Back to school learning to be a parent

For those of you new to this page, I am going to explain why I have ended up in parenting classes weekly from now until mid-July this year. I have a charming seven year old son called Connor who has ADHD, you know, that syndrome that’s basically extra-naughty-and-we-should-discipline-him-more-disease. On top of this he has Oppositional Defiance Disorder (ODD), which is medical speak for saying NO, all the time.  When he grows up (Ha!) this combination frequently ends up being labeled manic depressive or more accurately – bipolar. Now, the specific labels are really handy, because for ADHD it means that people can feel really much better about themselves as they look down on you for being a bad parent whilst reassuring me that my son will, of course, grow out of this (statistics show he won’t). The ODD is a great label for letting me know that really clinicians have no idea what to do with ODD.

So, as an example of what the ADHD/ODD combo can achieve;  I drop him off at holiday club, give him a kiss and cuddle good bye and ask for his especially awesome behaviour as I am planning a lunch meeting with a friend 70 miles away from home. One hour (and a daily £30 fee) later and I am being called by the manager to take him home. Connor has run off, and once the assistant caught up with him to stop him running into a building site, Connor kicked her and called her a fucking idiot. I am reassured by Connor that he learnt the swear word from a kid in Class 7, not us.

Fucking marvellous.

For especially awesome behaviour like this, on many occasions in the past, we have been referred to CAMHS (Child and Mental Health Services). A very well meaning woman at CAMHS has done two things for us:

1. Attended a meeting at the school for 3 hours where she did and said absolutely nothing at all apart from mentioning that she had never met Connor. (We haven’t seen her since)

2. Forgotten that she met Connor at a previous appointment when she took him away from Mark to ask him questions away from the presence of a parent.

To get a referral again to this amazing support service (but presumably with a firework up the proverbial from a consultant to do something slightly more constructive) we need to prove we have tried everything else first, hence parenting classes.  “The Incredible Years” program that is delivered for this purpose gets glowing reviews in America where it is run for 21 weeks. In the UK, there isn’t funding for the program that works, so here it lasts “only” 11 weeks, a schedule for which there is no statistical positive evidence of an effect. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many parents who complete the course express relief and become more confident, realising that their kids are normal. I have been warned this may not be the class for us. However, the first session was yesterday, so off I went, open mind and all that. As an aside, because the classes are held on the opposite side of town where the new Lidl is being built, I decided to combine this class with a renewed attempt to get fit so cycled over there; something I have not done for about three years. The only lasting impact of the first session is my arse hurts.

I digress……………… the class itself………………..

Apparently it’s really bad form to blog about a classroom filled with parents trying to do a better job. The concern is that anything stupid I say or do may be posted on Facebook – by someone else. I know, ironic. So despite so much great material and the suspicion that someone was texting the class live throughout the whole two hours I am going to have to stick with my observations from the book written by the woman who established this class in the States, Carolyn Webster-Stratton PhD. She has a whole chapter in her book on tangible rewards, incentives and celebrations. I quote from p63:

“Rewards should be given for positive behaviours after they have occurred. It is helpful to remember the “first-then” principle. That is, first you get the behaviour you want, then your child gets the reward.”

As I’m in the mood for it now, I shall refer you to another very valuable source of information on rewards and incentives, from Daniel Pink. Daniel Pink is described by Wikipedia as the author of five books about business, work, and management that have sold two million copies worldwide and have been translated into 34 languages. The quote below is from his book, “Drive” but also from a great TED lecture he gave that has been watched over 13 million times.
“These contingent motivators — if you do this, then you get that — work in some circumstances. But for a lot of tasks, they actually either don’t work or, often, they do harm. This is one of the most robust findings in social science, and also one of the most ignored.”
I can’t help but put two and two together here and think that if the circumstances under which “if/then” rewards work are the relatively simple situations encountered during the whole of early childhood, we really are doing an excellent job training a whole generation for the world of work:
if then

One thought on “Back to school learning to be a parent

  1. Janet, from all our conversations it is clear that you and Mark are amazing parents…

    Your observation on the inability of Mental Health services to be much help reminded me of an experience that I had about 5 years ago when helping someone then close to me who was in a crisis. I was asked by the crisis team member “what do you expect me to do?” My response, in a moment of perfect clarity was “your job, and arrange a place of safety”, something I later found had shocked them in to action as no-one had spoken to them in that way before. This eventually then led to a social worker who repeatedly couldn’t remember my name or the patient’s name and finally a very capable psychiatrist eventually getting the person to safety.

    As for your wonderfully direct analysis of the whole reward concept.. beautiful, an often ignored reference that says that in only works in simple models and Dilbert! What more could be wanted…

    Thank you

    Liked by 1 person

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