Saturday, March 19, 2011

Hot Wheel Tracks and the Path to Good Behavior

I was talking to the van driver at the day care this week about Munchkin's behavior on the van after school.  It's getting out of hand.  He hits the other children with his seat belt and his book bag.  He screams at the top of his lungs.  He kicks the driver's seat.  He slides out of his booster seat onto the floor (and ends up choking himself on the seat belt in the process).  It's really bad--the driver's had to pull the van over many times lately to deal with this behavior.  I understand why he acts this way (he's worn out from school, full of pent-up energy needing to be released, and overwhelmed by the noise level in the van); but I also understand why it can't keep happening.  I've been in the car with Munchkin when he acts like this.  It's really hard to concentrate on the road!

So, we've tried to come up with a behavior plan to stifle these problems.  The driver tried putting a movie in the DVD player.  Sometimes that works, but not always.  Then I made a simple picture reminder card--it said "No Feet On Seat" with a picture of feet propped up with a line through it,and "Quiet Voice" with a picture of a finger on the lips.  The driver wouldn't use it consistently, though, so it wasn't effective.  So I came up with a plan to use good old-fashioned bribery to straighten this out.  I told Munchkin how he was expected to behave on the van, and said I would buy him Hot Wheel tracks after 10 good days on the van.  He was elated (he's been coveting those tracks for awhile now, what with his "tracks obsession" and all).  And, sure enough, he behaved perfectly on the van the last two days of this week.

So, as the driver and I were talking, he told me, "You know, if he can behave for a bribe, then that just shows me he should be able to behave everyday."  At first I was really angry about that.  I mean, Munchkin cannot behave everyday--he just can't.  Even a neurotypical child cannot behave every day!  But take a child whose social-emotional skills are equivalent to a 3-year-old's, add a 7 hour school day of trying so hard to hold it all together, and then throw in a hot van with a kid on each side of him, a TV going, and kids trying to talk to each other, and he just. can't. hold it. together.  But then I started wondering...

Can he do this everyday?  Is it really necessary to reward good behavior, or should we just expect it, or even insist on it?  He does ride the bus to school every morning without any of these problems--but then again, each child has their own seat, and there's a bus aide.  Come to think of it, there are lots of things Munchkin does well at school or in therapy, that he will not (can not?) do at home or at day care.  Is this because school and therapy are both very structured, whereas home and day care are not?  Many people have told me that he "plays" me.  And it does seem true that his behaviors are more intense for me than for anyone else.  Am I too lenient with him, because of his difficulties?  Or am I just more tolerant and understanding about those difficulties?  Is he more at ease with me, and able to "let loose" around me because he feels comfortable?  Or am I just exhausted by all his meltdowns, so I give in to him in order to avoid another one?!

Talk about difficult parenting!  There's no parenting book out there that can help me.  They are all written with a neuro-typical kid in mind, and most of what they recommend does not work with Munchkin.  It's all trial and error here, and constantly changing.  What works for awhile will undoubtedly quit working soon after.  We've tried it all, and then, at the end of our rope, we try it all again.

Sometimes I feel like I make too many excuses for Munchkin.  I allow his diagnosis to become a crutch to support his inappropriate behaviors.  Not intentionally, of course!  I think that, in an effort to be sensitive to what he's feeling sensory-wise and to understand when he's over- or under-stimulated, I automatically assume he's acting a certain way because of these things.  Maybe sometimes he's just acting poorly because he can!  Or because he wants his way.  Or because he's stubborn, willful, and even just disobedient!

The problem is, how do I know the difference?  Until I figure this out (which I pray happens before the pre-teen years!) I guess I will just keep trying something else, until we find what works.  And right now, the Hot Wheel tracks seem to be working!

My only solace in this whole situation?  I know every single parent out there struggles with their child's behaviors.  My situation may be different than yours, but we're all trying to figure it out as we go!


  1. As a single dad I am very happy to have what some would perceive to be a “small family”. three children, two dogs, one cat, and yes the pets are part of our family. It’s not the size of the family that counts but the family inside that counts. Have a great day....

    help for single Dads

  2. I totally get you on this one! I have a 3 1/2 year old special needs son and I'm always wondering if I'm doing it right. He behaves so well at school, but home is the complete opposite. I wonder the same things as you. Is it because school is so structured and home is not? Is it becaue hes comfortable at home and feels like he can let loose after holding it together all day? Am I using his special needs as an excuse for some of his behavior? Etc. I dont know what the right thing is, but I do know its nice to realize you aren't the only parent who feels like this. Parenting is never easy, and then ou throw special needs on top o it and I feel lucky to make it through the day sometimes!