Loving Children Who Love to Hate Starting School

*written by Audrey Simmons

 

When I was younger, our new curriculum for the year would arrive in the mail sometime in the mid to late summer and “unboxing day” was an exciting event. We’d go over every book, flipping through pages and exclaiming about our excitement. I’d marvel at how complex some of the math or science at the ends of the books seemed and my mom would have to confiscate readers that we attempted to start plowing through right there on the kitchen or living room floor. We were enthusiastic, and we were not an anomaly among homeschoolers. I know families who have started school a week or two earlier than planned just because the kids were so excited to start.

 

Some of these same kids, including us, would burn out a few weeks in and start complaining about math or writing– we weren’t saints, just kids– but that excitement sometimes made it easier to launch into our schedule and getting used to school again.

 

However, if you’re homeschooling kids on the spectrum or adopted children with attachment issues or learning challenges, you might not get that shot in the arm of enthusiasm. Maybe you home school but you and your child both silently (or loudly) dread each upcoming year.
Kids who love to hate starting school

 

Summer has been nice and you’re reluctant to start again what feels like an uphill battle, both ways, in a snow storm…just to start working, much less getting through the material itself.

 

One thing that can help is getting materials that plug in to a special interest, like a science or physics book structured around the study of cars, but where a neurotypical or attached child might immediately be excited to start, it might feel like this has backfired when working with autistic or attachment-disordered kids. That “unboxing day” might not have the same meaning for these kids.

 

Please don’t lose heart. Chances are, your child doesn’t hate the learning environment, you as a teacher, or the material– all things parents tend to interpret resistance being signs of– your child probably just has difficulty with transitions. Be consistent. Be pleasant. One of our biggest enemies, mentally, is our own expectations. If you are expecting a child to be thrilled to start, to switch to each “new book,” you’re going to both have a miserable day. If you anticipate some feet-dragging, some crying, some upset, you’ll be better prepared to handle it and not feel derailed.

 

For many kids, the transition to a new schedule is difficult, but where neurotypical or attached children may be whining and complaining six weeks in to the school year when you also want to come up with excuses for a day off, autistic children may be better motivators! They might be the kids pulling out the books, insisting on the new schedule that they’ve adjusted to, and helping you stay on track!

 

But some kids take much longer to even reach that point, if they ever do. Some kids with learning delays or oppositional disorders might rarely be enthusiastic about school as a whole. But after you’ve settled into your new schedule, resist the temptation to “change things up” unless you know for certain something isn’t working. These kids aren’t motivated by change. Be consistent in your schedule. And then start finding ways to introduce some excitement.

 

It might be themed stickers or small toys. It might be short YouTube videos. There is controversy about the health of offering food or treats as a motivator or reward, but I’ve found some success in offering a single chocolate chip or other small item for each broad task. Another thing that my kids in particular respond to is games– we can transition to a reading lesson if they know that I’ll sit and play an alphabet or word game with them, like Bananagrams or Pairs in Pears, after we finish or to aid the transition. Be willing to try this even if you feel like your child should be “too old” for such motivators!

 

 Do not lose heart! Do not grow weary of doing good. And you are doing good, giving your child(ren) a safe, attachment-fostering learning environment and presenting them with educational material. Our goals might sound like “teaching him to read” or “getting through algebra,” but ultimately your goal is to be faithful in the job you’ve been given and loving your child well. Your reward will come from God, not from your child. Take a deep breath, remember your child is not the enemy, and know that you aren’t alone.

When I don’t feel like wearing real clothes- Totally Broke Tuesday

Several years ago, daughter Ania and I noticed we were getting into a slump, a not wearing real clothes slump. We traipsed around in sweats and yoga pants. When we decided, after our annual shopping trip get dressed in real clothes every day, we got questions like:

“Where are you going today?”

“Why are you so dressed up?”

All confirmation that we had hit a slump.  This school year, I started sliding back down the slippery slope to yoga-pants-land. The weather is cool in the morning and I walk before school. I found myself coming home and throwing on a sweatshirt instead of suiting up for the day. I went to two appointments wearing my “fake” clothes and I don’t like the way it made me feel. I felt like I dropped the ball.

I was thinking about my fake clothes slump during our annual shopping trip to the outlets on Saturday and reminded myself of a habit I need to reinstate- shopping in my own closet! I do this before the shopping trip, making a list of what I need, not what I want, which is all new. Just new. Did I say new? And…. I don’t always need new. I just want it.

