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….