I do not truck in New Year resolutions, or turning over new leaves, or starting afresh. I believe the world, and everyone in it, stumbles blindly along day after day, year after year. Looking for fresh-faced optimism and breezy, upbeat “tips” on how to do everything better? Please go to Twitter, where thousands of accounts churn this stuff out by the minute. I’m feeling too beaten down by life for any of that twaddle.
Nevertheless, I have taken moments lately to reflect on the state my 11-year-old’s behaviour, and am cautiously impressed by the apparent progress he has/we have made in the eightish years that we’ve been battling his issues.
When parents attempt to resolve issues with methods outside of the mainstream they’re regularly confronted with this worn gem from those who toe all the conventional lines: “Well, it would have happened anyway. S/he just grew out of it.” This somewhat passive-aggressive sentiment upholds the status quo, dismisses alternative ways of solving any problem, and reduces your efforts entirely. It would have happened anyway.
I’m not of the It would have happened anyway school of thinking. I treated my elder son’s chronic respiratory problems with a host of alternative therapies for several years, and he avoided all of the outcomes of other children in our region who suffered the identical issues. He avoided repeated antibiotic courses, inner-ear tubes, unnecessary tonsillectomy, and did not develop asthma as his peers did who were fed immune-suppressing inhalers from the get-go. He, you, and I may all be hit by asteroids tomorrow, but my teen son has a first-rate immune system and respiratory health. No, it would NOT “have happened anyway”.
With my ‘violent’ son, I also took alternate routes of care. From the outset, I must say that I was very fortunate in that his violence was not a result of psychotic or schizophrenic hallucinations, which would absolutely have necessitated the use of psychopharmaceuticals. We were very fortunate that he never purposefully harmed, or purposefully tried to harm anyone (including himself), which would have begun a cascade of other issues and outcomes, including institutionalizations. We were very fortunate that our region (a place that in all other ways I dislike living in) had already mainstreamed homeschooling, so I could avail myself of that academic alternative for him.
[Though I know none personally, I’m aware of families whose children fit the criterea above, and my heart goes to them. The extreme and urgent nature of their issues forces their choices and removes the luxury of options.]
I was able to drop under the radar and use mainstream and alternative services as I saw fit or could [nominally] afford. And — spoiler alert — my son is now nonviolent without ever using a psychiatrist or therapist, or psychopharmaceuticals, or an IEP. Or, without being stamped with any of the medical system’s quasi-diagnoses of ODD, ADHD or any of the alphabet soup of made-up diseases of the DSM-4/5 that enrich the pharmaceutical corporations, do not improve brain health, and leave children with a plethora of side effects they suffer from now or far into their futures.
[NB: I did not avoid those conventions simply to be contrary. I avoided them because I don’t believe in the efficacy of any of them for this particular situation.]
My methods were simple and derived from common sense. None of it is rocket science: I didn’t respond to my son’s violence with violence or destructive (corporal) discipline. I made sure he knew he was loved and made right/wrong boundaries very clear. I remained mindful of his weakest points and educated him with an eye toward developing those areas where he was easily frustrated, inflexible and impulsive. I tried to use all of his senses in teaching him academic and emotional intelligence; one kitchen wall is ‘wallpapered’ with his ‘better behaviour choices’ drawings that followed crises and fits.
I strictly controlled his diet. How can children perform their best, and develop their minds, on the North American processed diet of flour, sugar, chemicals, pesticides, and junk? No mind develops on that trash. I added healthy oils to his vitamin regimen. And I controlled his sleep schedule as much as possible (he has never slept as late as would be ideal) and in a darkened bedroom. I’m sure I will discover in the future that I fell short in places, but it won’t ever be for want of self-educating and trying.
I tried to find ways that would train his own brain to self-calm. Exercise and learning musical instruments helped considerably; and, after some limited success with meditation I think that he would respond very well to Tai Chi, since it’s a ‘moving meditation’ practice. Movement is clearly good for us all, but looks like a particularly great concept for a child who needs to be constantly moving. Chinese offices and schools had the right idea (at least for personal health) when they incorporated meditative movement into their days!
We still have a distance to go. I believe that my son is still at the very earliest end of his cohort in terms of maturity, which is a critical point for millions of these children. It means that he’s as socially and emotionally mature as a Grade 5 boy while in the Grade 6 cohort — just bad luck of personality and of birthday. The outcome of this is dangerous, because it puts him at a social disadvantage with his age group when he is already oversensitive and unable to retain complete control his behaviour. This fact motivates me to homeschool him for one more year following this one; at that point I hope that he will have caught up to the middle of his cohort, enabling him to deal with them on an equal social footing.
But, following years of hard work with me he is at his academic grade level, participates in sports outside the home, is adept at an extracurricular activity (two instruments and voice) and is now nonviolent, which…would NOT “have happened anyway”, thanks!