Wednesday, June 15, 2011

A Big Cookie test

I received a phone call from Big Guy's school yesterday: he was sleeping again. This has been a problem for months. He sleeps soundly for half the day, so much so that his grades have gone from straight A's to a mixture of C's and low B's and even a D. I have been after his residence to get him to the doctor (thyroid? anemia? apnea?) for a long time.They seem to be asleep at the wheel.

Last week Big Guy mentioned that the days he sleeps are the days he doesn't eat breakfast. Aha! you say -- as did we at first -- before we remembered that correlation doesn't tell us anything about causality. Is he tired from lack of food (three hours worth of can't-rouse-him-tired?) or simply too tired to eat? Dunno.

So while we're waiting for medical tests we will do a Big Cookie Test. I think every parent with a child who has issues (and most kids do, on one level or another) should know about Big Cookie Tests. They're a simple way to find out whether a child is capable of doing something or not. In Big Guy's case, what I want to know is this: can he stay awake at school if he really, really, really tries?

We've had situations where Big Guy's anxiety and fear are such a roadblock that he truly can't do what seem to be simple things. And before assigning consequences to a child because it appears he isn't trying or has a bad attitude, it's kind of important to know if it's possible for the child to do what you're asking. Sometimes it's not. You can dole out punishment to a child for being incredibly slow to finish homework, but if he's dyslexic those consequences won't make him read any faster.

So we will set up a big reward -- an unbelievably attractive "cookie" -- and put it out there to be obtained if Big Guy can go through an entire week of school without sleeping in class. The cookie has to be so incredibly desirable that if he is in any way capable of mustering the energy to earn it, he will. If he works hard at it but still cannot succeed, I will know that the sleeping problem is not a matter of attitude or willpower. If he tries his best and is only partly successful, I can conclude that something is going on that prevents him from succeeding consistently. And if he suddenly has no problem staying awake, our conundrum is solved.


  1. I'm with Magpie; curious! Also, hoping you get some answers soon.

  2. Any tips on comforting your child if he works really hard but does not achieve the goal and therefore earn the cookie? Do you let him know that you'll work to find the help that he needs and then he can try for the cookie again? Or do you simply offer comfort?

  3. @Anonymous, I think it's a judgment call. There is always a case to be made -- if you believe that the child put in 100% -- for saying that he did everything he could, and that while he didn't earn the big cookie he deserves a smaller one, and to offer that.

    But I think the most important thing is to say, "You know, I learned something from this. I learned that you really aren't able to do X, and that it must be very, very frustrating to want to do it and not be able to. I bet sometimes you feel really bad about yourself because of that. And I'm sorry if sometimes I've assumed that you just weren't trying hard enough. This is really tough for you, isn't it?"

  4. The cookie will be taking a day or two off from school and going to the beach with Eldest. He loves being in the ocean, and especially loves being there with his sister, and we didn't get to go at all last year.

  5. Julia, you are so incredibly wise! I lived with a "minimally brain injured" son who baffled even "professionals" who were supposed to be helping him! At the end of one summer camp for dyslexic and large-motor challenged kids, he showed me how he coped with the activities in the gym that he couldn't do: he simply quietly disappeared off the end of the line waiting to get on the trampoline, and walked over to the next line, where he would stand in line until it got too close to actually having to do the activity. Then he would quietly move to the next line. He had done this all summer long, and nobody caught him until he calmly showed me "how to do gym class!" He really was oblivious to having done anything "wrong." This was simply the way he had coped with an untenable situation all summer! How could I scold him? As soon as I saw the setup in the gym I knew he would have a huge problem with the trampoline, rope climbing, swinging hand-over-hand on monkey bars... and I was right. He solved his *Huge* problem by himself! (By the way, he's fine now, a wonderful father of two, a contributing member of society, and a guy I'm very proud of!)