Work with me, please.

Posts tagged ‘social skills’

Winding Down

It’s been so long since I’ve been here! The clouds are breaking. Work has lightened up, at least for now. We have a new staff member, which I hope means that my workload will stay reasonable. Homework is decreasing as the end of the school year gets closer. Whew! I’m convinced that 3rd grade has been harder on me as a parent this year than it was when I was a student myself some 30 plus years ago.

20130522-072907.jpgI finished my cake decorating class. If grades were given, I would have been lucky to get a C. For the last class project, my cake leveler broke and I was unable to get the nice, smooth surface I wanted. I made cream cheese frosting, which the instructor recommended against. I’m a hardhead.  I could not bring myself to put butter cream icing on a red velvet cake, and I didn’t have time to make two frostings. I took my chances. As a result, my frosting was too soft to make the pretty flowers I saw in my head. At least the cake tasted good (or so I was told). You couldn’t tell by looking at the final cake, but I actually learned a lot.  I need practice, which means that I need to bake, which I haven’t had time to do. Well, this weekend I will have time as well as a reason to celebrate. Yesterday was the birthday of Albert, Jay’s favorite stuffed puppy. Albert has birthdays every few weeks. Jay decides the theme and plans the party, including the type of cake and how it should be decorated. He gave Albert three birthday gifts yesterday, including a sleeping bag that looked like a sock. So, we’ll top off the celebration with a special cake for Albert.

Mae is done with social skills training until the fall while the therapist takes a summer break.  I definitely plan to return to the social skills playgroup.   I had a nice, long talk with the  therapist during our last visit.  She talked about helping the kids recognize “unlikeable” behaviors that make it difficult for other kids to stay friends with them.  I’m convinced that there is value in structured play time with interventions or corrections as necessary, both in being corrected and seeing others corrected.  A teacher told me recently that kids need to see or hear something at least 17 times to master it or make it habitual.  So, I’m going with that.  The cognitive behavioral therapy is on hold because we couldn’t get a regular slot that worked for our schedules.  If Mae asks to go during the summer, it may work out better since we won’t have to worry about homework.

This weekend I’ll also be working on travel plans for a vacation in June.  Sooo looking forward to that!  The vacation, that  is, not the planning.

Spread Thin

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I would have written this post days ago were it not for Ruzzle, that addictive word game that has become my go-to mental break.

Work was on fire the past two weeks. I gave away hours of personal and family time in the evenings and weekends to keep up with the demands. I went to bed exhausted and woke up groggy and still exhausted.

Mae went back to therapy and social skills training last week, after a break of over one year. Overall, the school year has been great compared to past years. This is still a critical time. She’s made some friends and she seems to have a lot of fun with them . . . until someone doesn’t want to play tag. Then, the crying begins and then the teasing about the crying begins. Last week, she decided to give an upper cut to some boy who wouldn’t stop mocking her crying. She told me that night that no one likes or wants her anymore because they won’t play tag with her.

It’s the self-degradation and the hitting that worry me. I’m afraid that her classmates will stop wanting to play with her at all because of how she reacts when they want to do something other than what she wants to do.

So, we’re continuing to work on how to play what others are playing or learn to move on and play with someone else, and how to handle disappointments and disagreements.

Before tonight’s appointment, Mae said, “Today is a perfect day to go to Dr. [M]. I have a bunch of stuff to talk about. Last time, she did most of the talking. This time, I think I should do most of the talking.” And talked, she did.

I was unsure that more one-on-one therapy would be beneficial, but I’m glad we went. I think it’s good in the long run that Mae has a practice of going to safe places and people when something is troubling her. Unfortunately, we have a scheduling issue. Our choices now are 5 pm or 8 pm appointments. So, we’ll have to postpone more sessions until the therapist has different openings or I can change my work schedule.

Mae thinks social skills training is fun because she gets to play with other kids. The group meets on Saturday mornings, so the scheduling is working for us right now. She is the only girl in the group, which sucks. She seems to have more trouble playing with girls, and I was hoping for some practice in that area.

