Wednesday, March 27, 2013

ADHD: teacher's attitude makes all the difference

I keep coming back to what one of Brady's teachers said to me. She said:

"I just try to help him make better choices and to stop and think sometimes. He doesn't want to get in trouble."

I wasn't sure why I kept thinking of that, other than it is a great comfort to me that someone in his life outside of his family sees him that way. And let me tell you, he absolutely loves her, as well as his regular school teacher who sees him that same way. And another who always tells him, "Tomorrow's a new day and we aren't going to worry about the past." That, too, is really awesome. He respects her and listens to her. Every day is a new day for him with her, a new day to make good choices. He starts fresh. 

And they are by no means lenient with him. They can be tough, but also kind and caring, and he responds well to them.

I realized, that one statement above is what makes the difference in how a teacher approaches a child. If he or she believes the child is misbehaving simply to be bad, well then they are going to treat them in a very different way than if they believe the child is struggling and needs a different kind of guidance.

If your goal is simply to make them mind, to fall in line, to be like everyone else, the manner of speaking and the method of discipline will be much different than if the goal is to teach them the skills they need as a unique individual to make better choices.

Brady feels bad when he misbehaves. He really does want to do well and he tries SO hard. He tells me that every day and I believe him. I know he still makes bad choices, loses control, does what he shouldn't sometimes, but he does try. I know there are teachers who think he doesn't. They think he acts up on purpose, to be bad. They think he makes excuses. As I've mentioned once before, I was told by a teacher that he did something "just to be mean." And that statement was not true.

So how do you suppose that teacher would approach his misbehavior if she sees a mean intention in it?

Gosh, I wish somehow I could get every teacher to realize that Brady has a harder time staying in control than other kids. That he responds differently to things. He flat out does. Not because he's mean or bad. Because he's just who he is. And I know, more than anyone, that he has a lot to learn. That doesn't mean you don't give punishment, consequences, discipline. It doesn't mean you don't hold him to the same standards as other kids.

But it does mean you approach it in a very structured way with the idea that this kid needs something extra. It's not all on him. It's not all on me. It's also on the teacher or care-provider to find ways to manage him that don't break his spirit, that don't have you assuming he's trying intentionally to misbehave.

If one teacher can see that he is 1) remorseful when he acts up and 2) actually trying to do better, then why can't they all?

He does much better in some classes than others, with some teachers than with others. And it is not because the ones he does better with are more lenient. It is because they understand and they go the extra mile. He senses that. If they respect him as a unique individual, certainly not an equal, but as an individual - even with strict, structured discipline - he will trust them and do his best for them (Gosh, isn't it the same even with adults? How do you like the boss that rules by demeaning and degrading and yelling and bullying? Not much, I'd guess).

Kindness, understanding, compassion, firmness, strength, patience and consistency go a long, long way, and make their point much quicker than strong-arming. I've seen it. I've lived it. It works.

Don't assume this kid is trying to act up. Don't assume he's making excuses. Don't assume he "gets away" with stuff at home. Don't assume anything about him. I know it's hard when one kid is different and doesn't respond to traditional methods like everyone else. Or in a large classroom. But, please, step outside what you need and see what he needs to truly learn to get himself under control.

He requires something extra. He requires creativity. He presents a challenge. And, darn it, the adults in his life should be able to rise to that. (I always add the disclaimer that I am far from perfect and I don't always rise to the challenge, but, like Brady, I try to do better every day.)

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