Monday, August 16, 2010

T Minus 14 and Counting

Last year and the year before, the end of summer was a very difficult time for Genea. To put it clinically, she went off her rocker. Whenever she would hit a rough patch I usually felt like it was she and I against The Crazy.  However. In the last month or so of summer Genea took a turn that was so far out there that she was practically in another universe. The Crazy, the Wango Tango and the time winding up and winding down took over everything and it was awful. She could barely function and the rest of us went down with her. The primal shrieking, the constant labile mood, the extremely disproportionate reaction to everything and anything, it was enough to make you pull your hair out or become an addict.

Very late last summer, I picked up on one small thing Genea said to me that would change my understanding of her thought process and subsequent reactions. It would then change my entire view of her issues and over the next few months things would start to slowly click into place in my own brain and a pattern came out that went against every parenting tip I ever read and made perfect sense once the pieces went into place.  No, I realize that sounds terribly dramatic but I have had all these concepts rolling around in my head that I need to put down and finally I decided to just start. So I am.

As the first day of school got closer and closer, I did what I had been told. I made a calendar, I counted dates with her, I planned with her, I practiced routines with her and we watched the day get closer and closer. I had pretty pictures on the calendar and colored blocks representing time, it was a nice looking thing. Colossal mistake. Huge. Ridiculous! I was going on what I had been told, which was that knowing ahead of time and giving her a "visual" support, such as a calendar, was going to help her feel more safe and in control. That in turn was going to give her less anxiety and make her feel more calm in general about starting school again. It. Did. Not. Work. That. Way. Yikes, I went back and re-read this post and about needed a Xanax Bloody Mary from the time prior to school starting last year. And I called that an improvement? I'm thinking there must be some massive part of my brain that has died because I barely remember it. This is how things went the year prior, for kindergarten when I was also doing the "visuals" thing with constant clear reminders for a smooth transition. Sigh.( Also, I need to come up with something better than my bloody mary bit. Maybe Ativan and tequila).

Finally a few days before school actually started Genea calmed down a lot and when I asked her why she was more calm now that the day was closer she said, because it is almost here. When she didn't have as much time to worry she then had less to worry about. It was the anticipation of school starting more than the actual event that was stressing her. Doesn't that fly in the face of everything you would have thought? Isn't it logical that as the day got closer she would get more nervous? But that's not it. Waiting for a major change to occur was what caused her fear. All those days to wait were unstable and unpredictable and that flared her up. So what had I done? I had unknowingly and with fabulous intentions, battered and rammed her fear and anxiety over her head for a month.

Change is bad because it is unpredictable. Even good change is unpredictable. What my daughter craves most is rock solid stability and if she cannot predict an outcome she will forcibly make a predictable outcome occur. Kids don't self sabotage before something fun like an amusement park because they feel they don't deserve it. It's not because they are afraid to have fun. It is the loss of a predictable routine. It is because it is a change and change causes fear and anxiety because it is unknown. This is why big events don't work as a reward for a kid. If you, Kid H, get all B's on your report card we will take you to the beach. Kid H freaks out, not knowing for sure if she can pull it off. So, she makes a move that guarantees a certain, stable result and messes up a class. Now she knows what is going to happen and she feels safe. That's just an example and I hope it makes sense.

This year, I have not told Genea when school is going to start. We have our little daily routine and that is what we stick to. She knows it is getting closer, but has not asked when the day is so I am leaving it be. In comparison to the past 2 years, she is practically a different child. She throws a fit or two a day just to make me happy. They last less than 10 minutes and then we move on. She is moody without being off the charts. I am keeping things low key and predictable. It is working for us this time. So far.

19 comments:

  1. Very intuitive. Makes sense to me.

    Good luck with the next days! May your Bloody Marys and Xanax unnecessary indulgences.

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  2. Brilliant!!! Brilliant!!! Brilliant!!! SO true! I'm so glad you put it into words!

    I think that is just what I was realizing about why Anastasia didn't do any of the special projects etc. that would earn the "Bonus Bucks" to earn the big trip to Washington D.C. But I didn't think it through nearly so well.