In better news, Mae and I had an awesome time for her birthday in NYC. It was a fun-packed two days. We got to do everything on our list and we made a new list of things to do on the next trip. We’ve already made a photo book, which is a birthday tradition, for the trip. She asked to add the captions this time, which took some letting go on my part. I had to tell myself, “She’s nine. Let her tell her story in her own words (and edit it before ordering :))”.

I started a 4-week cake decorating class. I didn’t do too bad on my first cake. The kids recognized it right away as an Angry Bird, and that’s all the validation I need. I thought it was much better than the “my family” foursome of mini cakes I made for Mae’s birthday. I thought Jay should have been easily recognizable with his two missing teeth and Mohawk. Hubby said that his cake should have had hair although he doesn’t wear any in real life. Oh well, I’m learning.

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Swayed by Feng Shui

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Mae came to me this evening with her National Geographic Kids Almanac 2013 in hand, all serious, as usual. “Mom, mom. I need you to help me move the furniture around in my room.”

My first thought, probably before she finished speaking was, “No.”

I asked “Why?”

Mae showed me the page she was reading.  Across the top:  “How to Feng Shui Your Room.”  I asked why she wanted to Feng Shui her room.  Mae pointed to and read aloud the opening words of the article, “Want to make more friends? Get better grades?”  She said, “Only 3 of my friends are in my class and I want 5.”

Alrighty then.  I told Mae that 3 is a good number of friends and I pointed out a disclaimer in tiny print in a box on the page: “If Feng Shui doesn’t work for you, that’s ok. This story is just for fun.”  I have to intently manage this one’s expectations.

Years ago, when I first heard of Feng Shui, I gave a “whatever” shrug and went on with my life.  But, I wanted to be open-minded and supportive.  So, while Mae took her shower, I started working on the 12 suggestions in the article.  It was simpler than I expected and we had most of the materials needed.

I took a mobile from the kids’ play room and hung it from Mae’s bedroom ceiling.  One of the kids’ aunties brought it for them from India.  Mae believes that “it’s magic,” and the magazine says that a mobile keeps positive chi moving.

I hung a jingle bell on each side of her door knob, which gives positive thoughts and inspire good luck and happiness.  Putting the bells to use helped me feel less guilty about having put them in the garage a few hours before.  The bells came with a holiday decoration kit that I tried to use as little as possible of when the kids and I dressed our little Christmas tree today.  They wanted to put on it every shiny bauble within reach.  I sneaked things back into the box when they weren’t looking because I swear there is a fine line between tasteful and tacky when it comes to Christmas decorations.

Mae has a bulletin board where some pictures of her and former classmates were pinned.  I added a picture of Jay and arranged the photos into a triangle.  This may help her get along better with family and friends.  Threes and triangles are important in Feng Shui.  I wonder if I should find a picture of me and Hubby and substitute it for one of the pictures of her friends?  From her perspective, Mae would probably say that the relationships with her friends are more important.  She had a tough day last Wednesday because she’d gotten into a pushing match with her friend-non-friend Gigi, a girl who seems to not like Mae and still insists on being around her.  It’s a strange relationship.  Even Mae said last week, “I kind of like not liking her.”  Go figure.

Fortunately, Mae’s bookcase is already to the left of her door (for better grades) and her bed is against her wall and gives her a clear view of her door (for better sleep).  So, we didn’t need to move any furniture after all.

I added two pillows to the one on Mae’s bed plus a stuffed monkey, the animal of her birth-year according to the Chinese zodiac.  These might bring more fun with friends and extra luck, respectively.  Mae has a cactus plant that I moved from the play room to the desk in her bedroom; which might bring more time with family and friends.

The article said that a quartz crystal on her desk can help with concentration, which Mae sure could use.  We don’t have a quartz crystal in the house, but my sister has one at her place.  I called her and she promised to bring it by tomorrow.

We don’t have a light green or purple bowl, which could help Mae save money if she puts a coin in a bowl as she leaves or enters her room.  And I’m going to risk not moving her bulletin board to the wall opposite her door, which could help generate positive thoughts as she enters the room.  We’ll take our chances on those two because they would require too much effort.

