Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Safe Month?

My son attends a public therapeutic school. The kids who go there have social and emotional challenges that result in behavior issues. As the staff works with each student to overcome their challenges, they celebrate achievements along the way.

One such milestone is a Safe Month.

My son has had stretches of good periods, but going an entire month without a major incident has proven extremely difficult. It has been relatively rare for Kai to go even just a week without chewing up his clothes, attempting to bite or hit his teachers, or display other unsafe behaviors.

While we don’t like to compare, we can’t help but notice that virtually all of Kai’s classmates have achieved a Safe Month some time in the past year, and some of them have done it several times.

The Safe Month award is announced on the first Friday of the month. Kai tells us which classmates were honored, and when he does, I always sense the disappointment that he had, once again, fallen short.

We encourage Kai to try again in the new month, but I sometimes got the sense that he felt it was beyond his capabilities.

There have been times when he was really motivated to go for the Safe Month. He might have a good first week or two and we would start to think that this would be the month.

But then something would happen – a disappointment that he couldn’t accept, a change in the routine that he couldn’t handle – and there went the Safe Month.

“It’s too hard!” we heard him say many times. “I can’t do it!”

This month, he has been teetering on the edge of not being safe all month. We have heard him express anger several times at something a teacher did. His daily point sheets have shown that he wasn’t always respectful to staff. But while he’s had several timeouts at school, he had not crossed the line into unsafe behavior.

As we entered the final few days of the month, my wife and I wondered if he could actually do it.

This evening, as I walked from the office to the train station, I made my usual call to my wife to let her know which train I would take. Kai asked to speak to me.

I could barely hear him over the street sounds, but I made out what he said.

“I had a safe month!”

It was great to hear, of course. I don’t have illusions that we will never have anger issues again, or that it will be smooth sailing from here.

But I hope that this will let Kai know that he can stay safe at school for an extended period of time, and that he can achieve things that he perceives to be very difficult if he really sets his mind on it. I hope he gets a sense of accomplishment that sticks with him for a long time.

But enough deep thoughts for now.

Tonight, we celebrate!

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Stormy Weather Anxiety

I got drenched this evening as I made my usual one-mile-plus walk from the office to the train station.

But as uncomfortable as I am sitting here on the train in soggy pants and shoes, I know my wife probably has it worse.

She has to be with Kai right now.

My son hates storms. Or, rather, he is afraid of them.

I’m not sure when his fear started.

A few years ago, we were at a hotel when they made everyone evacuate the outdoor swimming pool when lightning was spotted a few miles away. Kai did not want to get out of the pool so I had to explain to him the dangers of lightning. Perhaps I explained it too well.

Another time, a couple years ago, during a big storm, we lost power in our house for more than a day. I’d say he developed anxiety from that experience except that I recall him enjoying the simulated camping we did.

Regardless of the source of his fears, he now gets very anxious every time he knows a storm is coming. This past Sunday was a great example.

He had seen the weather forecast from the day before.

“When will the storm come?”

“Is it going to be a bad storm?”

No, Kai, I don’t think it will be too bad.

When the storm finally struck on Sunday evening, he was in full anxiety.

“Is there going to be a tornado, Dad?”

No, Kai, there are no tornados around here in January.

We had company over that evening and sat down to eat. Kai brought his iPad to the table. He played the BrainPop movie that explained about storms and lightning.

That prompted one of our guests, Henry, to tell of the time when he was indirectly struck by lightning.

Kai looked at him wide eyed but did not say anything. He was too busy bringing up the Weather Channel app.

“Dad, I’m scared!”

There’s nothing to be scared of, Kai. I explained that he was perfectly safe inside the house.

We tried to have conversation with our guests, but Kai interrupted every so often to talk about how afraid he was.

After dinner, we decided to play the Wii.

Henry started to design his Mii character to look like himself. As he is bald, he searched for a bald head on the game system. Kai spoke up.

“Is that because of the lightning?”

Ha! No, Henry did not lose all his hair because of the lightning.

Playing the Wii seemed to avert Kai’s attention from the storm outside.

But when it was bedtime, he could hear the rain hitting his window.

He always likes to have Mom stay with him after we turn out the lights, and she usually stays in his room for about ten minutes, or sooner if he falls asleep quickly.

On this night, he didn’t fall asleep. He wouldn’t let her leave as he was afraid of being alone.

It took a long time, but eventually he did fall asleep. But it was only a couple hours later that he banged on our bedroom door, saying he couldn’t sleep because he was scared of the rain.

