Help me with my ADHD/ODD/PITA kid! Or, what would Julie Greenlee do?

To know a little bit about my kiddo, I first invite you to review my previous posts introducing my boy, LittleJ:

Bless his heart, or, Meet my ADHD/ODD/PDD/SID/WTHRK (who the heck really knows) boy!

Or just read what I’m writing now, which will probably tell you enough about him, me, and our particular family (dys)fuction. It’s taken a long time to perfect our madness, and truth be told we’re still working on it, but I thought it would be useful for folks to describe the particular way I’ve become more zen-like in my parenting when faced with a very challenging child. And no, it doesn’t involve any drugs (on my part), alcohol, or even any yoga or meditation. Although those last 2 purportedly help. I’m more of a runner/reader/writer myself.
Here’s the deal: my 8 year old child, LittleJ, is a very, very, very, very, very challenging child to parent. In addition to his ADHD diagnosis, he’s also had these diagnoses at one time or another: ODD, SID, PDD, mood disorder, attachment issues, and I also strongly suspect ARND or FASD. (See previous posts for links/explanations) In general, a major PITA much of the day. He is distractible, moody, explosive, angry, self-centered, fairly rigid, destructive, manipulative, and often disrespectful. We have to coach him a lot to get him to behave in an acceptable way. It is often very unclear what he can control and what he can’t. What’s a choice when you are so neurologically atypical? What needs a consequence and what needs a do-over?
To be fair, he has his moments of being lovely and loveable, although these are few and far between and heavily dependent on where he is in his medication cycle for the day. He is a naughty little thing, but he’s my naughty little thing, and every time he’s sweet like an 8-year-old boy should be to his mama, I can’t help but hope that’s the way things will be forever.
Hope springs eternal! And then it’s squashed, much like a caterpillar under the sole of an 8-year-old boy’s boot.

