Apr 15, 2011

Zoe's "Mental Health Day"

After last night's issues with Zoe going to bed, we didn't know what to expect this morning.  But she did fine.  In fact, it had been a very long night with Manny so Dan let me sleep in and when I woke up, she'd been watching TV.  I called her into the bedroom with me and Manny and we were just being silly. 

She was already over her thing from last night and was happy she got to stay home with Mama.  In my best guess, she thought if she could just go back, she could PROVE she is a "good girl", "worthy" of love/praise, etc.  I told her that she didn't do anything wrong. 

As we were just discussing what we would do for the day, she helped me get Manny dressed.  Out of the clear blue, she said, "Why did his tummy mama leave him?"  We had a loooong discussion about abandonment issues, how I would never go anywhere, etc.  It was completely heart breaking because I knew she was linking those two conversations together. 

And during conversations like this, you never know if you're handling it right or not.  So I just pray hard and hope like everything I am saying healing words. 

Finally, I asked if it was Manny's fault that his tummy mama left him?  She was immediately like, "No."  And I said, "It wasn't your fault your tummy mama left you either."  And she started to argue with it and before I would let it out, I said, "You were just a baby too."  And somehow something clicked.  She was relieved. 

I talked to her about how I love her when she makes good choices and when she makes bad choices.  That I would NEVER leave her. 

I don't know what's been triggered in her classroom lately, but somehow all this is tied with a feeling of abandonment.  I think we're on the healing road now.

She decided we would go to the mall.  We had a great day.  There were some very interesting conversations.  I will leave some out just for privacy.  But there was much more about what was said/done in the classroom. 

One of the best parts of the day was during lunch and I started a game with her.  I would say something that I liked about her.  Then she would say something she liked about herself.   At first, she found it very hard but then caught on.  Then she wanted to do it for me.  And we played this game for about 20 minutes just taking turns. 

After lunch, she said, "Would you call me 'Follow Directions Zoe'?"  So I did.  All day, I was extra careful to point out EVERYTHING she was doing well.  I do it as a habit anyway but today was very focused concentration on rebuilding her. 

By the time we picked the kids up at school, she seemed mostly herself again.  I was then able to ask her to do some chores and she was able to do them with very little frustration.  (The way she used to be.)  But there was still a very short fuse. 

It was during this whole thing today that I realized HOW I talk to Zoe.  (I was trying to analyze every interaction.)  Like I asked her to put her lunchbox out in the garage for the weekend.  She opened the garage door and threw it out there.  I said, "Thanks for putting your lunchbox in the garage.  I prefer if you would put it on the shelf where we usually put it."  And she did it with no troubles.  

Then it clicked in MY head.  I live by one of the principles that I teach in Dale Carnegie, "Make the fault seem easy to correct."  And I think the teacher escalates things.  (Disclaimer ... I am by no means a perfect parent and don't claim to be one.  But I do try to be situation and child specific in the way I treat my children.) 

And a second principle is "Praise the slightest improvement, praise every improvement."  In psychology, they call this "shaping" where you praise what is being done right and then slowly shape the behavior to be the desired one.  I do this without thinking.  From Zoe's description, this teacher is an all or none kind of teacher.  I don't know if she is a good or bad teacher.  I just know this is not a good fit for Zoe. 

And being embarrassed is one of the worst thing to Zoe.  She said that recently, the teacher has been doing a new thing of rewarding good behavior with jelly beans.  Apparently she lines the kids up and walks down the line, if the kid did a great job that day of following the rules the teacher says that they had a jelly bean day and gives them one.  If they got any other color, it's mentioned that they don't get one and that kid is skipped over.  I understand the intention of this ... but for Zoe ... this is HORRIBLY embarrassing.  It's been around the time of this that her behavior started to decline at school. 

And interestingly enough, Zoe has no troubles with music, art, speech teachers.  JUST her.  And for the record, we expect Zoe to follow rules.  If she does not, we support consequences.  I'm not sure why Zoe is showing such dramatic "push-back" with this teacher but it's certainly not a healthy environment for her.

I have no clue how this story will turn out.  I just know that today I got to spend time with this sweet, funny, amazing little girl.  She amazes me.  She has some "rough edges" ... (don't we all?!?)  But she is easily dealt with.  And worth fighting for. 


  1. It sounds like what you are doing is attachment parenting.

  2. I'm glad you got to spend the day with her and that she shared some of her feelings. Praying still for her and you, praying for wisdom in making the right decision when it comes to her schooling. She is such a beautiful girl with a gorgeous smile. I love the last picture!! Hugs