Thank goodness the rain stopped before morning.

Now we are having another storm.

My wife is probably going nuts listening to Kai voice his fears over and over.

Looks like it will be long night.

I’m going to enjoy my solitude, soggy pants and all, while I can.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Motivated by Trashies

7AM yesterday morning, a Sunday morning mind you, my son was up and knocking on our bedroom door.

I was still tired from my business trip and was hoping to sleep in a little longer, but I guess I should have been thankful that Kai waited even until 7:00 to wake us up. I went out into the hallway to see what was up.

“Dad, we have to go running right now!”

It was about nine months ago that Kai was motivated to run by the incentive of collecting cute/gross little rubbery creatures known as Ickee Stickeez. Alas, there were only 24 of those and when Kai had collected them all, his motivation to run ended.

This weekend, Kai discovered another set of cute/gross little rubbery creatures. These are called the Trash Pack, and unlike with Ickee Stickeez, the folks behind these Trashies know how to market to kids, having developed accessories and games to go with the little guys.

When Kai develops a hankering for something, he wants to collect them all. And with already several dozen Trashies on the market, this should keep him motivated for quite a long time.

So on Sunday morning, Kai was ready to go running. He had heard that a storm was forecasted so he wanted to get out early.

“Come on, Dad. We have to go before the storm comes.”

We got dressed and went out. As he is older and has grown since last year, I extended the route a little bit.

Kai groaned and complained that he was tired and could not make it. I was frustrated, but kept encouraging him. And while I was tempted to withhold his prize, I gave it to him but told him he would have to show improvement in his next run.

A few hours later, he wanted to go running again. He wanted to earn another Trashie.

One run a day is enough, I told him. But he was persistent.

“What if I exercise? I’ll do 50 sit-ups and 20 pushups and 25 jumping jacks.”

Hmm, I had been wanting to get him to exercise more.

50 jumping jacks, not 25. And you have to do everything nicely for it to count.

We started with the jumping jacks. His coordination is not good. And he doesn’t stretch out his arms very far.

We stopped him several times as my wife and I tried to explain what he needed to do. Finally, he did them a little better.

Next it was sit-ups.

He could barely get off the ground from a flat surface. My wife told him to lean back against his big blue pillow. Then he was able to do 50.

Finally, pushups.

This was the hardest of all. There was no way he could do ten, let alone 20.

My wife tried to show Kai how to do it with his knees on the floor. But somehow he could not do it. He moved his head up and down but not his body. His hands were in the wrong position. He didn’t extend his body as far as he should.

It was frustrating that he didn’t seem to listen to us. And the more we told him, the more frustrated and angry he became.

We decided to find a different exercise to replace the pushups.

I found a couple of low-weight dumbells (two and a half pounds each). I showed him how to lift them by extending his arms from his shoulders to straight up overhead. He did ten of those.

And then he did ten curls.

It was a minor ordeal, but he had earned his second Trashie of the day.

A couple hours later, he wanted to do more exercises.

I could see where this was going. No, we are not going to work out several times a day, I told him.

He was mad. This is a boy who still does not tolerate waiting very well, and the thought of waiting another day to earn another Trashie was tough.

“That’s too long! It will take forever for me to earn them!”

Eventually, he calmed down and we enjoyed the rest of our Sunday.

And this morning, as I was getting ready to go to work at 6:45, I heard the thumping of a boy doing jumping jacks.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

“Lucky to See Dad”

I was up before 5AM yesterday as I had a flight to catch for a business trip.

I tiptoed down to the kitchen to have a quick bite to eat before heading out. Apparently, I wasn’t as quiet as I was trying to be.

Kai came out of his bedroom and out into the hallway. Lately, he has resumed his old ways of waking up in the middle of the night, so it wasn’t too much of a surprise that he would be awake now.

“Hello, Kai,” I said.

“Hi Dad,” he said cheerfully. He was wide awake. “I wanted to wish you a good trip before you left.”

I went over and gave him a big hug, and told him I loved him.

And then I sent him back to bed.

Several minutes later, just as I was ready to depart, he came out again.

“Goodbye, Dad.”

I encouraged him to have another good day at school, and said goodbye.

And then I sent him back to bed and told him to not wake Mom up until it was time to get up.

My day was very busy, but I made it back to my hotel room just at Kai’s bedtime, and initiated a Skype call.

This is my second business trip since I started this job. On my first trip, I stayed at a hotel that had a lot of fancy features in the room that I was able to show my family over Skype. Kai wanted to see what kind of room I had this time. I showed him that it was just a regular room.

