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French kids don’t have ADHD? Well, mine does.

22 Jun

An article from Psychology Today was published last year. It was called “Why French kids don’t have ADHD” and it resurfaced a couple of weeks ago on Facebook.

http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/suffer-the-children/201203/why-french-kids-dont-have-adhd

Now you might not know me at all or maybe just a little but you should at least know these 2 things about me:

1. I’m french.

2. I have a kid with ADHD.

Obviously, it appears to be a shaky start for the writer of this article because I am the living proof that French kids can have ADHD. Maybe it is because we live in a plagued-by-ADD South Africa, or maybe because we are the exception to the rule – since French love exceptions. 

A few of my friends shared that article with me and wanted to know whether it’s true (Don’t they know the first 2 things about me??) My first two reactions were:

1. Mwahahahahahahahahaha! (after reading the title)

2. Roll of the eyes (after reading the article)

But being french with an ADHD kid, I felt compelled to look deeper into the article.

Marylin Wedge, the writer of the article, starts by comparing how ADHD is labeled differently in the US and in France. On one hand, the US  call it a biological disorder, treated with medication like Ritalin, while in France, it is considered a  psychological disorder, treated with counselling. The difference is ‘treating the symptoms’ vs ‘treating the cause/ root of the problem’, the difference between ‘chemical’and ‘psychological’.

I don’t really want to dissect the article (you’re disappointed, I know!) because the topic of ADHD is so vast and so controversial that even after reading up so much on it, even after living with an ADHD boy for 8 years, I don’t feel like I have enough knowledge to do it justice. However, reading the writer’s observations about the french way of raising children (2nd-hand observations, taken from a french book), it made me think about what I observed; first, as a French person raised the ‘French way’ and second, as a mother of an ADHD precious boy.

The part of her article that makes me uncomfortable is when she states that French kids are better behaved than American ones.

French kids are awesome. I wish I had one.

French kids are awesome. I wish I had one.

I would argue that it is debatable. The French society is without a doubt much less permissive than the American one. When I go back to France for holidays, I am always reminded (‘shocked’ is a more accurate word) of all the rules – said or assumed – that my children are expected to follow. Starting with wearing shoes (winter or summer), not walking more than 3 feet away from me, not climbing, jumping, leaning over or reaching for anything higher that their knee-level, sitting quietly at a restaurant, not speaking too loud or making sudden moves… I find that often kids have to live through the old adage of ‘being seen, not heard’. In my observations, the discipline that the writer mentions is not a thought-through decision taken for the sake of the child but rather a discipline enforced when the child’s behaviour becomes inconvenient for the parents.

Every child is off to school from 3 years old until 18, 8.30am to 4.30pm, 4 and a half day a week. If they are not ‘Sage comme une image’ ( literally ‘as well-behaved as a picture’), they’ll quickly learn. The way kids were brought up 50 years ago is the way that they are raised today because, after all, why change something that worked so well at the beginning of last century?

It might seem strange that I would take a stab at the french way of raising children. Being French myself, I’m sure that I have – consciously or not – adopted some of the French behaviour, even when it comes to raising kids. A friend of mine has been incredibly helpful when my kids were younger, reminding me that it should be an age-appropriate discipline. In other words, expect a 2 year old to behave like a 2 year old!

The writer seems to imply that this strict discipline is what saved France from the ADHD that afflicted other countries.

For me personally, I rewind a couple of years: the year my son turned 5, the year we took the decision to try out Ritalin for our ADHD son. A decision not taken lightly, a decision that came after taking him out of his preschool because the teacher asked us to, a decision that came after having him assessed by a paediatric neurologist, a decision taken after realising the impact that his behaviour had on the rest of our family, a decision taken not just for my sake, but also for his.

When parents – and I include myself – find that no strategic parenting style seems to work the way it should, when your child is unable to sit still long enough to learn, when his relationships with friends, siblings and parents suffer because of his lack of impulse control… when these parents turn to the help of Ritalin for the sake of not only the ADHD child but also everyone else in the family, I cannot but roll my eyes at this kind of article.

