Not enough hours in the day - advice please!

mattie_gtSeptember 30, 2010

Hi everyone, I'm really hoping that (again!) some of you will have some more great advice.

So, we went on our mini-vacation; it was great, we all had a fantastic time and it was wonderful to see SS giggle and laugh and run around and just be truly happy and carefree like a little kid should be. But now we're back, and another visitation weekend is looming over us (tomorrow).

And SS is well into another clinginess phase. Because of work schedules, I'm the one who gets him up in the morning and is home after school to help with homework, usually start dinner, etc. And it's been awful. I've got to start work as soon as he gets off to school and finish up just before he gets home; that was fine, the plan was that I'd have time in the late afternoon/evening to get some stuff done around the house, start dinner, etc. while he was playing.

Well, that's not happening. He's been dawdling over homework and playing dumb (he'll answer 95% of math questions correctly, and then spend literally 45 minutes trying to convince me that he doesn't know what 2 + 1 is nor how to figure it out), he'll spend 90 minutes (not) eating his dinner, he'll "forget" how to tie his shoes or button his shirt(!), he'll argue about every single thing, and overall acts like he's trying to get himself into trouble (which he may well be doing; I'm no psychologist), and even if everything manages to get done he still won't go play with his friends but tells me he'd rather stay at home and then follows me around.

I understand that he's going through a lot right now, but something has got to change very soon. I've been spending literally his every waking moment outside of school with him. DH does what he can but with his work schedule he tends to get home in time for dinner/soccer/family activities.

We've tried to calmly explain that we have things we need to get done too, but that's just been ignored. So what am I supposed to do when he just will not leave my side and I desperately need to get some things done? Ignore him? Yell at him? Punish him? (Obviously those are rhetorical questions and not options.)

This is such a mess. DH and I cannot keep staying up late indefinitely (to do things after SS is in bed); I'm going to fall apart soon and that's not going to help anyone, and I just don't know what to do. Any advice would be appreciated, PLEASE!

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Not knowing how old the SS is makes this a guess, but here is a suggestion. Take it for what it is worth.

Because things are so chaotic, your SS might be doing the things he is doing in an attempt to gain some control for himself in his life. This can come off as his being defiant or stubborn.

Having a VERY regular routine is important for children in a situation like this. He needs to know what will happen and when it will happen EVERY day. It can help if you tell him well ahead of time if you are going to the store, or on a trip, etc... and at what time. It gives kids a sense of security.

If he doesn't eat his dinner within a certain period of time (say 30 minutes) take his plate away - he is 'done'. If he gets 95% of his math done, and he refuses to do the last math problem, let it go. If he can't tie his shoes or button his shirt, let him go to school with them that way. He will tie his shoes and button his shirt when his friends possibly tease him about it. Or, maybe they won't but the teachers will say something about it.

I have friends who are daycare workers. They talk about how the kids who come to their daycare are able to follow the rules (because they are enforced) and then when the parent comes into the picture, the kids become "helpless".

You don't have to yell or scream or threaten - just tell him that "this is what it expected of you", and don't get into a big argument or 'discussion' with him about it...just DO IT. After a while, he will see you are serious. Be prepared for him to resist at first.

It is important that his father backs you up on this also. If your SS sees that he can "divide and conquer" he will - kids are very good at doing this! ;)

Set a time aside when you can "play" with him, and tell him that you have to work, and that playtime will be later.
Maybe hire a babysitter (even though you are at home) to come in and be with him while you work. Make it clear to him that you are working and can't be with him until after your "work day" is done. Set up a time when you stop working EVERY day, just like you would if you worked outside the home in an office.

The idea is to have structure that helps your SS get into and understand what the routine is.

Young kids "act out" when they feel insecure, afraid, etc.. They can't verbalize it, because they aren't mature enough to "discuss it", so they act it out. He isn't old enough to understand your talks with him about it. He just needs to see "actions" over words.