Mae handled the last item from the list on her own.  She drew a picture of something she wished for and placed it under her pillow to make the wish come true.  I fully expected her to hold up a drawing of, perhaps, her and a friend holding hands.  Instead, it was a picture of a book.  With Feng Shui written across the cover.  She wants a book on Feng Shui.

Dang it.  This is worse than Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy combined.  If I get the book it means Feng Shui works, or at least it says something about the power of positive thinking.  But then, she’ll come up with all kinds of new Feng Shui ideas and maybe even turn this whole house upside down.  Or, she might start putting slips of paper under her pillow every night for ever more ambitious stuff.

What now?

Unmasked

A couple of weekends ago, Mae watched BrainPop movies on ADHD and autism as we were driving home from somewhere.  The short video on ADHD, or ADD, described the characteristics as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.  The narrator said that people with ADD can’t concentrate sometimes no matter how hard they try and get bored easily.  He described children who call out answers to questions out of turn and have trouble sitting still and difficulty interacting with others.  In the autism video, the narrator explained that someone with autism has a strong interest in a particular topic, difficulty communicating and relating to others, and problems interacting with family and friends.

As we came into the house, Mae asked me if she has ADD.  I said no.  Then, she asked if she has autism.  I said no.  Then, I remembered that the video talked about autism spectrum disorders, of which Asperger’s is considered one.  Though the video didn’t specifically mention Asperger’s, I realized that I should change my answer.

I began, “Wait, do you remember meeting Dr. Mike and taking a lot of tests?”  I told her that the outcome of the testing was that Dr. Mike said she has Asperger’s Syndrome.   Mae asked what that means.  I started with, “Sometimes, you’re impulsive” and explained that sometimes she speaks and acts without thinking first of the consequences or impact on others.  She recognized that and said, “Oh, yeah.”

I started to talk about a second characteristic (I don’t remember which) but she went off on a tangent and started describing one of her classmates that she thinks has ADD.

I realized this was an opportunity to talk about one of our cousins who has autism.  We only see Jaden once or twice a year, and I’d wondered when Mae would notice and ask why Jaden seems different from other teenagers she knows.  I wanted to help Mae connect what she show on the video with real life and develop more sensitivity.  I told her that I think Jaden is the only autistic person in our family, and I talked about Jaden’s fascination with spoons, her monotone way of speaking, and need for routine.  Mae, ever focused on herself, asked if she’s the only person in our family who has Asperger’s.  I said yes, I believe so.  Mae clapped and said “Yay!” with a big ol’ smile.

I’ve heard Mae mention Asperger’s only twice since that conversation.  Once to tell Jay that she has it, in a tone that sounded as if it were a badge or at least something that made her unique and special.  On the other occasion, I was reminding her to focus on her homework and she said, “It’s because I have Asperger’s.”  She didn’t press that point because I’m a stickler about homework.  She’s gonna get it done no matter what and she knows it.

It’s interesting that she recognized herself in the BrainPop videos.  Of course, we and her teachers have spoken to her many times about blurting out in class and staying focused.  I try to keep her to a routine, especially on school nights and she’s gotten help from a therapist, which the videos also discussed.  And, my goodness, she knows that she has trouble making friends, or at least the friends she wants to have.

I told Mae this morning that she will be moved to a new homeroom class when she returns to school this week.  The school sent home a form letter on Friday announcing that, based on test results, 3rd grade homeroom class makeup is being adjusted to better match the needs of students.  Mae fell into a funky mood right away.  She’s worried that she will be separated from the one friend that she’s made, and I understand.  Frankly, I’m worried about that too.  Mae has consistently been complaining about the general rudeness of the kids and requesting to go back to her old school.  On top of that, she continues to complain specifically about Gigi.  Mae said this morning that she has been trying to steer clear of Gigi because she continues to be mean and bossy.  Gigi, according to Mae, insists on sitting with her at lunch and trying to play with her.  Yet, Gigi says that she doesn’t like anything about Mae.  Two weeks ago, at aftercare, she gave Mae and another student the middle finger and said, “F*ck you.”  The aftercare director says that she called Gigi’s parents and sent a note home.