But back to the subject of this post: help for parents of challenging children, what worked for me, and Julie Greenlee, whom I don’t know but I have great admiration for.
I am no expert on how to deal with challenging children and a lot of times I wish I didn’t know as much as I do. I’ve been forced to learn on the job, and it’s not really a job I ever wanted, to be frank. I don’t think many parents gives birth to or adopts kids thinking that they’ll be this difficult to deal with. I certainly didn’t, and I know for a fact my husband didn’t. I also have spent most of my son’s life feeling like I sucked as a parent, too: from about the time my son turned 4 up until 6 months ago I pretty much reacted to my child like this: AAAAAAAAGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH WHY ARE YOU DOING THAT? QUIT TALKING TO ME THAT WAY! GO AWAY FROM ME! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! STOP! STOP! STOP! QUIT WRECKING EVERYTHING! YOU ARE DRIVING ME CRAZY!, etc. etc., combined with multiple different punishments and consequences of every variety – none of which had much of an effect at all. At least not on LittleJ. The effect was largely on me: I felt frustrated, angry, ashamed, alone, and pretty much a failure as a parent. I started developing some stress-related health problems, gained 20 lbs, quit talking to a lot of my friends, and became fairly depressed.
Then things changed.
First, we finally found a medication combo that seemed to help LittleJ gain some control
Next, I quit my out-of-the-house job to alleviate some of the stress and schedule of a 2-working parent family (my husband normally works about 70-80 hours/week and I was working 25 out of the house and 20 more at home for him as well as for my small business ). I know this isn’t a solution for most working parent household but it was something we were able to make work for us.
I started spending several hours a day “tending” to myself when I wasn’t with my children. Exercise. Reading for pleasure. Writing for pleasure. Being careful about what I ate. Talking to my friends, family, and neighbors. Getting myself out of my depression and back to the person I used to be.
I started taking LittleJ to a therapist. He didn’t talk to her; I did. Frustrating to watch him avoid talking, but helpful for me to have the outlet.
LittleJ got out of 1st grade, which was a frustrating year on many levels. Just being out of school removed an enormous burden off all of us.
And I started asking myself: What would Julie Greenlee do?
Julie Greenlee is a social worker who works with difficult kids – from what I can tell from Googling her she used to be the director of For Children’s Sake Emergency Diagnostic Center, a child placing agency specializing in therapeutic foster care, adoption, and residential treatment, and is now the Director of Social Services for Therapeutic Foster Care through the National Counseling Group. So she has lots of experience working with kids and parents who need help. She is also a certified Love + Logic Instructor, and here’s the part that’s most valuable to parents parenting kids who are hard to parent: you can watch her videos on-line, for free. They’re great videos, they’re short, and they give you wonderful, useful phrases and words you can use right away to help tame the beast that is a defiant, out-of-control child.
I LOVE HER. She saved my life, she probably saved my child’s life. I ain’t kidding around.
Now, I don’t know if what she says to do will work for everyone. I also admit that I’m not perfect at any of this, and when I first started trying to follow the Love+Logic methods I gave up after a while because LittleJ would get really angry and mock us, which would get us riled up, which would defeat the whole purpose. Plus, his meds were not optimized. This makes a HUGE difference and if you are going through a meds change my heart goes out to you. But IF your child is taking appropriate medication (or doesn’t need any) and IF you can get your life so that you are able to be mindful about parenting instead of simply reacting all the time (please see Part 1 of this post to understand changes I made in my life so I had time/space/peace of mind to be more thoughtful about parenting), I think that watching the videos will be extremely helpful.
One of the suggestions she gives is that when a child makes a bad choice that will result in an unfortunate, logical and natural consequence that you use a sympathetic catchphrase, like “that’s so sad,” or “bummer,” or something of that sort. This is a little trick for you as parent – it gives you a second to pause and formulate your response, it reminds you that it is actually sad or a bummer that the CHILD has made the choice that he/she has, and tips your kid off to what is coming next, which is a reminder of where his reactions have gotten him, or her, as the case may be.
Here’s an example from this morning which demonstrates some of LittleJ’s challenges (specifically his impulsivity, explosiveness, and rigidness) as well as a perfectly logical response, a la Julie Greenlee.
LittleJ was mad because we didn’t have enough eggs so I could make him an omelet (his current breakfast obsession) so when he finally settled on cheese toast he was angry. He called me lots of names, including a couple swear words and told me I had a big butt, his current favorite put down (like I don’t already know my butt is big! Ha! My butt has been big for a long time, buddy). The cheese toast finished cooking, I put it in front of him, and he yelled, “Cut this in half, you idiot big butt!” I didn’t reply. He tried again: “cut this in half. Please. NOW.” To this I said no. I told him that he had been unpleasant to me so I wasn’t going to do him any favors like cutting his toast in half, at which point he grabbed his toast, crumpled it into bits, and threw it across the table.
Now, old me would have screamed at him, probably smacked his rear end, and who knows what else. This is a LOT to take at 6:45 a.m. and on only one cup of coffee. Old me would have probably gotten him to school late, but with an anger headache, a tight chest, full of shame at what I’d said or did to him, and with the only thought to eat a can of macaroons for breakfast. But current me thought, “What would Julie Greenlee do?” and I simply said, “Oh well, that’s so sad. You crumpled up your breakfast. Now you will be hungry all morning.” And I walked around the house, pretending to look for something so that I wouldn’t be drawn into any more of his drama…
… thinking that he really should eat something with his medication. And hoping that he doesn’t tell his teacher I didn’t give him breakfast. And wondering if I should offer him the crumpled up toast to eat at the very least…
But I stayed strong and stuck to my guns. Because the natural consequence (which is what L+L is about) to not eating breakfast is that one is hungry…and if a tummy ache b/c of meds on an empty belly accompanies, well, lesson learned all the more. And guess what? LittleJ yelled a while, then quit yelling, then got ready for school. And I didn’t have a headache or a tight chest and I felt like I was in control – at least of myself. Which, some days, is all I can hope for.

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

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Adrienne Bashista, behavior modification, parenting/FAMILY, treatment ·

About the author

Adrienne Ehlert Bashista is the co-editor of and contributor to Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories, and is also the author of two picture books about Russian adoption. She’s had stories, essays, and articles published in a variety of journals, both print and on-line. She is the owner of DRT Press. She was a school librarian for many years before giving it up to devote more time to the rest of her life. She chronicles her adventures raising her son, recently diagnosed with FASD in her blog, A Square Peg, a Round Hole. She also writes for the blog for Easy to Love but Hard to Raise and her writing/speaking website is adriennebashista.net. She lives in central North Carolina with her husband, two sons, two dogs, 21 chickens, and a lot of bees.

One Comment

  1. I am late to the game on this post, but wanted to say that I KNOW THAT FEELING. I try so hard not to think “Gah, just go somewhere AWAY from me!” during the snotty, explosive, manipulative times.

    I'm off to read part 2!

    Reply

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