John Marsden has a point: Let’s strive to build our kids’ resilience, rather than trying to turn them into something they’re not

Many of you won’t be aware of this, but quite a large chunk of my career has been spent in education – working with kids with special needs. At the beginning of this year, I returned to the field to become the co-ordinator of a new after-school care facility.

Child sitting in a tree with her doll.
Photo by Vivek Doshi on Unsplash

Last week, we completed our first week of vacation care. For reasons of confidentiality, I can’t tell you too much about what happens on the job, but what I can share is the wonderful experience of working in a progressive school, ie. the type of school that encourages the type of childhood that most of us Generation Xers experienced – with its focus on outdoor play and exploration, and the inherent dangers therein.

While I try not to waste too much time reflecting back on my own parenting fails these days, it’s hard to ignore the ongoing evidence of the relationship between our kids’ deteriorating mental health and “helicopter parenting”. The link has made me think about how I would do things differently if I had my time again.

The school in which I work is a green, progressive school, set in beautiful, lush grounds in the bush where the kids spend much of their day, with the option not to wear shoes – apart from during funnel web season, when (obviously) I wear full body armour. And the focus is on learning through exploration and play, using nature as the primary resource for teaching. Technology is used minimally and the culture of the school is based is on kindness and respect.

I have never seen happier, more fulfilled children. Perhaps, because there are fewer rules, but most likely because they have the freedom to explore and take control of their own learning. That approach makes it the perfect setting for kids of different abilities and the responsibility it encourages boosts their self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. It is such a privilege to watch them make up their own games and then extend them, and to work out their own problems. During after-school care, they sit together and play board, construction and card games, they colour in, they play together outdoors, they craft out of recycled materials, and even help cook their afternoon tea. Some of them are happy to simply sit and read a book.

While it is a child-centred environment – there are still expectations in terms of behaviour and respect for our resources, of course, but most of the time the kids sort out their own issues among themselves because they are encouraged to problem-solve at every stage of their learning.

As you can imagine, I was horrified in my interview for the job when I found out that the children were encouraged to climb trees and retrieve balls from snake-infested bushes. Hence, I have been forced to learn how to keep my own anxiety in check. As my supervisor explained to me, if a kids falls out of a tree and breaks their arm, they won’t climb as high the next time.

Humorous meme.
Found on Pinterest from http://www.shopatartworks.com

Raising my own kids, I know that I was guilty of the type of “helicopter parenting” that educator and author, John Marsden, talks about in his new book, The Art of Growing Up, so with this new responsibility I have been mindful of my need to relax and let go more. John worries about the effects of this parenting on the resilience of our children. ‘When I hear parents say ‘I want my children to enjoy their childhood; there’ll be time when they’re older to learn about those things’, I hear the voices of those who are scared of the vastness of the universe. These adults have a view of childhood as some kind of discrete interval, rather than just a few years from the continuum of life. How fortunate that the spirit, courage and curiosity of many young people remain largely undefeated by such adults.

One of the points he raises is the danger of putting our kids in a bubble to “protect” them from outside influences, which means that once they grow up and enter the real world they are unable to cope with its demands. Worryingly, when he interviewed a group of children and asked them what they wanted to be when they grew up, many said that they didn’t want to grow up at all.

Of course, backing off and letting children with special needs like Kurt fail isn’t quite as straightforward. It is important to advocate for them at every step of their education, but towards the end of Kurt’s schooling I had learned not to sweat the small stuff and to pick my battles in relation to homework and lost uniform, a change that has stood me in good stead for this job – particularly on the days the kids make slime and potions, or when I catch one of them at the top of a tree!!!

But, perhaps, my enjoyment of this more relaxed approach to childcare has something to do with my appreciation for less drama in my own life right now, as well as my personal appreciation of nature and mindfulness that has developed with middle age. This new simplicity to how I live my life, boosted by my greater respect for nature, is empowering. And it is so much more fulfilling than the exhausting drive of my thirties and forties that I see evident in modern parenting, where parents are continually striving to turn their kids into something they’re not.

And In Other Sports News…

The YouTube clip below has popped up on my newsfeeds a few times over the last week and refuses to be ignored. Trust me, you need to watch it with the sound on and then I want everyone to practice their tongue trills in front of the mirror – (see video at the bottom of the page for assistance). 

I sent the video over to ‘the girls’ as a suggestion of a retro experience together, but the leotard part of it didn’t go down too well. But watching these women strut their stuff reminded me of year 11 and 12 at school – a new school that I’d moved to for my HSC and originally a single-sex boys school that had recently decided to take in girls to demonstrate to the boys that another sex existed in those year groups. Looking back, the school was definitely still in the teething stage of their new venture.

