What it's like to parent a child with incredible behavior struggles

Our little man has some behavior struggles that are not typical for kids his age. It's hard to imagine someone as cute as him could be so difficult to handle...but believe me, he is. (If you don't believe me, you can watch him for a week.) He has made INCREDIBLE strides since he entered foster care and since he moved in with us. But of course, there is still work to be done. It will be years of hard work, I imagine. Generally, his behavior at home has been manageable. His main struggle now is at school.

At dismissal, the kids come outside with the teacher to wait for their parents. Often the kids will see their parents from afar, and will point to them letting the teacher know, and in return, she'll let them run off to their parents. I have never had this pleasure. Jonathan will point and yell "Mommy! There's my mom!" She will nod her head in acknowledgement while placing her hand gently on his shoulder to keep him from running.  Every day when I go to pick him up, I am filled with anxiety about the report his teacher will give me. 

Some days we get phone calls to let us know he is struggling...like today. We got three. At the third call today, I packed up my things and headed straight over to school before their dismissal. When I got there, he and a teacher were processing through a conflict that had happened right before I arrived. I took Jonathan into an empty classroom so we could process the day's events. Before we left he apologized to one classmate, two classroom teachers, and two before/after school program staff. Our rule at home is if we get a call from his teachers, he will have a consequence at home. Here's where we've had to get creative. When you parent a child with behavior struggles, you tend to exhaust your options quickly. J responds well to positive attention, so we've done sticker charts. We've tried bribery. We've tried time outs, calm downs, running him around the yard when he's angry, stomping on the driveway to let out frustration, wrapping him in a blanket like a burrito, holding his tongue when he argues, apology notes, no TV, no choices, extra chores, taking away all of his toys, sending him to be early....seriously. When possible we try to come up with logical, natural consequences. So tonight he had to carry around a hula-hoop all night to remind him of his space barriers since he invaded many peoples' space today at school. He also engaged in a good deal of "potty talk" at school with the other boys (I know poop and farting and boogers are generally not appropriate, but every little boy likes to gross people out with this stuff! Nonetheless...if school doesn't want it, we have to help him learn...), so he got to "clean" all three toilets in our home. (Before someone freaks out and turns me in for child abuse, we gave him NO cleaning supplies...he had a wet rag he used to wipe down the outsides and used the toilet brush to brush the insides.) Cleaning the toilets was completely ineffective. We reminded him as he worked why he was doing this, and he kept saying gleefully, "I'm a worker! I'm working on these toilets." Now the hula-hoop...that seemed to work. Each time he got out of his hoop, he had to go to a "calm down" (our version of time out). On the third calm down, he walked to his room lugging his hula-hoop bleary eyed crying, "I don't want the hula-hoop anymore!" And while it did break my heart, a part of me felt victorious that we finally found a consequence that seemed to affect him. We explained to him again why he had the hula-hoop, and he continued to sulk.

Whew. Parenting is exhausting, but parenting a child with behavior problems is numbing. I think it's even more difficult given all day I ward off behavior issues at school before coming home to deal with more behavior issues. Each night I pray the next day will be better. Each morning, J and I pray that the day God gave us would be an opportunity for us to make good choices and bring glory to Him. I hope that someday soon...very soon...he is old enough to really understand this and will know how to think through his actions and make good choices. I hope God will continue to give us wisdom to parent J effectively, and I hope all of my hair doesn't turn gray before I'm 30...