Archive for the ‘Week 3: Timeline for Training’ category

Wet basement

April 25, 2009

This morning we found a leaky pipe in the basement and water had leaked all under the mat and equipment in our exercise room. We had to move everything to the side and pull up the mat to mop up all the water. Fenner and Ellen were down there with us right away begging to help and fighting over the sponge mop and Charlotte joined in soon after. I thought: We’re just in time to go into high gear with this life-training exercise. This kind of enthusiasm has an expiration date, and what a shame not to take advantage of it!

So we’ve got a good long list of self-care skills and life skills drawn up to refer to as we forge ahead. We plan to look at it with each girl and actually check things off and ask if they can come up with any more. There’s quite a few each one can check off and I think that will help add to their confidence.

More difficult to label and articulate are the social skills that become especially important beginning in middle school. Fenner starts middle school this fall. My vivid memories of middle school are all about social dynamics, and many of those memories are not pretty. What I don’t remember is there being anybody in my life teaching me how to deal.

But when I sat down to list out some basic social skills I felt pretty stuck. Google to the rescue! Three clicks later and I had this list as a starting point:

Classroom behavior and academic performance, including:

  • Following instructions
  • Accepting consequences
  • Asking questions
  • Following rules
  • Dealing with an accusation

Interactions with parents and family such as:

  • Accepting “no” for an answer
  • Accepting criticism
  • Giving compliments
  • Making an apology

Relationships with peers:

  • Showing respect to others
  • Visiting someone who is ill
  • Introducing someone or yourself
  • Getting another person’s attention
  • Turn taking

I also found an interesting article called “Preparing to teach social skills to your teen” and even came across a movie recommendation: the 2008 Sundance film “American Teen.”

… which is now in my Netflix queue.

Packing up to go

April 24, 2009

Phew, just back from a 2-day trip to Boston. We spent several hours in the car and didn’t have to pull over once to stop any fights – definite progress!

The scene before we left, however, was not so nice. Fenner couldn’t find her iPod or her beloved Nintendo DS and she was completely distraught. “Charlotte! Where did you hide it! I know you took it!” “I didn’t! I didn’t take it!” and screaming and hitting and crying. The usual lectures about telling the truth and the harm of false accusations were on the tip of my tongue. But I kept it zipped.

What truly amazes me, as I force myself to allow these nasty fights to take their own course, is how resilient they are with each other. One minute they are seething with mutual hatred, and the next they’re talking like old friends. But that only happens if I stay out of it.

As the time to leave drew closer and Fenner became more and more distraught, Jerry’s urge to rescue her grew stronger. “Can I let Fenner use my iPod?” he whispered to me knowing full well what my answer would be. I just looked at him and shook my head. He nodded in reply….

I gave her lots of empathy. Told her how frustrated I feel when I misplace things. Talked about how they keep making these electronic devices smaller and smaller until they’re almost impossible to keep track of. The message: You’re not alone. It happens to the best of us.

And just when I thought she might be in a funk for the whole trip, she shook it off, accepted the situation, and was ready to go with a smile. She even picked out an audio book that everyone could listen to in the car together.

More ups and downs

April 22, 2009

More training with Fenner today. After she made her own grilled cheese she said, “That was delicious! Thank you, self!” Then it was on to doing her own laundry. As she started the cycle she said with a huge smile, “I did it! I did the laundry!” and skipped down the hall. The painter heard us and said to me, “Good for you for teaching her how to do laundry. I was in the laundry mat the other day and there was a young father there who shoved clothes into this one dryer until it was completely packed. And then he left! We were all laughing because the machine door kept popping open and stuff was falling out. I mean that stuff wouldn’t dry like that if you waited 10 years!” Aw, that poor man…

Another thing happened today that was very interesting. It seems the tables have turned. It used to be that when Charlotte was with my mother, she was easy-going and then as soon as I showed up she’d go into clingy-needy-whine mode. Well today it seemed the other way around. We were having a smooth morning until my mother arrived and it seemed like Charlotte wanted to put on a show for her. She glommed onto me and kept repeating over and over, “My mom, my mom, my mom, my mom…” (behavior I haven’t seen at all for over a week). Well, with my mom there, I couldn’t really leave the room as usual, so I just ignored her — no  eye contact, no verbal engagment. But my mother, not being familiar with this approach, looked right at her and said, “Charlotte! Your poor mommy with this animal hanging onto her like that!” So I whispered to her, “No attention please, Mum.” And she said, “I know, I can’t help it.” It started getting worse so I pulled myself away and headed toward the front door thinking my mom would follow and we could continue talking in the driveway. But she stayed behind and I heard her say, “Charlotte that’s annoying! Do you want to be annoying? Do you want other people to think you’re annoying?” So I said “Mum! Please!” and motioned her to follow me. Outside I said, “We’re trying really hard not to use that word ‘annoying’ with Charlotte because when we do, she just takes on that role.” “Well at some point you have to tell her no, you can’t just let her do that.” “Mum I’ve tried that, I’ve tried everything else. This is working. I give her no eye contact, no verbal engagement, and then if I have to, I physically go away from her and close the door.” “Well what I used to do is say, ‘You can do all those annoying things, but you have to go do it upstairs.'” I said, “But the problem is, you can’t make anyone do anything they don’t want to without getting physical and dragging her up the stairs. But I can move my body, that’s what I have control over, so I move myself away.” “Well … maybe so,” she said with a very skeptical look in her eye. I don’t blame her. It’s just not the usual, expected approach. But it’s working for us. I can feel it.

