyway.
So instead, I'm going to try to write a couple of "general parenting" posts about topics I seem to have frequent discussions about....this way, I won't have to keep repeating myself, and I can just refer people here ;)
Topic number one, bribery versus rewards. People use these terms interchangeably, but they are NOT the same at all.

Scenario #1
Mom walks into the grocery store with her three year old, who immediately drops to the ground and starts screaming. She's prepared, though! She reaches into her purse and pulls out a lollipop for him! He gets up, stops screaming, and sticks the candy in his mouth.

Scenario #2
Mom walks into the grocery store with her three year old, who immediately drops to the ground and starts screaming. She bends down, reminds him of the rules of the grocery store, and that children who follow all the rules can get a lollipop from the cashier at the check out, and then reminds him of the rules again. He whines and sniffles a little more, but gradually manages to pull himself together and they can continue shopping.

One of these is bribery, the other is a reward. Can you spot the differences?

Scenario #1 is bribery. The "prize" is given BEFORE the desired behavior occurs, as a way to coerce the child into good behavior. In the short term, yes, it seems like it works, and quickly! And there are situations in every mom's life where she has resorted to bribery, and sometimes it's necessary or even helpful. For example, I've been known to hand out lollipops or stickers or small toys to children who are about to have blood helps distract them from the blood draw, and sometimes that helps. But, we're not doing blood draws every week.
The major problem with bribery is that it's actually inadvertently rewarding a behavior you want to see LESS of, which invariably means that you will actually see MORE of it. What message is Mom #1 sending her child? Basically, if you scream in the store, I will give you candy. So, what does the little cherub learn to do? Well, if there are people around, Mom wants me to be quiet, so she will give me ANYTHING I WANT if I scream and embarrass her in public! Yay! Even if she took the time to explain the rules again, he's not listening...he HAS his candy!

Scenario #2 is a reward. Rewards work long term. It takes longer, but is ultimately more effective, because the child has to actually *do* something in order to get what they want. Therefore, gradually, eventually, they figure out that screaming leads to nothing, and good behavior leads to something they want.

The other benefit to rewards is that it's easier to *stop* giving rewards for good behavior than it is to stop bribing your child to be good. When your child has learned appropriate behavior in the grocery store, for example, you stop getting a treat at the end of every trip, and save them for exceptionally good behavior. You fade out the actual candy and move on to just praising them for how well they did and how proud of them you are. Eventually, they don't need any specific praise for that specific behavior, and it just becomes habit.
On the other hand, if your child starts expecting their lollipop the minute they walk into the store, how do you get rid of that? What happens when you forget it, or you're at the store to buy more lollipops because you used the last one on the last trip? Or it's the wrong COLOR? Well, then you either have to leave, or drag a screaming kid through the store with you. You're pretty much stuck, because they've learned to reward YOU for the behavior of giving them candy. They're rewarding you with their good behavior. And you've done so well for them, since rewards are more likely to become lasting behavior.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Screen-Free Day

Somehow over the past six months or so, my kids have become completely addicted to anything with a screen.
They've always watched tv and played video games on and off, but lately, it seems to be CONSTANT. And the worst part is, when it's time to turn the tv off, or give up a turn on the computer, or the battery on the iPhone finally dies, the whining starts.
"I'm BORED!"
"There's NOTHING to DO!"
"I don't have ANYTHING to play with!"
Suggestions to clean or possibly start boxing up some of their unused and apparently unwanted toys are always met with cries of, "No! I still want that! I just don't want to play with it NOW! When is my turn on the computer?" Once I successfully convinced Princess to read a book if she was so bored, but usually I just get eye rolling.
So last night I warned them. Today was going to be a screen-free day. No PlayStation 3. No Netflix. No Leapster Explorers. No iPhones. No computer, even for school-related activities. NO SCREENS.
Needless to say, they were not overjoyed at the concept. "But what will we DO all day?" they cried!
When I got up, of course, they had already snuck out to the living room and turned everything on, and they were SHOCKED when I went around turning things off and collecting the small screens. SHOCKED,  I tell you! "You mean you really MEANT that????"
Distracting them through breakfast and schoolwork time was not too difficult, and I only heard small inquiries like, "But....if we do all our schoolwork, THEN we can have them back, right? What do you MEAN, no?" Then we headed off the initial round of boredom with a polymer project, followed by lunch, and then making rock candy.
But then....we were done with the planned activities for the day.
Princess and Puppy caught on a lot faster, and vanished into Princess's room, where I could hear happy squeals and probable jumping on the bed.
Little Professor wasn't having it. He couldn't think of a single thing that sounded like fun. Not one. He even tried just sitting on the couch and staring at me, waiting for me to give in. I don't know why he thinks things like that will work, but he keeps trying. He's persistent.
FINALLY, he decided that he might as well play with Legos, since there wasn't ANYTHING fun to do in the whole world unless it was playing Uncharted 3. Pretty soon, he was wandering out to show me his creations. Then the other kids wanted to play, and the next thing I knew, my living room floor was ankle deep in an entire Lego village! When they eventually tired of Legos, they all, unprompted, went to play in the boys' room, and when I peeked back to see why it was so quiet, I discovered a pirate ship built out of pop-up play tents taking up most of the room. All afternoon, there was only one fight, and NO whining about not being allowed to turn on the television. And they hopefully will remember that there ARE other fun, non-electronic things to do tomorrow...when we do it all over again ;)

Thursday, May 24, 2012

My Secret Plan is Working!

(insert maniacal laugh here)

Little Professor hates to read fiction. It's been a constant battle since he taught himself to read at three and a half. He will read science books, encyclopedias, text books, and any other based-in-fact book he can get his hands on (and then recite it ad nauseum), but hand him a novel and it's "too hard," " too boring," and there's "no point."
This is particularly hard on me because I LOVE to read. I'll read anything I can get my hands on, and have been known to go through a dozen books in a week. (Who needs clean dishes anyway?)
I've been trying different genres with him and he has actually enjoyed some of them. He's reading Little House on the Prairie by request, because Little House in the Big Woods was required reading that he actually enjoyed. It's still non-fiction, since it's a sort of autobiography, but it READS like a novel, and he's still enjoying it, so I'm happy about that. That's still part of school work, though, since it goes along with our whole American History unit.
I really want to expand his reading horizons and help him learn to love it, and read not because he has to pick a book for school, but because it's FUN!
So, I browsed the library last week and found The Indian in the Cupboard by Lynne Reid Banks, which is a great book. Little Professor whined that he already has too much reading to do, but we checked it out anyway. And it's just been sitting around the house. So last night, I put it on the shelf next to his bed and just told him, "It's there if you're bored or can't sleep." Poor kid has insomnia, so he does often have trouble falling asleep. He told me, "No way, I'm not reading that!" but I just left it there, just in case.
Well...I just tucked him in a little while ago and he told me, "You know what, Mom? I read a few chapters of that Indian book, and it's pretty good so far!"