Kindergarten 11-13-13. Baby steps and baby birds.

I’m behind on my tutoring stories. Turns out if I don’t write about it that day, I don’t really make time to write about it because there are other things going on.

Last week I had the same three children. I took them in a different order than on the list and I need to remember to not do that again. I need to take V first and J last. If J had his way he’d monopolize my time and I wouldn’t get to the other two.

I’m only there for an hour. It is all the time I’m allowed. There is a great cut off at the end of my time. They all line up for recess. This is useful because it isn’t as if I’m just leaving, or cutting them off. They are going outside and that is important to them.

It makes me think that we adults need to have recess scheduled into our workdays.

J still uses the alphabet list as a crutch. It is like he uses it as a cheat sheet. If the alphabet is in front of him and I ask him where the N is for example, he starts at the beginning and goes all the way through to the end, missing the requested letter every time. This time he was at least aware that he missed it. This is becoming very frustrating for me. There is no way he can get any further if he does not learn his letters soon. Having to start at the beginning every time is going to take forever. I wouldn’t mind it so much if it worked, but it doesn’t.

I decided to try something different. I have letter flash cards to use, and randomly pulled out a card. I asked him to name a letter. He nailed it. I tried another one. Again, success. So in the context of all the letters in order, he is lost. Perhaps it is overwhelming. Perhaps it is too much choice.

It is kind of like teaching colors to a child who is colorblind but doesn’t know it. He can’t tell me what is wrong because he doesn’t have a sense of what is right.

We played the Dora alphabet game and he also could find the letters when they were randomly in the box, but could not tell me what letter he had landed on the board. It was a little tricky to even get him to play the game because he decided it is girl’s game. It may be, but it is a great game to teach the alphabet, colors, numbers, and how to play a game, and these are all things he needs desperately.

At some point he mentioned that he had a bath last night but not today. Five year olds are masters of random statements. I thought about it. His hair is always a little wild. I thought it was just his style, but then realized that five year olds don’t have style. Things are done to them and for them, and I’m getting the impression that he’s not getting enough care at home, like he is an afterthought.

I worked with S and he was a delight at usual. He is very easy going and is doing well on his letters. I don’t think he needs my help, but the teacher keeps putting him on my list. She seems to have really concentrated my job this year. In the past I would work with a random assortment of up to eight different kids. This year I’m getting the same three.

Then I worked with V. Life is hard for her at home. We didn’t work on much for school. What I worked on was building up her spirit. She is so sad and reserved these days. Her work, which was already behind the average, has gotten worse. So I played the Dora game with her and exclaimed about how much I look forward to playing this game with her, and that I really appreciate that she plays it with me. I mean every bit of it. I am desperate for her to stay in school, because school is the only way out of a terrible home life.

Being able to read makes the difference between depression and delight. It makes the difference between poverty and prosperity. It turns ignorance into intelligence.

Reading is the way out.

If I can encourage her to stay in school and learn how to read, she has a chance. But she has to do the work. That’s always the way. I remember my reaction with my first group of students from three years ago. One just was having the hardest time with everything, and he just didn’t seem to care. A blasé kindergartner isn’t the greatest. It is pretty sad, even. But it wasn’t up to me. I brought my energy and my enthusiasm and my skills, and he had to do the rest. If he wanted to just drift through, barely making it, that was his choice.

It is like they are all baby birds. I want them all to fly high, but there will always be some that never have the confidence or strength to leave the nest on their own.

Healing negative self-talk.

I have come to see a connection between self-hate and addiction. I have come to understand that negative self-talk is the same as eating junk food.

People know it is bad for them, but they keep doing it. Why? There has to be a payoff for any behavior we do, otherwise we wouldn’t keep doing it.

Children who misbehave do so because it gets them attention. Any attention is better than no attention. If the parents don’t make a fuss over them when they do something right, but yell when they do something wrong, the child will persist in the misbehavior. This seems paradoxical. You’d think the child would want to not get yelled at, but really the goal is attention. Getting negative attention is still getting attention.

There are plenty of people whose parents yelled at them all the time when they were growing up. They were constantly taught that they was bad, wrong, stupid. Their parents drilled into them how imperfect they were.

The bad part is that they often learn this lesson well. Even with their parents not around, they will often tell themselves the same things. They may hit themselves or curse at themselves the same way their parents did when they made a mistake.

Sometimes they will seems to set themselves up for failure. They will not plan enough time to do a project. They will leave things for the last minute. They are then constantly late and overwhelmed and making mistakes. It is a self perpetuating cycle.

The scary part – they are living up to their parent’s image of them. There is some odd negative validation going on. There is a strange payoff.

