Sea Monkeys

When my daughter Beckie was younger she decided she wanted to raise sea monkeys. Since sea monkey eggs can remain dormant for years, they are available in kits for you to raise. The packaging is attractive for children, and I’ve even seen necklaces that allow you to wear a sea monkey in a little water globe around your neck. Doesn’t that sound cute? It certainly appealed to Beckie, and the sea monkeys on the packaging looked animated and eager. Although she followed the directions on how to activate the sea monkeys eggs so they would hatch, the first attempt failed and Beckie had no sea monkeys. Undeterred, she went for it again and the second attempt resulted in several live sea monkeys. Guess what? They weren’t nearly as cute as the cartoon sea monkeys on the box. In fact, Beckie’s older sister Beth started calling them “Sea Scaries”. Sea monkeys are basically a type of shrimp. Shrimp are not that cute. Beckie, however, was proud of her sea monkey family and was determined to see them grow and reproduce to a zillion generations. Since Beckie has AD/HD, it is hard for her to remember to do tasks on a consistent basis. She wanted to check on her sea monkeys daily, and her solution was to keep them in the kitchen. She knew she would be in the kitchen every day, and would see them and have that visual reminder to check on them. This worked great for her. For my part, it was extremely unappetizing to me to see the sea monkeys skulking around their little habitat while I prepared meals. I just trained myself not to look at them after awhile. Beckie’s sea monkeys grew, and even had sea monkey babies once. Unfortunately for Beckie, she is only one of three family members with AD/HD and clutter is a big problem in every room in our house. I can’t clean as fast as they can unclean, so piles of stuff end up in the kitchen. One fateful day, Beckie’s Dad knocked the sea monkeys over and they flooded the kitchen counter. Rather than trying to scoop them back into their little habitat, Dad just dragged a trash can over and swept them all into the trash can. RIP little sea monkeys. Thinking his work there was done, Dad moved on to something else and didn’t think to mention the “terrible accident” to Beckie. When Beckie discovered the empty sea monkey container she was understandably distressed. Her strategy to keep them in the kitchen worked for her, but they were not safe from other family members who dump things in the kitchen. Her Dad’s strategy was to clean up the mess in the quickest and easiest way possible. The sea monkeys were the casualty. Beckie decided it was safer to have fish in a bowl that mounts onto her bedroom wall, and she has happily lived with her fish pets without having to worry about the bowl getting knocked over.

The Magic of Tootsie Rolls

My daughter, Beckie, has AD/HD. Now that she’s a teenager, her primary challenges are with the executive functions (EF) like planning, organization, and working memory. She also continues to need more prompts and external rewards than her peers without EF challenges.

Beckie and her sister have been sharing a hair dryer for years. It is important to Beth, the older sister, to have the hair dryer put away after use. Beckie couldn’t care less if the hair dryer gets put away, so there is little internal motivation on her part to do so. Remember, anything that requires extra steps is not popular with our kids or adults with AD/HD. Additionally, they need more frequent rewards than their “neurotypical” peers. This need often extends into adulthood.

The hair dryer wars went on for a while, with hard feelings on both sides. Since the girls were not able to work out their differences and the hostility was escalating, we met as a family to problem solve together. If something didn’t change, the hair dryer wouldn’t be the only thing to blow at our house. At one point in the discussion, Beth told Beckie she just needed to remember to put the hair dryer away. “After all, you are a teenager. It’s not like I’m going to give you a Skittle every time you remember to put it away. You just have to make yourself do it.”

When I heard Beth say that, it was a light bulb moment for me. Having recently attended a conference on Executive Functions, it was fresh in my mind how the presenters shared that many with EF struggles will continue to be externally motivated throughout their lives. Since the EF challenges continue throughout the lifespan, affected individuals also continue to need more encouragement, praise, recognition, and rewards than those without EF struggles. This explains why my husband, who regularly makes the coffee, asks me how it is sometimes before I’ve even taken a sip. My first thought is, “Um, it’s fine. It’s always fine?”

I’ve come to realize that my husband needs that frequent positive reinforcement because making coffee and doing other chores is not intrinsically satisfying to him. He needs to know that his efforts are appreciated. Once I understood that, and realized that my son with AD/HD is the same way, I trained myself to make a point to express thanks for even mundane, everyday things. They need that. I can easily give them that. So when Beth made the comment about Skittles, I realized that Beckie was getting no reward when she remembered to put the hair dryer away. She honestly tried to remember, but since having the hair dryer put away was meaningless to her and she is highly distractible she often forgot. Since it wasn’t important to her in the first place, she experienced no internal satisfaction when she completed the task.