After she left, Charlotte and Fenner went into the living room and I heard Charlotte say, “If you don’t watch what I want to watch I’ll annoy you.”

Back to work….

p.s. So after asking me to sign her up, Charlotte was refusing to go to karate. What will it take? I wondered…. then I said, “Charlotte, when you ask me to sign you up for activities, I have to pay money for that. So if you change your mind and decide not to go, then I need to be paid back, and I will take it out of your allowance. Karate runs for one month at a time. So when it’s time to sign up for the next month you can say no, no more karate, or you can say yes, for another month. But this month is not over yet, and it’s time for your class.” Big sigh and then, “Ok … I’ll go…” And we were only five minutes late!

Independence days

April 21, 2009

Charlotte is doing so much more for herself now. I can feel her confidence growing. And little by little that is translating into a better dynamic with her sisters. The lows are still low, with tears and the usual, “This is why I HATE having sisters!!” But in between there’s more peace and moments of true friendship and teamwork.

Today as I left to pick up Fenner from her riding lesson, Ellen said, “Mom! You can’t go. I’m afraid Charlotte and I will have a big huge fight!” “Oh, I think you can handle it,” I said. “I’ll be back in twenty minutes.” When I got back I braced myself for a fight scene, but instead found the two of them playing together with their dog stuffies. I haven’t seen them do that in months.

When they do still fight there is quite a bit of hitting, which is hard to ignore, but I’m confident that at the end of this program that will have all but disappeared.

Meanwhile, today I’ve held training in shower temperature control, hair washing, toaster-oven operation, and toe-nail clipping. They still beg for their old maid-service back now and then. Tonight it was Fenner, “Mooooom, will you make me something, pleeeeeaaaaaasssss … I don’t want to cook for myself.” “Well, the great thing about cooking for yourself is you can make it just exactly the way you like it,” I offered. “No, that’s the bad thing about cooking for yourself. I don’t feel like it!” “Mmm. I know what you mean.”

Meanwhile Ellen goes in and out of neediness. Today there was a lot of, “Mom, will you watch me? … What do I do next? … Ok, what do I do next? … Ok, what’s next? ….” But I see her confidence slowly growing as well.

And I found this note from Charlotte on my desk. We had joked about how it was school vacation so her alarm clock was on vacation too. Clearly she’s giving that some thought:


Also here and there I’ve done problem solving with the girls on paper where we write down possible solutions and then decide what to do. I guess Fenner liked that approach because I found this on the couch today:


I don’t know what the problem was (her own boredom perhaps?), and although I can guess who the “stupid freak” is, it’s still good to see her brainstorming solutions to her own problems.

p.s. Right now it’s 8:50pm. The TV just went off and Ellen said, “C’mon guys, let’s go get ready for bed so we each get ten minutes with mom!” “Yeah!” said Charlotte and they all marched upstairs without ONE word from me. I gotta say it again: Wow.

Just walk away

April 20, 2009

Despite my mother’s insistence that the girls “be nice and only say nice things,” there has been conflict a-plenty between them. But now that I’m staying out of most of it, I’m not even sure what most of it is about. Last night while we waited for them to announce they were ready for bedtime books and visits, it sounded something like this: “Owwww! Stoooooop!” “What?!” “Don’t doooo thaaaat! Why did you dooo thaaat!!” … “Ewww! Stooooop! Clean that up!!!!” … “I will…” “You have to clean all of that up!” … “Charlotte!!!!” “Noooo, noooo, noooo, aaaaaaeeeeeeiiiiiii!!!!!!!!!!” “Charlotte! Stop screaming! … Ellen don’t do that!” And then some crying and a little more yelling. It got so bad at one point that Jerry said, “I don’t think they should get any time with us tonight. This behavior is unacceptable and we should tell them that nobody gets any time with us.” “Uh….hmm…I know what you mean, but … I’ve tried it all, honey. The kind of thing you’re talking about — punishment, lectures, threats — it just doesn’t work…So we’ve got to stick with this. And did you notice that with all that conflict, not one of them ran in here to say, ‘Mooooom, Daaaaaad she did this and she did that!’? That’s pretty amazing.”