I asked Kai about his day. He told me that he had another good day at school. Only two more days for a third straight safe week this month, I told him.

Other than that, Kai seemed a bit quiet on the video call. But my wife told me what Kai had said to her this morning.

“I was lucky to see Dad before he left!”

Ha, I’m glad that he is still enthusiastic about seeing his dad.

Of course, I was the one who felt fortunate to get such a nice send off this morning, and to know that he did well while I was gone.

Now hopefully he will have one more good day that he can tell me all about when I get home tonight.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Math and Yoga

I often have my son do extra math work on weekends via the online Thinkwell math website. Kai is now about three-fourths through the sixth grade math program.

Recently, he has been motivated to do several assignments each weekend by the incentive of collecting a set of flash cards, one at a time, of the elements of the periodic table.

Kai usually enjoys math, and is advanced for his age. But it’s not at all like he is a math genius who can solve advanced problems all on his own. No, Kai often needs help.

I always sit with him while he is doing the work. Kai tends to get distracted and not pay attention to the video when the online professor is explaining the topic. When I see Kai’s eyes wandering, I point at the screen and redirect him.

After the watching the videos, there are problems for the student to do. And that is where I am needed the most.

Kai loves doing math as long as he feels confident in what he is doing. But as soon as it gets even a little difficult, he wants to quit.

“This is too hard!”

I try to encourage him.

Sometimes that is not enough.

“I can’t do it!”

I try to help, but never by just giving him the answer. Rather, I ask questions that will help him think through the problem.

“What is the formula for area of a circle?” I ask. I want him to say “area equals pi r squared.”

Instead, he says, “Six times ten” as he gives some of the numbers, incorrectly, that were on the assignment.

“No, Kai, don’t tell me the numbers. First, just tell me the formula for area of a circle.”

Too often, by this point, Kai’s anger has already escalated to where he doesn’t listen to me. He starts writing things down on paper. I try to stop him as he is heading in the wrong direction. And as I do so, his anger is fully boiled.

“I hate this! I am never doing Thinkwell again!”

I suggest we take a break and come back to this later.

He is mad, but he agrees to do yoga with Mom. Anything with Mom instead of Dad is welcomed at this point.

Kai’s therapist recently gave us a dvd of yoga techniques that we can do with Kai at home. My wife wanted to try this out with Kai. She tells Kai that he can earn two periodic table flash cards if he does yoga, then goes back to complete the Thinkwell assignment.

We watch the video and try to follow along with the yoga instructor. According to his therapist, Kai is supposed to know all of the movements.

But he mostly is goofing along rather than doing them seriously.

Still, by the time the video is done, he is in a good enough mood to give Thinkwell another try.

This time he listens to me.

Let’s write down the formula for area of a circle, I suggest. He does so.

Now, what is the radius, I ask. He tells me the diameter.

Are you sure that is the radius? He sees his mistake and corrects it.

Now what do you do with the radius? Multiply it by itself.

Good, I encourage him. And we go through the problem step by step.

He gets the answer correct and he is now happy.

I ask him fewer questions on the next problem, having him do more by himself.

And soon he is able to do them with no help on my part.

Afterward he goes upstairs to collect his flash cards from Mom.

She gives him one for completing the Thinkwell. But he was goofing around and did not do the yoga well so he does not get the bonus card.

He does not like that, but doesn’t protest for too long. He realizes that he did not do it well.

Later, after dinner, he asks Mom if he can do the yoga again. This time he will do it nicely he says.

And so he does.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Working Through Disappointment

When we first watched the original Star Wars movie nearly a year ago, my son was only mildly entertained. And so, we did not get any more Star Wars films for our weekly movie nights.

Recently, though, Kai’s interest in Star Wars has picked up. The reason: Angry Birds Star Wars.

At school, the kids are allowed to play on iPads during breaks and at lunchtime. Angry Birds has been one of their most popular free-time activities for some time now. And a couple months ago, we found out from Kai that there is a Star Wars version.

It wasn’t long before Kai was talking about Wookiees and R2D2 and Obiwan.

He became all things Star Wars. He even found a Lego parody of Star Wars.

It wasn’t long before he was talking about Jabba the Hut and Ewoks. I was surprised as they weren’t in the first movie that we had watched. But they apparently are in either the Angry Birds version or some Lego film.

With Kai’s newfound passion for Star Wars, we got the next two films in the series for our recent movie nights: The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi.