I devised a simple plan to help Beckie be more successful, and hopefully end the hairdryer war or at least reach a truce. Knowing that she loves Tootsie Rolls, I bought a bag of miniature Tootsie Rolls and put them in a small bowl in the bathroom. I told Beckie that every time she remembered to put the hair dryer away, she could have one Tootsie Roll. Beckie thought it was a great idea.

Now some of you are thinking, “Why should a teenager need a treat to do what she is supposed to do? Won’t that just keep her dependent on external rewards?” Good questions. Here’s what I think. By showing Beckie a simple way to motivate and reward herself, she is learning a strategy that she can eventually use on her own. Because her EF difficulties are likely to continue into adulthood, she absolutely needs to figure out ways to reward herself. Would it bother you as much if she were buying the Tootsie Rolls herself and using them as rewards for completing tasks? Probably not, because most of us do this in one form or another. I’m just showing Beckie an example of what she can do to keep herself motivated and on task. In the future, she will know how to do this for herself.

Asking Beckie to try to remember to do a task that was not important to her just didn’t work. She meant to, intended to, sometimes did remember to, but not with adequate consistency. Now, every time she goes into the bathroom, she sees the little bowl of Tootsie Rolls. It is a visual reminder and incentive several times a day, even though she only dries her hair once a day. She is aware that one of those treats will be hers if she remembers to put the hair dryer away. Guess how many times she has forgotten to put it away since the Tootsie Roll plan has been in place? Zero! She has not forgotten to put that hair dryer away a single time, and it has been several weeks since we implemented the plan. Did this teenager benefit by an external reward system? The results would indicate an absolute YES!

The hair dryer war seems to have ended peacefully, and Beckie has had great success while learning a strategy that will serve her throughout her life. She reports that she feels she has met the challenge, although she adds with a grin that once in a while she has forgotten to take a Tootsie Roll reward.

The Biggest Loser – of Important Items

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you know that I prefer things neat and orderly. My family, on the other hand, casually consider themselves slobs and refer to themselves as “Slobonians”. Clutter doesn’t bother them, so it is very hard to motivate them to clean up and put things away where they belong. My youngest daughter has AD/HD and the impulsivity and inattention result in clutter, misplaced items, and zippers left unzipped on backpacks. I have found some of her things in the oddest places, and she has no recollection of how they got there. This week, while at my part-time job as a speech therapist, I got a text message on my phone from Beckie. She is taking a couple of classes at a community college and was texting me to accuse our dog of taking her calculator out of her backpack because it was missing and she knew it was in her backpack the day before. While it’s true that our recently rescued dog has yet to learn what he is allowed to chew on, I thought it more likely that she left her backpack unattended and someone stole the calculator from her backpack. In any case, it was distressing since it was an expensive calculator and…it was borrowed. I was not happy with having the expense of replacing the borrowed calculator and then having to buy Beckie another one since she will have more math classes to take in the future. A few hours later, Beckie sent me another text to let me know she had found the calculator. One of the other students in her math class had found it on the sidewalk the day before and recognized it as being Beckie’s calculator and returned it to her. Yea! Beckie admitted that she had left the zipper open on the pocket she used for her calculator, so it could have fallen out without her knowing it. Whew! What a relief. That is until my husband Scott got a call from Beckie’s cell phone in the afternoon, and it wasn’t Beckie calling him. Beckie’s cell phone had been found in the grass near the local elementary school and the person was calling to say she’d leave it at the front desk in the school office. Scott managed to reach Beckie at home, and she insisted that it was impossible for her cell phone to be found by a stranger when she was positive it was at her friend’s house. (Why would she leave it at her friend’s house instead of in her hand where I usually see it? Who knows?) Beckie reluctantly agreed to walk to the school and retrieve her phone, though she was still adamant it had to be some kind of mistake. Except that it was there, to her amazement, and she learned that it had first been found a couple blocks away from the school at a place she had not walked past that day. We are all mystified. I pointed out to Beckie that she had lost an expensive calculator and a cell phone in the same day, thereby making her “The Biggest Loser” in our family so far this week. Since this time both items were returned to her, I think she was secretly amused by the title. She was definitely angry when the calculator was missing, and if she had even known her phone was missing she would have been upset. Perhaps this will help her remember to zip up pockets and so on. Time will tell.

