Have you ever wondered why your children do certain things? Maybe you have asked them to explain but they aren’t even able to tell you. If you are like me, it helps you to understand something when it makes sense to you. But as in many situations in life, I think there are some things we will never comprehend or know for sure and our kids will continue to engage in behavior that baffles us at times. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Here’s one example. I have taught my children the basics of kitchen safety and meal preparation. I’ve shared a few tricks such as salting the water in a pot to bring it to a boil faster and cleaning up as you go instead of having to wash and put everything away all at once at the end. So when my son, Josh, announced his intention to make some macaroni and cheese for himself I wasn’t surprised. I had taught him how to make that easy meal years ago and he had done so many times. As I was putting some clean dishes away, though, I glanced at the pot of water on the stove. Josh had filled it to an appropriate level for cooking his noodles but there were ice cubes floating on the surface of the water. Clearly I had missed something, because putting ice in water that needed to boil made no sense to me.
I’ve had similar moments of bewilderment during homeschooling moments. I knew that my Josh and Beckie had some learning challenges. They tended to want to cut corners when it came to school work and would be satisfied with doing the minimum amount of work possible. They were reluctant to go back and correct their work when mistakes were made. Yet when they did not know the answer to a question, instead of just leaving that space blank and continuing on they either drew a question mark where the answer should be or wrote “What?” to indicate their confusion. This meant that once I went over that work with them they had to erase their question mark or “what” in order to write the answer. Wait a minute! These kids who are minimalists when it comes to writing answers are actually causing themselves more work because they have written responses that just have to be erased later. Why on earth would they make the work harder than it has to be?
When I was directing the homeschool day, I made sure we hit the harder subject areas sometime in the middle of our school day so we could begin and end each day with non-frustrating work. As my children got older, I allowed them more freedom in selecting when they would work on their various subject assignments. I think it’s important for children to begin to learn how to budget their time and manage their own schedules. My approach personally is to get the harder work done so it’s not hanging over me until I do. My two struggling learners took the opposite approach, starting with the easiest task and working through the list until the hardest item was the only one remaining to be completed. Why wouldn’t they just do it to get it over with?
Here’s what I learned about my children through these seemingly baffling actions. My son who put the ice cubes in the water to be boiled? It’s a little game he plays to watch the ice cubes as they melt and see which one “wins” by lasting the longest. It has nothing to do with cooking and everything to do with curiosity and making a mundane task more entertaining. I’m too pragmatic to think of something like that, but it’s the way my son’s mind works and I think it’s actually pretty neat.
All right, so what about adding the extra work to a written assignment by writing “What?” or a question mark? Interestingly, Josh and Beckie both did this but it occurred years apart and neither knew the other had done the exact same thing. I’m not sure if it’s related to their ADHD or other learning challenge, but from what they were able to tell me they did it because it was an assignment that required a written response. Thus, they felt it would be incorrect to leave it blank without writing anything and they didn’t want me to think that they had missed or forgotten that item. The written question marks and “what?” responses were like place markers for them, ensuring that I knew they had made an attempt to respond even when they weren’t sure how to answer.
How about putting off the hardest subjects until last? I think there are several aspects to this. It is not unusual for individuals with ADHD to become overwhelmed if they think a task will take a long time. My kids wanted to avoid having to work for a long period of time (which to them could mean anything longer than 15 minutes) and so they put it off hoping that something would come up to give them a reprieve or excuse not to do the work. It’s also known that many procrastinators and individuals with ADHD work best under pressure. Since they have often difficulty motivating themselves internally for less-interesting tasks, the external pressure of a deadline helps them kick it into gear and get the work done. This has been the case with my three family members who have the ADHD diagnosis.
Mysteries and novelty keep life interesting. When our children act in ways that do not make sense to us, it causes us to look a little deeper to try and understand them. We may never know why our children do some of the puzzling or quirky things they do, but any insight we gain will help us to be better parents and teachers. As you grow in your understanding it will help you teach your children in ways that are reflective of their unique personalities.