This week the TOS Blog Cruise topic is “How to Homeschool the Hyper/Distractible Child”. I thought I would chime in on this topic as we deal with this in our household and have a few ideas that have helped us. For even more ideas, visit the TOS Blog Cruise page.
“Rebekah, please sit down to do your handwriting.” “Rebekah, quit rolling on the floor and do your math.” “Rebekah, please stop whistling, PLEASE for everyone’s sanity.”
Far to often these are quotes that come out of my mouth frequently during our school day. You may have noticed all of them began with the name Rebekah. Out of my four children, Rebekah is the only one that is distractible, very distractible. Matthew dubbed her as having “squirrel” syndrome, after the movie UP came out. Rebekah is 7 and has been a handful from about the day she was born. I would like to share a few of the strategies that have helped our family deal with some of the peculiarities of having a child who can literally “bounce off the walls”.
To say dealing with a hyper/distractible child is tough is an understatement. Your perfectly planned day can quickly erode and mom can be a blubbering mess within an hour. A child who “bounces off the walls” not only interrupts their own school work, but the rest of the family as well. In our situation with Rebekah, she is our “class clown”. She will do anything for a laugh. Laughter is like sugar for Rebekah, once she gets a taste of it, she craves more and more. Trying to “discipline” this need for attention tends to only produce fits. Rebekah, does not have much of a middle ground. She is either laughing and joking, or she is mad and angry. When she was younger, her fits were legendary. Ever have a 2 year old throw her crib mattress across the room? How about a 3 year old screaming “somebody save me” as she is carried across the parking lot after being taken out of a store for not behaving? The following ideas are what I have used to help us. And praise be to God, we have not had a major meltdown in about a year.
1. Food – I used to try to keep a journal of when Rebekah’s fits occurred and what surrounded them. I quickly noticed that we were almost guaranteed a fit if she only ate cold cereal for breakfast. Pancakes and syrup would produce the same result. It seems that Rebekah has a bit of hypoglycemia. My sister and I have this problem as well. Once I started making sure that Rebekah ate some form of protein it seemed to help her handle problems better. Snacks became very important as well. String cheese, yogurt, apples with peanut butter are great snacks that she enjoys.
2. Sleep – Rebekah has always had trouble falling asleep. Being the fourth child, I tried everything I could think of to get her to fall asleep at night. We took warm baths, had chamomile tea, read books, said prayers and put her to bed. And just like a little cork, POP, Rebekah would be out of bed as much as 24 times (yes 24, I kept a running tally one night) before she fell asleep. I never let her stay up, usually did not even talk to her, just put her back in bed.Once she would fall asleep she would sleep until morning, but she did not usually go to sleep until between 11 pm and midnight. I finally took her to the Dr. and asked what to do. I was told to give her a melatonin pill at night. The first night she took one, she was asleep within 30 minutes and slept all night. After about 6 months her sleep was regulated and we only have to give her the melatonin during the summer months when it is light here in the North until 10 pm or if she is excited.
3. Schedule – I have blogged about this before, but having a schedule for Rebekah is wonderful. When she knows what to expect and when to expect it, she can deal with life. I post the schedule on the refrigerator and we try not to deviate from it on normal days. There are days that are slightly different. If I know that something will be different on a certain day, I usually go over what is going to happen. I will say something like “I know that we usually do math after worship, but today because I have a meeting in the afternoon, we are going to switch and do history first and your math later.” Giving her a heads up and time to process helps tremendously.
4. Timer—This goes hand in hand with the schedule. The timer is a great blessing. When we first started using a set schedule I would set the timer and when it rang we moved on to the next activity. If Rebekah was not finished with math or handwriting I would simply stop and we would pick up from that point the next day. I think this helped so Rebekah knew that things would end. Looking at a math page and being told to finish it would seem endless to her. Once she knew there was a stopping point, she could be free to work. Now she usually finishes her work in the allotted time. I use the timer for making sure chores get done in a timely manner, for monitoring computer time, for her silent reading time. I cannot emphasize enough how much the use of a timer has helped.