I’m so hoping this homeroom change doesn’t place Mae in the same class as Gigi.  I’ve been communicating with the school guidance counselor as well as the aftercare director about the girls’ interactions.  Both women have been very understanding of my concerns.  This past week, they both thought that things were mellowing out between the two girls.  I’m not sure what to think because Mae paints a different picture.  I do know for sure that it would be a setback for Mae if she is separated from the classmate who has become her friend and placed in the same environment with Gigi for several hours a day vs. just seeing her at lunch, recess, and aftercare.  One of those things would be bad.  Both?  I don’t even want to think about it hard.

School is closed tomorrow because of Hurricane Sandy.  When it reopens, my top priority is to see the class rosters.

The Next 20 Years

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Yesterday was my 41st birthday. I wanted so badly to stay in bed, but I’ve been trying to take the kids to Dharma on a regular basis, every other Sunday, so that they develop a spiritual foundation and practice. The Dharma lessons emphasize kindness, compassion, sharing and other principles that decent human beings follow. The kids get to practice being still and mindful, and it’s another opportunity for Mae to practice social skills.

So, I made myself get up and we got ourselves to Dharma. Lo and behold, the lesson for adults, who study in a separate room, was making life more meaningful by developing a spiritual practice and doing so right now.

To paraphrase, the Teacher said that we spend the first 20 years of life having fun. It’s the rare individual who is focused on building a spiritual life in their first 20 years. Then, we spend the next 20 years building a family and career and say that we don’t have time for a spiritual life. We tell ourselves that we’ll make time later.

Now, there were people in that room who looked to be well under and well over 40. It seemed that the lesson was for me. That’s what I’d been doing . . . waiting until I have more time . . . time to fix up our piddly home shrine; meditate at home with the kids, which we hadn’t done in months; become a dues-paying member of the meditation center; and volunteer in the community on a regular basis.

The Teacher said listening to and reading Dharma are important and necessary; however, there is no substitute for practice. No substitute for regular meditation and engaging in activities that make us beneficial to others. She said helping family doesn’t count. Animals take care of their families, and if we limit our “benefiting others” to family, we’re not much better than animals. Ouch. Our lives are more meaningful when we consciously behave in a way that benefits our community and the world.

As the Teacher said, worldly activities never cease and everybody is busy. The next 20 years could pass and then we’d look back and ask, “What happened?” She said of the present, “You either make time or you don’t.”

As we walked away from the center, I told the kids that we’re going to work on making our lives more meaningful and beneficial to others. Before I could say how we can do so, Jay asked why we haven’t meditated at our shrine in a long time. I told him we’d start there.

As I begin my next 20 years, I know what I want to do and why and how. I know what I want my kids to see and learn. I just have to do it. Starting now.

Get Up, Stand Up

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Hubby and I had a good meeting last Wednesday with Mae’s four teachers and the school’s talented and gifted Coordinator and guidance counselor. I requested the meeting to get a better idea of how Mae has been adjusting. I’m still trying to determine what intervention(s) to pursue next and what’s available through the school system now that we’re public.

The meeting went well. As it turns out, the teachers have been pleasantly surprised that Mae is not the kid I described in my introductory email to them. I was expecting a much tougher transition than we’ve had. I’m happy that I was wrong. They counted among them 3-4 meltdowns, and two of those were on the same day and may have been one extended meltdown. The teachers have observed some of the same behaviors we’ve been working on — not picking up on social cues, difficulty working in a group, frustration and withdrawal when others don’t accept her ideas, trouble making friends. They offered some supports that they think may be helpful with social, transition, and organizational skills.