I do not know whether the french society has less ADHD kids or whether they suppress their symptoms and spirits through rules and punishment. What I know for certain is that there is a place for Ritalin for those overwhelmed children who suffer academically, socially and emotionally. I know for certain that Ritalin brought balance into my son’s life and into our home and I know for certain that he is grateful that there is a medication out there to help him control his emotions.

I know what I aimed to achieve when I put my son on Ritalin. I am confused as to what the writer aimed to achieve with her article.

A month full of Jion…

14 May

Three times a year, at Jion, the karate school that my kids attend, there is a grading. A grading allows a child to get his next karate belt if his Sensei (teacher) thinks that he is ready to grade.

Before sending your child off to grading though, they have to go through what is called a’ mock grading’ – which is almost like the idea of a ‘staged combat’. In the Middle Ages, the jousting games were also referred to as ‘mock fights’. So there you have it, a piece of not-so-useful information to drop at your next dinner party. A mock grading is therefore like a dress rehearsal before the premiere of a theatrical play. Stress levels are on a rise and performing at your best is important if you wish to prove to your Sensei that you are in fact ready to go to the real grading.

A few weeks before the mock grading, in our house, we live through a lot of karate moments. Over and above their twice a week karate lessons, there are moments of practicing their kata (organised moves that represent a fake fight), moments of staged fights with dad, teaching and teasing each other and of course a lot of hope and expectations to get the ‘Oss’ signal from their Sensei.

Between the mock grading and the actual grading, there are usually only 5 days (from the Saturday to the Thursday). However, the first grading for this year happened to be over some public holidays which meant that between mock and grading, we had almost 2 weeks. Two weeks over which a lot of bargaining and rewarding could – and did – happen.

‘Mmmh no, you can’t play on the iPad until you practised your karate.’

‘Ooh I don’t think you should behave like this. A genuine karate-kid should know better. Maybe you aren’t ready to grade to green belt… ‘

Aaaah, happy days these were…

These days of easy bargaining came to an end  beginning of May when the kids from Jion that were ready to grade, graded.

Léa and Killian graded to, respectively orange and green belt and Matty got 2 stripes on his white belt. Not yet ready to grade to yellow, his grading stopped at the mock grading. It’s always a positive life lesson when hard work is rewarded with the coveted result and for that day at least, their world remained a just, fair and fun world. Long may it last…

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More than ever before I am convinced of the right choice of sport for all my children. Whether they are competitive, perfectionist, low-confident or just floppy, the values of discipline, respect for each other, hard work, healthy body development and a fun Sensei really build them up and make for a holistic approach to what is good for them.

And the best part is that they love it!!

If you’re interested in finding out more about karate in Cape Town, you can contact Sensei Dirk by going to the website www.jion.co.za

I promise I don’t have share in the business!! 🙂

When I’m big, I want to be a gladiator…

8 Nov

Killian never really said that but I’m sure that he at least thought it! After being stuck for 2 years – almost 3  – on the pirate party, it came almost as a relief to hear him shout for a gladiator party!! We studied the roman time during our school time and it has been a fascinating time period for the kids AND for me!! So I was quite keen about the unusual theme… until I realised that the challenge of living in developing country (emphasis on -ing, as opposed to -ed) is that if your theme is not Spiderman or Hello Kitty or Pirates, there aren’t many available accessories in the shops (which is probably better given that anything with a brand name attached is so expensive!)

After being postponed by a week because of whooping cough threat (!!), and after many days of countdowns from Killian, finally he could have his roman gladiator party. So we made do with a few wooden swords, an old pair of short and some leathery fabric that I bought to complete the look and Killian’s outfit – as well as Matty’s –  was ready. Léa wore a white roman dress (i.e. a white dress that my friend Laure left here because it was torn. It looked almost roman) with a brown belt and was armed with a bow and arrow. She would have fitted the Robin Hood party-theme very well but she thought she looked great and so did I!!

Game wise, I printed some roman pictures and cut them into puzzle pieces. Each cut picture was put in a ziploc bag and each team of 5 children had to find 3 bags, hidden in the garden, assemble the pieces AND name what was on the picture.