At the change of each season, I shop in my closet and put as many outfits together as I can. At the beginning of each week (Sunday afternoon), I choose my outfits for the week and hang each one on a hanger, complete with jewelry. I use my mannequin.. I’m certainly not saying you have to be obsessive about it as I do, but I do think there are many benefits of shopping your own closet and getting dressed in real clothes every day.

outfit 1
Long sleeve shirt from Eddie Bauer ($10) from Saturday’s shopping trip., everything else from my closet. Those boots, Christmas three years ago. Still love them! I love having a comfortable outfit for running errands in!

If you are like me, you have a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear, at least that is what I can fall prey to thinking. This morning, for example, I pulled a pair of jeans out of the closet that I forgot I owned! I didn’t have to go out and buy them!

outfit 3
Nothing new here. Sweater from Goodwill (last year). Everything else has been living in my closet.

Reasons to Get Dressed in Real Clothes

When I get dressed, I feel better, more professional. I get more accomplished when I am wearing real clothes. I can go out the door at a moments notice without panicking about what I have on. The children are watching what I do. If I get in a habit of staying in my pjs all day, they will follow suit. When the UPS man comes to the door, I don’t have to hide because I don’t want him to see my snowflake pj pants or my black yoga pants with paint on the leg (true story).

Outfit 2
Nothing new here. Sweater from Audrey’s closet. The flower is from Audrey’s wedding (six years ago) and I still love it. Everything else has been hiding in my closet. Love that I can take the sweater off to rock those short sleeves when I am doing dishes, etc… Throw it back on and I am dressed up!

I don’t have anything deep or theological to share. It is a pretty simple message, we keepers of the home, homeschooling or otherwise, should treat our homes like a business. We should  be good stewards of our time and finances. I can easily fall into the trap of slothfulness when it comes to either of these. I, like Eve in the garden, can believe that I don’t have enough ________. I need more clothes, more me time (that’s another post altogether) instead of looking at what I do have with an attitude of thankfulness. Give us today our daily bread is part of our daily prayer. The manna provided for today is enough. The closet full of clothes is enough. The outfit I am wearing is the manna I am wearing for today. If I need more tomorrow, it will be there. God supplies all of my needs according to His riches in glory. When I get dressed for the day in ‘real’ clothes, I honor Him and the good gifts He has given.

Totally-Broke Tuesday- FREE Kindle Copy of Positive Adoption

Hi, Kathleen here, filling in for Audrey who is vacationing!

Wreath of leaves quote

August is winding down. It’s one of my favorite months. Summer lingers with high temps in the middle of the day and cooler nights perfect for county fairs and out door concerts, campfires and family reunions by the Cherry River. We buy school supplies in bulk and ‘bouquets of sharpened pencils’. The leaves, ever so slightly, change into autumn hues. And ….it’s my birthday month!

Yep, August 26, tomorrow is my birthday! I’d love you to celebrate it with me! I’d love to give you a present!  On my birthday (August 26th), the kindle edition of Positive Adoption A Memoir is FREE!  If you are totally broke from buying school supplies, accept the free gift and please share! And if you are totally broken from the world, from rejection or choked by your past. If you are broken from infertility or loss read on…

cover

If you are thinking about adopting, this is for you.

If you have adopted, this is for you.

If you foster children, this is for you.

If you have been rejected or abandoned, this is for you.

If you had a troubled beginning, this is for you.

If you wonder why you exist and if God has a plan to put all the pieces of your broken past together, this is for you.

“Then one day, my father burst out of the house like an angry hornet.  He jumped in the teal Suburban and sped down the lane. I sat on the back porch , staring at my new red sneakers. My brother ran after him yelling, “Dad, don’t leave!” Tears dripped down his dusty, sweaty cheeks.

My father was gone.

This was my first exposure to the reality of the great divorce of heaven and earth. I was banished from the only Eden I had ever known, flawed as it was.  I was a hurt child, reaping the consequences of someone else’s life choices just as children all over the world– children who are  victims of circumstances, hunger, rejection, alcohol addiction, depression, rage, fear, punishments, loss of temper, war, famine, prostitution, and drugs.  The pit is the same in any language: Deep, dark, and putrid. No matter what the cause of the rejection or abandonment, the feelings are the same. The devastation parallels Adam and Eve’s separation from the Heavenly Father.”

My troubled beginnings gave me a heart for hurt children. Many of us believe our beginnings ARE us. They are not. They are circumstances that happened TO us. If we voluntarily hand our pain and suffering to God the Father, He will shape it into the future He intended. A future of hope. A future of purpose. He loved you before the foundation of the world and only He can take a hurt and turn it into a healing that spreads like the ripples of a pebble tossed in a lake.

