Earlier today I responded in a discussion about raising high spirited children. It took place between a group of adoptive moms, which incidentally is a group that is no newbie to the high spirited child. As I looked over what I wrote I decided much of it was worthy of being repeated here.
There’s something about a mother’s heart that helps us understand our children. I believe it is a gift that helps us be prepared for them as well a powerful resource that can help us know how to help them as they grow. I think it can help speak peace to our hearts when we come across things that just feel right. That mother’s intuition was something I’d heard about before I was a mother – the times and examples when a mother just knew something about her child. But it took experience as mother to truly comprehend and appreciate it.
As for this particular topic, I knew from the earliest stages of interaction that my daughter was a real fireball. It was evident that she had a strong will, energetic spirit and deep ability to comprehend things around her. And being completely honest, while I utterly adored these traits in her, there were moments when I’d be around other children her age (her cousin in particular) when I’d long to know what it would be like to have a child with a quiet and more self entertaining spirit. It can be exhausting although it is as potent in the rewards as it is during the taxing moments and therefore something I wouldn’t change for the world. A funny side note is that I asked my husband once why we got our siblings kids as both of us were those easy going, relaxed and good kids in our youth and we both had siblings that seemed to personify exactly the spirit we saw in our daughter. He didn’t miss a beat when he replied we got them because our siblings would have killed them! LOL Even through the humor of that statement I could see some truth knowing that I had been truly prepared to be my daughter’s mother. I’ve often said I could not have been the mother she needed if I’d had her when I wanted her.
So knowing all this left me mulling over the world my daughter had come into and her acceptance into it. How would I know when I needed to do more to help her and when I needed to be still? A certain amount of concern from passing comments and feedback mixed with that mother’s intuition, confirmed that I had a little rocket on my hands. I noticed early that she was much less interested in academia fact than she was in taking in the world around her. She was more concerned in what you’d get if you mixed colors than in learning the names of the colors. She has always been very tactile with touch and feel, creative, always questioning things and people and dead set determined on getting to know every person she ever met. If you could put life, people and social learning next to academia I’m certain she’d score off the charts from the onset. But alas, the world we live in dictates standards that say the academic progress and conformity are not only what is acknowledged but very much the focus. It wasn’t hard to picture her being a square peg in a round hole system, but I had no idea just how unique her shape really was – she’s far from square! How grateful I am for that mother’s intuition.
So when my early concerns were confirmed during preschool that she wasn’t mastering early academia facts at the rate of her peers I took note. After two years of kindergarten I could see that this was going to be a struggle. Already the school was dropping hints on her short attention span and general disrupting the class with constant socializing. I was still seeing the same creative and free spirit that simply wasn’t going to do well in a cage but I had to find ways to help her. I also noticed how inconsistent her display of knowledge was. When she was 5 I started doing some online research on ADHD because I was pretty sure she’d get that from her teachers and staff that worked with her and I wanted to have a handle on it. At first it was very discouraging to me and I felt a lot of frustration that fed concerns. I hated that we actually had such a label for the exceptionally creative and high spirited child like it was a bad thing and I hated more that medication was used to subdue it. It was more than I could take at the time and I left it all alone for a while. The next year we had serious issues at school – serious because of the personality clash with her teacher who was a strict disciplinarian from the old school of teaching. This teacher’s “style” was to break a child of bad habits with firm discipline routines. For some kids this might work well, but for my daughter the only thing that works is positive motivation, not negative. So the two opposites collided that year. And here’s some of the positive things I learned through and because of that year:
1) Follow your gut – you’re probably right.
2) My daughter could learn as well, she just learned differently
3) The value of helping raise her self esteem and image during the daily attack on her character was crucial
My daughter learned in 100 hours at Sylvan what she had missed in over 1,000 hours at school. She went for 2 hours a night 3 days a week. I was worried knowing it came after a full 6 hours of school already but she flourished. There were 3-4 kids at her table and within 3 months she was reading at her grade level – something her teacher argued with me to the bitter end that she was unable to do. I also worried that her extra-curricular activity of acting would be too much what with evening classes and preparation workshops on weekends for her big NY trip. But it turned out to be exactly the confidence boost she desperately needed. Again, I am grateful for the mother’s intuition and the spirit.
As she entered her 2nd grade year I went again to look at ADHD. This time I was a little more open to learning and a little less married to my early judgements about it. And this time I saw something that was most encouraging to me. All of the suggested exercises, parenting styles, discipline techniques, etc. where things I’d already been doing, many for several years. For the first time I realized that my daughter wasn’t behind, she was way ahead of the curve because I was her mother and had already been doing so many things for her that most parents might not be looking for or seeing until this point in their child’s life. I felt a great sense of strength and positive encouragement sweep over me. Which helped me take the next step at the end of her 2nd grade year to see a specialist about her teacher’s and my concern of the display of inconsistency with her learning and knowledge application. It was clear to both of us that try as she might something was interfering with her ability to remain consistent with learning and displaying her knowledge. My goal moved from resistance to determination to find anything that could help her.
We found that she was not ADHD – she was not hyperactive at all. This was not a surprise to me but I felt great relief to have someone else acknowledge it. But she did have a moderate case of Attention Deficit that wasn’t helping her with regards to school and a heightened social development that was adding further difficulty. As I’d heard so many times before she is truly unique. But there were tools and resources that could help address the attention problem. I told them I was against the idea of medication. They told me they understood and sent me home with some materials and starting points to research it before coming to a decision. They said their recommended course of action would be to give her a trial period with meds to help her gain a reference for what we were all trying to help her achieve. That if she had ADD it was highly likely she’d never experienced the “focus” that we were doing all in our power to help her find. Without that reference we were all in the dark. So I did some research on the medication and this time not from all the opinion based sources on the web which I found to be by in large extremely negative and inflated. I’m still learning, but I have found that the medication is not a tool to control or subdue behavior and it’s sad that it is viewed and even used like that by some parents. Her 3rd grade year was a completely new and wonderful experience for all of us. We’re still learning and growing but we’re still on the right path – even though it’s not the path I would or could have seen 5 or 6 years ago. And so it goes, one day at a time, one foot in front of the other.
My mother has always told me these young spirits in these last days come with these traits of strong wills and determination because they have to have it to survive. I joke that she needs to remind me often as it brings me daily to my knees! The truth is, today’s world is more harsh and more difficult than it was even ten or twenty years ago. I think my mom’s right. My daughter has been blessed with special gifts to help her reach her full potential and successfully perform her life’s mission. They are critical to her success. My job isn’t to control those gifts, it’s to help her discover them and use them to her advantage. My job isn’t to drive or direct her but to help her gain enough personal understanding and navigation to successfully charter the waters and return home. If anyone has been doing some learning in my journey it’s been me – and maybe that’s one of her missions. *wink*
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