Kids (and their parents) Do Well When They Can

photoSolstice Bonfire; December 21, 2012

There’s never a time when we are doing only one thing to support Tito (my darling boy, formerly known here as Fluffy). It’s an assortment of things that mix, in various ways, with his resilience and flexibility that comes, in part, from cyclical fluctuations which are affected by states of wellness, amount of sleep, types of food, time of year, cycles of the moon, not to mention my moods, Dave’s moods, the weather, and who knows what else.

It’s hard to know what specifically is helping these last few months, but I think I can point to two things: (1) neurofeedback and (2) our parenting style, i.e., paying attention to how we deal with the difficult moments.  As to (1): Tito started neurofeedback at the end of October. And (2): Dave and I found the Nurtured Heart Approach, our main parenting tool, over four years ago. We’ve gone through periods of being terribly proud of ourselves for how well we’ve stuck to our main goal to NOT energize the negative, and periods where we, miserably, fell far short. Overall, I’d give us a B.

What’s helping lately is the mindset: Kids Do Well When They Can as opposed to Kids Do Well When They Try. The former is at the heart of the Collaborative Problem Solving method (CPS) outlined in the book, Treating Explosive Kids; The Collaborative Problem Solving Approach  which expands on the philosophy and work from Ross Greene’s, The Explosive Child. That phrase has become my mantra.

One morning a few weeks ago, after playing with his Dad, eating breakfast, brushing teeth and getting dressed for the day as he does every morning, Tito suddenly became exhausted by the notion of doing anything at all except having his computer time. We were about to do the morning chore (Tuesday = fold and put away laundry), after which would come lessons, lunch, and finally, his (beloved!) computer time. You’d think I was siphoning his blood. He flopped on the floor, rolled around, picking up stray items and immediately dropped them as if his very arms were rags, saying he couldn’t fold, he didn’t have the energy, etc., etc..

I could feel myself getting tense, the nervous voice in my head whispering, Oh no, here we go… but I grabbed hold of my thinking and tried to model flexibility.

“Well, why don’t we do some exercise first, to build up our energy?” I said.

He thought it sounded okay, but as soon as I put on the Just Dance Wii that we both love, he was stumbling around like an elephant, bent over at the waist, bumping into me, saying no, no, he didn’t feel like it! he couldn’t! and was soon back on the floor in the pile of clothes where he writhed and said a few more things that made it clear, while he didn’t have the energy for folding or for lessons, he might find some energy if he could just have computer time first.

Now, here was a perfect example of what someone might say was a kid who simply didn’t want to do the stuff he didn’t want to do, a matter of a kid who could do better if he only tried. I could have gone there. In fact, there was an odd sort of lure to go there. Instead, the mantra popped into my head.  I allowed myself to believe that he would rather be feeling capable and cooperative. I knew I wasn’t going to just let him have computer time right at that moment. I knew I wasn’t going to skip chores or lessons for the day. But I didn’t know how the whole thing would unfold, so to speak.

For me, for us, it’s all about energy. Not to sound woo-woo but that’s just the way it is. Clearly, he needed some help from me, some support, in order to get passed this thing, to get over the wall of whatever was holding him back.

“Well,” I said, “we need to get the chores and lessons done before computer time. And I want you to have your computer time. So we’ll just have to figure out how we’re going to do that.”

He didn’t answer, so I walked away to do a few things elsewhere, making sure he knew I wasn’t upset, that I wasn’t storming out in annoyance. That gave him time to be with himself and not feel pressured or worried about my being mad at him. And it gave me time to do some other things and to stay regulated myself. When I came back in and sat down nearby, he said the most remarkable thing.

“Mom, I hate when this happens. I can’t tell if there’s something really wrong, like I might be getting sick, or if it’s just that I don’t want to do the stuff I don’t want to do.”

“Wow! That is so perceptive!” I said. “I feel that way in my own life sometimes.”

“Yes,” he continued. “So, if I don’t do my chores and stuff and I’m really just trying to get out of doing the stuff I don’t want to do, that’s a bad lesson for me. But if I really am not feeling well, it would be the right thing. It’s so hard, Mom! I hate when I feel this way!”

I energized him for talking about it all so well, with such clarity and honesty and self-awareness. I told him I totally got it, and that I also wondered which it was sometimes with him when he’s in this sort of place, that I don’t want to teach him that it’s okay to skip out on the stuff he doesn’t want to do but I also want to understand what else might be going on that’s causing the resistance. We sat there in silence for a moment.

“Mom. I wonder… I wonder if my unconscious is doing this to me because this afternoon is the social coaching group and last week I had a really hard time there. And I’m worried about how it will be today so I’m not sure about going and that’s making me upset.”

It blew me away. I had just, moments before, had the same thought. I wondered if he was in a dark cloud of worry about the upcoming group meeting without really knowing it. He knew I had called his teacher to talk about the issue from the week before so I asked him if he’d like to know a bit about what was said and he said yes which initiated the most amazing conversation. It greatly relieved him, and before you knew it, he was happily and cooperatively and energetically folding the laundry while we talked about the brain and regulation, about things that make it hard for people to stay in balance, things that come both from inside and outside, things that are both physical and emotional. He really got it. “I feel like I’m getting more connected” he said with a satisfied sigh.

When we were done, his manner and mood were completely transformed. He jumped up, grabbed a pile of dishtowels to bring down to the kitchen, and darted back in moments later to scoop up another pile. “Mom!” he practically sang.  “I feel happy! I feel so good about myself!”

When I am in the Kids Do Well When They Try, I close down. Tito can feel it, no matter what words I use. When I am in the Kids Do Well When They Can, I am softer inside, and grounded in my belief in my son’s underlying good intentions. I can respond to his resistance (and he can be remarkably resistant!), his avoidance and arguing, in a way that doesn’t escalate the situation. I’m in my scientist mode, investigating (internally) what might be going on, practicing curiosity rather than practicing annoyance or anxiety or the need to control or be right.

I know he feels better when he does well, when he follows the rules, when he hangs up his coat, puts his shoes in the cubby, cleans up his toys, sets the table without being told many, many times. I see it in every aspect of his manner, including what he actually says. I know he wants to be, and feel, successful. I want the same thing for him.

I want the same thing for me, too.

6 thoughts on “Kids (and their parents) Do Well When They Can

  1. OMG What a remarkable experience for both you and Tito, and for me way down here in Costa Rica. Brought big “fluffy” tears to my eye. LOVE to you both.

  2. Really interesting post, Kyra. I’ve not yet read either of those books – they sound like I should pick them up! I’ve heard (meaning read lol) you use that phrase before “kids do well when they can” (maybe on a message board? can’t remember) and it’s really stuck with me over the past little while. It really does shift my energy around interactions with my son – I think it shifts my expectation and definitely softens my feelings of frustration. So thank you!

  3. You were the one who introduced me to The Nurtured Heart and I so appreciate it. I LOVE this exchange you had with Fluff er…Tito. I love his self-awareness. I love The Explosive Child book and the “kids do well when they can” mantra. Not enough can be made of it. You are such a thoughtful, beautiful mother.

  4. Hi, I just completed the NHA training, in Tuscon! I loved it. I teacher students with emotional disturbance, one out of ten of my students also have ASD, I am encouraged by your length of experience with the approach. Will you please consider letting me pick your brain, so I can help this family I am working with?
    Neils Wright

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