This time, Kai was highly entertained. He loved both films and wanted to watch many parts over and over. It was funny that my wife, who did not particularly like the first film, also enjoyed the subsequent ones. And, perhaps influenced by Kai’s enthusiasm, I loved them much more than I did when I first saw them years ago.

Of course, Kai’s love of Star Wars meant that he wanted to collect Star Wars toys – specifically, the Angry Birds Star Wars collection.

He told us about an Angry Birds Star Wars Mystery Bag. For $3, you can buy a foil bag that has two mini figures. We decided that it was a great incentive for our Point Store.

Regular readers may recall that we copied our son’s school in opening a Point Store that offers Kai an opportunity to exchange points he earned for specified good behavior for preferred items.

With a powerful incentive like Angry Birds Star Wars, Kai was highly motivated and earned points quickly. A couple weeks ago, he earned his first mini figures and was very happy.

He set about to earn his next Mystery Bag, and earlier this week, he had accumulated enough points for his second one.

He opened it up, and….

was tremendously disappointed when he found that the two mini figures were the exact same ones as were in the first bag.

I can certainly understand the disappointment. But when Kai is disappointed, he becomes a very angry bird.

He demanded that Mom take back the Mystery Bag and replace it with a different one. My wife explained that you cannot take back something that has been opened. She looked at me with a questioning look.

It would have been easy for us to take back his mini figures and replace them with a different reward.

But I didn’t want to take the easy way out. I wanted him to learn about disappointment.

My wife and I explained that you never know what will be in these bags, and sometimes you may get duplicates. We encouraged him to keep working hard to earn another reward and the next one may contain different figures.

This did not satisfy him at all.

I told him about how I used to collect baseball cards as a child, and many times I would get a duplicate card. I understood how disappointing that is. But I often was able to trade my duplicates with friends to get new cards. Perhaps he could work out a trade with one of his classmates at school.

That finally seemed to relieve some of the disappointment.

But then Kai started talking about how Josh better trade with him.

Oh, boy! Did I just open a huge can of worms and set up a problem for the school staff?

I emailed Kai’s teacher and explained the situation. I apologized if I might have caused a problem, but was wondering if she could help facilitate a trade.

She wrote back quickly that evening. She explained that the school doesn’t permit trading between students as they’ve learned that it often leads to problems when kids change their minds later. However, she would be happy to offer Kai a trade herself, perhaps with Pokémon cards.

And so, yesterday, Kai went to school with his extra mini figures. And he returned with five Pokémon cards.

He was happy and I was relieved.

We hadn’t given in on appeasing his disappointment. Kai learned the concept of trading, and that there can be value in items that he has, even if they are duplicates.

And we were reminded about how awesome Kai’s teacher is in helping him work through his disappointment as a learning experience.

Monday, January 14, 2013

First Week Back at School, and Our Weekend

It has been one week now since the end of winter break.

All in all, we are satisfied with Kai’s transition back to school. His scores on the daily point sheets could have been higher on a couple of days, and he expressed some anger at various teachers and classmates when we talked about school at dinnertime.

But, he stayed safe. A week with no torn clothing or attempts to bite teachers; I guess I would put that one in the win column.

He had some extra motivation to stay safe. Early in the week, we got a belated holiday gift from an aunt: another prized “credit card” for the Lego store. We told him that if he stayed safe, Mom would take him shopping on Friday afternoon and he could pick out something with his new card.

From the looks of his point sheet that day, he barely made it. He was marked off more than once for not showing respect, among several other things. But he must have calmed down enough each time after being given a warning that he recovered enough to be marked as staying safe.

He picked out a set from the new Chima collection, which looks to be Lego’s latest big thing. (Those folks at Lego are marketing geniuses, much to the dismay of parents everywhere). And when he got home, he worked on it right away and had it mostly completed by the time I got home from work.

When he was showing me his new set, he told me that he was going to get another new one tomorrow. I was puzzled. How do you know that?

He explained that he had spoken on the phone with his grandmother who would be visiting over the weekend. She was at the Lego store as they spoke. Hmm, what was she doing there?

And the next day, when his grandparents arrived, they brought over new Legos which he loved and started on right away.

For lunch, we all went to Fuddrucker’s, Kai’s favorite hamburger restaurant. He loves the condiments bar where he can take all the pickles and onions that he can eat.

These days, he is usually pretty good at waiting for his food to arrive. Well, for a few minutes anyway. But on this day, he seemed restless. The restaurant gives each group a buzzer to alert you when your order is ready. Kai sat at the table for only a minute before he wanted to go up to the counter to check on the progress. He was a bit impatient, but still managed to wait nicely.

