Early Girlie Homeschool

Behavioral Plan

Every good school plan includes rules, guidelines, and a behavioral plan for when rules are not followed. I am used to doing this in a 1:1 setting in therapy, as well as during art workshops. The way I'm used to doing this is asking the students to come up with what THEY think the rules and consequences should be. It is something we brainstorm together. Why? So many reasons. One is that they will UNDERSTAND the rules if they are the ones making them. They will also be more INVESTED in following the rules, and understanding consequences. All of this helps you and your child be on the same page. This is not a list of rules and consequences handed down from an adult to a child. A child will not wonder "Where did this stupid rule come from?" because they had a hand in creating it. The guidelines and the behavioral plan that goes with it is an INTERACTIVE PROCESS.

Here are some of the guidelines we have:

- Try more than once.

- Read every day. 

- Mistakes are OK. 

- We learn every time we do something, even if it's not perfect.

- We can pause to deal with our feelings of frustration.

- Be kind.

- Share what you know.

- Ask questions politely.

- Use good manners.

- We do not argue about daily subjects. 

- You choose the subject, or the dice chooses for you. (I use a dice to determine which subjects we do next).

Rule Breaking: Social and Emotional Learning

Civics, rules and law are studied at a fairly young age. Have you ever been somewhere without rules? Schools have a dress code. In some homes, you take your shoes off at the door. Some restaurants require you to pay a cashier, others have servers take your bill. Parks close at dusk. All of these are rules that we follow simply by practice. Where there is a rule, there is also someone who is going to break it. Children are excellent at this.

Even when you KNOW a rule, what you want sometimes overrides the desire to follow a rule. Nobody wants to wear masks during a pandemic, but some people are following the rules diligently, and some people are loudly objecting to guidelines. There are going to be rules that your child will follow without an issue or prompting. There are rules that they will try to break, and will argue about. This is NORMAL. You will need to take time to discuss, enforce, and reshape learning about rule breaking depending on your child's personality. It will also depend on how skilled you are at encouraging children to follow rules without being too punishment focused. 

Some children are sticklers for rules - not just for themselves, but they will point out if you are not following the rules too. Some children follow most rules just fine, but end up breaking the same rules over and over again. Some children seem to break a lot of rules, and are more frequent rule breakers. Anxiety, frustration, and other emotions drive their impulse to break rules. Again, it depends on personality. Think about what kind of rule follower you are. I was a very good rule follower as a child, but increasingly questioning rules, and helped to change laws. Now compare that to your child / children. My child is an expert at breaking rules. This was a very good thing, because the first rule she was given was that she would not live very long. Every doctor gave her that rule, and she broke it. I'm happy about that. However, in other aspects of her life, she does not need to break so many rules. I had to HELP her become a rule follower, because that did not come naturally to her at all. Personality and life circumstances have a lot to do with how rules are followed, and how often they are broken. 

I am going to challenge you to think of rule breaking as a bridge to LEARNING. We can always learn about ourselves and others through the kinds of rules we follow easily, and the kinds of rules we break. This does not have to be a bad thing. It can be a learning thing.

Behavior Charts

I don't use these charts the way you see on Pinterest. It's not a reward chart. Just so you know. A behavior chart lets you track, visualize, and examine behavior. I use it in the analytic way.

* We decided on 2 categories: "Good" and "Not So Good".

* We describe behaviors that go into each category.

*Then we described some thinking that goes into each category.

* The child chooses an image for each category. One year, she chose jars, one with a crack and one without. One year it was medicine bags. One year it was superheros and villains. You can use any theme.

* I start at the bottom of the image, and write words like "reading aloud," "math", "spelling", "science" and drew a circle around it. As they occurred during the day. I also wrote things like "tried", "cooperated", "great day". 

* At the end of the day, we did a review. Bonus for a day that had more good than not so good bubbles. 

* Every week we did a review of thoughts that were coming up, or repeated behaviors. It let me see exactly what was giving her the most trouble, and we worked on that together.

E.G. left public school feeling bad about herself as a student. She felt that she was ALWAYS making not so good choices, not so good grades, and wasn't so good at math, reading, spelling, or any subject other than music. We had to build up the "Good" in school time. The "Not So Good" side had lots of bubbles at first. She was combative. She did NOT enjoy any kind of challenging work. Her frustration tolerance was pretty low. So, I made sure to write a lot of good things that she did too. 

My purpose was to give her a visual that PROVED that she is a good student. It also made her ACCOUNTABLE when she made not so good choices. I would point out that yes, you're making a not so good choice, but you know what? Turn it into a good one. Look at all of the good choices you've made! I know you can do it. If you're going to continue to make this not so good choice, I'm going to mark it on the chart. A lot of times THAT was a deterrent! She didn't want me to write it down or make it more permanent. So she'd try again or use a coping skill. Sometimes, she'd have days of spiraling, with lots of poor choices. Everyone has those days. And that's when it's REALLY good to have a chart like this, to say you know what? Not all days are like this, you've had a lot of good ones. I never want to see a child defeated, or feeling like there is no hope in being good or having a good day.