Being a public school (paying, in the UK), there was inevitably a strong focus on sport. The boys played traditional sports – cricket in summer, rugby and hockey in winter – and the girls played netball and hockey.

Or rather, that was the girls that could catch or whack a ball accurately at their opponent’s calves with a stick. For those girls that weren’t quite as handy with their ball skills – although, there are balls, and then there are balls – there was the option of badminton or Jane Fonda Workout.

It’s strange to look back on those times now – more than thirty years ago – when I used to laugh off my total ineptitude at sport with humor, even though it hurt like hell never to be good enough. Sport is, unfortunately, one of those areas in which you don’t necessarily improve with practice – because God knows, I tried to make a team, ANY TEAM!

81829c25f818f7fb6ed986519133cb9eI have a long list of proud sporting non-achievements I could share with you – such as getting caught on the bus at the end of the annual cross-country run (for charity, no-less), home-goals, running in the wrong direction in Netball – but only one really proud sporting achievement. It was a brief period in my sporting career when I was selected to play for my house rounders team because the girl I was substituting had broken BOTH her legs. I have chosen not to dwell on my secret suspicion that she would still have been selected to play had only one leg been in plaster.

Anyway, in spite of the loser connotations of being assigned to the “Jane Fonda” group with twenty similarly uncoordinated girls, my memories of those afternoons are fond. I can’t remember breaking out in too big a sweat, but I do remember lolling around the school hall, grateful to be out of the cold, waiting for the boys to finish rolling around like pigs in mud so that we could oggle them in their rugby shorts and inhale their Deep Heat. However, we must have learned something, because when my aqua-aerobics instructor shouted out to us to grapevine the other dayit was almost instinctive – I knew exactly what to do.

Any sporting non-achievements you’re particularly proud of?

Graduating With Your Child

graduation-2038864_1920Thank you to Em Rusciano for the inspiration for this post. See the video on my Facebook page about her being a NEXT LEVEL, FORMAL MUM on 2Day FM.

You see, there can be no better prize as a parent than those academic award days when your child’s achievement is unveiled publicly and you can revel in parental smug-dom and remind yourself that you made that happen. I always felt that I cheated my own father with my list of lackluster progress prizes that he was forced to witness my acceptance of, which has made it all the more gratifying an experience to have a child like NC.

At least it should be, because as many of you will be aware – and in spite of having SOME input into her gene pool – we are very different people, my daughter and I, and where I have always been a very vocal underachiever, she prefers to remain an annoyingly reserved over-achiever.

Several years ago, she omitted to tell me the date of her graduation day from Year 12 and while all her friends’ parents were gifted the opportunity to pat themselves on the back for successfully maneuvering their kids through school, I remained oblivious to the event until I saw the celebratory photos plastered all over Facebook.

I have never forgiven her, nor for one moment allowed her to forget that this was a selfish attack on my parenting prowess, and since then I have made her swear publicly on several occasions that she WILL graduate from university, preferably in the most sickeningly pink floral dress I can find as punishment, even if her circle of friends think it is uncool.

I get it. She’s just not that girl – she’s one of those anti-cool girls, from whom I had to take the reins even at her school formal, like the true stage mom that I am, while she dug her heels firmly into the ground and fought me over every minor detail. Her dress was pretty, but not the Disney floaty number I had dreamt about; her hair was tidy but she refused the expensive chignon I wanted, and such were her nerves on the day that the very ugly rash she broke out in somehow managed to compliment the scarlet tone of her dress – which was some form of Karma, I suspect.

Perhaps the skywriting was a little bit too much.

Anyway, I suspected a few months back that the date for her graduation must be coming up soon but she continued to remain vague about it. When even my poor interpretation of social cues informed me that perhaps I was stepping on dangerous territory if I continued to threaten her about it, I was left to trust that she would adhere to our negotiated “arrangement”. That is, I get the photo of her in gown and mortarboard, but she doesn’t have to wear makeup, shave her legs or buy a new dress for the occasion. Armpits remain a point of negotiation.

Presumably due to cuts in tertiary education, her university kindly provided us with about four minutes notice of the date. They must assume that we parents don’t have a life and WILL drop everything for the satisfaction of watching our prodigy walk across the stage, and that appears to be true, because although I had booked flights away to Queensland that weekend, they somehow knew that I would have sold Adele tickets or postponed my own father’s funeral to be there.

Where NC underestimated me was that she thought that this calendar clash might prevent me from attending her big day and I watched her reaction to my initial disappointment at the date – the barely contained joy, the shrug of the shoulders and the arm placed unconvincingly around my own in mock pity as she commiserated with me – with some pride, thankful that all those drama lessons had been worth the financial pain.