And when our order was up, we went and got a plateful of pickles and he was a happy kid.

The rest of our weekend was spent building Legos, doing extra math work, and playing a periodic table quiz – in other words, an ordinary weekend.

Now we begin a new week. Can Kai stay safe two weeks in a row? Can he finally attain a safe month? Ah, but now I’m getting ahead of myself. One day at a time, I tell him.

Let’s see how today goes.

Monday, January 7, 2013

Last Days of Winter Break

My son goes back to school this morning.

We had a good final weekend of winter break, though I wasn’t sure we would on Friday evening.

My wife had called me at work that afternoon. She was very upset.

Kai had opened the front door and one of our dogs ran out. My wife had to run up and down the block to try to catch the dog. It was frigid cold out, and it must have seemed like forever before she finally caught her. When she called me, she was coughing from breathing in all that cold air, and her body was aching from all the running and stress.

To make matters worse, Kai did not seem a bit sorry for opening the door. He was laughing the whole time.

After an afternoon where he had already complained about his “yucky” lunch, and was in a demanding mood, my wife had had enough.

My wife was still angry when I got home. I didn’t say too much to Kai, as my wife was still voicing her displeasure over his words and actions.

I heated up some leftovers for dinner. When my wife left the room, I spoke to Kai quietly. I told him that he made a mistake in opening the door when the dogs were there, but I was most disappointed that he laughed about the whole thing. It wasn’t funny, and he has to learn not to laugh when someone is in distress.

I also told him that it was not nice to complain about his meal as he has been doing often these days. He doesn’t have to like everything he is served, but I wanted him to appreciate that Mom tries hard every day to make good meals that will keep him strong and healthy.

After that, we had a quiet meal. And then he took a bath.

After bath, he wanted to play a game as is our usual custom. I told him I would play with him, but first he had to do something.

I stuck a blank piece of paper in front of him on the kitchen table.

“What’s that for?”

What do you think?

“To write a sorry letter. What should I say?”

What do you think you should say? You write it, I told him.

He started writing. He wrote that he was sorry for letting the dog out.

Anything else, I asked him?

He wrote that he was sorry for saying mean things about his meals.

He paused.

I asked what about laughing when Mom was feeling stressed. He wrote that he would try not to do that anymore.

I asked him if he could also try to think of other people’s feelings. He wrote that he would try.

When he was done, I asked him to really think about the things he wrote and to keep them in mind and not forget. He said he would.

He went downstairs to hand my wife the letter. When he came back upstairs, he was quiet. I told him that Mom might still be angry, but she would eventually forgive him.

We went to play our game, and my wife joined us a few minutes later.

The tension was broken.

We went on to have a good weekend.

Kai did not complain (hardly) the rest of the weekend. And we had a lot of fun.

We went ice skating outside at our local park for the first time since my wife bought us all skates a year ago. Last winter, with the unusually warm weather, the park district never made the rink. This weekend, we skated while it snowed.

We also worked on a Chicago puzzle that we gave Kai for Christmas. It is part jigsaw puzzle, and part inserting small replica of downtown Chicago buildings. It is a fun way to teach Kai about the name and location of the buildings, and the date they were constructed. Kai loves the building parts; the jigsaw part, not so much.

We also played a quiz game. I created questions about elements on the periodic table and my wife and Kai took turns answering them. My wife is a good sport to play, as Kai always wins these very handily.

We also cleaned up a bit from our holiday mess. We took down our Christmas tree. Three of the four dogs staying with us went home.

With Kai back in school today, things will go back to our regular routine. But it was a nice last weekend of break.

Hopefully his transition back to school will go equally well.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Happy New Year!

10:30 is usually a late night for me and my wife so we were not excited about staying up until midnight to ring in the new year.

Two years ago, we convinced Kai that he only needed to stay up to watch the ball drop on Times Square, which is one hour ahead of us. But last year he insisted that we stay up until midnight Chicago time, and this year was the same.

So, we had a lot of time to do things. First, we watched Toy Story 2, and the dogs and my wife had a hard time staying awake.

But Kai was wide awake the entire time. After the movie, he decorated our New Year’s cake.

And as the New Year approached, even the dogs perked up.

As the ball dropped on Times Square, we popped open our bottle of sparkling grape juice.

We had our cake and ate it, too, when we rang in the new year on Chicago time as well.

A new year is a time for optimism and resolve. Kai will turn 9 this year. We know he will change and grow in many ways. We look forward to see how it all unfolds.

Happy new year to all of you!

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