We noticed her looking at the chart, every day. Seeing is believing. Seeing it, on paper, was a lot harder for her to deny than me telling her. Counting the good things mattered. Seeing them, reading it, counting it, adding it up to yes...outweighing the slip ups? This matters to a child. A lot. It transformed the way she thought of herself as a student and as a person. The point is not to mark off only the good stuff, or only the bad stuff. The point is not to have an external reward, a toy or sticker for jumping through hoops. A behavior chart lets you track, visualize, and examine behavior, as well as thinking. Our thinking drives behavior. The Inner Critic of our thinking is what really drives the bus through the "not so good" route. 

The Inner Critic

This is so important: What happens when a child is punished or in time out multiple times in a day, or a few times a day? They don't feel good about rule breaking, but they also don't feel good about themselves. They lose CONFIDENCE in their ability to follow the rules. I saw that happening in my child when she came home from school with these little sad faces and notes. That is how I knew there was a BIG problem with how mistakes were being addressed.

I know this pattern. Way before I was a parent, I worked with youth who were in juvenile detention centers and group homes. You know what they all had in common? They were used to being labeled "bad students" and they got used to feeling like they could not succeed as easily as everyone else around them could. They didn't see that others, too, made mistakes. It is a terrible spiral, and if you talk to any adult who was a "troublemaker" in school? They might be able to tell you about this. Getting in trouble at school, or failing academically makes you feel like a terrible person. It doesn't just impact your grades, it impacts how you feel about yourself. Learning should be REWARDING and fun and challenging. Not spirit-crushing.

Lots of children act out because THEY NEED HELP. They need help understanding something. They need help feeling CONFIDENT that they can fix a mistake. They need to not feel like a failure. They need help getting through FRUSTRATION that academic challenges naturally bring. They need help with their bodies not being coordinated enough to do what they want or need to accomplish. 

These are the things I say to a child who gets frustrated while they are doing schoolwork, an art project, or any challenging task:

"You're doing great! Let's take a breath, reset, and try again."

"If this is too frustrating now, let's take a break - before you get more upset."

"Mistakes are ok. Take your time, try again." 

"Try it another way."

"Do you know how to fix this? I'm here if you need help."

"You probably know how to fix this, but if you'd like my help, I'm here."

"This is not easy to do. I know that. I believe that you can try, and see what happens."

"If you get too mad or upset, use your skills." (This usually means playing music, pacing, or calming breaths with a positive "I can do this" pep talk.)

Certain students get VERY physically upset when they cannot do something on paper perfectly. I give all of my students an extra piece of paper for their frustrations. They can crumple it up into a ball. They can scribble all over the page (then we do scribble and breathing exercises, calming visual activities). Once they are more calm, we do some inner critic work. What's the bad thing your inner critic is telling you? "I suck at this". Well, your inner critic is just trying to keep you from feeling disappointed, frustrated, or mad at yourself. But guess what? Tell that critic that you can try anyway. "I don't have to be perfect. All I have to do now is try." I cannot even tell you the SHIFT I have seen in students who are so used to being "bad, troubled, emotionally disturbed" turn into FANTASTIC learners because of this ah-ha moment. They aren't terrible students or people. They just haven't learned that resiliency is bouncing back from a mistake. Finding the nugget of learning, and adapting.

I do inner critic work with all ages, including adults. In fact, take some time as a parent to jot down some of your own inner critic voices about homeschooling! You know the ones I hear all the time, and what I say to them?

"I'm not trained to teach!" - No, but I know how to be a student. 

"I don't have all of the answers." - That's OK, all I need is to know is how to find answers.

"I don't know how to do all of this." - I will learn how to do all of this.

"What if I'm not good enough?" - I will be good enough. I can check in with others for help. 

"I can't teach by myself!" - I can do more than I believe, and there are so many resources to help me.

Inner critic work is one of those things that not many people learned about, yet it impacts nearly every part of daily life, our ability to overcome challenging tasks, or even try something we feel we aren't good at doing. It impacts our motivation, ability to try something more than a dozen times, and how much we beat ourselves up. Perceived failure matters even more, all because of the invisible, inner critic. I often invite people to DRAW their critic, and make a little comic out of it. Really play with the concept. Give it a form if it helps you shrink it down to size. You'll start to hear your child's inner critic. It may or may not sound like you, or another adult. Children internalize the critics they hear, and after a while, they believe them.

Social Stories

I use stories on purpose. I often use the Who Was? series not just to cover history and learn about famous people...but because this series always talks about how they MADE LOTS OF MISTAKES, faced hardships, and OVERCAME THEIR MISTAKES. Milton Hershey was bankrupt well before he created an entire chocolate empire and school for orphaned children. Inventors like Thomas Edison and Albert Einstein were the experts of mistakes, tinkering, and stumbling onto things that finally worked! From sports to science to art, look for role models who TALK ABOUT HOW THEY MAKE MISTAKES AND KEPT TRYING ANYWAY. "The Girl Who Never Makes Mistakes", "Ish", and "How to Be a Perfect Person in Just Three Days" are all fun books that help children laugh and learn about making mistakes. 