It was amazing. Charlotte especially let out some truly blood-curdling screams and didn’t ask to be rescued once. And when they finally said, “Ready!” and I went into Charlotte’s room, she was happily tucking herself in as though nothing bad had just happened. Hmm. Note to self: when we stop behaving as though she needs to be rescued, she stops needing to be rescued.

Meanwhile on the life skills front, Fenner announced that she was out of clean underwear and that I needed to do laundry soon. So I said, “Tell you what, you get your dirty clothes together and I’ll show you how.” Her immediate response was, “Awwwww, noooooooo.” But about an hour later she said, “Mom, let’s do the laundry together tomorrow.” It’s a date.

Week 3, Day 1

April 19, 2009

The girls succeeded with being on time for both school and bedtime for five days in a row, so last night they got to stay up half an hour later, and we used that extra time to play a game all together. Good times.

And this morning much success with “Yes! As soon as…” as in: “Mom, can I go to so-and-so’s house?” “Yes! As soon as you clean the gerbil cage.” “Mom, can we go to McDonalds?” “Yes! As soon as you clean the rat cage.” “Mom, will you play the ball game with me?” “Yes! As soon as you take a bath.” Check, check, check.

After washing Charlotte’s hair, it occurred to me that I had never given her the opportunity to dry herself off after her bath. She’s the youngest and I’ve been doing it since she was a baby and I just kept on doing it … for six years! Usually I stand there with a towel and say, “C’mon! Time to get out! I know it’s cold. Quickly and I’ll wrap you up … C’mon Charlotte! I don’t like waiting!..etc…etc.” So today I said, “Charlotte, I was willing to wash your hair, but this time I’m going to let you dry yourself off and you can get out whenever you want.” And I walked out to the sound of “Naaawwwwwwww!…..” But the sound stopped quickly and a few minutes later, here she comes down the stairs dry and dressed. Who knew?!

So speaking of budding independence, week three is when we think about training. What do the girls know how to do and what do they need to learn before they strike out on their own? There’s self-care skills, social skills, and life skills. There’s a lot to know, so it feels good to be making lists and planning it out.

We made an initial attempt last week to inspire them to pick up after themselves. We noticed how much they enjoyed eating in the living room in front of the TV during ‘do nothing/say nothing’ week, so we said, if you all do all these things for five days in a row, you earn the privilege of eating in the living room:

  • Dishes from table into dishwasher
  • Personal items cleared from table
  • Garbage in garbage
  • Toys put away when done
  • Coats hung up & shoes out of walkway
  • Flush!

The result? NOTHING. No change. Nada. I mean, five days in a row? Try not even five minutes in a row. Ok, good information for later. Moving on…. So we’re working on a list of skills to look at together with the girls. More on that to come.

Meanwhile, it’s school vacation week so there’s oodles of time for the girls to work on their social skills with each other 😉 Yesterday we had car chaos coming home from a movie which was really hard because there’s no escape! The only thing we required was seatbelts on but of course they still found ways to drive each other crazy. I tried to envision a wall of plexiglass like you see in some taxi cabs. Meanwhile Jerry’s grip on the steering wheel got tighter and tighter. “I’m going nuts,” he grumbled. But we both managed to stay quiet. (Readers: see Vicki’s comment on this post for a better way to handle car fighting.)

This morning Jerry put up the hammock outside and the girls almost immediately started fighting over it. Jerry’s hackles went up. At one point I saw Charlotte look right at him as she was yelling something at Ellen. Then he looked at me and mouthed the words, “I can’t stand it!” “Yes you can!” I said back. “No audience!” Later I asked him, “Anything I can do to help you tune that stuff out?” “No, I just need you to remind me, that’s all.” I can do that.

Our behavior shift is definitely having an effect. For example, Ellen and I were playing a ball game and Charlotte kept trying to insert herself into the game despite Ellen’s strong disapproval. (Charlotte had had her turn playing frisbee with me and now it was Ellen’s turn.) We kept moving the game until finally Charlotte stole the ball and ran away. Before I would’ve chased her down and scolded her and then went to work consoling Ellen. But this time I just sat there until I realized that I was all alone. Ellen had left in frustration and Charlotte was nowhere to be seen. So I went inside. Charlotte was inside too and she had a worried look on her face. “Mom? I’m sorry I ruined your time with Ellen….I’ll tell you where the ball is….”

Later on, during another squabble I heard Charlotte say, “Ellen, why are you so mad?!” “You know why!” yelled Ellen. “Because you ruined my time with mom, that’s why!” and she slammed the door.

Learning…we’re all learning….