Working out the acqueduc, or the arena or the roman soldier.

Then, each gladiator had to attend the training school, called a ludus (I bet you didn’t know that!). The training course was an obstacle course in the garden, with weight training too!

Weight training!

Then, the part that Killian had been begging for the past few weeks: the gladiator games!!!! We formed an arena with giant sparkles (except that in the sunlight we couldn’t see them!!), and separated them into 2 teams again. We invited the emperor and his assistant (akaPhillip and Doug) to watch the games and decide who was the best gladiator. The aim was not to win the fight but rather to entertain the crowd, show courage and skills, and die bravely. These gladiators-in-training showed amazing talent and we were thoroughly entertained!! We had some fighting on their knees, some without an arm, some even had to hold their swords in their mouth for lack of any other limbs. All fought showing no fear and all were rewarded for being the best **something**.

Matt, sword in the mouth, and Sebastian hopping on one leg.

Some tragic deaths 😉

Brother against sister. No mercy!

Skilled gladiator! (Laure, thank you for your dress!!)

Hardcore, yet pensive birthday warrior…

My cake disaster was saved by 2 lovely ladies (Kirstin and Kirstin) who helped me turning what was supposed to be a roman soldier into a shield. When Killian saw it, he gasped (of joy) which is all that I needed 🙂

A fun group of gladiators!! Well done!!

The story of the Tetanus, the Whooping Cough and the Ritalin

25 Oct

No, this is not a medical journal – at least not one that will be worth referring to – this is the story of our last 2 days. Yes,in our modern days, we had to brave 2 almost-believed-to-be extinct diseases, mixed with the very much alive sickness-of-the-day (yes, ADHD is real and no, it’s not just a tale-tell made up by the teachers).

One of my friends’ son has been battling with a horrible cough for the past few weeks and upon her visit to the doctor, he was diagnosed with whooping cough. Naively I thought I would check with my friend Wiki what “whooping cough” is in French. It’s whaaat? La coqueluche??? Isn’t it something that my grandmother told me about, a weird disease that killed hundreds in those times??

Given that our kids are all friends, they happily and unselfishly shared the bacteria (maybe all these parenting speeches on ‘sharing is caring’ finally paid off) and on Monday evening, Matty started to cough. My panic button was immediately pressed and, with a faster reaction time than ADT (No record breaking here, though), I made an appointment to my faithful doctor for the next day. I have a 100% trust in my doctor and even though I read up on whooping cough, I knew he would be of much help on how to deal with it.

Next day, prepped up to face the world, one deadly disease at a time (or so I thought), we rocked up at the Medicross. I’m taking all the kids with me, I thought. Killian has a thorn in his foot. My dear doctor will surely help me to remove it as it looked slightly deeper than a Hollywood celebrity’s personality.

Matty was quickly taken care of. Whooping cough is highly contagious and the cough can last for months, unless it is detected at the beginning and treated with antibiotics, in which case the contagion is limited to only a few days. Good news for us, only a few days of quarantine. Tap, tap on my shoulder: Killian reminded me of the thorn in his foot. Ah yes, a simple formality. We need to go to the procedure room. Ah. He needs an injection to numb the area. Mmh. And he needs a booster for his tetanus vaccine. Oh boy. That’s way more that I bargained for.

I braced myself for what was to come. I lost some of my hearing on that injection. Some of my heart too. I truly wished I could switch places with him. It was painful. The doctor worked hard and long at removing the thorn that was 1 full centimetre deep. And every minute, Killian kept asking with tremor in his voice “Is he doing another injection?” No. “And now?” No. “And now?” No my love. Léa, crying next to me, sure did not wish to switch places with him but felt awfully sorry for her brother. Matty, on the other hand, said that he looked at everything the doctor did – unphased.