Artwork to Build Resilience

I had a bright child in a workshop tell me, "Adults don't understand, they don't make mistakes. Only kids make so many mistakes." Are you kidding? I probably made way more mistakes as a young adult than I ever did as a child. But I chose my words wisely. "As a fellow artist, I'm here to tell you the truth. And this is hard to admit. Are you all  listening?" and I whisper, "Adults make mistakes too." Children in the back ask, "What? What did you say?" So I say it again, only louder. "Adults make mistakes too. AND, I make mistakes in my artwork. ALL THE TIME." Looks and gasps of shock. Apparently, I'm the only adult who was not going to PRETEND to kids that mistakes help us grow and learn. I told them that art is the PERFECT place to make mistakes, because you get to know how you really feel about yourself. You can learn to be ok with imperfection, and learn how to forgive yourself, learn how to edit, learn how to accept all kinds of beauty. "In fact," I tell them, "I want you to make the worst painting you can today. We are all going to make some mistakes together." They choose least favorite colors, ugly ways to use the brush, no subject matter. Some students get anxious about letting go, it feels counter-intuitive to make something look bad on purpose. So I tell them to trust the process, to trust their artwork and what it shows them. This activity is freeing. Students have found beauty, fun, freedom, and appreciation in just allowing themselves to make mistakes and NOT FEEL BADLY about it. I do activities like this because I know perfectionism can mess with the head of the smartest kinds of students. I know the pressure to succeed is there, from a young age. Disrupting that is essential to building resilience.

Music and Mood

My daughter really connects to music. We have songs made up for just about everything, or fist bumps to make us laugh and celebrate our victories. When she gets frustrated, the best thing for her is to go to the keyboard or drums and work it out. She cannot process verbally when upset. She is not a talk it out and reason it through person the way I've always been. We are very different in that way, so I struggled for a while to figure out how do I help a 0-60 kid who loses her temper FAST? It's too fast for prevention, because I don't even see it coming. Her teachers noticed this as well, they couldn't predict when she'd lose it, but she did, frequently, when faced with just about any challenge at school. And that started happening at home, too. She became aware that she could not keep up with other children, physically or academically. Any special needs parent can relate to that statement, and I don't even have to go into detail, the layers of challenges they have can be a struggle that feels entirely too unfair to have. So I am aware that I'm dealing with someone who has brain regions that are misfiring, causing involuntary movements that make her handwriting slow and shaky, who cannot easily brain to hand produce what she wants to, cannot use scissors well. Her dad and I are both artists, and with great irony, paper is difficult for her. Music is not. So we go with what puts her at ease, what helps sort out and process and acknowledge and shift her mood, her energy. We learned about sound waves in homeschool, how film scores use music to impact audience mood. I'm still learning more about sound healing. So one of our rules is that when we feel too mad to concentrate, we switch over to music. It usually only takes a few minutes before she's calm enough to go back to work. I've noticed the sooner we get to the coping skill and outlet, the sooner it gets out of her system. 

Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA)

Main idea: All behavior is aimed at getting something, or avoiding something.

Gets to do:

Avoids doing:

Likes to do: 

Does not like to do (aka non-preferred tasks):

Antecedent: What happens before the behavior?

Examples: Teacher request, call to attention, ending a preferred task. Sensory stimuli.

Behavior: Response (Look for anxiety about failure)

Examples: Action - puts head down, pushes paper away.

Verbal - Shouts, "No!" or "I can't do this!"

Emotionally driven - Cries, feels sick, stomps feet

Consequence: Positive or negative reinforcement

Examples: Student successfully avoids work. Student gets a time out. Student sinks further into "I can't succeed, so why try?" Teacher encourages student to link old and new information.

Antecedent: Teacher asks me to do something I can't do easily.

Behavior: Pout, see if I can get out of it somehow by whining, pushing away.

Consequence: Now my teacher thinks I'm a "bad student". See, I knew I couldn't do it. (Reinforces behavior pattern.). Remember when you tried and it worked out?

Pattern: Students who avoid work assume that they will not do it well enough.

They give up quickly to avoid failure.

Ironically, that causes them to fail.

Then they end up feeling like "bad students". 

* Before I present a new task a child will likely want to avoid tring, I review something she knows about and likes. Ideally, these things are related.

* Acknowledge how it feels to try and not be good at something right away. "I know this is going to sound hard, almost impossible, but see if you can anyway." "This is difficult. I don't expect you to get it right the first time. Most of us don't." I will help you do the first one. Then you try. I will help again. Every great scientist/artist/musician/author makes a lot of mistakes first. This mean you and I can make mistakes, and still be great! Use positive affirmations.

Functional Behavioral Assessment:

- Communication. - Lack of understanding - Too complex - Wants something he cannot have - Sensory stimuli

We all learn by linking old and new information together. 

Pair non-preferred tasks with ones they prefer. First / Then. 

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