A 7 Year Old’s Insight

Mary has completely turned her behavior around.  We started a pretty neat reward chart for her, and she gets cool stickers on the chart when she completes the task.  Thing like brushing her teeth and washing her face twice a day, tidying her room and making her bed, cleaning her station after dinner, and listening to the adults in her life.  Going on 2 weeks now and she hasn’t missed a sticker.  It has a section that says “Things to Work On This Week”.  Usually we try to keep it positive, like instead of saying “not lying”, we say, “always tell the truth”.  Instead of saying “not being rude and fresh” we say, ” Having a positive attitude every day”.  Every week there is a “prize” or a privilege that she has gained back.  Last week, she got to attend my nieces pool party, and have chips and cake and candy, and hang out with all of her cousins.  She had a blast!  What does she say in the car on her way home?  “It’s fun to have my privileges back!”

This week, she was allowed to ride her scooter, and last night at the outdoor concert, she had ice cream for the FIRST TIME this summer!  Yeah, we’re evil!  Whatever!  When she wasn’t brushing her teeth everyday, we refused to help her rot her teeth out, so last night, she ate that ice cream so fast, mmmmming, and ahhhhing for 15 minutes!  This week, her prize?  Family Movie night!  It used to be our every Friday night weekly routine.  We would be showered and pj’d by 7:30, all on the couch with hot chocolate and our own private bowl of popcorn.  We would let Mary pick her favorite movie, all get cozy under the blanket, and have 1.5+ hours of silence, while we all cuddled and watched together (usually something Callie and I loved when we were younger and wanted to introduce to Mary like “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids” or “Teenwitch” or “Ferngully”).  Then we would have her wash her face, brush her teeth, and both Callie and I would tuck her into bed.  This hasn’t happened since June.  You have NO IDEA how excited this kid is about Family Movie night!

I think this reward system is really working.  I think that she can see what she has done and has something tangible, like seeing 7 stickers on her board at the end of the day.  Also, it’s helping to teach her multiplication!  She’s also been a lot better behaved and a little calmer, and I think the fact that we are giving her back her privileges incrementally gives her something to work towards.  She still doesn’t have her electronics privilege back (TV time, iPad time, and computer time), but this Friday will be the first day she has seen TV (aside from sneaking it in for a few minutes at my parents) since the beginning of July. We’ll slowly add 30 minutes of TV a day after school to unwind before she has to start homework.  HOLY CRAP!  In 6 days, I will have a second grader!  That’s just wild!

I’m also wondering if Mary not seeing her mom for over a month could also be helping in her feeling safe and secure again.  The therapist said that she feels (because she has seen it in other cases) that Mary acts out because she actually LIKES being in trouble.  Well, not likes likes, but that when she was with her mother she always had to play the adult.  She always felt like she had to take care of her mother (she still says it now…”If you adopt me, then who is gonna take care of mom when she is older?”), so us reprimanding her and “putting her in trouble” makes her feel like a child in turn making her feel safe.  (Psychology is so interesting and totally not black and white at all!)  And also, you know, attention. So we have changed all of the negative attention to positive attention, and when she does something that we don’t necessarily like, instead of going berserk, we just redirect and try out best to ignore the negative behavior.

Yesterday, Mary and Callie were home and having a conversation.  Mary came out of her room saying, “I have a lot of feelings today..” so Callie asked her if she wanted to write them down, or if she wanted to talk about them.  Mary wanted to talk about them.  Mary’s mom is pregnant (well, was pregnant), and she was due on Aug 29th.  Mary doesn’t know that mom had the baby because we haven’t told her yet.  The main reason is, mom knew they were going to remove the baby and was supposed to call the case worker when she went to the hospital to give birth.  She never did.  She gave birth 2 weeks ago, and didn’t let the worker know until last Wednesday, via EMAIL, and gave them 2 addresses where she could possibly be, and hasn’t been at either for the past 2 weeks.  They have a private investigator looking for her.  So, we have no answers for the hundred questions Mary will ask.  We can’t say “I don’t know” to everything.  So when she was talking to Callie, she was asking about her mom.  Where is she?  Is she going to show up to the next visit?  Is the baby born yet?  Where is the baby if she IS born?  And the main emotion she was feeling?  Fear!  She is scared that her mother is going to run away with the baby (go figure!) and that no one will find her.  She wanted to know if mom was still making bad choices, and that she was worried that her sister wouldn’t be safe.  She was scared that her sister would learn to make bad choices too and maybe go to jail when she is older.  She was petrified that her sister would be taken away and go to another foster family.  She mentioned that she wished her sister could come live with us so that we can teach her “the right thing like you are teaching me!  So she could learn to be a good girl and make good choices and not bad ones.”  She is still being the adult, worrying about the choices that her mom will make and the consequences that follow.  This kid hangs on to that so tightly!

