Monday, September 8, 2014

E is for exhausting

Week one of home school was overall pretty great. 

Week two...not so much. We battled resistance, rebellion, and tears all week long.

We planned so many very fun activities that any eight year old would love (so we thought). We had Ivelina making E's out of elbow macaroni, writing E's in shaving creme on her desk, making elephant masks, listening to books on CD, and counting elephant stomps.  It was going to be a fun week! 

Yet, Ivelina has it in her mind that she does not want to do school. As soon as her bottom hits her desk chair, she feigns helplessness and whines and cries her way through activities that are actually really fun!  Sometimes, we even suspected that deep down she really liked the activity and wanted to get into it, but she had determined that she was supposed to misbehave during school time.

For anyone who knows anything about previously orphaned children, you may know that these behaviors are common in many adopted children. Acting helpless and fake crying (and real crying) are tools of manipulation that adopted children once used in their institutions to get their way or to get precious attention, even if it was negative attention. Previously institutionalized children are master manipulators. Ivelina is no different.

By the end of the week, we were angry, exasperated, and exhausted. We wondered what in the world we could do to help motivate her to try her best and have fun at school. Jeremy and I came together for several nights after little one's bedtime to discuss, plan, and brainstorm what would help Ivie show some improvements in her behavior.

A Break from Babies
The first thing we did was establish a break from Ivelina's favorite toys, namely babies. This was prompted on Friday when she literally cried and whined for two hours, but the moment school was over, she happily skipped away to grab her baby dolls. This mama said, "I don't think so!" We explained to her how inappropriate her behavior had been and how she was losing her baby doll privileges indefinitely until she shows some major improvements in her behavior during school. We boxed them all up and put them out of sight. It may sound mean to some people, but we were already thinking that she had too many toys to play with anyway (too much stimulation). Her play is more obsessive and possessive when she plays with baby dolls too, so we are happy to see her playing nicely with other more constructive things. I'm sure we will eventually get a baby doll or two down for her, but right now, she is taking a break. She's also using the word "break" all the time now.  lol

Ivelina (translated): Baby dolls stay in the garage. Up high. 

Me: That's right.  You can have them back when you start having very good behavior at school.

Ivelina:  Take a break, Ivelina. Ivelina not behave, no baby dolls. Break. Say break, mama.

Me:  Break.

New School Rules
We made a list of the poor behaviors that Ivelina exhibits during school time. Then we tried to come up with a few behavior goals that we would like to see her reach. We boiled it down to four goals.

I resurrected my artistic ability to illustrate the rules so that they would make sense for Ivelina. On Sunday afternoon, we all sat down at the kitchen table and explained the four rules. Jeremy and I modeled what it would look like to follow the rule and not follow the rule. She thought us not following the rules was hilarious!  Then, we let her try. By the end of our session, she could explain all the pictures to us, telling us what they meant.

A New Reward System
Then, we broke out our new rewards system. Previously, we had a small piece of candy waiting for Ivelina in her last work box for the day. She only got the special treat if she finished school with good behavior. This wasn't working, so Jeremy thought of this idea:

We showed her a new "special treat bowl" and a big bag of tiny candies. We demonstrated how good behavior, meeting her behavior goals in each activity, would result in one candy being placed in her bowl. We let her do a simply tracing page while not following the rules, and then we let her try doing the page with good behavior. We let her pick a treat to put in her bowl. When school is over, she gets to have whatever she has earned in her special treat bowl.

Ivelina talked about the rules and the new special treat bowl for the rest of Sunday evening. Still, she also kept telling me that she was planning on misbehaving on Monday morning. Ugh...  Monday morning was pretty typical. When I left for work and Jeremy was beginning school with Ivelina, she was already acting out. Her first two activities were bleh--typical bad behavior, a couple of timeouts, etc. However, during one pasting activity (Ivie loves glue) she was doing an awesome job and was very pleasant, so she got to choose a candy to add to her bowl. This was exciting for her and seemed to improve her spirits. When she got to add a second candy, her attitude really started looking up. By the end of school time, she had earned three small candies, and she got to eat what was in her bowl.

She absolutely understands these rules, and in fact, we have been using them for other parts of the day too. She also understands the special treat bowl too. It's really not very much candy that she's consuming, and it is a very high-motivation treat for her. She can earn one candy for each of her work box drawers. There are nine. I was praying so much this morning that she would at least earn a couple so that she could see her success. My prayer was answered, and I'm hoping that each day gets a little better. I think she really likes the visual of seeing her special treat grow in that bowl as she works.

After my mostly positive post last week, I just wanted to post a realistic view of what we are dealing with. Home school last week was exhausting! I also wanted to post our ideas that we are trying out because I know they may help another family that is having similar difficulties. Next week, we'll evaluate how this is going, and I'll post again. In the meantime, if you have had similar experiences and have any ideas for us, please feel free to comment.

I'll leave with you with one of my favorite photos from school last week, Letter Ee.

Thanks for reading,



  1. I am sure you've already given this a lot of thought, but Ivie's sensory needs could be playing into her reluctance to school which requires sitting still at a table. Make sure her feet are firmly planted on the ground when she is in this position (if not, give her a small stool or something where she can place her feet). Also consider a nubby seating disc for her chair. Some kids like to wear ankle weights or weighted vests for short periods that require them to focus. All of these things (and many more you can find on OT websites) will give a child sensory input while learning.

    The other big thing we find with Emilia is that she does not learn best in the traditional chair and table setting. She thrives when we can combine pre-academic work with motor and/or sensory activities. For example, we often bounced her on an exercise ball when she was learning her upper case letters. We let her jump on the trampoline while counting. She runs a circle around the couch and then has to stop to name a color. Of course, this is not always possible and some work is best done at a table but even then, we try to give her the option to stand or sit (yesterday she matched 36 pictures to pictures standing at her preschool table) or allow her short breaks to do a few jumping jacks etc. to liven up the table work.

    Good luck. I know the three of you will eventually get this school thing down pat.

    1. Thanks for this comment, Viviane! Such great ideas for a child with sensory issues. We don't know for sure if Ivie does have sensory issues, but we suspect she may. The seat disk, the stool, and the weights are wonderful ideas. We have not been able to connect with an OT yet. I know they will be able to give us so many suggestions for how best to work with her. We may try letting her use her weighted blanket during school time, or our weighted neck wrap. Thanks again!

  2. Best of luck to you, Shelly! And thanks for sharing. I will add to Viviane's comment about of my sons has always done better at school work when standing. When I peek in his classroom at school, he is nearly always standing at his desk while he works (not when the teacher is talking, but when they are working at their tables/desks). In fact, a few other kids in his class do this (and several are on the autism spectrum or have sensory issues).

    I think trying the weighted blanket may be helpful, too. I work in a preschool, and last year a therapist suggested that we let one little girl with significant sensory issues sit at circle time with a weighted pillow on her lap. It actually was just a small pillow filled with rice. It did seem to help, even when she chose to sit on it rather than put it on her lap. I'm sure you will find a routine that works for the three of you. I hope it happens sooner rather than later!

    1. Thanks so much for the comment! We do let her pick if she wants to sit or stand at her desk, but most of the time she chooses sit, surprisingly! I have placed a little foot stool under her chair for tomorrow. It has little grippers on the top, so maybe that sensory input will help as well. =)

  3. Wow! I am so impressed with your perseverance and creativity. Thank you for sharing the good days and the hard.

    1. Thanks, Becky! My husband and I really work together on home keeps us sane! On Friday of our difficult week, we were both really wanting to just give up. This week we have seen many improvements though. I'm hoping the good weeks outweigh the bad weeks. =)


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