I wasn’t aware that she had such trouble with organizational skills at school (though her neuropsychological evaluation report said that she would). For example, even though she began the school year with a well-stocked pouch for pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and the pouch stays in the backpack that she carries from class to class, she’s caught the devil keeping up with the items. And, I check the pouch regularly to restock as needed. Students are actually graded on work habits, and can lose 20-25% of a daily work habit grade for forgetting to take crayons to math. One of my friends asked if the emphasis on organization creates too much pressure at this age. Right now, I think the teachers are being reasonable. The school’s stated goal is to make them “college and work ready,” even though it’s an elementary school (2nd through 5th graders). Working in human resources, I see how a lack of organizational skills can hamper career success. Once I receive the first grade report, I’ll know if I should change my attitude.

I brought up during the conversation that Mae has become more anxious about her relationship with one student in particular, Gigi, which may eventually lead to problems in class. Mae’s homeroom teacher offered to monitor them when she has recess duty and she said that she would suggest to Mae that they try peer mediation. She did just that later in the afternoon after our meeting. The guidance counselor agreed that peer mediation may be appropriate.

Mae has been talking about Gigi more and it seems that they are becoming less and less friends. Mae has said that she’s afraid not to do things that Gigi tells her because Gigi may gossip about her to other students who have been friendly and then those friends will stop liking her. There is one girl in particular that Mae admires and enjoys being with, and she’s afraid of loosing that budding friendship. I swear, this is the first time in her eight years that Mae has shown any inkling of being unwilling to stand up for herself.

I started reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to Mae last week, mostly because of the second agreement, ‘don’t take anything personally.’ I thought the concepts would help her understand the importance of protecting herself emotionally and build up the confidence to do so. On Wednesday night, we read agreement one, ‘be impeccable with your word.’ This requires using words for good, not evil.

When I picked Mae up from aftercare on Thursday, she asked me, with urgency, “What’s the second agreement?” I told her we’d read it later and asked why she needed to know.

Mae: “I told [Gigi] to be impeccable with her word.”
Me:  “Did you tell her what it means?”
Mae: “No, I told her to figure it out. We were about to switch classes.”

And, just like that, she was ready to give the kid the second agreement and she hadn’t even explained the first.

Ironically, I met Gigi and her dad that same day. Hubby was right about her — she reminds me too of my child!

I’d asked Mae to introduce me to Gigi, and I was glad the opportunity came.  I’d like to get to know this child who is the first person — big or small — I know of that Mae has been unable to stand up to and defend herself against. Mae had her own agenda; she walked over to Gigi.

Mae: “My mom wants to talk to you about being mean to me.”
Gigi: “I’m not mean to you.”
Mae: “Uh huh. You called my baby brother annoying and stupid.”
Gigi: “No, I didn’t.”

Gigi followed Mae back to me anyway, and I asked about her day. She seems friendly and outgoing. We walked down to where her dad was waiting for her. I introduced myself as Mae’s mom and told him that the girls ride the bus together to aftercare and sometimes do their homework together. He was friendly too. I asked him if he was aware of any of the “friendship drama” between Mae and Gigi. He looked confused and said no. I thought to myself, ‘I guess that’s Mom’s domain.’ Mae said to the dad, “She’s been mean to me. She said she’ll be my friend Monday through Thursday, but not Friday, and that’s just wrong. Wrong.” Without taking a breath, Mae then went off on a tangent about having swim lessons on Fridays and not liking having to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Gigi’s dad went with that line of conversation and asked questions about swim lessons. I would have liked to talk to him some more about the girls. However, since he made no attempt to explore what Mae and I meant about “drama” and “mean,” I decided that I would postpone that conversation until I have an opportunity to meet Gigi’s mom. Hopefully, she’s a reasonable person and open to having a candid talk about her kid. We chatted for several more minutes about swim and I don’t remember what else.

When it was time to go, Gigi began hugging on Mae and refusing to let her go. Gigi said she wanted to come home with us. She held Mae’s hand as we walked out of the building, and walked with us in the direction of our car instead of with her dad in the opposite direction. Finally, when I teased that she would have to help clean and cook if she came to our us, she gave Mae a last tight squeeze around the neck and kissed her on the cheek three times before she went off with her dad. It reminded me of the same clingy type behavior Mae had towards her friend K at her old school, towards whom Mae was often bossy and possessive. I wonder if Gigi displays that same sort of possessiveness and becomes “mean” if Mae tries to play with someone else or wants to play or do something different from what Gigi wants.

