Leading PK to Water

I really like this blog post on structure, because I think that in a lot of ways structure is a very, very useful way of treating and controlling anxiety. (This is very much an off-the-top-of-my-head post of things I would like to find out more about, btw, so feel free to share links.)

I know that for me, having some kind of structure for the day–even as loose as “get out of the house early” or “the husband will be home from work around 6:30”–is very useful in ensuring that I don’t spend the entire day websurfing. And from the stuff I’ve been reading/talking to therapists about in re. PK’s anger/attitude/anxiety, I think it is fair to say that one of the things we* have not done particularly well as parents is provide him with a good structure: one loose enough that he doesn’t feel constrained, i.e., much looser than the conventional school structure, but regular enough to ensure that not every. single. thing. he does involves weighing and assessing desires/needs/consequences. He actually has learned to say to me things like “you make the decision here” at junctures when he feels paralyzed by options.

Last week and this weekend kind of gave me a glimpse of how to do this with him. I’ve been wanting him to break up his days more, and Saturday evening he came to me and said things that sounded like he was getting ready to stop being so single-mindedly focused on video games; so yesterday mid-morning I told him that I wanted him to read a chapter of the history book I have for him before he opened his laptop.

HUGE. SCREAMING. PROTEST. One of the key issues for him was that I was somehow using something he likes–his laptop–as a carrot/stick for getting him to do something I wanted him to do. This is a recurring issue for him. I’m not at all sure what it’s about, but I know it’s there.

So, some back and forth. He read a few pages, then the yelling started again. I was insistent, of course, because you-are-not-going-to-get-what-you-want-by-yelling. At some point he said something to the effect of, it would be different if you just suggested I read the book, or that I look through the book, rather than having this hard-and-fast one-chapter-before-computer role. So I said, would that help, if I said you could just have a look at the book for now?

Agreement, so I said, okay, you can just look through it for a bit instead.

And lo and behold, he sat down and within about 30 seconds was reading about ancient South American civilizations and explaining to me where tamales come from (always with the food, this kid). Later that day we talked about making tamales this week, and he was pretty into the idea.

It’s funny, because I do get where he’s coming from on this, sort of. I, too, tend to get incredibly anxious when I feel like I “have” to do something–which is why any structure I impose on myself has to be very, very loose. I was reading something a while back, about “gifted” kids, that said that this is a fairly common problem for highly creative people, which makes sense, I suppose (though I’m always a bit wary of things that “make sense”, i.e., “explain”–without actual evidence or documentation–stuff that “feels” true: this is how astrology works, and confirmation bias, and god knows that labeling oneself or one’s kid as “gifted” or “creative” as a way of “explaining” behavior or feelings that create problems seems ripe for self-serving rationalization–though at the same time, if it works to help mitigate those problems I’m willing to take it on. But I want to distinguish between verifiable truths and useful explanations, and when it comes to what’s written about and around “gifted” kids I find it very, very difficult to tell if anyone actually recognizes that those are different things).

In any case. It doesn’t really matter if this is a “gifted/creative” thing, or a “mistakes I have made as a parent” thing or “genetic predispositions towards anxiety I have passed on” or a “crappy behavior patterns I have modeled.” It’s just something that I need to keep in mind: for PK, for now, “try this for a bit” is a much more reassuring way of presenting new stuff than “I want you to do this now.” Though he does need to be steered towards trying things, because otherwise, I think, he really just does not know what to do with himself.

*I’m definitely the leans-away-from-structure person.

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3 responses to “Leading PK to Water

  • Thorn

    I’m parenting kids younger than PK, but I think about how to deal with anxiety and control stuff a lot. I really like this blog post and the others that follow it in that series, though they’re aimed at people working with kids in residential treatment centers whose needs are often more extreme. http://traumatreatment.blogspot.com/2012/08/it-aintt-east-being-rich.html (Sorry for no links, but I’m on the go.)

    I think it’s fabulous that he could (eventually) articulate not only what he didn’t like but how he thinks a rephrasing could have worked. I assume learning to navigate that dynamic will be a big part of homeschooling and should also pay off longterm.

  • tedra

    Yes, I’m lucky (I’ve tried very hard to teach him this, but I’m still lucky that he is able to learn it so well) that he’s very good, both at recognizing his own feelings and being able to explain them. It is a hell of a life skill.

    And thanks for the link. No need to provide others–I can toodle around on that blog by myself. The one post that you linked to is definitely germane.

  • ingimc

    Sounds like a plan. Hey kids, let’s try answering this essay question for a bit, sounds like nice way to go. Maybe it will stop the tears! I’ll let you know :-)

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