Hope this helps in some way.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 11:02AM
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All of the above plus maybe an earlier bedtime? Not only would it give you an extra hour but he might be a little overtired & the kiddies can definitely get difficult when they are tired and cranky. It might just be getting back into the Swing of things after vacation.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 11:12AM
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He's been dawdling over homework and playing dumb (he'll answer 95% of math questions correctly, and then spend literally 45 minutes trying to convince me that he doesn't know what 2 + 1 is nor how to figure it out), he'll spend 90 minutes (not) eating his dinner, he'll "forget" how to tie his shoes or button his shirt(!)

When my dd starts this kind of behavior I find things to do that she'll want to help with that can only happen once she's done. We also use timers.

"I'm sorry you're having trouble. Let me know when you're done so we can (walk the dog, make cookies, watch a tv show). I hope you're done before 00:30 because otherwise we won't have enough time."

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 12:00PM
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Seekergal, SS is eight. "Because things are so chaotic, your SS might be doing the things he is doing in an attempt to gain some control for himself in his life. This can come off as his being defiant or stubborn." That is a very good point.

He's told us he is very worried that he's going to be spanked again this coming weekend, and there is nothing we can do or say to make him feel better - because he's right, there is absolutely no telling what BM might decide is "disrespectful". I cannot imagine the stress that he is under, fearing that he will be punished for some unknown and thus unavoidable "transgression". And at least for this weekend there is nothing that we can do; he's got to go if she decides to come get him.

So I think he is trying to get some slight control over his own life. Maybe it will help if I offer him some small choices (Would he rather brush his teeth first or get dressed first? Would he rather do homework first or talk about his day first?) They are all choices he already has but maybe if I verbalize them he'll feel like he's making decisions.

His counselor has already said that he needs structure, so everything at home is as organized as we can make it; we've got a big calendar right outside his room with stickers for everything going on; I go over what classes he will have that day with him, etc.

Catlettuce, I think the bedtime is OK because he's waking up right around time to get up anyway - we had told him before school started if he was waking up much earlier or having a hard time getting up we'd adjust his bedtime but he's not. I think he might view an earlier bedtime as us trying to get him out of the way, and also as a broken promise to him (because he's not sleeping past it in the morning).

Thanks for the suggestions! It's so hard to see things clearly sometimes from the middle of it.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 12:03PM
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Thanks Silver. We've tried that too. Usually it works but it hasn't been this time. DH and I are considering just dropping everything of ours (outside of work) and just focusing on SS for the days before and after visitation, at least until something changes. I don't know what else to do. I don't know whether it's better to keep with the structure and rules or throw them out the window and acknowledge that he has valid reason to be concerned. We have reason to believe that BM is herself becoming increasingly stressed and erratic and that worries us even more than we already are.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 12:28PM
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There is a lot of great advice here but have you tried to incorporate him in what you need to do, ie. Laundry, making dinner, cleaning up? He's 8 so he should be able to stir something at dinner prep time, or sort and fold socks for you. I have found that I can better manager my 4 year old if I let her help me in the chores around the house.

He may just need to feel that you are including him in everything. I know how difficult that is sometimes since I am a perfectionist, but it has helped my daughter feel like she is being involved and letting me get things done at the same time.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2010 at 2:59PM
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I think that it is unacceptable to spend too long on a homework at this age, he isn't in high school, right? Even if he attends a very academically demanding school, still if he takes too long (either because he pretends or truly cannot do it), put it away. And address the issue: if he is begging for attention then that's what needs to be addressed. In any case he needs to stop the homework if it is not done within reasonable amount of time. And let him do his own homework, if he is capable, he should do his own homework, you can check up on him but let him take his own responsibility.

You do not need to be harsh with him, but spending every moment with him is unhealthy. My niece is too clingy like your SS, she is this way because that's how she is raised. You don't need to be yelling or punishing, just keep saying that he needs to draw, play, or do something for a certain period of time. Sorry got to go.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2010 at 7:39PM
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"You do not need to be harsh with him, but spending every moment with him is unhealthy."

ditto. I appreciate your inclination but I really think the best thing to do for SS is to keep his life at your house as normal, predictable and secure as possible.

Don't spoil him, don't be harsh on him (which I know you wouldn't), just treat him the way you normally would./

It's sad but right now none of you can control what goes on at BM's house. The best thing you can do is make sure SS knows what to expect and feels SAFE and LOVED at your house. By safe, I don't mean just physically, but mentally and emotionally, that he knows what the rules are, knows what's expected and knows things will always be consistent.

