Monday, March 28, 2011

FreeRange ADHD

I am a big fan of Lenore Skenazy and her FreeRange Parenting blog.  She's the mom who let her 9-year-old ride home alone on the NYC subway and then wrote about it in her newspaper column.  The resulting hubbub had parents (and non-parents) lambasting her, calling her "America's Worst Mom."  It was then that she realized then that we had lost something in the past 30-40 year; that letting kids exert their independence had become abnormal.  And for her a movement was born.

I grew up "free range" before it had a title - well, other than the title or normal childhood.  From a young age, I would leave the house early on a summer's morning to wander all over the neighborhood.  I would show up back home at lunch, then was back out again until dinnertime.  We'd all run out one last time when Jimmy the Ice Cream Man drove up to the circle in front of my house and we'd get pop-ups, Italian ice, or ice cream sandwiches, before coming home for good with the fireflies.

A lot has changed since the '70s.  I'm not talking about a rise violence or an increase in child molesters, which are about the same as they were then in most neighborhoods.  But the way we live is different.  When I was out running free range, most homes had a mom at home.  I didn't - my mom was a single mom who worked - but we lived in my grandparent's house and my grandmother was always home.  Quite honestly, she almost always had an idea of where I was at any given time, thanks to the neighborhood chat fest that went on all day.  Twitter feeds had nothing on the moms and grandmas posting updates throughout the day.

But the fact is that someone was home.  Aftercare hadn't even been invented yet.  But more than that, kids were encouraged forced to get out of the house.  No one had a housekeeper and all the moms and grandmas had to keep up with the housework, and they didn't want any pesky kids underfoot.

Okay, so it wasn't all laundry and vacuuming.   They had their "stories."  Another World.  Days of Our Lives.  Guiding Light.  This was the heydey of afternoon soap operas.  Today, any moms, dads, grandmas who might stay home and are unfortunate enough to turn on the TV get a steady diet of danger! danger! danger!  To listen to the Nancy Graces of the world you would think there is a pedophile behind every tree.  Everyone is just waiting to harm our kids.

So, today's kids are kept under watchful eyes.  Instead of running the streets they are in aftercare.  Instead of playing a pick-up game of baseball or soccer, they are on organized, competitive sports teams.  Instead of running down the street to see if their friend wants to play, their moms are setting of defined, well-scheduled play dates.

I cannot say that I do much different.  I work full time and Dylan has to go to aftercare.  When we get home, there's no time to let him run down the street.  He has to finish homework while I hurry to get dinner on the table before it's bedtime.  And even if Dylan had time to go visit a friend, none of his friends live in the immediate neighborhood.

But I still believe that instilling independence in kids is vital.  

Encouraging independence in a child with ADHD, however, can be challenging.  For one, it's not easy for a distractible child to take responsibility for their actions.  I have trouble getting Dylan to finish his homework some days, let alone remember to come home before dark.  For another, at least in Dylan's case, he's clingy.  Whether it's anxiety, immaturity, or just plain fear of the unknown, Dylan is not the kind of kid to push the envelope on exploring the outside world.  He has a bicycle, a scooter, and a skateboard, but if I tell him to take one of them and go down the street, he wants me to come with him.  

So we start small.  He has to put away his own laundry.  He's responsible for making his own breakfast on the weekends.  And from time to time, we leave him home alone.

Yes, I leave my ADHD child home alone.

I'm not saying I go off to work in the morning, kiss him goodbye, and then see him again at dinnertime.  Up until this past weekend, it was never much more than 60-90 minutes.  But this past weekend I was invited to a luncheon and RockStar ended up working an earlier shift than usual.  

I left the house around 11:00am expecting to be back a little after 1:00pm.  But the luncheon (for the Louisiana Center for Women and Government) ran long and it was almost 3:00pm by the time I got home.

Now, I did check in a few times while I was at the luncheon, and everything sounded just fine.  Which is exactly what I found when I returned home.  Sure, there were small appliance parts all over the living room. But we were the ones who gave him the broken coffee maker and clock radio to "build" a robot with. And having the pieces and parts all over the living room is not uncommon even when we are home.

But better than finding a home in one piece, I found a boy who was proud of himself.  Proud that he took care of himself.  Proud that he was trusted.

So often, kids with ADHD feel less than competent compared to their peers.  They get to hear about what they've done wrong and how they are not living up to their potential.  Which only makes it all the more important to find ways to help them live up to their potential.  To give them opportunities to shine and be proud of themselves.

I'm not going on a week-long trip and leaving Dylan home anytime soon.  But I know with certainty that I can trust him for a few hours.  And that that's just one of many steps along the way to growing up.

I think it's easy to assume that kids who have trouble following the rules, who sometimes can't find their jacket, won't be able to be independent.  But just like "typical" kids, how can they learn if they never get the opportunity? 



    We're slowly allowing our kiddo more responsibility. He is allowed to play outside (forced to during summer break) and he knows the boundaries. I'm not ready for him to be home alone for long periods of time, but I'll leave him alone for 15-20 minutes at a time. He's great so long as the doorbell doesn't ring and the phone doesn't ring. He can't stop himself from running to answer either.

  2. There! Actually, I know what you mean about the doorbell. That is a problem. I'm actually more worried about our dog getting out than anything happening to Dylan. And he's allowed to answer the phone - since that's how I check on him.

    I have to work on outside. He just *wants* to be with us. All. The. Time.

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