Well, here it is -- the official update on Ellie.
I'll get straight to the good news...
Monday and yesterday were "awesome" days!
After leaving Ellie's teacher two messages last week, I finally heard from her Monday afternoon. We went over just how bad her behavior had been, but she also went on to tell me how awesome Monday was for Ellie. She was a very pleasant and compliant child all day. She never once had to be placed in the hall or in a time out/seclusion room. (Something that had been happening since she started at Riverside Academy two weeks ago.) She did her work all day as asked, interacted well with others and only once did she try to run when forming a line, but was very quickly corrected.
Yesterday, Tuesday, she came home without her folder. Normally when she comes home without it I know to assume she had a bad day, because what has happened is she has intentionally left it at school. She honestly thinks that if I can't read about her behavior then I can't punish her for it. So because of the "folder-hiding," if she comes home without it, I automatically assume she had a bad day and she will receive a consequence.
She asked to watch "Wreck-It-Ralph," (her reward for having a good day), to which I responded, "No. Not without knowing how your day was." (I'm hoping to teach her personal responsibility for her own belongings or at least honesty about her behavior.) About that time I noticed I had a missed call from her school and a voicemail. I paused to listen and turns out it was her teacher calling to tell me that Ellie really did forget her folder and that she in fact had a great day -- did all her work as asked, didn't have to be removed from the classroom or put in that horrible time out room. (My words, not her teachers.) So, with that, "Wreck-It-Ralph" was officially on! :)
Today she had some issues with not wanting to comply during PE, but she started the day well and I'm told she ended it on a good note too. And really, I guess you could say it actually started this Sunday in Children's Church. Before we could get out of the sanctuary to pick her up, people were coming out telling us how "exceptionally good" she had been.
I dunno ... her morning in Sunday School hadn't been great -- at least I don't think so because I was told that she threw crayons at other kids. Upon this news I would've normally taken her straight to the bathroom for a severe tongue lashing, or sometimes, depending on the behavior, a spanking. This time I decided that I was going to handle her differently.
I've been trying to be less harsh lately. I am just so weary of all this! Nothing I do seems to work, but rather only drives a wedge between us. I've tried so many things: taking her toys/privileges away, rewards systems to earn them back, throwing or giving toys away thinking if she knew she couldn't earn them back she would be a little more motivated to behave. I've tried being nice, begging and pleading with her, being stern, yelling at her, spanking her everyday she came home with bad notes. (Of course, I'm not proud of those last two.) Lately I am so disgusted; I feel like I can't even enjoy my child anymore. All I know to do to keep from driving the wedge deeper is to simply give her the cold shoulder and only speak to her unless absolutely necessary. And some days that seems to work; I think it's because her behaviors are attention seeking and her goals attention driven.
So ... Sunday I decided to do things differently. I took her to the bathroom and just asked her questions about her behavior (in a loving but correcting tone):
"Ellie, did you really throw crayons? Please just tell me honestly."
"Yes, but it was only one," she answered.
"Did you really throw it at (a friend)?" I asked.
"No. I didn't mean to. I just threw is because it wasn't the color I wanted." She continues, "I don't know if I hit anybody with it."
"Okay, well from what I understand it sounds like when you threw it you hit (friend) with it. Even if you didn't mean to you need to tell her you're sorry," I explained. "Also, do you think that is a good reason to throw a crayon?"
"No," she answered.
"Do you think there is ever a good time to throw a crayon?"
"No," she replied again.
"Okay, well since you acted so impulsively, Daddy and I won't be stopping to get arrows for your bow." (Archery is hobby we have embarked on in hopes of teaching her to focus, discipline and diligence and how to control her body and thoughts.)
With that I finished up in the restroom and then went out to find our pew. Several minutes later as the children were dismissed to Children's Church, I pulled her close, gave her a hug and kiss, told her I loved her and to please do better in Children's Church or she would "lose something else." Normally I would pull her close and in a low "Mean Mommy" growl threaten her to "be good or else."
I dunno ... I can't tell you what exactly I did or what changed, but from that moment till this she's been a pretty good kid. Not that she isn't already a good kid at heart, but she's actually put effort into showing it.
How bad did Ellie's behavior get?
It was immediately worse this year. As soon as she started at Pegram Elementary she began with intruding into peers' personal space (just talking too close, getting in others' faces, very touchy, etc.), random outbursts during class time (just sporadically yelling out nonsensical things as the teacher is trying to teach) an antic that got worse and more disruptive every day. Other impulsive behaviors like elopement (getting up from her desk and running around the room or running from her class when transitioning from homeroom to lunch, recess, PE, etc.) and refusal to participate with the class during PE, Music, or some days, even lunch.
As we expected, upon her transfer to Riverside, she really ramped up the bad attitude and has been giving her new teachers a real run for their money. As I mentioned earlier, she has been so disruptive in class that they have tried moving her desk outside in the hall. Her teacher told me of an instance last week where Ellie actually started screaming for her (the teacher) to stop hitting her (Ellie) when she was nowhere near her. Mrs. Franck explained to Ellie that there are cameras in the hall that would prove she never touched her, so that was the only instance I know of that Ellie tried that.
But even after being placed in the hall the testing behaviors and disturbances continued, so Ellie was placed in what the school calls a "time out room." Otherwise known as a seclusion room. It's a small room (maybe the size of a janitor's closet) that is completely empty and it is meant to give the student a place to calm down. The teacher will either go in and wait it out with the child or, from what I understand, there is a window in the door that the teacher can observe her through. Well, Ellie got put into the time out room last Wednesday and figured out real quick she didn't like it. What she didn't figure out quick enough was how to stay out of it, because by Friday she was put back in it. She did however figure out how to get taken out of the room: pee on herself! That's right. My sweet yet devious little girl figured out that if she simply peed on herself they had no choice but to pull her out of the room. Good thing we went through the "peeing-on-myself-to-go-home" antic last year, so anticipating that she may try it again I had already sent two changes of clothes to school with her. Plan to send herself home: Sabotaged!
So what am I doing to reinforce good behavior?
Well, again, I am learning that since it's attention Ellie is seeking -- good or bad -- I have to stop giving her the negative reactions. I am learning that when she is bad it is best to just ignore her. I am not saying I don't give her a consequence for her bad behaviors. I do still do that, but further, I now do not speak to her unless absolutely necessary. For example: If she comes home with a bad note, the first thing she loses is technology of any kind (TV, computer, PS3 games, etc.) and on top of that I don't speak to her unless it's to tell her "come eat," "take a bath" or "go to bed." She can't stand it. She would rather have my negative reaction because then it is at least some sort of attention, and in a kids eyes, negative attention is better than no attention.
These last two days when she has come home with good behavior I have given her as much positive attention as I possibly can -- even if I really don't have time to. Monday I played Legos with her for an hour. Tuesday it was an hour of Barbies. I put household chores and making dinner on hold in order to give her what she needs. I am ashamed to say that hasn't always been the case. In the past, I thought I was reinforcing good behavior by giving her toys back, giving her treats or giving her special treatment. Not true. It may have temporarily reinforced good behaviors, but nothing will ever replace what our children truly desire of us, and that is our time and attention.
I hate that it has taken me six years to figure this out, but what can I say? Perfect parenting doesn't exist, and even if it did it doesn't come naturally; it's hard work getting there. The flip side is that at least I am figuring it out early and we are getting the help we need now.
Please just keep praying for us all friends. :)