NC is a scientist so I will excuse her logical brain and ineptitude at interpreting the true power of a mother’s pride and dedication to her cubs. Let’s hope she’s better at interpreting climate data.

12 Awful Things I Don’t Miss About Having A Child At School

The first term of the academic year is winding to a close, fortunately in tandem with the time the kids start to become really feral from the intense pressure of having to concentrate for a whole ten weeks. And I imagine that while some mums are dreading the next two weeks of holiday, some will be cracking open the Chardy to celebrate the break from routine.

 

Kurt is reaching the end of his first semester at TAFE and I can see the tiredness begin to creep in, the requirement to regiment his lifestyle so he can get up in the morning start to take its toll, and an eery sense of malaise settle over the apartment. still-life-851328_1280

 

I was at a friend’s house the other day – a beautiful house set in suburbia, surrounded by moving (!) bushland – and the only object to spoil her perfect, state-of-the-art kitchen was the number of gawdy, good behaviour charts stuck to the fridge.

 

And in spite of being surrounded by other mums, much younger than myself, (hence, trying to be on my best behaviour and not blowing the whistle on how terrible children really are), I might have inadvertently shuddered at the memory of what having a child at school entails.

 

It brought me back to ‘those days’ of trying everything, (bar selling my body), to get your child through school. Not the good behaviour charts, necessarily – because we worked out very quickly that they were pretty ineffective with children such as Kurt when ADHD kids can barely wait a minute before they expect their reward – just ‘school days’ in general.

 

Can it really be almost a year since Kurt’s last school turned their back on him?

 

Not that life has become drastically less challenging since Kurt was asked to leave school, but I never fully appreciated until now, just how torturous the many rules of mainstream education can be for some kids, as well as for their parents.

 

Here’s what I don’t miss:

 

  1. Homework – This could be numbers 1 through to 12, such is the relief that I don’t have to touch it these days. I’m unreliably informed that homework is actually voluntary and am still dumbfounded that I never got the memo.
  2. Uniform –the concept of uniform is a sound idea, but the reality of rustling together all the correct pieces of clothing at 7am on a Monday morning when you realise that some vital component has been left at the weekend sleepover, still haunts me. ‘Mufti’ days should be banned unless every parent is reminded by text that morning.
  3. Packed lunches – so much time, so much thought and preparation wasted on food that will be thrown away, bartered with, or left to biodegrade in a school bag.
  4. Notes and Admin – Schools hadn’t heard about a carbon footprint in our day, or seen the statistics for the success rate of one piece of paper making it all the way home.
  5. Performance nights – there was the fear of shame if your child was picked versus the indignation when they weren’t. The inner ear damaged created by the ‘training band,’ and the wet knickers from the uncontrollable laughter at their expense.
  6. Birthday parties – the traumatic pain of being the parent of the child who never gets an invitation.
  7. Sport – the pain/pride of being the parent of the child who is always a ‘supporter’.
  8. Early band/sport practice – the full dehumanization of parents is achieved when you force them to get up earlier than their day job requires to transport a child to an activity that they only want to attend to see their friends/for the free breakfast.
  9. The playground – #shudder
  10. Cafeteria duty – a debilitating-to-working mums scheme set up by evil schools to highlight the school’s most stoic/perfect mums.
  11. Lost hats – a test of morality for those mothers who see the solution to a problem of a lost hat by sneaking into lost property after school hours with the stealth of a ninja to steal another pupil’s hat, even though they’ve taught their child that theft is up there with joining ISIS. Closer to the lesson of ‘what goes around, comes around’.
  12. Those telephone calls from school – the best excuse for becoming a functioning alcoholic and practicing your  best drama school line of ‘sorry, you’ve got the wrong number’ in lots of silly European accents.

And I haven’t even mentioned selling raffle tickets for a cause you don’t give a shit about, parking or having to buy the teachers gifts…

Anything to add?

Remember The School Gates? Getting Old Isn’t All Bad

A friend recently wrote to me about how old she feels each time she passes the primary school our children attended and sees all the young, hip mums hanging outside the school gates. jump-1154509_1280

 

Being a mum in the playground is personally one of my least favourite periods of parenthood to reminisce about; post-traumatic memories of which I continue to dilute with wine on a nightly basis. Even now, when I’m old and ugly enough to look back on that period with fresher, more mature eyes, along with the rationality and wisdom I have acquired with age, it remains a testing time of my life.

 

In fact those days of being a young, unconfident mum, being judged by the successes and failures of my children, are more haunting than even my own school days as a teenager, trapped as I was in an all girls boarding school with painfully slowly developing boobs, late periods and no outside connection to interesting boys.

