The last six months have been extremely difficult with Gabe.
He's a highly sensitive, very emotional little boy. I get it, because I was like that as a child, falling apart at the seams at the smallest provocation. He's always been emotional, and so when he was younger I figured he'd grow out of it as he got older, able to cope with life more easily.
He didn't grow out of it.
He hasn't been coping with life at all.
The thing is. At school? He's perfect. When he goes to a friend's house? The parents tell me he was wonderful, polite and well-mannered, and that he's a delight to have around. Anywhere but at home? He's as he should be. He's able to use the lessons we've taught him to navigate life.
At home? He's a shithead. A complete, and total shithead. He loses his mind, screaming and yelling and flailing all over the place. He scares the babies sometimes, because he yells so loud. It's not even angry yelling, it's just "I'm super unhappy with life right now and I'm going to make you miserable just so you know how unhappy I am" yelling.
It's bratty. It's the kind of behavior that, if I saw it in another person's kid, I'd judge the shit out of them.
It's the kind of behavior that was taking over our house. His 'fits' would rev up the emotional atmosphere to the point where we'd all have to stop what we were doing to deal with it. And there was after effects. Babies upset, because they don't like it when the big kids get upset. Chris and I frustrated, because we felt like we'd done something really fucking wrong the last 8 years.
Last week Chris and I talked. We knew something needed to be done. We knew it couldn't go on, that it was getting ready to turn into something more than an emotional kid. Neither of us had any ideas.
My husband has ADHD. I don't know if I've ever mentioned that. He takes medication for it, because otherwise his brain tends to run around in circles, and since he's the provider for our family, he needs his brain to work properly.
Last year when Gabe was struggling in school so much, we went through the process of evaluation for him, to see if there was something more going on than just reading difficulties.
The verdict? My son has ADD. Which, on its own, wasn't a big surprise. I knew it before we got the results, and since I've been living with it for the last 13 years, I knew I could deal. Except, then I didn't. I didn't take it into consideration when dealing with my son, and I didn't take it into consideration when his behavior was spiraling out of control. He's not medicated, and won't be, because I don't believe in ADD meds for kids when behavior modification has been proven to be so effective.
It's only effective, though, if you actually utilize it.
I wasn't. I wasn't helping him, I wasn't teaching him to deal with his distracted brain. I was doing nothing more than expecting my son to follow rules he forgot about, and expecting him to cope with emotions he didn't understand.
Most adults I know don't have reasonable coping skills, yet I was assuming my son did.
Parenting fail, completely.
The thing about failure in parenting is that it's only such if we don't make adjustments to how we handle things after our realization of said failure. When you know yelling at your child is ineffective, yet you still yell at them.
I was a teacher. When I was teaching, I employed certain methods in the classroom to keep my students in control. I can handle a classroom of 25 5th graders, yet I can't handle one small boy? It's completely ridiculous. If Gabe can be quiet, well-behaved, and follow rules for 8 hours a day in school, it SHOULD be possible that he can do the same at home.
So last week, I made a behavior chart. Something I've never, ever done in my 9 years of parenting. But I decided to use the same kind of chart I'd used when I was a teacher. The basic idea of helping Gabe to have a physical representation of expectations.
I made a color chart.
Basic, no frills, not remotely fancy. Threw that shit together late one night because I was desperate, and exhausted, and I knew we had to do something to help him SEE how he was acting.
We stuck a Cass on there to be fair.
The get one warning. After that one warning, they get a color change.
The first day? Gabe ended up on orange in about ten minutes, and then proceeded to lose his mind over the fact that he'd ended up on orange. So he went to red, and started losing things, and he realized that it was his BEHAVIOR that was causing the consequences.
Granted, while it was happening, he was saying things like "you just want to punish me" and "you love Cass more than me" and "this is so unfair".
One night without his iPod, the Wii, tv, or Legos?
Since then he hasn't gone below yellow. And yesterday, he stayed on blue.
After a few days, Chris and I saw a HUGE improvement. Like, he's not even the same kid. He still gets upset, but he's not freaking out on everyone for 20 minutes, affecting everyone the in the house. Since it's a visual system, and we saw it working, I thought we should add one more step to the whole thing, just like they do at school.
So now the kids can earn 'tickets'. For each day they stay on blue the entire day, they get one ticket in their jar. (the tickets are paper squares I cut up, and the jars are mason jars I wrote on with permanent marker...keeping it simple)
We have three levels of 'prizes'. 5 tickets, 10 tickets, and 20 tickets. The 5 ticket prizes are things like "stay up an extra 30 minutes" and "play outside an extra 30 minutes". The 20 ticket prizes are things like "spend $5 at Target" or "have a friend sleep over" or "buy a paid iPod game".
It's working. For now, at least. He hasn't had a complete meltdown in a week. And that's saying a lot, since he normally loses his mind 5 times a day.
I don't know how long it will be effective, but I have to have a break from the screaming. I need to be able to help him work out how he feels without him losing his mind, but I can't do that unless he's calm enough to talk.