K's school experience is improving. Peter's hunch was right: K cares deeply about doing well in school. We're helping her and not shaming her, and she seems to be making progress.
Here's what we've done. I've included my previous entry's notes in italics.
Explain to K that doing well in school is a way she can take care of herself. My mom suggests: "You're so good at taking care of other people. It's time to take care of you, too."
I say something like this to K about once a week. I say something similar about keeping her hair and teeth brushed; I'm hoping I sound like a friendly coach. So far, she seems to see me that way; she's not fighting any of these chores.
Explain that we know she's smart and we'll do what we can to help her make her "smarts" work for her in school. "It's our job, and your teacher's job, to help you be the best K-- you can be."
I say this before big events like a test. I'll even ask, "Are you ready to be the best K--you can be?" If she says no, she herself decides whether to put in more work. I have resolved always to let her make that call, even if I have to to sit on my hands. M is helping, by the way, by hanging around just to admire her as she studies. Once or twice he's whispered to me, "She's so smart."
In addition to these steps, I've taken to being in the room with K more while she works--not saying anything, just being there. I have her work in the kitchen while I cook or do pen-and-paper editing. My presence helps her focus, as such help often does for people with executive function issues.
Her viola practice has helped, too. She's been playing since September. Her practice assignments are so complicated that the teacher emails them to the parents instead of handing them out in class. I had previously let her fend for herself when practicing, taking her at her word that she didn't need help. But now I've started going through the assignments with her and sitting with her while she practices. (I started by flattering her: "Let me hear your beautiful playing up close." It worked.) If you know me, you know my musical gift and you think this is torture for me. It isn't. As I sit on K's bed--which she always straightens out for me--I listen to her bad intonation and admire her perfect body mechanics. Her bowing is beautiful, her hand positions perfect. I praise her from the bottom of my heart. K, therefore, plays for me without any shame. This week, she's started repeating passages when she makes mistakes. Do you see what I'm getting at? I'm in the room with her, accepting her mistakes, and she's deciding on her own that she cares about correcting them. This is what needs to happen.
The same cycle of acceptance-caring-effort is beginning to show in K's school work. Last night, for example, she complained that she couldn't do her math homework but was upset when I told her to stop working. She'd been at it 40 minutes--but in her room, without my presence to help her focus. After dinner, she confessed that she'd been "too fidgety" to work, "so [she] really didn't get started right away." She wanted to stay up late to finish.
I took her in my arms and praised her honesty and her desire to work hard. I laid down the law about bedtime, which we have made earlier. (It has indeed helped.) Then I asked, "What would help you? How about working standing up?"
"My teachers always tell me to sit down." (She hasn't got her stand-up desk yet.)
Cursing classroom education to myself, I reminded her, "This is home, sweetie. You can stand up, lie on the floor, chew gum, work up and down the stairs...."
"Okay, Mom." Her little shoulders relaxed.
I suggested she try an exercise ball or our balance-board toy as sitting/standing surfaces. Her face lit up and she ran for the balance board. She used it to finish the math, then went ahead and did her spelling too.
At bedtime she hugged me and said, "Thanks for figuring out the problem, Mom."
I got to say, "I didn't figure it out. You did."
Now, I'm not saying K's academic future is assured, 'cause it sure isn't. But I'm grateful she can show she cares about it. I hope she'll continue to see Peter and me as allies in her struggle. I hope we can help her see that, like for all of us, the trick to doing well is finding what helps her.