Sunday, September 27, 2015

Fall Camping Trip – Kettle Moraine

We went on our fall camping trip this weekend. This year, our destination was Kettle Moraine State Forest in southern Wisconsin, which is less than two hours from home.

After coming home from our New England vacation, I was thinking of skipping our camping trip this year. I was tired of all the travel, and tired of Kai complaining about everything. The last thing I wanted was to spend a weekend arguing over how much iPad time he could have in the tent.

But my wife mentioned that Kai had asked when we would go camping, so I decided we would give it a go.

I told Kai before we went that we would not be bringing the iPad along and he could not use any electronics while we were camping.

We arrived at campsite late Friday afternoon. We got the tent up quickly but it was dark by the time I got the campfire going and cooked dinner.

We had hot dogs, edamame, and some Sun Chips. And then roasted marshmallows and made s’mores. Kai nearly ate his all up before I thought to take a picture.

We slept well in the tent… it was by far the best night’s sleep I had gotten all week as I had had a stressful week at work.

We got up and I got the campfire going. Kai enjoyed “helping” to keep the fire going.

Then we went on a hike on one of the many trails in the State Forest. I chose the Scuppernong Springs Nature Trail because the length seemed right for Kai (only a mile and a half), plus this particular trail had 13 numbered points of interest along with an accompanying leaflet that I had printed out at home that explained each of the 13 spots.

Here we are at point #2, standing on the remains of an old railroad bed that used to run here.

At a couple places along the trail, we walked near the Scuppernong River.

The weather was perfect for a hike, with temperatures in the low 70s.

Here we stopped to rest and look at the view.

At the far end of the trail, we found a spring that is the source of the Scuppernong River. The water was cool, delicious, and a perfect thirst quencher.

Here’s a photo of one spot where the water is bubbling up to the surface.

We continued on the hike as the trail looped back around to take us back to our parking spot. Kai remained in good spirits the whole time, never complaining about being tired or unable to walk.

It was a far cry from all the complaining he did in New England. Perhaps that numbered-trail had something to do with it.

When we got back to our campsite, Kai went in the tent and fell asleep for about an hour and a half until we woke him up for lunch. The hike may have worn him out a little bit, but a change in medication this week has also made him more tired during the day. (He fell asleep at school for a couple hours earlier in the week).

In the afternoon, we went for a bike ride.

Kettle Moraine is famous for its mountain biking trails, but we knew Kai wasn’t ready for that. Instead, I found a straight, flat trail.

After traveling less than two miles, Kai started to complain that he was too tired. We hadn’t been biking much this year, so he was probably out of biking shape. It was discouraging, though, that biking remains something that we kind of have to force him to do rather than being something he enjoys. We turned around and headed back.

What he did enjoy, though, was riding back and heading over to a nearby ice cream shop.

After we got back to our campground, we changed into our swimsuits and went over to nearby Ottawa Lake. We had saved Kai’s favorite activity for the end of the day.

The water was cold but that didn’t deter Kai from wading in.

I eventually joined him but didn’t go out too far.

Kai got used to the water and joyfully immersed himself in the water and swam.

Back at our campsite, his second favorite activity was going into the tent, wrapping himself up with his sleeping bag, and playing games with Mom and Dad.

Dinner was roast chicken, and then more roasting marshmallows to make s’mores.

Here’s a photo from this morning shortly before we took down our tent.

We went on one more short hike and found another spring.

Kai enjoyed drinking the cool, refreshing water right from the source.

And that capped off this year’s camping trip.

It was surprisingly enjoyable.

The campground was the best we’ve ever experienced with wooded campsites spaced relatively far apart. Our loop was a 24-hour quiet zone – no music or pets are allowed, so it was peaceful. And the showers were clean and roomy.

Moreover, Kai showed that he could go a couple days without electronics and actually enjoy himself.

Let’s hope that his relaxed mood can carry over now that we’re back in the real world.

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

The Explosive Child - Understanding Why Conventional Parenting Strategies Don't Work for Some Unconventional Kids

My parenting philosophy has always included a system of rewards and punishments that are intended to teach my son to behave the way I wanted him to. If he did well, he would reap the rewards; if he did not, he would suffer the consequences.

My parents employed a system like that (well, more heavily on punishment and light on rewards in their case), and I'm guessing that most of you were brought up on a similar system as well. If it worked with us, surely it would work with my son.

Years ago, we set up a formal system of rewards and punishments at home. Mimicking Kai's therapeutic elementary school, we opened our own "point store" where he could trade in the points he earned for good behavior for preferred items such as small Lego sets or new apps. Conversely, whenever he had a major incident at school, Kai would lose his iPad time at home.

This system certainly provided strong incentive for Kai to do well. But when his actions didn't follow his motivations, we grew frustrated.

We increased punishments. Another ripped up shirt? Double the time he would not be able to use the iPad! Surely that would get him to behave better.

Except it did not.

When Kai fell short of the goals we had set for positive rewards, he became very discouraged. When he had an incident at school, the anxiety over losing his iPad time increased his stress and brought on further dysregulation.

Our strategies were not working. What were we doing wrong? Were we just really bad parents?

It has only been in the past few weeks that it has really started to sink in as to the problem has been.

Earlier this summer, we started to see a new private therapist for Kai. In our first meeting, he recommended a book for me and my wife: The Explosive Child, A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D.

On our flight out to and back from New England last month, I finally had time to begin reading.

The author posits that children like my son are already motivated to do well, but they lack the critical skills of flexibility, frustration tolerance, and problem solving that enables them to do so. The book explains that the reason why reward and punishment strategies don't work for kids like Kai is because they don't teach these skills that they lack.

These thoughts resonated with me.

There is certainly no greater motivator for Kai than the threat of not being able to use the iPad. Yet, that appears to have no impact on his ability to control his behavior. In the heat of a frustrating situation, he doesn't control his behavior. It's not because he doesn't want to - he is certainly well motivated to - rather, it is because he lacks the skills to do so.

The author argues that rewards and punishments are not what behaviorally-challenged kids need. If all those consequences were going to work,they would have started to work years ago. Rather, he makes the case that a new approach is needed, one that focuses on solving problems collaboratively with your child rather than the imposition of adult will.

The author goes on to describe how that can be done. I won't go into the details here. I will say that it seems that it will be a long, difficult process. But after years of trying it the old way, I think it makes sense to explore a different approach.

Let's see how it goes.

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