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Orchestras, Spaceships & Volcano Mouths

Updated: Oct 11, 2019

10 Tips for Raising ADHD Children to Shine

Between half to a third of people with ADHD will pass it on to at least one of their children. What this means is that ADHD moms are likely to have at least some ADHD kids. Like some sick joke of the universe, the kids who need the most micromanagement, consistency and structure; are being raised by a parent (or two) who struggles with the very same skills that need to be taught to their children. If you’re a mom with (suspected) ADHD – read on… you might even find something helpful for yourself in here!

From Superparenting For ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child, By Edward M. Hallowell

What is going on with this fabulous little boy?

While Matthew is curious, ambitious, kind-hearted and smart; he struggles with certain brain habits such as being flexible, thinking before speaking, focusing and controlling his behavior.

These thinking habits are called executive functions and they are the circuits in the brain that help us execute tasks and get things done, AKA - achieve our goals. Executive functions act like a conductor in symphony orchestra. The conductor organizes everyone, integrates the individual pieces and controls pace and intensity of the music. Each individual musician may be very talented, but if the music is not synthesized, it’s not going to sound very good.

Likewise, although Matthew has some wonderful strengths and talents, his weaknesses (like the inability to manage his attention, control his emotions) can get in the way of his succeeding in school, socially and at home. As is with most kids with ADHD, Matthew’s conductor is not that efficient.

Like learning to read, some kids seem to absorb these skills easily. For others it takes longer, and they need a more systematic approach. The Matthew’s of the world need more support and more blatant showing of “how to” do these thinking skills.

Here are 10 essential skills your child needs help with, along with some tips on how you can help support these weaknesses. With your help, your child can focus on developing his/her strengths, so that s/he too can become whatever s/he dreams of.

1. Remembering – Working Memory

The average person can hold 4 things in mind at a time. So when you tell your child to go upstairs, brush her teeth, put on her shoes, take the book off her desk, put it in her bag and bring the bag downstairs – that is just way too many instructions for her to remember.

Our kids are going to forget like crazy, we are going to be reminding them way more and for longer than other kids. Step one is simply accepting this. Our kids have wonderful strengths, but this is not one of them.

Now for the tip. When reminding your child of something, you want to have eye contact, the surroundings should be free of distractions (as in not while they’re staring at a screen) and it’s helpful to have them repeat back to you what you have said.

2. Starting – Task Initiation

Task Initiation is basically the opposite of procrastination. Having your child perform chores is a great way to have them practice task initiation. I love using the metaphor of a space shuttle to explain to children that starting is always the hardest part – When we launch a space shuttle, 70% of the fuel is used just for launching. After that its just cruising.

A common reason why kids procrastinate if the task is too big or difficult or overwhelming. For this kind of task, I like to ask kids: How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! The idea is that it’s easier to start something when you know you will get through it quickly rather than it being just the beginning of a long drawn out process. So break up the task into steps so small that your child won’t need to say “I don’t feel like it”. Starting homework is hard? Just put one foot on the ground. What’s next? Take 3 steps towards your bag? Good. Take another 4 steps. Great. Unzip your bag. Take out your math book… Usually after the 4th or 5th step, they’ve gotten over the challenge of starting.

3. Focusing – Sustained Attention

Getting your child to focus can be one of the most challenging of your parenting challenges. After all, it’s not called Attention Deficit Disorder for nothing! That term, however is actually a misnomer. It’s not a deficit of attention so much as an inability to regulate attention, to pay attention to what you should be focusing on. We’ve all seen our kids pay plenty of attention when something is stimulating to them.

Here’s one way you can help your child stay focused through doing homework or a chore: It’s called being a Body Double. Have you ever had your child say to you, “I can’t do this, I need help!” only to have you sit down next to them and they’re off doing it on their own? What you are doing here is acting as a body double. Sometimes all that is needed is the presence of someone else in the room. It’s anchoring and it reminds them that they need to focus. So simply arrange that you are in the room while they need to focus.

4. Focusing Long Term – Goal Persistence

Stick-to-it-ness” or perseverance is focusing in the long term – saving up money, learning a new skill, like in a sport or a musical instrument. For ADHD minds, there are only 2 times – now or not now. Our kids tend to give up easily along the way because they struggle to get a feel for the future. We can help them stay focused by putting up visual reminders of the goal (trophy or picture of what they’re saving for) and by tracking progress – use stickers, give out puzzle pieces for progress, use a graph or barometer for older kids.

5. Time Management

This is the ability to accurately estimate and allocate your time, something I’m sure you’ve noticed is lacking with your child.

You can help them by externalizing time with clocks and watches. Analog watches give us a much better feel for the passing of time than do digital watches, where the numbers changing on a clock face do not have much meaning. Even better is to use the TimeTimer app which very visually shows you the passing of any period of time.