I think *some* of this may be an age factor. My kids are both 8.5 now, and I do notice, from time to time, arguing and doing things on their own clocks.

Timers, like others suggested, are good.

But I definitely think that however you handle things, just be clear and keep expectations consistent. He's probably acting out his stress and he NEEDS you two to remain stable for him.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 8:36AM
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Thank you everyone for your advice. Yesterday morning was awful. He just was dawdling so much that he nearly missed the bus, and I ended up having to help dress him. I'd ask him to hurry up, he'd say he was getting dressed (in 45 minutes he still wasn't dressed!), he started sobbing... it was a mess. I couldn't let him go to school shoeless and coatless and ended up having to put his shoes on while he just sat on the floor crying. (It's not a problem at school; we've talked to his teacher, to him, to the nurse, the bus driver - by all accounts he loves his new school but it was better to check that there was not an issue there).

And in ten days or so he'll be back to being Mr. Independent, saying "No, I can do it!" to any offers of assistance. He does like to help around the house and so we let him almost every time he wants to; he decided to take down his hamper and sort his own laundry recently, and asked if I'd show him how to run the washer. (Yes! Yes! Yes!) He's been making dinner every other week or so, recently he made us lasagna, with sauce from scratch (this is naturally supervised but he does almost all the work, other than lifting pots of water and heavy pans).

I like the idea of personal time set aside and marked on the calendar for DH and I. If it's clearly designated ahead of time then he'll know it's not just us pushing him away. I also try to let him sit near me and read if I'm working on something; that way I am not distracted but he is not alone either. But none of the usual stuff worked this past few days.

PO1, his homework is not too demanding. He normally breezes through it, but when he has the bad days he'll either actually forget or say that he has forgotten how to do it.

It's just such a dramatic difference between good days and bad. You wouldn't even know it's the same child - he rarely smiles, almost never laughs - while he's at soccer or even if we get him out to play with his friends he's almost lethargic and very passive. It's really concerning and other people have commented on the difference.

Well, we'll see what happens this weekend. Maybe everything will be fine. DH is feeling very concerned because for some reason he keeps fearing that BM is going to take SS to visit her BF in prison. If she does I think our attorney will make mincemeat of her.

    Bookmark   October 2, 2010 at 12:05PM
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Two things:

In regards to the homework, I had an interesting conversation with the head of school at my daughter's elementary school. He's a GREAT guy--young (late 30s probably) with two boys who are 12 and then one in my DD's class.

I remember him saying that in their home, they don't do homework with crying. Second grade (last yr) was a big adjustment year--the homework load jumped considerably and the head told me that if his younger son was having an *off* night (ie--stressed or crying) they just put the work away. He said having homework be an unpleasant, tramatic experience was just not cool, and he didn't think it was EVER worth it for it to become a meltdown.

If SS is so upset that he can't do his work---close up the books. Re-try in an hour or two, maybe after dinner and he's had a bath, or something. Let his teacher know what's going on and explain that he may need to have some leeway with homework---not that he SHOULDN'T do it, but just see if he can make up the work over a weekend or whatever.

I just wouldn't push it if he's getting THAT upset. KWIM? I think he will move out of this phase faster that way. JMO.

As far as the BF in prison goes---I would not think the prison would allow a child to come visit unless they were a RELATIVE of the inmate. I wonder if you could call and find out???

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 12:23AM
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agree with lovehadley, no reason to make kids cry over HW. On the other hand when they get to high school, they'll have to do work no matter if they are stressed or crying. I think it is a tough one.

I have a strong opinion on the HW issue. HW at any age needs to be designed so children can do it by themselves. If they cannot, then the HW is inappropriate in difficulty level or amount or children are below the level and it needs to be addressed. HW should never be designed for parents to sit there with children. Whose HW is it?

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 10:52AM
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Have you tried letting him sit and do his homework in a different room than you are in? If you are not right there and easily accessable he may just get it done. Also, if he does summon you to him you can say "I am just finishing up ____, I will be there in a few minutes. So just keep working on it till I get there". Maybe the waiting will bore him into doing his own work since you said this is not really an issue of work being beyond his capabilities.

