Robert Brooks, Ph.D., is a lively faculty member at Harvard University; it's hard to resist calling him "Bob" even though I've shaken his hand only once at a ChADD meeting in San Diego.(2) He's a great speaker and many of his case presentations evoke hypotheses about depression in children trapped by battles with teachers and parents. I suspect the manic, the stubborn, the power-determined child is the one most likely to engage adult enemies rather than surrendering. Brooks likely never heard of Brian Goodwin but certainly applies the precept of helping such kids find places to be themselves. The next two examples are stolen entirely from Bob's talks; thus, the plug below for his books and tapes.
"Rosie" is described as about 12 and at 70 percent of her ideal body weight because of thyroid complications. She is apathetic, withdrawn, and silent. He asked her, "What do you do better than anyone else?" "Nothin,'" followed after a moment. A few minutes pass and she offered, "No one ever asked me that before. I take shots better than anybody else." Brooks led her to write a chapter about taking shots; it was bound and displayed in the school library. Any child getting a shot had to see Rosie for advice. She gave several talks to other classes about taking shots. She smiles now.
Brooks has many other examples of children who feel hammered and who counter-attack. One youngster makes rude noises and gestures in the hall but has a talent and a soft spot (Psych Adaptation?) for animals. He became the "pet consultant" for several classes, taking care of the guinea pigs, lizards, and fish that arrive, almost as if by spaceship, in many classrooms. He quit being obnoxious. He was "better" and competed in a different manner than in the past.(3)
Casey is about 10 and had many bags to carry including despondency, ADHD, a missing father, and a temperamental mom. He used to lie often and steal at school only to give the item away in gestures of friendship. Rage followed if the other child accepted the gift but then played with someone other than Casey. We fudged things a bit by a short trial with a little Prozac to kick the despondency and emotional neediness. We stopped it when arrogance blossomed. Ritalin helped his moods somewhat as well as his handwriting, arguing, and calling out in class.
"Power" manipulations, however, seem to have been the significant boosts to him; he rarely lies now and never steals. While he still challenges mom at home, he also respects her 3-counts and takes his 5 minute time outs. His turnaround depended not only on mom's shifting her tactics to giving fewer lectures, more praise, and more decision-making, but on similar shifts from his teacher. He's asked to read to other children and to help particular ones with assignments. His behavior program has been extended to the rest of his daycare group; he coaches the staff on its proper implementation. He's also become a star at baseball. He's now in places where he can be himself.
Visits with dad were often difficult. Dad "forgot," or had other plans. Casey was alert to dad's drug and alcohol use and disapproved but felt helpless. Mom had similar helplessness because she thought visits had to occur regardless of dad's condition. Mom took a chance and refused to let Casey go. Dad made some threats and a lot of phone calls but no more. If dad was drunk, threatening, or making grand promises during calls, mom hung up the phone. Eventually, Casey learned to do the same thing. Dad is still erratic about frequency of visits but sober, punctual, and attentive when visits occur. Casey has climbed the hierarchy in that his wishes matter, and the difficult, imposing dad is responding to Casey's and Mom's rules for a good visit.
Mom made her own "power" adjustments to defeat her tearfulness and temper outbursts. Again, a little Prozac got things going; the social adjustments have been astounding and likely more rapid than may have been possible without medicine's help. Mom learned to give effective TO's to her defiant child (a broken kid is surely one of nature's most demoralizing events). She also developed and progressively applied rules to her ex-husband for how he would and would not speak to her (an answering machine is a wonderful power tool!) and to her son. She also dropped her fiancÚ who was available too much on his own terms and not particularly communicative or motivated to be self-supporting. She's been promoted at work, carries a beeper, and now gives schedules and assignments to a flock of burly males. She's got some power. The subtle but largest gain for the future is that her son has seen how she did it and made a lot of notes for himself.
1) See the related posting on "Approaches for Unusually Determined Children."
2) Brooks has an array of tapes and paperbacks for coaching children into more positive self images. You can order his materials through the ADD Warehouse, 1-800-ADD-WARE. Get their catalogue in order to make your selections.
3) One rough problem for many children can be having a gifted older or younger peer. Keen social calipers measure relative standing in the family and at school. Privileges as a function of age, access to cash or the car, bedtimes, trips to the mall, and number of friends are psychophysically micrometered as each child tries to keep even or perhaps move ahead a bit. (See Matt Ridley's 1993 book, The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, NY: Penguin, for many examples. The Red Queen is, of course, from Alice in Wonderland. RQ runs in place but at top speed, explaining that it's necessary so that she doesn't fall further behind.) If it is impossible to compete in positive ways with the gifted sibling either in the same or in different domains, some highly determined children may compete to be the most obnoxious or the "worst" ever.