6. Controlling Emotions

Our kids struggle to keep their emotions in check – anger, frustration, anxiety, disappointment. Big emotions can get in the way of completing schoolwork, family relationships and social relationships. These are the kids who have trouble sharing, losing graciously and conceding when they don’t get their own way. With strong emotions, it’s important to remember that good parenting is not about solving our kids’ problems for them. It’s just about accompanying them while they weather the storm. Most of the time, they don;t even want us to solve the problem, they simply want to fee heard.

Here are a few ways to help your child weather an emotional storm:

  1. Describe the situation – “Your teacher embarrassed you when she shouted at you in front of everyone.

  2. ”Name it to Tame it – sometimes these kids don’t even know what they are feeling. Help them identify the feeling and sometimes even that can tame the intensity.

  3. Use Metaphor – Ask your child:”If the feeling was an animal or a type of weather, what would it be?”

  4. Quantify –On a scale of 1-10, how angry are you right now? … Let’s go for a walk and then I’ll ask you again.”

And forget about reasoning with them until they calm down. Their emotional side of the brain takes over and blots out the rational side of the brain. Give them 20 minutes to calm down before you try to reason with them.

7. Flexibility

These kids appear stubborn, but is this willful obstinance or a lagging skill? They have a really hard time revising plans in the face of obstacles, setbacks or new information. They’re not the easy-going ones. They don’t know what it’s like to go with the flow when it comes to

• new situations – like new teacher

• Unexpected events – like a change in plans

• Transitions – even moving from one activity to another.

A little bit of empathy goes a long way here – just stating the obvious can be helpful: “Having a new teaching is hard, it takes getting used to. “It really sucks that your plans got canceled.” Simply acknowledging that you know this is difficult for them, can help them get through it.

8. Thinking Before Acting – Response Inhibition

Think back over the past week. I’m sure there was a time when your child “leapt before they looked”.

Response Inhibition is the ability to resist the urge to say ordo something until you’ve had the time to think how it will impact things. A weakness in this area is what’s commonly known as impulsivity.

Impulsivity can show up as–

• Interrupting/ blurting out – they have a fear of forgetting, so you can suggest they write down what they want to say.

• Having no filter – saying whatever they think. Check out this great children’s book: My Mouth is a Volcano

• Hitting or lashing out

• Does your child lie? Could it be that they are not moral delinquents? What’s really happening when an ADHD child lies? Impulsivity is about living in the NOW – staying out of trouble. Remember, struggle with feeling the future and the consequences for lying. I have a deal with my son that if I think he is lying- I will give him 10 minutes to think about it and have the opportunity to revise the story. And he will not be punished for telling the truth.

9. Organization

This means keeping track of things, important possessions, papers or information. It is actually a 2-part skill.

Part 1 – Establishing an organizational system: We may know instinctively that the way you organize a desk, a room or a backpack is by grouping items together into categories and then assigning places for each category. Your child does not learn this by osmosis – he is going to need more hand holding in organizing his spaces as well as maintaining them.

This means you may have to say. “Take everything out your backpack. Now let’s groups things together. Now let’s find spaces for each group.”

Part 2 – Maintaining the organizational system: Try to turn organizing steps into a checklist and then set up routine times for maintenance.

  • Dirty clothes in washing basket

  • Toys in toy box

  • Shoes in their place

  • Desk surface clear

  • Bed made

10. Big-Picture Thinking

The final of my 10 commandments involves standing back to look at the big picture. To evaluate ourselves and learn how we work so we can make changes to be more successful. This is all essential for growth and development.

Our children have it hard living with their brain make-up in a world built for more conventional brains. They are going to mess up. They are going to forget, procrastinate, get distracted. They are going to run late, misplace their things, have outbursts and act impulsively.

After these things happen, encourage your child to not think of it as a failure, but rather as feedback. And to figure out what feedback you can get from it

Take them through the GBL process:

  • G – what DID go well – what progress are you making?

  • B –what went less well? What about it went less well?

  • L – what can you learn from this? What can you take with you into future situations?

Leading ADHD experts estimate that by age 12, children with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages – from parents, peers, or otherwise – than those without ADHD. To counter all this negativity, they need you on their side, to encourage them and be their champion.

While helping your child support his/her weaknesses, remember this important guiding principle – Relationships before Results – Your relationship with your child is more important that any outcome, be it getting to school on time, doing homework or cleaning their room. The overarching parenting goal is to come out with everybody’s dignity intact.

ADHD does have a flip side. Simply google “celebrities with ADHD” to see that this condition can be harnessed to be an advantage. I hope I have shown you a little about how you can support your Matthew’s weaknesses so that your child can develop his or her strengths and join the ranks of Cher, J.F.K. Bill Gates, Whoopi Goldberg and Winston Churchill and other successful ADHDers.

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