This self-abuse is the same as a person who constantly binges on junk food. Our bodies crave fats and salt and sugar, even though it is bad for us. We will overeat at a buffet and feel miserable, yet we will do it again and again. Why? We know we should eat less and eat better food, but we don’t? Why?

It is the same thing. We get a payoff. We like the feeling we get from overeating and from eating unhealthy food. We like feeling like we are bad, like we are rebels. We are rebelling against good by being bad. The “bad boy” is a hero.

We have to retrain ourselves to get pleasure from good things. Nobody gets excited about broccoli and lima beans. Nobody gets excited about going to the gym. The payoff is quieter. The payoff is slower. It is harder to notice.

Your brain works better. Your clothes fit better. Your knees don’t hurt. Your heart works better. Your health improves. These are pretty good payoffs, but you don’t see them right away.

The same is true with negative thinking.

Negative self talk is an addiction the same way that overeating and drugs are. And it is healed the same way.

We humans need habits. Instead of going on autopilot and living with bad habits running your life, fill up your time with good habits. Seek positive choices and do them. Leave yourself reminders. You’ll forget. That is a normal trick of the bad-habit brain. That isn’t you.

Sometimes our minds are like small children that just want attention. Just like with children, ignore the bad and praise the good.

Make an intentional choice to say good things to yourself. Know that it takes a long time to retrain your mind. Nothing is automatic or easy. It takes a long time to get well. Have patience with the process. Understand that you won’t have patience at the beginning. That too is part of the process.

When you do something good, notice it. Don’t dismiss it. Write up a certificate. Draw up an award. Write down a list of all the good things you did that day.

Don’t make a negative list (“didn’t wreck the car”, “didn’t get into a fight”). While those are good things, work on noticing the little things that you did right. They have a way of hiding at first. It will get easier the more you do this. Make it a daily practice to write down at least three good things that happened that day. When that gets easy, increase the number.

Give yourself easy goals to start with. You are taking baby steps, not running a marathon.

You have to choose to love yourself in a way you were not shown how to by your parents or the people who you were raised with.

Sometimes we have to re-parent ourselves.

Sometimes they broke us, because they themselves were broken. They didn’t know any better. That doesn’t excuse the damage they did. But it does explain it, a little. People tend to repeat bad habits. People who were hurt tend to become people who hurt other people.

You don’t have to repeat the same bad habits. You can heal that wound.

I’m not going to lie here – it hurts to heal that wound. Just like with a broken leg, sometimes it has to be broken to finally heal right. It is painful whether the wound is physical or emotional or mental. It takes a long time to heal.

But it is so worth it. Who wants to walk with an emotional limp all the time? Sometimes it is “the devil you know” so you stick with it, because change is scary. But trust me, press on.

That pain you feel from trying to make a good change is a sign of healing. Don’t run from it. Lean into it, breathe, and walk forward. It will get easier.

And know that you aren’t alone on this journey.

A lot of us hide our brokenness, because we were taught that our brokenness is shameful. It isn’t. It is part of being human, and being human is a messy thing.

Will post for food…

I read a story lately about a lady who was in dire straits. She posted on a local Facebook page saying that she needed help and didn’t know what to do.

She said that she really needed help. She was a single mom and had two little girls, one 7 and one nearly 2. She said that she was about to be evicted because she hadn’t paid her rent, she didn’t have any food, and she didn’t have winter clothes for the girls. She said she was starting a job on Monday but wouldn’t be paid until two weeks later.

Plenty of things don’t sound right about this.

Apartments don’t kick you out for nonpayment of rent for the first month. They usually wait at least two months. So this has been going on for a while.

If she has custody of the children, she should be getting child support. She didn’t mention anything about this. Perhaps she is a widow. Again, no mention.

No food? No winter clothes? Did she just wake up from a coma and notice that something might need to be done? How has she survived this long with this basic inability to plan ahead?

And why is she asking for help from strangers? Why isn’t she asking family or friends? I have a suspicion she already has asked them before and they are tired of rescuing her.

I know that as Christians we are not supposed to question those who ask for help. We are not supposed to judge their worthiness. But there has to be some accountability going on. Otherwise we should all quit our jobs and start begging. Wait – that won’t work. Then who would give us money if they too didn’t have a job?

I remember seeing a guy on the side of the road with a sign saying that he needed a new roof. When I needed a new roof I got a second mortgage. I had asked my family if I could get a loan from them, having never asked before, and I got quickly turned down. So I had to figure out another way. Standing on the side of the road with a cardboard sign never occurred to me as something that was OK. It still doesn’t seem OK.

At what point is helping someone not helping at all? At what point is helping someone just encouraging them to keep needing help?

I’m reminded of the phrase –“Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and he can feed himself for the rest of his life.”

At what point do we have to show “tough love” and make people have to be responsible for their own lives?