Patrick loves school! He is so happy to be back. He is making new friends at a record pace, as well as happily meeting and playing with his old friends before and after school.
But, he’s also been really struggling since school started. At first, the reports were a few here and there coming from the classroom. Then one day, the special education came out to meet me and talk about the problem. Patrick has been growing increasingly aggressive. He’s not picking fights per say, but when he gets mad or feels ignored, he has been using his hands and feet to express his anger. And it’s been getting worse, spilling over into therapy and playdates and church and home.
I loved the conversation with the special ed teacher. (Note, this isn’t the regular classroom teacher. This is a teacher who visits the class a few times a week and, like everyone else, is new this year.) She said she’d heard that Patrick hadn’t had these problems last year in school and asked me if he’d been under any stress at home. I explained that during the first week of school, Patrick had had major, life-threatening medical issues and had needed to travel out of state for surgery. She said, “Well, I know about that. But other than that….” Yeah. She didn’t get it.
Then she asked me what helps at home. I tried to explain sensory processing disorder and how he needs a physical outlet for his energy or he can’t sit still, gets in trouble, gets embarrassed, gets mad, and hits. She told me he gets a regular sensory time once a day. Yeah. She didn’t get that either.
I left the conversation with two clear impressions. 1) Patrick was struggling at school and 2) I was going to need to come up with some answers to help him and/or a better way to communicate with the plan-makers at school because we weren’t going to make much progress otherwise.
I put a lot of thinking and reading and talking and praying into the problem over the next couple of weeks. And I watched as things got worse and worse. It was pretty clear to me that Patrick has been responding to the stress of having his life turned completely upside down… and then having to start school. Not only that, but school twice as many days a week as usual, and in a class that is much younger and more chaotic than last year. He’s feeling overwhelmed and he doesn’t have the words to express his feelings or stand up for himself. So, he’s doing the only thing he can figure out to do. He’s fighting back physically.
And then I remembered something I encountered a while back. An amazing woman who made a goal not to yell at her kids for a whole year, 365 days.. She blogged about the experience and is still blogging and running a Facebook support group to help other parent learn to discipline without yelling, too.
She calls the project The Orange Rhino challenge.
And I realized that I can’t expect Patrick to learn to deal with and express his anger and frustration and overall exhaustion with his situation in healthy ways if I haven’t learned to control my own temper.
But I just couldn’t seem to get there.
And then, a few days ago, I took Patrick to a checkup with his neurologist. We discussed the results of his recent neuropsychological evaluation (a topic that I swear one day I’ll tell you more about, but in a nutshell Patrick was diagnosed with several learning challenges, as well as ADHD) and how to help him learn to work through his attention issues at school, and he offered to have me talk to the department social worker about resources.
That conversation was a lot about how to create a behavioral plan in Patrick’s upcoming IEP. But one thing that stood out was that he suggested using a reward system to encourage the behavior we wanted instead of just punishing “naughty” behavior.
And I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Finally, it came to me. And yesterday, Patrick and I had a talk and made a deal. We both need to learn to be gentle when we feel angry. So, any time one of us is going through a hard time and feels mad and chooses to use soft hands and soft words instead, we get a sticker.
I stuck a sheet of foil star stickers in my pocket and away we went.
It was a rough start, with a tantrum first thing in the morning when he failed to earn a sticker by hitting when he didn’t want to take a bath. I thought maybe I was in over my head. But soon, we had our groove.
I took him to school with 3 stars on his head, gave a sheet of stickers to his teachers, and hoped for the best. I picked him up after school to find a dozen more stickers on his head. He was so proud of himself! His teachers reported an improvement, too.
So why am I telling you all this? Well, part of the plan of success with the Orange Rhino challenge is to tell people what you’re doing so that, if you’re feeling weak, you can call out for help. I’m two days in… we’ve had a few almost tantrums from both of us, but we’ve made it so far. It’s easier because we’re doing it together.
My goal isn’t necessarily a year of no yelling. But it is to earn as many sparkly star stickers as I possibly can each and every day.
To know more about the Orange Rhino Challenge, here’s a website: http://theorangerhino.com/