We are assured and know that [[a]God being a partner in their labor] all things work together and are [fitting into a plan] for good to and for those who love God and are called according to [His] design and purpose.- Romans 8:28

God had a plan for my life and He has one for yours. When things seem impossible. When you ask why. He will weave your story together. Wait. Trust.

This is my memoir weaved together with the adoption of my children. It is a life restored. It is a new beginning for all. It is a hard beginning turned into great love story.

I had read so many negative articles on adoption/foster care when we began the process. It was disheartening. So, when I began to write my story, on journal entry at a time, I knew it had to be Positive Adoption. It began with my spiritual adoption which led to a physical adoption of a sibling group of four half a world away.

When Bio Kids Need a Break

This post was written by Audrey Simmons as part of the Totally Broke Tuesdays series. This month, our focus is “Adoption.” Audrey has been writing about bio kids in the midst of adoption and you can find the first two posts here and here.

Do you ever feel like you need to just get away? Things have been crazy all day, all week, all month, and you wish you could just have a day off. Or even, an evening off. In the midst of forging connections, dealing with fallout from hurt children’s behaviors, and whatever else is going on in your life (and if you’ve adopted, finances or health might be one of those big things), you just need to run away screaming. At least, that’s what it feels like.

Your bio kids probably feel it, too. Depending on age, though, they might express it in different ways. Do they avoid the company of the family? Do they linger at events, dragging their feet when it’s time to leave church? Do they have trouble adjusting after an afternoon at a friend’s house? Do they whine about a need for privacy, for space, complain often? Are their own meltdowns reaching a level almost equal to that of those with wounded pasts?

Your bio kids might need a respite. If things are really tough, really chaotic at home, then they might benefit from a few days away with grandparents or other relatives or friends you trust. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just a special couple of days for them away. Nobody has failed. This isn’t giving up. This is just a breather. An oxygen mask, of sorts.

It can be good for bio kids to have a few days where they are getting a break in routine, some positive attention. In adoptive homes, there are sometimes periods of intense therapy/connection work where the kids who are “behaving” start to feel like they only get attention if they act up. Reshifting some focus for them can be healthy.

There will be transition on both ends. You might cringe at the level of enthusiasm they have for “escaping,” even if no one calls it that. Hold it in. This isn’t a time for lectures about family and loving and bearing burdens– chances are, they want to escape the behavior, and have trouble (as everyone does) disassociating it from the person. Let it go.

When they come home, there might be a day or so of sour attitudes and feet-dragging, and you might feel a little bitter. After all, they just got a break. You were at home, still with the screaming and door-slamming and peeing on the walls (or whatever you’re dealing with!). But coming back to “reality” is a jarring, but necessary, transition. They might equally be full of enthusiasm for discussing the days they spent apart from you, and you might (again) be tempted to be a little bitter. But this is connection! This is what you’re struggling to create with the kids who can’t see past tantrums right now.

Ask what they enjoyed or didn’t like about their days away. Connect with them. And then, gently remind them if you need to, that breaks or vacations are a chance to gather our wits and take a breath. Sour attitudes can be addressed and corrected, because even if it is difficult life, it is real life. Real life is sharing burdens, loving difficult people, and we need to focus our breaks on collecting ourselves and relaxing but not mistaking those things for what real life could be or is. It’s a difficult concept for bio kids to grasp, but it’s worth tackling and giving them occasional breaks to do so.

Why You Should Break Your Bio Kids’ Hearts

This post was written by Audrey Simmons as part of the Totally Broke Tuesdays series.

Last month, our focus was PLAY and ways to play or use home therapy for free. We’ll have more posts on that in the future, but the theme for the month of June is “Adoption.” And today, I’m going to talk about the why of adopting while your bio kids are at home, from personal experience, for those who already have bio kids. This is a different kind of Totally Broke Tuesday.

First, some disclaimers: You should not adopt for your bio kids. This is not a post encouraging you to adopt to benefit them. This is also not a post encouraging you to go out and find very traumatized children while your bio kids are little and exposing them to abuse from a child who has known issues before they can defend themselves. Just want to make sure that’s clear.

So, you’ve adopted or you’re in the process of adopting or you’re thinking about it. You should know:

Adoption will break your bio kids’ hearts. It will.

Bio kids in adoptive homes will be broken by adopting. Maybe the experience is a little different if you adopt as your youngest bio is finishing high school or leaving for college, I don’t know. But in our house, we ranged in age from five to 12 when our adoption was completed and we grew up together, in the same house with the same rules and the same parenting decisions at the same time. And we were broken by adopting. You try growing up in a household with RAD/FAS and skip being broken by it.