When he would rather cling to you than play with friends make sure to include him in some cleaning. Saying something like "hey I am going to clean the bathroom and kitchen...would you like to help or go play with your friends?" might be enough to get him to choose playing with friends! If he doesn't go play with friends at least you will have an extra hand in cleaning :)

I really feel badly about his situation though. How heartbreaking that his bm is so awful to him.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 4:01PM
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Having him do homework away from you is a good idea.

My DD and SS do their homework in their bedrooms---independently, for the most part, save for the occasional, "I don't understand this, can you come see?"

Whenever one of them asks me for help, I ALWAYS say "I'm doing ___, keep trying and I'll be in in a minute." At least 50% of the time I hear a "never mind, I got it!"

That could help with your SS.

    Bookmark   October 3, 2010 at 10:47PM
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Thank you everyone! SS had a tolerable weekend - little yelling and no spankings; it sounded like he was pretty much ignored again all weekend. When he told her we went to Disney she asked if he had brought her a present; when he said no she told him that if she went, she wouldn't buy him anything than either!!!! I suggested she might have been teasing; he said no - but this didn't faze him because as he pointed out, she very rarely buys him anything anyway. And she, again, tried to send him home with a kitten from the latest set from one of her half-feral, unspayed cats. So just the usual stupidity and nothing egregious by her standards.

So I think this will a very good day to try to start implementing all of your suggestions. I went over the whole weekly schedule with him this morning, and which special classes he has today (art and science).

I think today the big one will be the homework. I don't think his homework is usually too difficult for him and it's more to get attention. So, DH and I talked about all of your suggestions this weekend. First he had been doing his homework at the dining room table while I was usually in the living room (which connect); this will change to homework in his bedroom while I am upstairs in my office. I'm still close but not sitting right there.

Secondly, I am going to check homework once, mark wrong answers, and then that's it. Since his pattern seems to be to get them all correct but then decide that he doesn't understand the last one or two, they will be marked by me and either he corrects them or he takes them to school that way. Homework is graded for being done, not necessarily correctly, so it won't affect his grades to have one or two wrong - hopefully his pride will cause him to correct them once he realizes that I am not going to help him (unless he is truly at sea on something).

Mom2emall, SS will pick helping me to clean! He loves to help around the house. Of course what he does not like to clean is his own room - so that has been my counter-offer before and I think will be so again. :-)

lovehadley, one would think that young children can only visit a relative in prison - but that's not the case at the one he's at. Maybe there's too many BF's or Dads who aren't on the birth certificate or something, I have no idea. I don't really think she's going to take him there because I can't imagine she'd want him there as a distraction from her visit but DH really worries about it.

PO1, I have this suspicion that the schools are becoming so accustomed to parents "helping" their kids with homework that they're basically doing it for them that half the homework is designed that way anymore. SS would come home last year with regular nightly homework that involved inanities like "Collect leaves from five kinds of trees" - due the next day! Seriously?! It's a city school - half the kids are in after-school care until after dark; were they supposed to be set loose in second grade to wander the streets alone at night looking for trees in second grade? We'd manage to get things like that done but he's one kid; that's impossible if you've got three or four.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 9:28AM
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exactly mattie, and what about kids whose parents are morons, then the kids is going to fail? I'll be honest i didn't have experiences like this with DD and she went to good schools. My niece brings homework that requires my brother to sit with her after he comes from work every day. Maybe things changed. When i went to school and I am in mid 40s and when DD went to school she is 22 homework was designed for kids only. My parents never ever bothered with my HW and I never bothered with DD. maybe things changed and I think for the worse.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 10:06AM
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I suspect that it's supposed to be some way to force parents to be "involved" with their kids' schoolwork - but the parents either would be involved anyway (as in, paying attention to what they're learning and how they're doing), or they just tell their kids the answers and/or do it for them, so what's the point?

SS' new school is quite clear that homework and schoolwork are a kid's "job", and that they get "paid" with their grades.

    Bookmark   October 4, 2010 at 12:24PM
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