This past year, the staff was fortunate enough to have Jody McVittie come to our school and lead a class in Positive Dicipline. It truly was an multi-facited exchange of ideas and tools. It not only helped us with dicipline in the classroom and with our own kids but it gave the staff a different way of seeing each other. I was also able to attend most of Jody’s Sanity Curcius Course, which included many of our parents from the school.
I was then sent to Portland for a weekend of Positive Dicipline for kids on the Autism Spectrum. This was slightly different with a few new tools. As a parent of a child on the spectrum, it is sometimes hard to negotiate tools that work for “typical” children and what will work for your child (this is also true in the classroom). I find that sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t and sometimes I just need to alter the approach a bit differently.
It is always a struggle to find balance and I don’t know anyone who has all the answers but it has certainly caused me to think differently and approach situations with more firmness, much kindness and a little more confidence. I have written a personal account of a specific incident where Positive Dicipline made a radical change in my life. Enjoy. ~Michelle
Positive Discipline: Teacher as Student – Student as Parent
As a teacher, I am confident and flexible with firm boundaries. I have high expectations that almost always get met. But most of the time as a parent, all the emotions between my daughter and me make it hard to draw boundaries. For years I actually never knew you could do too much and as an attachment parent, I thought all the attention,” helping” and doing was positive but as she grew her expectations of me to do everything for her and her out-of-control behavior began to show that maybe this wasn’t quite the right approach.
I was struggling with these issues to the point of seeking counseling and then I took the Positive Discipline class. After the experience of “Teacher Helping Teacher” (although I worked on the problems I was experiencing at home with my daughter), I realized I was actually hurting her by doing everything for her. I was keeping her from being confident, keeping her from growing and learning and experiencing and becoming her own person (although I’m not really sure I wanted this for a long time).
So I thought about what I had learned and decided that when the time felt right I would try to work toward some autonomy for my child and myself. I kept my “Teacher Helping Teacher” sheet on my refrigerator to remind me of the suggestions and ideas given to me by the other teachers and parents in my group.
My daughter is on the Autism spectrum and I have overly protected her as well as have done almost everything for her because I have thought (wrongly) that she wasn’t capable, so in turn she has come to think that she isn’t capable. Learning new things and separation cause her anxiety and the crying and wining and fits are sometimes more than I can bear. So I’ve just sucked it up and done everything for her including carrying her. My daughter is a very tall seven year-old and I carried her almost everywhere. If I didn’t, she would lie down and throw a fit.
And then one day when I went to pick my daughter up from school, as we were walking to the car, she seemed to have forgotten I wasn’t carrying her. She remembered and immediately dropped everything she was carrying and raised her arms to me. And in my gut I thought, this is the moment. Instead of trying to convince her to walk and feeling high anxiety because I knew it wouldn’t work or just picking her up to avoid conflict, yelling, crying and staring from other parents, I calmly told her, “You can do it.”
She immediately began to wail. I said, “I’ll hold your hand.” She began to scream louder. Instead of repeating myself a million times, I waited, then after about five minutes of yelling and screaming and her not budging, I said, “I will be waiting in the car,” which was a few feet away, next to the sidewalk. Then it began to rain. Other parents were staring at her and me. Her teacher came out and asked if everything was alright and I said, “I’ve been carrying her for over six years and today she’s going to do it on her own” and the teacher said, “Because today is the day” and I felt so understood in that moment.
I was taking another, older child with me to carpool. And as we sat in the car, in the rain, she said, “She’s never going to get in.” I sighed and thought she might be right. I again told my daughter that I would hold her hand. And then she began to tear at her skin and clothing and use words I didn’t even know she knew. She then began to tear a bush apart that she was standing next to. Then she flung herself on the pavement and kicked and wreathed. This nearly killed me but I tried to not get emotionally sucked in. I got back out of the car into the now pouring rain and stretched out my hand once again, she took it, still screaming and walked on her knees to the car. She crawled up into the seat. I buckled her in (one thing at a time).
She was shaking and drenched and scratched up from the sidewalk. She cried all the way home. When we were getting close to the other child’s house, the other child said, “You are going to have to do that so many times.” Again I thought she might be right.” We drove home. When we got to the house, my stomach clenched. I didn’t with all my being want to repeat what had just happened. I got out of the car, walked around to the other side. I opened the door and she got out, still crying and walked herself inside.
This was the first time she had done this. I was stunned. I thought it might be a fluke but when she wanted me to carry her from room to room that night, I said, “you can do it” and with some objection but without fits, she did it and has done it ever since. And it only took thirty minutes. Thirty minutes exactly. I know because I timed it. It was so hard but so worth it for both of us. I know how much she misses me carrying her and after a while we started something we call an “up hug,” where I pick her up for a giant hug and kiss and then put her back down. It’s an occasional thing and something we both enjoy.
We are still working on getting this down and it hasn’t worked for everything. We still struggle to work it out with the Positive Discipline tools and I am often frustrated that every single thing in our lives is something we have to “work through” with much patience and difficulty. But the boundaries that I have set are clearer. It’s almost as if you can feel them in the air now. This isn’t always easy but it feels so much less stressful to have some tools and something to lean on. This was just one specific incident in our struggle to become two people. But it truly seemed like something of a miracle.