See? I’m not dumb!

Have you ever heard your kids say something like, “See? I’m not dumb!” ? I don’t know if there’s a connection to learning disabilities or not, but I’ve heard this type of statement from all three of my children at different times. It bothers me, because I have never told them or believed that they were “dumb” and in fact I went out of my way to be sure they knew I thought they were great. Sure, AD/HD has its challenges and my children may not always present as if they are on the ball. But I, the mother, never waivered in my belief that they brought a lot to the table even if what they brought was not traditionally appreciated! And how can I explain my “neurotypical” daughter also trying to convince me that she’s not stupid even when I never thought she was? Maybe it’s just a manifestation of self-doubt and a glitch in self-esteem that everyone experiences at times. Yesterday, I was talking with my daughter about her struggles with math, and she quickly pointed out that she got an A in English, adding “See? I’m not dumb!” Let me back up and say that I told her I knew she could do the math and was smart enough to understand it. I told her that her teacher was new to teaching this course and that sometimes the way information is taught can make the subject matter more difficult. I encouraged her to take advantage of the math lab, where she might find someone who could explain how to solve the math problems in a way that made more sense to her. I encouraged her to problem solve how she could help herself, and reminded her that I was proud of how hard she’s working. Hey! That could be in a parenting book! Except…somehow Beckie was still worried that she didn’t measure up in my eyes. When my children imply that they think I might have the opinion that they are dumb, I feel both surprised and saddened. I want so much for them to know I love them no matter what, and when they make statements like that I feel like I have failed them somehow. Then on top of that guilt, I feel dumb for not communicating my unconditional love to my children. So I ask them, “Do you know that I love you no matter what?” and they tell me yes and we hug. See? I’m not dumb, either!

Spared from Envy

Today at my church the topic of the main teaching was parenting and the great influence that our parents have on us. My daughter, Beth, attended the first service and expressed her gratitude to me for being a good parent. Ah…there’s nothing like getting some appreciation from your offspring. My younger daughter, Beckie, gave me a hug and pointed out that it was a good thing she was my daughter. Upon further elaboration of this thought, Beckie explained that God had spared me from having to feel envious because if she had been someone else’s daughter that is surely what I would have felt. I would have wished she were my daughter, resulting in envious feelings as I watched her being a member of a different family. So God gave Beckie to me to parent and enjoy, and she fully expects me to do so with humble gratitude! Two girls, two different “take away” messages. I do agree with Beckie that God blessed me with the privilege of being her mother, and the mother of Josh and Beth as well. Plus, I got to homeschool them all. That must be why I’m barefoot much of the time – He blessed my socks off. Just ask Beckie.

Lessons from our Moms

Happy Mother’s Day (a little late, but still heart felt) to all of you mothers, and all who have mothers. There! That should cover everyone. I was thinking about the kinds of things I wanted my children to learn from me as their Mom. I wanted to teach my children some rules they could utilize throughout their lifespans, thinking something along the lines of, “Mom always said…” Here are some examples of principals and ideas I hoped to pass on to my children:
1. It is better to take responsibility for your actions than to weasel out of things.
2. If you don’t learn about your freedoms and rights it will be easy for others to take them away.
3. Your friends may move away or stop being your friends, but your siblings will always be in your life so you need to learn to get along with them.
4. If you don’t learn to discipline yourself, others will be willing to tell you what to do.
5. Hard work almost always pays off.
6. Decide who you want to be and start acting like him/her now.
7. Learn to deal with boredom while you’re young – you’ll be ready to handle mundane tasks as an adult.
8. If you use the last of the toilet paper roll, replace it.
9. Make decisions about how to respond to others before you are in the heat of the moment.
10. Give others the benefit of a doubt when you can, and choose to forgive.

Here are some of the incidental things I know my kids learned from me:
1. Mom doesn’t like finding empty milk containers in the fridge.
2. Mom needs more sleep than we do.
3. When Mom is tired, she’s not as patient.
4. It’s better to tell Mom we broke something than to leave it for her to find later.
5. Sometimes even Moms cry.
6. All people should be treated with respect, especially Mom.
7. Mom doesn’t give up on us.
8. Mom is pretty funny sometimes.
9. When Mom says “No”, she means it even if we take turns asking her.
10. It takes a while to get her there, but when we make Mom blow it’s an impressive show.