What really amazed me was that Mary is really and truly processing her life.  She understands that her mom isn’t bad, or a bad person, and honestly not even a negligent asshole of a parent.  She’s just a young girl who has made some really bad choices and is suffering the consequences.  She loves her mom, and we tell her that all the time.  We encourage her to draw and write and think about her mom, and we never say anything bad about her. Mary is making these distinctions on her own.  She knows mom makes bad choices and that those bad choices lead to mom’s privileges being taken away.  I think she is really making the correlation now.  And the more Mary grows and understands the world, the more I am in awe of the little woman she is becoming; pondering, processing, and persevering….

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18 thoughts on “A 7 Year Old’s Insight

  1. Hurray for positive reinforcement systems! I like the idea of “if you don’t brush your teeth, you can’t eat anything sugary” – it’s a logical consequence. I’ll have to try to that if I get a kid who refuses to brush their teeth.

    And I know there’s probably not much more room at your house, but would you be able to take her mom’s new baby? I hear that after you have 3 kids, adding more is barely noticeable in terms of workload ; )

    • Yeah, we’ve already discussed it with the case worker. They are going to see if mom has any resources (and by mom we mean, the babies father because none of moms have EVER panned out), so we have an extra crib ready to go! I wouldn’t want to separate Mary and her sister. And chances are it wouldn’t be permanent (which is what we thought with mary!) so we would absolutely take her. Maybe start her off on the right path…we’re waiting for them to find her…

      • Bless you! I’m so glad Mary will have both her sisters with her instead of watching her bio-sister go to a different family for reasons that would be difficult for a 7-year-old to comprehend. You might have a very full house! But it will help Mary so much to help you take care of all those babies.

  2. You know, Mary is one amazing little girl with two amazing mommies helping show her the way. This might be a really bad comparison, but its my reference so just bear with me and laugh if you need to. I think children are a lot like dogs – positive reinforcement with puppies encourages good behaviour, and you continue it as they get older. If you beat a dog, they are more likely to respond based in fear and be aggressive. Our dog, she’s a rescue that joined our family at 9 weeks old, we only do positive reinforcement and yet she is still scared and timid in some situations because of whatever happened to her in her first few weeks of life. It breaks my heart when she runs away from one of us even after five years of living with us and only being loved. I think Mary and our dog are similar – they are learning to live in a new safe environment but some days are just a bit harder. Okay, I’ll stop with the dog reference, clearly they aren’t quite the same as human children. 🙂
    All of this is to say that I love that you are working with Mary in the positive, and focusing on positive language and rewards. And I love that she is seeing the benefits of the system and so are you and Callie! Also, I hope her mom and the new baby are safe, wherever they are.

  3. Yay for you two and that big parenting win of a sticker chart. It sounds like things are really headed in the right direction.
    That is really sad that Mary seems to have more concern for her baby sister than it seems her mom does. She seems to have a very caring heart and yet again shows she is in the right place with you ladies.

      • Wow. That’s really too much, too “adulty” of a concern for a 7 year old. Breaks my heart really. 7 year old should not worry about that!!

  4. I love your positive reinforcement system! I’m always amazed with the awesome things you guys come up with to help Mary. I’m also impressed that Mary has been doing so well with regulating her behaviour and processing the feelings about her mom. That is some complex stuff.

  5. I love the positive reinforcement! I might see if my boss will make a chart for me like that. 😉 But really, I love that you don’t go berserk and you focus on the positive! That is awesome!

  6. What a wise child. It’s sad that she’s had to grow up so quickly, but she seems so intelligent and insightful. You guys are amazing. Mary’s a very lucky girl to have you in her life.

  7. When I was a child therapist, I worked with a little girl who wanted to be punished. She tested the limits constantly with myself and her parents. What finally turned it around in therapy was I said something to her like “you want me to punish you for (whatever it is that she did), but in here children don’t get punished.” And she stopped testing limits and instead through the play, punished me (it was hilarious) and then directed me to punish her, again through the play. I think there was a few more repetitions of punishment play and then she moved past it. Play is a wonderful way for children to work out their fears, emotions, and create safety. Mary’s a very smart little girl, and she is so lucky to have such a supportive, nurturing, and structured family. I’ve met some moms and dads who are “real pieces of work” (my own nonclinical term lol) but her mom sounds like she keeps the social workers very busy.

  8. I’m so happy to learn that Mary is doing well. I love how you and Callie parent!! It’s inspiring and I can only hope I can one day be the mom you are. Mary has come so far. I know she will continue to struggle with her emotions but with you and Callie by her side she will get through anything that comes her way. I really can’t wait for you two to legally adopt her. I hope it happens sooner than later. (It’s SOOO crazy that she KNOW her mom well enough to know she would leave with the baby! Insane!)

  9. I’m happy to see that Mary is doing better in the behavior department, she’s such a complex and beautiful spirit. I am always amazed at your handling of so much! You guys are definitely doing great things with her and I can’t wait to continue to read about progress and the growing love.

  10. I love the positive reinforcement sticker chart idea! Honestly – those rewards- ice cream? Movie night with hot cocoa? Sign me up! Mary sounds like an amazing and bright young girl and you two are amazing and inspiring mommies! Xx

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