The tetanus shot was nothing compared to the first injection. By then, Killian was so hysterical that it wouldn’t have mattered anyway what kind of procedure they were doing on his arm, but I was amused by 2 reactions: the first was the nurse’s face when the doctor told him that the one brother had whooping cough and that the other one was at risk of getting tetanus with the infection in his foot and that he needed his booster shot. She might have thought we were some kind of amish or something…The second was Killian’s neurotic behaviour stopping in a split second when he realised that his second injection was already finished and exclaimed **bravely**, “Oh! That wasn’t even sore!”

Back home, things went back to normal. Until the next day. Wednesday. Killian had been on his absolute worst behaviour throughout the day. Starting from not wanting to sit for his reading, to lashing out at his brother, defiantly disobeying me, going from zero to 100 in a few minutes, speaking to me in a way that not even Jack Bauer would to his tortured enemies, ending up in clinging and begging me to forgive him.

I tried to understand what was the matter. Was it payback for allowing him to be hurt the day before? Had I not given him the right amount of Ritalin? (and believe me, I make sure of that!) I even considered an adverse reaction to his previous day vaccine – I could already see the headlines “Mother kills child after vaccine’s unfortunate side effects”. At 4 o’clock, I had the choice between death (I wasn’t sure whose yet) and a top-up of his medication to help the poor sod out of his misery (and mine). At the first signs of him becoming sane again, we talked. Somehow, in the morning, when given his pill, he hid it under his tongue and did not swallow it. Relief was my first reaction. Utter frustration was next. Frustration at Killian obviously. Mostly frustration at people thinking that Ritalin is unnecessary, that parents and teachers just need to try harder.

A few minutes into Ritalin, roller-costered-out and calmed down, looking at me with his big hazelnut eyes, he says “I feel better now”.

And here ends the story of the whooping cough, the tetanus and the ritalin. They had many children and lived happily ever after.

Karate is contagious!

18 May

Our house has become very safe over the last month or so, thanks to these 3 karate kids! Léa and Matty follow in the steps of Killian. Matty with his I-don’t-really-mind attitude is decidedly the most chilled out karate person I know. Léa listens attentively and tried her hardest to look the part. Mmmh, she makes me think of the prayer mantis character in Kung-Fu Panda, with her long dangling body.

But they are all super motivated (Matty in his own way), they love it, they sweat at it (Matt comes at the end of each lesson and tells me “Look Mama, I’m nearly sweating!’). Léa is practicing practicing practicing. She is in the same class as Killian (white, yellow and orange belts are together) and wants to feel that she is good enough.

I love the structure of karate, the discipline it requires, the respect of others and the way the gradings are organized. If you work hard, whether you look good or not, you will move on to the next belt (well, in the early stages at least) which is great for young kids. It helps them to stay motivated and to know that they can do it. No doubt, Killian looks much better than Léa, but to a certain extent, it’s irrelevant.

Here they are, taking their role very seriously! Killian not flinching (apart from the oh-look!-a-butterfly moment), Léa trying to look fierce, and Matt and his cooler-than-cool attitude. Aren’t they cute!!!

The only downside is the washing. Lots of white, white and white!!

Speaking japanese

16 Mar

Killian still sometimes gets confused between 8 and 9 in English, but ask him what a chokuzuki or gyakuzuki are, and he’ll show you. Karate found Killian, and he likes it!! I like it! He gets rid of his abounding energy and natural aggression, both at great speed!

A few weeks ago, he took part in his first competition, a kata competition. A kata is a form of choreography, made up of karate moves. The setting was quite intimidating, with lots of black belts instructors, many judges and lots of ‘kiai’ (shouts). Killian went into his hyper focus, anxious and very serious mode. He didn’t crack a smile from beginning to end – not even when he heard that he had won the gold medal (very exciting moment!!!).

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Now we – and by ‘we’, I mean ‘I’ – are hoping that the discipline and the self control that are taught at karate will have a direct impact on his life-outside-of-karate!

It’s 4.30am and I’m ready to celebrate. I’m se7en.

31 Oct

I'm 2 and really cheeky!

Seven years ago, after 38weeks of growing process and a mere labour of 3 hours (don’t hate!), he was born. He screamed loud, already, and was an overall of 2,7kgs. One of the first things that our pediatrician said after examining him was that we should have an hearing test done to check if the unusual shape of his ears was not connected to a loss of hearing. We might consider plastic surgery for his ears when he’s older, he added.