 

The playground highlights publicly your popularity and position (or lack thereof) in the mum group, a shame for those of us who are naturally shy, even if we have just as much to give as the more raucous ‘IT’ mums who dominate with their brash confidence and are loved by all, including the teachers.

 

Sour grapes? A little, perhaps. But they’re not directed at the other mums; rather at myself for not having confidence in myself and allowing that feeling of isolation to affect me so intensely.

 

I could blame my kids, of course, too. My kids were never the uber-sporty, theatrical or ridiculously popular kids who got invited to three parties each weekend. No, I was the mum forced to stand and watch the party invitations being handed out… knowing and dying a little inside as I tried to absorb their pain. In reality, it was MY pain. NC was always the kid with one special friend – usually, equally nerdy – and I was always far more affected than she was by the choosiness of her peer group. Kurt was the kid who charged around the playground like a puppy dog on Speed, in his own world, strangely oblivious to the looks and consequences his behavior encouraged.

 

And then there was the excited chit chat in the mums circle about whichever party or dinner party was happening that weekend – that I wasn’t invited to, leading to paranoia and a need to feign disinterest or lie about being busy.

 

Then I’d go home and finish a bottle of wine while the kids’ scoffed their afternoon tea.

 

I had different tactics to avoid standing alone in the playground and looking like the Mummy-No-Mates I was. Some days I’d arrive early and sit in the car until the last possible moment between the shame of isolation and my kids feeling abandoned. Other days I’d drive in conspicuously late and swoop the kids up from the concrete while the car was still in motion. Sometimes I would arrange to meet a friend beforehand and we’d go in together, armed with the false bravado of togetherness.

 

In the school playground you were initially judged by the success and popularity of your child, then forced to become friends with the parents of the kids your children connected with – no matter how wierd – rather than the ones you might have had more in common with.

 

What a relief to be judged on my own merits now. 

Teenage Truanting – 10 Ways You Could Deal With It

Teenage Truanting - 10 Ways You Could Deal With IT
Sebastion by▲SBJØRN found on http://www.flickr.com

I’ve sensed a collective sigh of relief on the Internet over the last few days as we parents approach the end of the fucking long school holidays.

 

Which are, frankly, four weeks too long.

 

Even Kurt appears eager to get back to school. Now. Today. Or at least until term begins. Or until sometime during roll call when it dawns on him that it is much more fun to stay at home or ‘hang out’.

 

For those smuggo parents yet to be initiated in the pastimes of certain teenage rebels without any real cause at all (other than destroying their parents lives, obviously), ‘truanting‘ or ‘wagging’ is when kids decide to take the law into their own hands and skip lessons or days of school. It can start around the age of 11 and the kids can turn professional by age 15 or 16.

 

With only three official terms left to go and in spite of the knowledge that all he really has to do to finish school and get a certificate is to maintain some form of attendance record and complete a few assignments, I fail to understand how my son can get this far in his education and then risk it all so close to the summit.

 

The problem is, with my newly installed, perfect-parent, anti-enabling strategies firmly in place now, I can’t even give him a helpful foot up or get on my knees and beg him to attend classes.

 

If he decides to fail, so be it.

 

So how do you cope when your child wags school?

 

Do you?

 

  1. Beg, plead with them, blackmail and promise them them every Apple product to be launched over the next ten years? Or in other words, (shudder) ENABLE them?
  2. Handcuff them to you while they’re still asleep and refuse to undo the cuffs until you can deliver them to their first lesson.
  3. Try to ignore the glaringly obvious fact they’re ruining their life and last-chance- hotel of ever achieving an academic qualification by doing yoga and ‘chanting’ to yourself all day to dull out the pain of disappointment that insists on ringing in your ears, because you’ve been advised by your ‘bad parent therapist’ that by the age of 17 they have to take responsibility for their actions and need to realize that there are consequences to every bad decision.
  4. Take the attitude that school doesn’t suit everyone and ce sera? Then take another secret drag.
  5. Speed-read your way through your parenting manuals and check the section on ‘truanting’, because there must be some way you can justify that this situation can’t possibly be your fault.
  6. Look up the definition of ‘sociopath’ for the billionth time that month to check that truanting isn’t one of the main signs.
  7. Open another bottle of wine.
  8. Lie back on the sofa with your wine and complete online applications for ‘Woolworth shelf stacker’ positions.
  9. Call a girlfriend and halfway through whining, remind yourself to stop wasting your breath because how can they possibly understand. Their child is normal and doesn’t aspire to be a full-time ‘loser’ when they eventually grow up.
  10. And breathe…

The Rollercoaster of Emotions Linked To ADHD

The presence of ADHD exacerbates a roller coaster of emotions for both their parents and the children themselves. Especially when the pressure’s really on.

