Our house is 100 years old. When we bought it, it included two dilapidated sheds, probably not 100 years old, but at least 50 or so. One shed had a broken door and a hole in the back, and the other shed’s door only closed with effort. In the sheds we put all of our outdoor stuff – beach supplies, extra chairs, old paint, tools, garden stuff – you name it.
17 months ago my husband started building a new shed. Incrementally. Slowly. In between jobs – jobs that were becoming more and more time consuming as he grew his business. He went from working 30 -40 hours a week to working more than 100. As he worked more, the new shed-building came to a halt.
Then I started home-schooling Little J. A kid who used to spend 2-3 hours/day at home if he didn’t have sports or therapy practice was now out and about, largely in our yard, for 6-8 hours/day. Part of homeschooling was the idea that he was responsible for filling up his free time. Since he balked at anyone, including me or my husband, telling him what to do – he would decide what he did with much of his time within the limits we set for him.
One of the limits was that he was not to go into the sheds.
He did not observe this limit. Not at all.
Every day for the first 3 months of homeschooling my husband or I would discover something new that Little J had taken from the shed. Even though J. has his own tools…he’d take his dad’s. Fishing gear (again, which Little J owns) -was rifled through and destroyed. Wood? Of course we gave J his own pile to work with, but he preferred the off-limits wood.Spray paint, power tools, even the boat battery, removed, torn apart, hidden, or lost.
Over and over and over again he did this. No matter what punishment, lecture, consequence we gave him he still would go out and get in the sheds, helping himself. There was no way I could physically watch him all day long (he’s 8, we have a large fenced-in yard, and I work at home) so he had lots of opportunity to help himself, and he did.
His dad was furious. I was exhausted. Little J. was quickly discovering his passions: fishing and making things with wood, which was good, but he would ignore his own supplies in favor of his dad’s.
The answer, to me, seemed simple: finish the new shed and move everything over.
To my husband the answer was even simpler: the kid needed to control himself. Or I needed to watch him better. Or both.
But neither solution was happening, especially not the one where the kid needed to exert self-control…until two things happened.
1. my mom watched the boys for a week while we took our first week-long trip together since my older son was born, and to save her the hassle of dealing with the shed, my husband screwed huge pieces of plywood over the sheds’ openings (which only partially kept J. out, as he knows how to use a screwdriver to unscrew said big pieces of plywood)…and
2. we went to a training for parents of kids with FASD (Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder), which we are having J. screened for very soon, and the trainer said something that resonated:
YOU CAN’T CHANGE THE CHILD, SO YOU NEED TO CHANGE THE SYSTEM.
The idea being that a child with brain function that is not “normal” cannot be expected to act “normally.” FASD, ADHD, PDD, etc. are all indications of brain dysfunction. Yes, there’s a spectrum of ability and disability, but still – these diagnoses are evidence of a brain that doesn’t operate the way that it should. So to expect “normal” corrections to work…doesn’t work.
This was a conclusion I’d slowly been coming to on my own, anyway, particularly after starting homeschool and discovering that so much that I’d assumed about my child (he was rude, mean, and simply hateful) was actually a result of him simply NOT KNOWING how to behave socially, and not being able to process our requests/demands fast enough, and really not remembering things he’d been told the day, or hour before. Add that to a healthy dose of frustration and you can see why he’d been oppositional.
But it wasn’t a conclusion my husband had fully embraced. Until the day that we went to the training. He got it. He finally got it.
The next day work on the sheds resumed. And while they aren’t finished, yet, Little J absolutely cannot get into the areas that are forbidden to him. We changed the system because we couldn’t change the kid. And life is so much easier that way.