Monday, Dec. 6th, I learned that Kate had eaten pizza on Friday. She snuck it into the classroom from another child’s lunch. I don’t know how much, but on Monday she received a detention for refusing to leave the classroom when asked, and she was asked to leave because she was being rude and inappropriate.
Food sensitivities can cause behavioral changes, as late as 3 or 4 days after the food is eaten. One of the things we were soon to do was a food challenge, when Kate would have a bit of dairy, after 30 days of being dairy free, and then we would wait to see if there was a reaction. (A food sensitivity differs from an allergy in that with an allergy, there is an immediate physical response.) Since her behavior hasn’t entirely “cleaned up”, I wondered if we would be able to tell. But the one thing that I’m thinking about is that although she’s still gotten into trouble (and I can’t dismiss the possibility that she may have cheated all along the way somewhere, as well), there is a difference in misbehaviors. There are irrational, out-of-control spits of disobedience that seem to come out of nowhere. There are calculated actions that are designed to manipulate the situation more to her liking. She knows that swearing will often earn her an In School Suspension. There, she is in a small room by herself, and doesn’t have to participate in class, and she also doesn’t have to screen out the “noise” of a busy classroom. So it may not be entirely calculated at a high level of thinking, but she is getting what will make things easier for her. On the other hand, there is a habitual, or perhaps we want to call it a default mode, where her inability to cope sends her into somewhere where there is no reason, no rationalization, no thinking. It is obstinacy at its best. She will cling to whatever first came out of her mouth, regardless of how ridiculous it is. I’ve always said, she’s the “black is white” kid: you cannot change her mind or get her to see reason or truth to save your life!
So, if we say that the irrational behavior is, at least partially, the result of her dairy sensitivity, along with a long history of ingrained habits resulting from that, and the calculating disobedience is more of a survival-oriented behavior, then it would seem logical to me that there are 2 avenues of dealing with the behavior. Obviously, eliminating the offending food is a beginning. Then the reactionary, habitual behaviors can be met head-on, in hopes that the irrational part is gone, and somehow we can get through to her and eliminate the manipulative behaviors through a process of punishment and rewards, and retraining her to react appropriately. I’ve been reading about stress and the brain in Smart Moves: Why Learning is Not All in Your Head by Carla Hannaford, Ph.D. She suggests a new label for the learning disabled: SOSOH: Stressed Out, Survival Oriented Humans.
“What do I mean by stressed out, survival oriented? I am referring to non-integrated, lop-sided brain functioning, a tendency to operate reflexively and/or reactively from survival centers in the brain stem and the sympathetic nervous system. How does stress fit into the picture? Stress from various environmental, developmental, family and social influences is a trigger setting of events in the nervous system that produce and regulate survival-oriented behavior. We certainly know that stress inhibits full brain development and learning.” (p. 145)
We learn as we grow, hopefully, to cope with the stresses in our lives. We use some stressors to motivate us to success and achievement; others get the best of us and we suffer some repercussions. Brain growth is the result of stimuli from all around us. But what if a brain can’t use the stimuli that is coming in for growth? The stimulus then becomes a stressor, further exacerbating the inability of the brain to grow new connections. I guess I could go on and on about what the ramifications of these stressors are, but the simple fact remains that I’ve got a child- a young woman, really, who has all these relational and behavioral problems and I have to somehow put together all that I’ve learned and know and try to grow her brain to overcome them… and it has to start with motivation!
I googled “motivation” one day: everyone has a different take on it, and there are a bazillion definitions and explanations of how it works. A wise friend said to me this evening that motivation begins with self-image, and that a positive self-image begins with how we see ourselves in light of the Father. That’s a daunting task. How does one even begin to speak of the love of God to someone who is so reactive, negative, and contrary? Even showing His love, by being caring, supportive, patient (oh, so hard!), consistently firm in discipline (even harder)- is met with defiance and obstinacy, eventually culminating in remorse, where I forgive, again and again and again, but nothing ever changes…