I know, if you’ve met Killian, you might ask yourself what am I talking about? You probably didn’t notice much of his ears – it’s because there is nothing wrong with them. Seven years later, I don’t consider plastic surgery but I often wonder if he can hear me!

I'm about 4 and like to be different

My little boy is turning 7 this year and this is altogether overwhelming and absolutely frightening.

As I’m writing this post, I’m trying to think back on the year and capture key moments, key new abilities, key new growth. Things that will be meaningful to put down in a post. But growth is slow and unchanging to the naked eye. If I look back at October last year, what do I see that has changed? Quite honestly probably not so much.

He’s grown a few centimeters, he’s learnt to read, count and wear shoes from morning to lunch time.

He has passed the test of school: will my child cope? I was prepared to see him struggle, to see him not wanting to do the work but the Lord has been gracious; he hasn’t displayed any of this. But Killian does things differently. What takes Léa 10 minutes the traditional way, Killian prefers the unconventional approach: jump on the couch, balance on a head stand – why, you don’t do your homework like that? Also, why stick to  ‘boring books’ adapted to your reading level when you can go straight to the thick chapter books – only to leave them in the basket for 2 weeks realizing bitterly that you can’t read them yet – He still likes to pretend that he can though, oh proud one!

Killian is such a paradox to describe. He is loud, rough, overly energetic and overly physical. He’s aggressive and can be inappropriate. He struggles to control himself, hears but doesn’t listen and will defiantly fight. He has perfected ‘the look of death’. He’s impulsive and intensely emotional. He does not respond to normal punishment and often leaves me helpless and hopeless.

“I never!” is his most used words. He argues with me about what time it is and even when proven wrong, his pride will still stick to him like velcro. Apologising is not his strength. However, wound his heart and he is reduced to a pile of sorrowful tears. No pride, no shame, he will cry you a river. Not quick at apologizing but very quick to forgive.

He’s a bit like a tortoise: hard on the outside but soft and gooey on the inside. I loved that mental picture of him today. At school, boys don’t like girls, they don’t play with them and won’t touch anything pink. But today, for his birthday, Léa drew a picture for him and asked her teacher if she could go and give it to him. When she arrived in his class, his eyes went big and they **hugged** …

Big

Big smile!

He’s often too much to cope with. Killian is too much.

Too much clumsiness. He is Clumsy smurf.

Too much anger. “How can you say it’s half past seven when the long hand is on past 6 and the short one is on past 7, you’re talking ridiculous” from Killian to his mum!

Too much charm. Have you looked at his big chestnut eyes…

Too much speed. Thump! Tttttrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr Blop! is the first sound we hear in the morning: Killian jumping from the top bunk bed, speeding through the passage and landing furiously into our bed!

Too much muscle. Not enough fat!

Too much care and compassion. He is devastated that M Jackson will not be in heaven and wants to give ALL his money to the poor – all his 50 rands.

I'm now 7 and I can hold my balance!

Too much prohibited behavior. Searching every cupboard to find his birthday gifts, lying about it, saying he only just glanced, only to later confess that he had a proper long look at it.

Too much energy. Gym, karate, running, swimming. What about sitting?

Too much courage and too many fears. Dogs and dark are still making him scream but give him a 12 year old boy and he will stand up to him to defend the cause of the weak.

Too much anxiety. Not enough nails to bite.

Too many demands. Matt, you must come with me to my room. Mama, you must stir my milkshake coz you know I don’t like the yaki stuff. Lea, you must play with me…

But overall, too much love. Sharing his own birthday chocolate with everyone.

Of such has been life with Killian for the past seven years. Seven years that would not have been possible without the Lord’s faithfulness at carrying us through those times where it felt like there was no hope.

But there is always hope in the Lord. Hope for everyone – Hope for the weak, the weary, the poor and the rich, the outcast and the popular, and hope for the wonderfully made 7 year old ADHD boy in my house.

I love you THIS big my boy!!!! Keep surprising me!!

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