So some of the things I’ve taught my kids aren’t exactly the kind of ideals I’m proud of but I think I managed to get some good in there, too. My kids’ lists of what they learned from me might be interesting to see. Perhaps someday when I’m feeling particularly strong and resilient I will ask them to write it down for me. Until then, I’ll keep working to develop the wisdom I intentionally try to pass on to them.

Jesus and My Parenting Skills

Yesterday was one of those gray, rainy days. As Beckie and I were finishing up our schoolwork for the day, the phone rang. We typically don’t answer the phone during school time, so Beckie checked the answering machine when she went downstairs a few minutes later. There was a message that her usual ride to her part-time job at the martial arts school was unavailable, so Beckie needed to make other arrangements. It had stopped raining by then, but was still very wet and it looked like the rain could start up again at any time. Beckie called out to me, “I need a ride to work.” Since it wasn’t a direct request to me, I playfully called back, “I hope you find one.” Here’s how it went from there:
Beckie: “Mom!”
Mom: “I hope you find a ride with a really safe driver.”
Beckie: “M0-0m!” (Pretty sure there was an eye roll here, but couldn’t see her from where I was)
Mom: “It stopped raining. You could probably walk.”
Beckie: “Mom. There’s no one else here to get a ride from.”
Mom: (speaking with benevolent wisdom) “If Jesus were here on earth right now and had a car, I’m sure He would give you a ride.”
Beckie: (Seeing her opportunity, with a huge grin and without a moment’s hesitation) “If Jesus were here right now, He would be disappointed in your parenting skills for not giving your daughter a ride when she needs one!”
Geesh! I certainly don’t want Jesus disappointed in my parenting skills! Although I know there are far worse things He could be disappointed about, here at least was something preventable. Beckie knew I would be giving her a ride, and that I was playing with her, but it made me wonder how many times she has thought the same thing but didn’t mention it to me. I bet she’s even prayed to complain about me a time or two! Next time you are giving your children a ride somewhere and you’re tired and busy and have a lot on your mind, you can comfort yourself with the thought that at least in this Jesus won’t be disappointed in your parenting skills!


Have you ever noticed that kids respond in different ways to discipline? Even kids in the same family, with the same corrective measures often respond in different ways. That’s why I’m leary of any “Use this approach and it’s guaranteed to work” programs or books. I once got a recipe for “Never-Fail Pie Crust” and I was afraid to use it since I thought I might be the first failure. I’ve felt like that with parenting books, too. My son was impervious to many of the techniques I’d read about and tried with him, and sometimes in retrospect I felt like they were more damaging than helpful. Our church offered a course once on raising kids, and even the title was intimidating since it claimed to be the way God would want us to raise our children. Well, I do want to please God and do things the right way, so my husband and I went through the course. The techniques no doubt worked for some kids and I’ve talked to people who say the program was a tremendous help for them. For awhile, I did what the program prescribed, but I didn’t get the same results as the authors. Not even close. So I was left to think that either God’s way doesn’t work for my children – a scary thought – or perhaps He who created unique children has more than one way of loving and raising them.

Independence Day

Happy Independence Day!
After the cookouts, parades and fireworks I have been reflecting on the meaning of Independence as it relates to my family.

Dr Jim Dobson has said that parenting is the only vocation in the world where you work your way out of a job just as your starting to get good at it. His meaning as I understand it is that our goal as parents is to raise up our children to the point that they are independent and don’t need us anymore. This is a daunting task. It is all the more difficult when you are dealing with special needs kids.

Right now we are dealing with my son, Joshua and his struggle with time management. Sometimes it seems that Josh invented the concept of slow motion replay. Left on his own, he will finish his morning toilet, shower, dressing and breakfast just in time for… lunch. He has two speeds: “Stop” and “Plod.”
We have tried reasoning, threatening, nagging, bribing and shaming. We’ve tried reminders, lists, prompts, voice recorders. We haven’t found anything effective yet, but we will keep trying.
This is an area that is critical for his future success. And ultimately, that is what our goal is – self-reliance and independence.

Happy 4th of July.