    Anastasia is showing anxiety about school starting. I had to make a special trip to buy her school supplies so she could get organized, otherwise she was going to have a break-down. But, her organization isn't done in the spirit of anticipation, but self-protection.

    I have the best of all possible situations, though - same school, same teacher. She is in a 5/6 split. Wonderful bonus!

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  3. This time, so far is as good as it gets! Outstanding peace of detective work :)

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  4. Same with Princess. I learned pretty quickly that knowing ANYTHING in advance threw her into an anxiety spiral. And it's definitely counter-intuitive; Buddy always has done better the more in advance he's warned. Ask me once how I toe the line of letting Buddy know things in advance but springing them on Princess.

    No, don't ask. I have no idea what I'd say.

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  5. Ativan and Tequila. I hadn't thought of that combo before. Our guy is also having his annual nuclear meltdown. His coincides with back to school but I thought had more to do with trauma anniversary. Hmmm. Now you have me thinking.

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  6. I figured this out with P a couple years ago. Now we don't mention any back-to-school stuff until the last possible minute. He doesn't mind at all having it sprung on him, which would have driven me bonkers! So counter-intuitive, this stuff. So glad she was able to clue you in. It's going to help that she is getting to a place where she can put words to some of what's going on inside her.

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  7. i don't tell my kids far in advance too. I just told them because they asked yesterday that they were starting in one week.

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  8. I'm totally in the "spring in on my kids at the last minute" camp. Early on I saw that my kids had horrible behavior when they knew something out of the ordinary was coming. Now I tell them things about 15 minutes before it happens! Everyone is so much happier!

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  9. Hehe...Jupiter had a friend over a few weeks ago and I didn't tell her about it until the friend was there.

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  10. We have found that not telling the little ones in our home what is happening until right before it happens works best too.

    You gotta love "off their rocker" moments.

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  11. We are having the EXACT SAME ISSUES with Phineas. Problem is, I cannot ignore the fact that school is starting soon as Ferb is autistic and he would go ballistic if he did not have the calendar and firm grip on reality and what is happening and when.
    I feel like I am sacrificing one kid's sanity for another. Is there a better way to handle this?

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  12. Oh you said it exactly!!

    Ironically sometimes even when Bear messes up, probably on purpose, he gets the “reward” anyway. Imagine knowing you can’t handle something like sports, a job, "graduating" from his special school which is structured and safe… and figuring out how to get out of it while saving face, by deliberately messing up, and a whole bunch of well-meaning people “help you” fix it so you can still get your “reward.”


    Hope you don't mind if I paraphrase this post a little on my blog.

    Mary in TX

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  13. I love all the thought that you put into parenting Genea. You are such a good mom and she is a lucky girl. I think what you are also doing by not counting "how many days until school starts" is living in the moment... a good way to live and very Zen.

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  15. This makes PERFECT sense to me. I have never been one to handle anticipation well, even as a grown adult. Yeah, Christmas and birthdays KILL me! Review time at work is even worse. With that said, I do not spiral out of control, but I can logically see where the fear lies in the anxiety.

    Great post!

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  16. Glad you figured it out. I have read an article about this, can't remember where. But it said something like, "mention the event casually one month away. And at one week away. Then daily several days before." I suppose every child has different needs, though. Hope everything keeps going smoothly for you!

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  17. I totally agree. When it's something 'new' or possibly anxiety/excitement (same thing for 3 year olds) enducing.... I give him the news the day before. Give him time to process. Express questions, anxiety or need reinforcement about what will happen.. but no more than that. To be honest... looking at a calendar with events looming.. STRESSES ME OUT!

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  18. i always keep AB and Sissy in the dark about things, on purpose. They just can't handle it. Sissy had an anxiety attack just last wednesday when I announced at breakfast, only 30 minutes beforehand, that we were going to the dentist. My kiddos just weren't cut out for big plans and long, drawn out expectations. Sissy's lab work last week? I drove to the place without saying a word, got out of the van with her and signed her in before I said, "so... I guess you know why we're here?" and she nodded her head and squeezed my hand. That was it.

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