Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Zero Dark Always

I've worked with many children who suffered from the "trophy for showing up" trend, and the "criticize the action not the child" movement (prisons are full of people who believe they are disconnected from their actions!). For them to have come to me at my former job in the first place meant they had severe problems getting through each day. But as we worked through the issues and would have success,  one specific blockade was awfully durable.

The kids felt, almost universally, they deserved fireworks and a Mardi Gras parade for showing an effort. Never mind what they were capable of, and for sure never mind what the rest of the day looked like. We could have a school suspension, been picked up by police- intoxicated, and said child expected a parade because when she came home she hung up her coat. Even though it should go in the closet and she hung it on a doorknob, because she remembered to bring it home and didn't throw it on the floor.

It was near impossible to get through to the kids what a minimum day should look like. That hanging up your coat is a basic expectation that should be done right, every time, without anyone telling you to do it. That hanging your coat does not erase the alcohol you stole. Hanging your coat does not even erase your snotty attitude. It is basic. It is a "zero".

Eventually I came up with the idea for a list I called Zero Dark Always. It uses a range of numbers from [-5] to [ +5] to describe what's expected, what could turn a good day bad, and what really would deserve a parade.

When Genea came to me last week genuinely confused why she was restricted from fun until a specific chore was done, I tried out a Zero Dark Always list. She said, "I do everything you tell me and I'm still grounded". The job was to wash the windows. Her attitude was so nasty and the job so half arsed, I really could not believe she didn't get it. She had ripped down a curtain at one window, breaking the rod. She had "fallen" down the stairs, actually hurting and bruising herself, to get out of it (didn't work, I knew she had done it deliberately and she admitted it later). She "accidentally" yanked a large set of heavy wooden blinds out of the wall. It bonked her in the face, making for another injury (still insists that one was real- I'm guessing the injury was not intentional but yanking down the blinds was). Screamed, cried and banged things around the entire time. About 1/2 the windows were worked on and of those, the job was 1/4 complete. 

So what was my problem? She had shown up! And all those problems were from her actions, not her!

Anyway, here's what I wrote up for her.

{+5} great manners and attitude, helps w/o being asked, occupies self, pleasant/fun to be with, using calming before it's needed, gets everything done right away, needs no reminders
{+4} Good manners, keeps self busy, accepts changes, uses calming when annoyed
{+3} flexible, pleasant, helps out, extra music practice,
{+2} Calms with reminders, asks to help, positive attitude and voice
{+1} is quiet/not disruptive, accepts "no" the first time, dry bed, uses calming without complaining, respectful to everyone

"ZERO" : pick up your things, take care of all pea, polite, honest, no tantrums, listen the first time.
Does: chores, homework, music practice, hygiene and dressing. May need 1 reminder for 1 task.

{-1} complains, in others' business, does most of chores, needs 2 or more reminders for daily routine, fake crying, cooperates with calming after tantrum. Any issues with the cats.
{-2} whiny/short tantrums, uses mean voice, rude, noisy, corrects adults
{-3} nasty to others, stomps around, bangs things, ignores "no", ignores reminders, completes 1/2 or less of routine, resists calming
{-4} yelling, screaming, refusing to use calming
{-5} full volume crying/screaming, shrieking, hitting, destroys things, hurts self or others

So the point is not to push [+5] days every day. I expect a [+5] to come around about as often as a [-5]. Which is to say, almost never. If there are all [+5]'s, that could very well indicate something else was going on (like she ate all your candy bars and is hoping you won't notice. Just for example). The ideal mix would be zero to [+2], with a few [-1] or [ -2]'s here and there, because no one is perfect.  Usually I would build in more room for reminders but with Genea, relentless unnecessary questions and confirmations are part of her issue. Everything is written down for her in detail and posted on the wall. Yes, it looks like a group home in here sometimes.

I haven't tried this with Genea before I guess because I thought she was too young to get it. And I have to say, had my own mother given me list like this I would have blown a gasket in 3 different languages. It should probably come from someone else, a therapist or teacher maybe. I did it for Genea because she asked. Obviously this one is specific to her.

But with the teenagers, after about a month they would be consistently over +2. Naturally they played it at first, and usually hovered at -1 or -2 in the beginning. The message had to be strong and unwavering, showing up is not enough. Usually, when they "got it", they got it good and would actually strive for higher numbers which was weird because that was not the goal at all.

I think, this is my opinion only, that most kids know smoke is being blown up their butts when people praise them for nothing. But as kids, they accept it and become complacent. It's easier to make half an effort and then go off for something more fun or to their own interest. They've known all along it was wrong, and felt disdain for the meaningless awards. It only builds an empty and dissonant confidence, and it makes for a far greater fall when the truth roars up.


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