It arrived this week: The first disciplinary phone call from my son’s school. For the first time ever, JJ has landed in big trouble.
Was it inevitable? Perhaps. He had dodged that proverbial bullet for years, but he couldn’t escape repercussions this time around.
The incident? My son and his little girlfriend Poppy (you know, the one he’s going to marry), confessed to trashing a toilet.
Yes, you read that correctly.
I’m too horrified to give you all the graphic details, but toilet paper and flooding were involved. And apparently a lot of laughter.
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I’m so shocked. Everyone is shocked. The principal even said they were the last two she would suspect of doing such a thing.
I know his ADHD impulsivity factored heavily into JJ’s behavior. But I can’t help but ruminate:
Am I technically now a bad mother?
Did I not teach him right from wrong?
Is he going to end up robbing banks?
Do I tell his father???
And the biggest question: WHAT AM I GOING TO DO??? Because as we all know, this is now all on me. Such is the mental load.
I make my way to collect him from after-school care (early, because I don’t want this horrible day to drag out for both of us). I’m churning up inside. How do I address this with JJ? I know that I need to get a grip before we talk. I must be calm and pretend I’ve got myself together. I can’t over-react, but what is the right level of reaction?
[Read: Never Punish a Child for Bad Behavior Outside Their Control]
He’s not neurotypical, so the usual parenting responses will not work. And there’s no back-up instruction manual that I can find.
What I do know is that ADHD is about executive function and impulsivity, plus big emotional responses. If I’m mortified by this incident, then JJ likely will be a hundred times more embarrassed and ashamed.
So how do I manage this situation?
I’m reading a very important, BIG book about ADHD right now that surely will have the answers somewhere within its 360 pages. But I’m only on chapter three, and I can’t read fast enough. I read five pages, put out a parenting fire… read another three, go to work… Tackle a few more pages after dinner, but my daughter needs help on the toilet. This is how it is. By the time I finish a chapter, I’ve already forgotten how it began.
When I pick up JJ, he seems his usual, happy self. Hmmmm.
We walk to the car, and I say, “I got a call from the principal today.” He remains quiet. “I know,” he responds. Then, forever the King of Distraction, he diverts the conversation to the craft in his hand.
I persist. “I know what happened, JJ”. Silence again. “I’m not sure why you and Poppy did this – you don’t usually do this kind of serious behavior. Can you tell me why you did it?”
“We were having fun,” comes his little meek voice, “and I just didn’t realize it was wrong when we were doing it.”
My turn to be silent. He can probably hear my heart cracking, I think.
“Well, it was very wrong, and you won’t be doing that again will you?” He shakes his head. “And I won’t be getting a call from the principal again, will I?”
We walk on. Sensing that the conversation has moved on, his bounciness returns, and he chatters on until we were sitting in the car. I turn around to look at him, “JJ, we have to talk more about this later, but for now we won’t talk anymore about the trouble from today. Let’s go and do some work in the garden. I picked you up early so we can do some gardening together.”
And in that moment his little face drops, and his bravado turns into sobs — those deep, sad sobs that come from a place of deep emotion.
“I thought you were picking me up early because you were really mad at me.”
Did you hear that? My heart just shattered. I unbuckle my seatbelt, open his door, and wrap him in a big hug.
How to Discipline Your Kids with ADHD: Next Steps
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