Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Following Up

On this post, Grafted Branch, who blogs so engagingly at Restoring the Years, raised a question that I'm going to answer today. She wrote,

But let me ask you: how do you handle it when only one of multiple children require training, but in doing so ALL the children will suffer
(i.e., a lost outing).

And what if it happens often? Where do you, personally, draw the line between positive peer pressure and exasperating siblings to wrath against one another?
To the first question, in our house it is common knowledge that one person's decisions affect the other members of the family. One of the children can cost the whole family an outing. It's not fun for anyone, but it is a training opportunity for us all. The offender sees in real time how his wrong choice can be hurtful to other people. The siblings, on the receiving end, learn to extend grace. It's not all peaches and cream, mind you. A lot of training goes into these occurrences, and I spend a great deal of time counseling all of the children as they deal with disappointment, bitterness, selfishness, stubbornness and so on. It can be very tiring, but it is worth the effort and it doesn't happen often.

Which brings me to the second question: what if it happens often? Grafted Branch raises a thoughtful question here. If you have multiple children, you've no doubt experienced the positive peer pressure. Sometimes kids are more responsive to encouragement from a sibling than from a parent, but there is a limit, I think.

In our house, at this moment, Seth is the one needing the most intensive training. He is 9 years old, male, curious, creative and has autism. He challenges every boundary and has strong and sometimes irresistible impulses. We've all missed out on fun times because Seth transgressed in some way, and it can be very disappointing to the rest of us. We address this from two directions: first, we go out of our way to set Seth up to be successful by creating situations where he can practice the skills we are trying to teach. Second, if something comes up where we know he's not likely to do well, we make other arrangements for him (an afternoon with another homeschooling family or with a grandparent, for instance) to keep his behavior from causing us to have to cancel something fun. When he asks why he's being left with Gran, we tell him the truth. "The last time we went to the petting zoo, you were rough with the animals. This time, you're staying home. When you show us you can be kind and follow directions, you will be allowed to come with us again." He doesn't like missing out on these activities and his behavior has improved over time.

I view most every experience we have as a family as a training opportunity. I notice and comment on right attitudes, actions and words. I place a reminding hand on the shoulder of the one who seems about to say or do something untoward. I find that making expectations and boundaries clear to everyone beforehand is very helpful. I don't want the children to wonder what is and is not appropriate, especially if they are likely to see others behaving badly. And, when disobedience occurs, I move in swiftly and decisively, usually with a consequence that was known in advance.

My children's relationships with one another are precious to me, and are not to be trifled with. I don't think I get it right every time, but I am always trying.


  1. You're my hero. Can my kids come "train" at your house?? All they are getting here are stale pb&j's and video games.

  2. Wonderful post. I do have a question, though...It sounds like you are setting up son9 as successfully as possible. I have a son with some spectrum issues, too. Does your son ever resent the times he is separated? And can he identify and extinguish the poor behavior, or does he require you to point it out? We are just working a lot on impulsive/compulsive behaviors, and while I hold my son responsible for his infractions, it's sometimes a gray area for me in terms of what he can and can't inhibit.

    At any rate, I love the energy and effort you put into your children's relationships. As an only child, this sibling rivalry and revelry is new to me, and I always tell my kids that they are so lucky to know someone from cradle to grave.

  3. Gretchen,

    Seth never wants to be left out of what the family is doing, and can be very sad when that happens. He doesn't stay unhappy, though, and I've not seen resentment build up but I'm always on the lookout for it. I don't want to exasperate him, I do want to encourage him to do the difficult job of mastering his impulses.

    He requires quite a bit of coaching, especially on the more esoteric aspects of behavior, ie it's okay to ask someone his name, it's not okay to shout while you do it. I try to be sensitive to the limits of his ability while encouraging him to stretch those limits. It's a balancing act for sure.

  4. Sounds like you're doing a wonderful job. And no one knows until she walks it. God gave us these awesome kids--and they're all awesome--for a reason: most likely to grow us toward Him.