Tuesday, May 09, 2006


The 9yo (almost 10) has been difficult lately. It's actually a pattern that has been going on for a while--a persistent lack of effort. I've realized through reading books on emotional intelligence that this is where some of the issues are. I had thought that it was just a personality thing (desire for control, mainly, but also a lack of paying attention to details) or perhaps some sort of learning problem, but now realize that she just wants to avoid any sort of frustration. She doesn't see it as being an acceptable part of living, much less learning. She is, I'm seeing more and more, quite capable, but doesn't want to push herself at all. She says she hates reading--it's because there are frustrational issues there (she loves listening to me read, so it's not content the problem.)

I've tried to direct her more effectively for a while. I tried in the past creating a planning chart where she can plan out her day/week in terms of subject areas. What this led to was her doing a minute of everything each day and declaring she was done her work. We discussed more about the importance of effort and time spent working on things, but she can be so oppositional that it didn't get far. I know I've tried other things, but can't remember what.

This week, I've set out the list of minimum work requirements (including minimum time to spend on certain subjects) and she's supposed to add on to it to fill up our morning work period. Yesterday, she worked (mostly with little effort) until about 9:20, then declared she didn't know what else to do. I told her to check her list. She said she'd done everything on it.

"You wrote for 30 minutes?"

"I did cursive and wrote a poem." I have a look. It's her rendering of "Roses are Red", but with problematic areas with the cursive and it wasn't a creative rendering; it seemed that she simply forgot the words and decided to have one line of the poem out of order.

"You have not written a story, your own poem, a letter, done a research project or anything like that for a few weeks now. You need to get into spending time each day writing."

"I did!"

And so on and so forth with that topic. I pushed it aside, simply leaving it at she needed to actually compose something original and looked at the next thing: math.

"I did math."

"What did you do for math?"

"I did questions on the calculator and figured them out before I pressed =." She shows me her journal. It claims she worked on math from 8am-9am. Since we had our silent reading time from 8-8:25, that, of course, is impossible. I bring that up and she tries to argue with me about it, that she did indeed spend that much time doing math. She gets a defeated look (combined with a look of trying to figure out some other way to be right) when I tell her that she was sitting on the couch with a book from 8 until my niece arrived, but she doesn't press it further

"You are supposed to be working on division. Did you do division?"

"Yes. And other stuff. I spent a long time on it!" (Defensiveness constantly.)

I looked at the calculator, which, unbeknownst to her, saves what has been punched in. She'd done about 15-20 questions. Half of the questions were simple, grade 2-level questions, like 23+49 and 85-28, or totally basic multiplication facts. The other half were things she could in no way figure out as she hasn't done the necessary work for it, like 67859*7586 and 167-989.

This led to further arguments (why do I allow myself to argue with a child?) and I changed her work plan for the rest of the week to specifically say division or her math workbook (this is a workbook she asked to have.) In the afternoon, other problems with behaviour and her flying off the handle. I eventually told her to write to me about it if she wanted me to respond further. I think that will be my new catch phrase when problems arise like that--write to me about it. It saves everyone from hearing arguing and whining.

Part of her seems to just want to go into play mode and figures that she can just goof off if she's done, in her own mind, enough work. But, as Paula Polk Lillard wrote, "work is not an option." I know I have to get to the root of this, but it seems like such a long-standing problem. She had, at one point, put a lot of time into writing stories, but did not want to put the effort into making a nice finished product. She doesn't want to take the time to check to see that her paper is lined up properly, or that she's writing against the margin, or to have spelling checked or anything like that.

But maybe it's not about not wanting to put effort; maybe it's a form of perfectionism. She is absolutely convinced she's right most of the time. She will get angry with calculators because 'they're wrong' or this Math Wrap thing we have because 'it's wrong' and a multitude of other examples I could provide from a daily basis where she's absolutely certain that she's right and everybody else is wrong. She can't seem to face problems and errors, so she avoids looking at them or comes up with excuses. In a school setting, I'm absolutely convinced that a teacher would have her diagnosed as having a learning disability, but it's not that at all because she is capable. I guess if it's really a matter of emotional intelligence, then it would be a sort of emotional 'disability'. I had not really seen that until now.

Taking that and thinking about what's going on in her life to affect her emotions, I can see how logical it is that her behaviour is as it is right now. I'm going to have to spend more time commenting on the positive in her work and on identifying her feelings instead of letting myself slip into arguments which go nowhere. I'll also have to figure out how to have her make decision about the work period, but actually WORK during that time and not do a certain amount of work and declare herself done. Montessori is certainly a lot of experimentation!

Writing this out has helped me see better that I need to change my direction. Not only directing her but just in relating to her.

1 comment:

Rebecca~Jean said...

I just wanted to say....HEY ARE DO YOU HAVE MY CHILD OVER THERE? hee!hee!

I can relate to your problem totally. I have found though that if i just touch one thing, like the writing of stories issue and how she does not want to see that she is writing too far in the margins or things like that, I just non chalantly mention it one day. I say things like, "Wow this would be a bit easier to read if it was all lined up...and add of course...this is a great story even though."

The next time out or even a few times later, I see a difference in the writing. I think this approach is not attacking them personally but letting them see that others will enjoy the work better if a little maintenance is involved.

Oh I just thought of something. I remember that once I showed my son a paper and I mentioned to him... "See how this is all lined up? It makes it easy to read doesn't it?" I did this without attacking his work and he was able to see it for himself later.

You are doing a great job! Keep face. I so want to be able to get to where you are now.