From the Library of Congress: TITLE: Thos. W. ...
From the Library of Congress: TITLE: Thos. W. Keene. Othello CALL NUMBER: POS – TH – 1884 .O7, no. 1 (C size) [P&P] REPRODUCTION NUMBER: LC-USZC6-58 (color film copy transparency) RIGHTS INFORMATION: No known restrictions on publication. MEDIUM: 1 print (poster) : lithograph, color ; 104 x 69 cm. CREATED/PUBLISHED: Cleveland, O. : W.J. Morgan & Co. Lith., [1884] CREATOR: W.J. Morgan & Co. Lith. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the same way as when you parent a child who doesn’t have the condition, you never know as the parent of an ADHD child if you’re doing the right thing. But when you’re dealing with mental health issues, the risks of screwing these kids up are even more scary.

It’s one thing to understand your child’s difficulties – such as their problems regulating emotions, their impulsivity and poor executive functioning – but it’s another thing to be able to recognize where these difficulties come into play in their day-to-day life, and how far you can push them.

No one is the perfect parent. We’re only human.

During the past three weeks of exams, Kurt has been stretched to his emotional limits. And so have I. Each time I’ve caught myself nagging him to revise and been ignored, shouted at or when he’s stormed out of the apartment to vent his anger in some other dubious activity, I’ve tried to remember that this time last year we didn’t think he would even still be at school. So we’re doing well.

I know lots of ADHD kids that have dropped out of the education system well before Kurt’s age.

And I’m not perfect… and all of us parents are guilty of striving for the best for our children. Society tells us that our kids need their HSC. The difficulty with a children with ADHD lies in knowing what our children’s ‘best’ is and accepting that it won’t necessarily be the same as ours.

Every adult that meets Kurt comments upon how bright my boy is. For some reason, there seems to be this general assumption that all ADHD kids are stupid because they are often the class clown or because their behaviour is poor in class; whereas in fact, the opposite is often true. ADHD kids often socialise better with people from different age groups and my boy has always been able to perform on demand. And it’s not all show – talk to him about any one of his passions and he’ll discuss the topic with the same intelligence as an adult three times his age.

It’s persuading these kids to do things they don’t want to do or that they find difficult, that’s the problem.

And it’s not just ‘difficult’, in the normal sense of how a kid might react to doing something they don’t want to do, like a tantrum or an argument. No, it’s hard in the sense that they will refuse outright and nothing will change their mind. Or in the sense that if they feel too overwhelmed by your demands, they won’t just shout at you or go off and sulk – they might self-harm, threaten suicide or leave home, because ADHD has co-morbidities such as depression and Bi-Polar Disorder.

Kurt is happy for the first time in his life at his current school. But unfortunately we are getting closer to the end of his school journey and it’s all starting to become a bit serious. While Kurt has found friends for the first time in his life and is ready to party, his friends know they have to knuckle down to work now, as they head towards Year 12. Which is good for Kurt. That positive peer pressure of mixing with kids who care, has had a great effect on his attitude to school.

As these exams loomed a few months ago, I heard my son mention the word ‘revision’ for the first time, which was music to my ears. He brought home his exam timetable with pride, didn’t throw a wobbly when I suggested a tutor, and dug out the English books that had been collecting dust under his bed for months. I was encouraged.

He still referred to his ‘study leave’ as ‘holidays’ and considered an hour and a half of revision a day to be child labour. He refused to read the English texts or learn any quotes, and we shared many lengthy discussions about why Shakespeare was stupid, too. Imagine a child who has never read a book before being given Othello to study, when Kurt taught himself to read from the biographies of his favourite rock stars and the lyrics of songs. So we had to make revision as appealing as possible – Mnemonics for English techniques, the film ‘Gladiator’ for his Ancient History and the old man used the analogy of his company to help make his Business Studies sound more interesting.

You have to think laterally to gain the interest of a child with ADHD, but even then you’re fighting a battle against their innate procrastination, poor concentration and distraction problems, white might mean that even that special, ‘all singing all dancing’ quote board that you laboured over to make it more simple, still doesn’t captivate their attention.

His interest in exams lasted to the end of his first exam.

‘Some people get nervous before exams, but I just get excited!’ he shouted at me manically across the breakfast table on the first morning, as I tried to cram Othello quotes into him along with his high protein Smoothie. He was hyper, like a young Jack Nicholas in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest – how he managed to sit down for two hours afterwards, I will never know.