5. Movement – Rebekah likes to move. So as much as possible I try to let her. This may mean she stands at the table instead of sits. I have a large exercise ball and Rebekah will sit on it instead of a chair. This gives her the ability to bounce, while she is writing. One caution, we did have to come up with rules for the ball and its use, so it did not become a thing in which to distract everyone else. Chewing gum seems to help on some days, especially with the constant chatter. Rebekah will chatter and chatter, to me, to her siblings, to her stuffed animals, to herself.If she is not chattering, she is whistling. (She can whistle the National Anthem pretty well) I haven’t come up with anything that really stops the constant flow of talk or whislting, but gum does help.
6. Outside – I have found that if we can do schoolwork outside, Rebekah can concentrate better. To me, it seems odd, I think there are way more distractions outside. But, for Rebekah, going outside in the fresh air somehow helps her to concentrate. She becomes quiet and does her work, without the need for all the movement of inside. Unfortunately outside school work can only happen in the Fall and Spring here in Idaho. Winter is generally too cold, windy, snowy, rainy.
7. Games – We are a family that loves to play games. I have found this to be a great way to help Rebekah learn impulse control. Taking turns is hard for a hyper child, but great practice. A game such as Sorry, or card games like UNO or Skip-Bo helps with teaching her to focus on the task at hand. Mille-Bornes (that crazy French Auto Race card game) has been a favorite recently. Apples to Apples is a hilarious game that highlights Rebekah’s quirky personality. She is a wild card in that game because nobody can guess what she is going to pick. Apples to Apples also gives her great reading practice in a fun setting.
7. Consistency – Being consistent in discipline is very important. I try to use natural and logical consequences. For example, if Rebekah does not empty the dishwasher in a timely manner, she has to do the morning dishes as well. I explain to her that because she did not get her job done, her brother could not do his job, the dishes. If a job is not done correctly, I have her re-do it. Crying is not allowed because you do not want to do a job. For every ten or 20 seconds of crying, I say “that is one day, that is two days”. Then that chore will have to be done that many days in a row. This is not a technique I just use with Rebekah, all the kids benefit. It really galls the kids that they have to do dishes every night for a week, and their siblings do nothing, all because of crying. With the other three of my kids, this technique has only been needed once, except for Rebekah, she has tried crying twice. Now if she looks like crying I grab a pen and she straightens up, puts a smile on her face and gets the job done. I try to use humor as well. Rolling of the eyes gets me to say “Oh, that was a pathetic attempt at an eye roll. Here let me show you how to do it. I am the queen of eye rolling you know.” Nobody rolls their eyes at me now, except in play.
There are my tips for homeschooling the distractible/hyper child. It can be trying and fatiguing. But, it can also be lots of fun and very rewarding. Reading back over what I wrote, I feel like I should tell you a little more about who Rebekah is. I don’t want anyone to get the idea that she is unmanageable and unfriendly.
I would like to introduce you to Rebekah. While she has been a handful she is also a lot of fun. Rebekah is one of the most funny, sensitive, caring children I know. She can walk into a room and have everyone laughing in a matter of minutes. If someone is hurt, Rebekah is the first one to rush over and try to take care of the situation. Band-aids are a favorite of hers and she will run up and bring her “special” band-aids down if you are bleeding. Rebekah tries to take care of anyone younger than she is. She has always been large for her age, and she thinks anyone smaller than her is younger. Her first year playing soccer, she had a hard time because everybody was smaller than she was and she didn’t want to hurt anyone or take the ball away. Rebekah loves baby dolls and will have a stroller filled with them. Then she will tell you every baby’s name, age and what special characteristics they have. She is a great actress. Sarah and Ben will produce shows and Rebekah is the actress. She is quite the ham. She loves to give hugs and kisses, but hates, let me repeat, hates for anyone to give her a kiss. (What I find strange is she has been that way since before she could talk.)