You should also know:

You should not waste time feeling guilty that adoption broke your bio kids’ hearts.

You shouldn’t. That guilt and that condemnation are not from Christ. I’m not telling you to go dance in the streets for joy that you watch your kids’ hearts being broken. You can be broken with them and for them. But you check that guilt and burn it like filthy rags, right now.

Being broken is an uncomfortable experience. But you know what else brokenness does? It opens a door to be drawn to Christ. And if you are seeking Him, leaning on Him, crying out to Him– modeling that for your children– you can  talk them through taking their own broken hearts to Christ. The Psalms are full of this. Psalm 51:17 says,

My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart
    you, God, will not despise.”

And Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Sure, your children didn’t sin by adopting or being broken by adoption. But that brokenness stems from an awareness of sinful nature and living out the consequences of sin. That brokenness doesn’t have to be an evil thing. Brokenness can be an uncomfortable, live-altering thing, but if the alternative is a comfortable heart, a socially on-track life, all the right toys, money for a good college, and an obliviousness to the suffering of others, you might “good life” your kid straight to hell. (To be clear, I’m not saying that kids who didn’t grow up in adoptive homes can’t find Christ, so don’t think that.)

I’m saying if we’re feeling hopeless and guilty about our children being broken, we might not have the right priorities.

Are you thinking about their high school years and college opportunities? Or are you thinking about eternity? And i’m saying this as a kid who was broken. I cannot tell you what my life would have been like had we not adopted, because it’s all theory, but I do like to remind my dad that I was on the fast-track for self-gratification and self-obsession. But I can tell you that the ways in which adoption broke me have already been used for good. It has drawn me closer to Christ. I do not cry often. I struggle with empathy. I imagine those things would both be worse if I was not broken.

At 12 years old, I lived in an orphanage for a frigid November month. I cannot walk in a stiff winter breeze with the hint of snow in the air without remembering a dozen faces we left behind and praying for them. My heart still aches and I wish I knew how they were doing. I think of them by name.

At 16 years old, I watched a movie clip in youth group of a father abandoning his family, and I missed the entire discussion that followed because I was in the back of the room bent double in my chair, sobbing. When someone got me a cup of water and I thought I’d calmed down enough to talk forty-five minutes later, all I could give for explanation was the thought that had been running through my head non-stop: Someone abandoned my sister.

At 23 years old, I was in the hospital with newborn twins and I cried when the nurse brought them back from a test. She assured me they were fine and I nodded. I wasn’t upset about my boys. I was upset because I got to hold them and nobody had been there to hold my brother when he was in the hospital, premature and fighting for his life.

When a brother broke something that belonged to me and then screamed and yelled and struggled through not knowing how to regulate his own responses or manage his own brokenness or recognize his own sin, a family member asked me, “How do you keep forgiving him?” I gave the answer I fall on because it’s the only rock beneath my feet: “I have to, because I do to Christ what he does to me, and I can’t help but see that I’m just as awful.”

I have examined knifed couches, I have tumbled down stairs with my hands in a brother’s hair and his teeth on my arm, I have listened to awful stories about being a neglected toddler, I have beat my fists on a carpet floor in frustration, I have sought solace in all the wrong things, I have dealt with secondary trauma and PTSD, I have waited on firefighters to put out a forest fire a brother started right next to our house, I have wanted to kill them, I have been afraid I’d be killed, I have had my bikes destroyed, my Easter candy stolen, I have driven to a field trip with someone screaming and kicking the entire way there, I have chewed out a friend for referring to her as my “half-sister,” I have wondered at the ugly mystery of children being abandoned, I have seen sugar-hangovers from FAS, I’ve lost entire days to tantrums, I know the safe-holds they teach people who work with at-risk youth.

I have seen miracles in changed hearts, I have waited across an ocean, I have watched literal dreams come actually true, I have seen a child brave the front yard, learn how to ride a bike, learn how to say “I’m sorry” and mean it, I have taught a boy to read, I have set up a tent and a laptop for an outside movie night, I have prayed for a preteen just processing what happened to him as a child, I’ve learned to be an advocate, I have been given a real hug from a child who had to be taught how to hug, I have seen real smiles, heard real laughter.

Matthew 21:44 says, “Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.”

I have fallen on Christ through parents bearing good fruit in their faithfulness, I have seen the Gospel lived out, and I have been broken until I can only fall on Him again with the words, “I need You, I need You, I need You.”

Yes, adoption might break your bio kids’ hearts. But maybe you should let it.