After the novelty had worn off and with five exams still to go, it was impossible to get him to focus and the arguments started over again about how LITTLE school work he was doing and how MUCH he was ‘smoking’ to keep himself calm.

In my head, all I could think was – surely you’d be calmer if you just did some fucking work!

But then he reacted and turned to self-harm again – because that’s the way he handles his emotional regulation when the pressure gets too much – and I knew I had to lay off and remember how far we’d come.

He didn’t pass his English exam and he was devastated because he thought he’d ‘done so much work.’ (He probably did need to read the texts – just saying). But he has passed the other two subjects he’s received the marks for. And he’s over the moon, and I’m over the moon, even though I fear that those pass marks have justified in Kurt’s mind that you don’t really have to do any work for exams.

Imagine what my son could achieve if he was on the same starting block as the other kids in his class and could regulate his emotions, organise himself effectively and could share the same executive functioning skills, fear of consequences and concentration levels?

 

5 Practical Tips To Get Your ADHD Child Through Exams

So, exams and children with ADHD don’t mix. If exams are stressful for the ‘normal’ child, imagine how appealing they are to the child with poor memory skills, low self-esteem and poor organisation skills; or the kid who can’t sit still for longer than fifteen minutes without fidgeting.

To Help Your ADHD Child Through Exams
Found on littlejuggie.tumblr.com at http://www.pinterest.com

 

ADHD is categorized as a learning disability, but that doesn’t mean that kids who suffer with the condition are not intelligent.

 

But due to the symptoms of ADHD, formal school exams are perhaps not the most accurate way to test the learning progress of these children whose executive functioning skills are compromised by a sluggish dopamine system in the brain.

 

Understandably then, the thought of having to sit Year 11 exams this week is about as appealing as watching paint dry for my son Kurt. As every parent of a child with ADHD knows, homework and revision are the most diabolical torture invented for children with ADHD.

 

Although we have turned a major corner this year with Kurt in terms of his management of his ADHD and the coping strategies he has finally begun to utilise vis a vis his school life. This time last year we were in the midst of an annus horribilis when our then sixteen-year old boy suddenly discovered every unlawful and anti-social activity invented by teenagers throughout history and went into free-fall as he tried all of them out at the same time. I would never have believed then that Kurt would still be in school today, but not only is he still at school, he appears to be thriving – he’s rarely late in the mornings, has made some friends (albeit the dubious-looking ones) and is doing some study.

 

Like other children, kids with ADHD come in different packages. Some will be academically gifted, others will have average ability and others will have to cope with learning difficulties. Kurt is a bright boy and if he could write his English exam on Top Gear, The Life of Kurt Cobain or Bondi Rescue, he would ace these looming exams. Sadly, Othello doesn’t quite fulfill him in the same way and to be honest, I question why a boy who has no intention of going to university needs to know about dramatic techniques, quotes and the structure of an Elizabethan play.

 

That’s the modern curriculum for you.

 

Which brings me appropriately to the first of my top tips to help you get your ADHD child through exams:

 

  1. BE REALISTIC IN YOUR EXPECTATIONS.’ That doesn’t mean you need to lower your expectations for your child, but as their parents you know their limitations and how to get the best out of them without pushing, overwhelming or pressurising them into dangerous territory. Kurt and I negotiated an hour of revision a day leading up to these exams and his goal is to get a 50% pass in each subject. (I should note here that he believes that an hour a day of homework on top of his school day is a ridiculous demand and I should be reported to child welfare for abuse).

All kids are different and there will be those kids who study for four hours each night and started revising around Christmas-time and others who will do nothing at all. For Kurt, an hour is a good compromise – it’s one more hour of study than he’s ever done in his life and that’s progress.

 

  1. ‘PERSUADE/BRIBE THEM TO REVISE WITH YOU – AWAY FROM DISTRACTIONS.’ Children with ADHD need extra support and scaffolding with the organisation needed to revise efficiently. Sometimes I can persuade Kurt to let me help him revise, other days he rejects me completely. But even if he won’t allow me to work with him, if he’s in the same space as me at least I know that he isn’t flicking through another twenty-five open tabs on his computer at the same time, and he is more focused. His learning success depends on his mood when he approaches study, which in turn depends on how wrung-out he is after a long day at school, how much sleep he had the night before, if he is in the throes of young love and chatting up some girl on Facebook and how much he has eaten that day. I have upped his tutoring sessions to twice a week in the three weeks leading up to exam week, which means I can console myself that he is doing at least 2 hours of revision a week.