I think Mae and Gigi do have the potential to be friends. They need guidance on how, and with help from teachers and parents, maybe they can figure out ways to get along. Or, they may decide not to be friends at all and leave each other alone or just be homework partners in after care. It’s my mediation training, I’m sure, but I’m optimistic and hopeful.

On another friend-related note, Jay’s old pal that pushed him around last year didn’t return this year. Yay! It’s such a relief. He’s such a nice kid and was just unable to assert himself with that little dude. His kindergarten teacher has described him as “quiet and unassertive.” He’ll have reading and computer technology with the first grade class, and I am concerned that he may be too uncomfortable with the older kids to participate in class. I think he’s the only kindergartener reading at his level and so there is no kindergarten reading group in which he can be placed (and still be challenged). I’m sooo hoping that he will test into Mae’s school for second grade. This year, he’s playing soccer for the first time, and loving it. As he develops interest in doing more things outside of home and independent of his sister, I hope more assertiveness and leadership will come.

Jay has brought home his Good Day stick practically every day (a couple days, he forgot to take it back to school). Mae said to him last week, with wonder, not envy, “You’re such a good kid, better than I was in kindergarten.” She even told him that he’s cuter. When he began bringing home the stick, I thought she would make some comparison and feel bad about having taken so long (relatively) to earn the opportunity to bring home her Good Day stick in kindergarten. Instead, she’s been happy for him and encouraging. She still likes to help him with his reading and anything else where she sees a need. That’s a relief too. It reminds me that she’s a good kid too, in a different way from her brother.

Friendship Follies

Blah.  Fall is my least favorite time of year.  It takes away the hot weather and long days that I love so much.  I’m convinced that I’m happier and friendlier during warm months.    Hubby and the kids probably don’t notice any difference, but I think I’m a tad bit more snappy during this season.   I usually adjust by the end of November, which begins the Season of Good Eats, a reason to be cheery again.  Here’s to a teeny-tiny wish for another mild winter in the DC metro area.

Mae continues to work at friendships at her new school.   She has three classmates that she calls friends now, and the infamous not-your-friend-on-Friday Gigi is not one of them.  In fact, according to Mae, Gigi now hates her.  Something about her crying too much.  One minute Mae calls her bossy and mean, and the next she’s bothered that Gigi is mean to her.  I don’t know at what point, if any, Mae will say “forget it” and move on.  Ironically, she is a strong hanger-on when it comes to kids who are uninterested or less interested than she is in being her friend.  I can say a million times “play with others” and it’s like talking to a wall.  Of course, I only know one side of the story.  As most of Mae’s issues with Gigi originate in aftercare, I have a reminder set in my phone for tomorrow to call the aftercare director and ask what she is observing in how Mae and Gigi interact.

Yesterday, she had an opportunity to play with some old classmates, including her favorite, K, at a local festival.  She was sooo glad to see them and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them.    When she speaks of her former classmates now, she calls them her “true friends” and seems to have forgotten or at least forgiven the times she felt slighted, disliked or left out.  You would think it was all peaches and cream to hear her talk now.  In a way, that’s good.  When she asks if she can go back, I gently remind her without dwelling (I hope) that there were hard days at her old school and no matter where she goes, there will be people who will accept and like her for who she is, and some who will not.  She tells me that it wasn’t that bad.  Maybe it’s me, maybe my perception is off.

Sometimes, my mind gets ahead of me and I imagine a future where she’s that girl who falls hard for the guy who’s not into her, and people who truly love her will try to tell her so, and she’ll say we’re wrong, and she’ll follow the bad guy off a cliff or let him ruin her life with drugs, unwanted children, crime, HIV, and stuff like that.  There’ll be a Lifetime movie about it.

See, this is what fall does to me.

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