 

  1. ‘MAKE SURE THEY GET ENOUGH SLEEP.’ Kurt takes ADHD medication and as such, without the use of Melatonin, he would be up all night listening to music, vacuuming his room, drumming or on Social Media. He manages his own Melatonin now because he is old enough to know just how horribly pear-shaped the next day can go when he’s tired – like when he forgets his ADHD meds which then leads to poor comprehension and no filter, which in turn alienates friends and lands him in trouble in class – he then becomes despondent and aggressive by the time he comes home. It’s a vicious cycle that it has taken him 17 years for him to learn. I would recommend removing computers and electronic equipment from your child’s room at night if you can, but realistically with a seventeen year old, there has to be a level of trust involved (which I don’t have, so all I can do is pray that the Melatonin does its job). They do need to take the Melatonin a good few hours before bedtime.

 

  1. ‘MAKE SURE THEY EAT BREAKFAST AND TAKE SNACKS OR MONEY TO SCHOOL.’ One of the side-effects of ADHD medication is that it can suppress the appetite and sometimes Kurt will eat nothing for breakfast or lunch. I’ve tried everything to tempt him to eat, from cooked breakfasts to Up N Go’s, which I despise. At the moment we’re in a smoothie phase, which seems to work. They’re quick, easy for him to pour down his throat when he’s rushing out of the door on his way to school and I can secrete some healthiness into them even when he demands something completely revolting like a peanut butter milkshake. Importantly, they give him some energy to aid his concentration and lift his mood. Here’s one I made earlier with secreted banana and honey. (Shhhhhhh!)

5 Practical Tips To Get Your ADHD Child Through Exams

 

  1. ‘REWARDS.’ These kids respond to rewards, so use them – we all need a little extra help at different stages of our life. At this stage of our school journey, I see these exams as less about measuring Kurt’s academic ability, and more about Kurt’s understanding of responsibility and accountability. A game of Trivial Pursuit shows me more about his general knowledge than any English paper on Othello could. My son is a thinker, a talker and a creative but whatever he does he will need to adapt to fit into society, learn to meet deadlines and put in the extra hours to progress further in his career. The fact that he has applied himself to school and revision this year and is about to sit his exams shows me that he is learning and maturing in spite of the limitations imposed by his ADHD. We’ve come a long way.

 

TRY AND STAY CALM THROUGH THE EXAM PROCESS AND ACCEPT THAT THESE KIDS ARE DIFFERENT AND IT’S MOST LIKELY THAT THEIR TALENTS WON’T BE MEASURED OR DEMONSTRATED BY ACADEMIC QUALIFICATIONS.

 

Think Richard Branson, Robin Williams, Adam Levine, Justin Timberlake…

How To Raise The Perfect Child And Genuinely Celebrate Mothers Day

Something extraordinarily momentous is going to happen on my blog today. Something that doesn’t happen very often, so prepare yourselves.

 

Mr Benn The Pirate
Mr Benn The Pirate (Photo credit: a11sus)

This post is going to be a HAPPY post.

 

If Mr Benn can do it (Pom joke), so can I. So today I am choosing to be Pharell Williams and to ‘feel happy’, even though its taken all of my courage to post this piece because I am fully aware that I run the risk of losing those few loyal readers, who obviously share my antipathy towards life in general and get off on a good whinge.

 

And yes, I am fully aware of the potential repercussions. Anxiety says that if you find yourself in a happy place – Be FUCKING AWARE – no-one really gets away with that shit, and some hideous retribution will be lurking around the corner.

 

But I’ll ignore the voices for today, because guess what? Kurt is doing okay at school.

 

I SAID KURT IS DOING OKAY AT SCHOOL.

 

Cue: drum roll and god-awful trumpet sounds.

 

 

HALLELUJAH, Hallelujah, Hallelujah……

 

According to his teachers, (and I quote), ‘there have been no major behavior infringements this term, his key assignments have been completed and handed in on time (which makes his tutor the best $40 I’ve spent in a long time) and his teachers LIKE him.

 

‘I’m sorry, you must have made a mistake.’ I questioned. ‘My son’s Kurt Cobain.’

 

It turns out that my son is ‘trying’.

 

So this current state of euphoria must be what parents that don’t have ‘Kurts’ feel on parents evening? I keep humming ‘you are the wind beneath my wings’ playfully in his ear, but he swats me away angrily, like he would a fly.

 

But he has negotiated a Macca’s this weekend as the first recompense for ‘CONFORMING’.

 

It’s all my fault, apparently. So what’s new?

 

It was funny not walking away from the usual parent speed-dating night (thanks @meggsie62 for that wonderful analogy) without wanting to camouflage myself or hide and weep in the nearest dark corner with a bottle of Vodka. Strange not to feel deflated or fearful about my son’s future; I didn’t even HATE (WITH A WORRYING LEVEL OF VENGEANCE) every other parent in the hall and all their perfectly formed children.

 

I left that hall with my head held high, a very silly grin plastered on my face and a distinct spring to my step.

 

In fact what I really wanted to do was get on a soapbox and shout out to everyone there, ‘Yes, that’s my son, Kurt Cobain. Form an orderly queue, please, if you want to learn how to successfully parent a child with ADHD,’ and on the back of this I would obviously set up a financially successful parenting programme and cite wine and chocolate as my major influences.

 

But I was too worried that the old man might get to the wine drip I’d set up at home first.

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School Parents Evening and The Wine Drip

Outside Guy's Hospital
Outside Guy’s Hospital (Photo credit: guy.p)

On the good side, the inhabitants of Maggot City are obviously in the process of re-strategizing and haven’t sent any more special envoys into the battlefield that is my pantry.

 

Perhaps they haven’t noticed that I killed a core member of their flying squad yet?

 

Their timing is uncharacteristically considerate because…

 

On the bad side, it is Kurt’s parents evening tonight and it is looming over me like a huge black and menacing shadow.

 

The early signs are not looking good and I have to go it alone as the old man is busy washing his hair.

 

Should I be worried about the letter that was sent home yesterday with a warning about lack of commitment from the Board of Studies?

 

I know that Kurt is trying (and you can interpret that either way) but it’s probably five years too late. Having said that, our little session of reading his Y11 English text (A Beautiful Life) together last night turned out to be quite entertaining. I think he now realises that it does actually help if you read the text before you write an essay on the subject.

 

It turns out that I have a hidden talent for Iranian accents too, although Kurt said I sounded like a Russian from James Bond.

 

But I did manage to ask him seriously last night where, on a scale of one to ten, (‘one’ being dismal and ‘ten’ being the sort of parents evening you would expect from an average student), he imagined his would sit.

 

He didn’t have a straight answer.

 

Apparently, some teachers are more tolerant of talking, shouting out and surfing Facebook than others.

 

I’ve got three bottles in the fridge and the drip set up.

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20 Ways To Get Back At Your Teenagers

After extensive experience, I have come to the conclusion that much like oil and water, Kurt and school do not mix.

Singer Britney Spears was one of the best sell...
Singer Britney Spears was one of the best selling female performers of the 2000s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Much of my time this week has been spent brown-nosing to school officials, inventing new punishments for my son (that will never work), consulting every ADHD manual ever written and perfecting a withering look of disappointment that I lob in my son’s direction at every opportunity I get.

And drinking crying.

(And I get a lot of those opportunities to give him THAT look, now that the school has insisted that HIS school holidays  are to commence earlier than those of the rest of the school).

I have found some solace, however, in the (some might call it ‘psychotic’) nocturnal pleasure of developing ways in which I can hatch my revenge, (lawfully), during the following eight weeks of school holiday hell.

So here are my tips on how you too can exact revenge on your teenagers, without actually averting them to your foul play.

  • Turn all the taps on in the house during their daily 30 minute shower ritual.
  • Remove all loose change from your purse.
  • Tag them on Facebook in those especially awkward family photos. Add photos of them as small children on the potty, naked, with braces and un-dyed hair.
  • Meet them at the school gates occasionally, saying ‘you just happened to be in the area.’
  • Alert the parents of their friends when your child sleeps over that your child may have a bedwetting problem.
  • Discuss with their friends the problems your child has with relationships, your concerns about their skin problems and that you suspect your child might be gay. Then tell them how your child still gets into bed with you in the morning and suffers from obvious attachment issues.
  • Get the family photo albums out with their friends.
  • Abandon your teenager just as the cashier is about to serve you at the supermarket while you run to find something you forgot and leave them there to fend for themselves.
  • Refuse to pick them up after 9pm in the evening so they have to walk up that hill or (GOD FORBID), suffer the indignity of public transport.
  • When they are grounded, tell their friends that it is because they have been naughty.
  • Turn off the home Wifi at 10pm.
  • Change the password to Foxtel movies daily.
  • Snapchat your teens photos of yourself getting dressed.
  • Wear low-cut, short Britney Spears-style dresses to their school parents evening.
  • Call them their pet names such as ‘Bunny’ and ‘Sweetpea’ in front of their friends and teachers.
  • Use teen slang with their friends – this is even more effective if it is used in the wrong context.
  • Pretend you and their father are locking your bedroom door on Sunday afternoon to go and have ‘special’ time.
  • Discuss the facts of life and sexual positions with them in great detail, using yourself and their father as an example.
  • Play Disney songs in the car when their friends are there.
  • Leave a selection of porn DVDs and sex toys out in a very visible place in your bedroom.