Screen Time & COVID-19: How to Support Teens with ADHD

Connecting with others is essential, and that is especially true for teenagers with ADHD during this unprecedented COVID-19 quarantine. Most teenagers with ADHD, however, spend too much time on electronics, so it is necessary—now more than ever—for parents to engage them in collaborative discussions that lay out expectations.

You can use this time—when most of the rules about screen-time limits and appropriate hours for waking and sleeping have gone out the window—to help your teenager practice self-regulation. Soon they will be out on their own, with no parental limits. Learning to coauthor their own limits will help them in the not-too-distant college environment.

Read more at CHADD

Managing Your Love/Hate Relationship With Your ADHD Child

By Caroline Maguire, M.Ed. PCC

Your child nags you in the lobby of a hockey game begging for candy- even when you say no – he continues to begin plead and cajole.  Your child tells a neighbor that he is done talking to him because he “needs to eat” and turns his back on your family friend and walks away.   You watch as your child refuses to get in line and listen to her swim coach, she moves like a firefly and does not seem to notice the coach’s clear annoyance. At Thanksgiving despite your repeated suggestions that he stop, your child takes out his phone ignoring everyone to play games and dive deep into his online world.

As a parent, you often caught in the middle, trying to balance your own emotions about her poor behavior while also trying to help her have less conflict in her life. You love your daughter, but your relationship is strained because of the frustration of it all, and it’s bringing you down.

Can I Get Out Of This Constant Battle?

Every parent of an ADHD child can understand the love/hate relationship struggle. You’ve talked, you’ve lectured, you’ve raised your voice, you’ve even sat down over her favorite ice cream and tried to reason with her, all to have the proverbial door slammed in your face.  And every parent has struggled with your child’s baffling behavior, her seeming unwillingness to change or to do what you have asked.  

It can be embarrassing to watch as your child is rude to others, ignores the rules or gets in trouble with coaches and teachers again and again. We all have stories describing how our child has been less than kind to others, but how do you stop it?

If your child’s behavior has you resenting or even disliking her, you can spend a lot of time trying to figure out whether she is behaving willfully, or whether she honestly can’t do any better and needs help. Trying to diagnose “can’t” versus “won’t” only leaves you stuck in a constant cycle or doubt.

 

The ADHD Child’s Intentions Are Good

It is important to realize some children with ADHD don’t have the perspective or ability to see how others interpret their actions and behaviors.  

Children with ADHD often don’t have the capacity to understand how they come across when socializing with others. Their intentions are good, but they don’t really know how to tune in and “walk in the other person’s shoes.” When feeling bored, overwhelmed, hungry, tired or face a self-regulating challenge, the child with ADHD can unintentionally forget social rules and without meaning to, come across as uncaring and bad mannered.

Children with ADHD may struggle with interpreting social cues, but with proper support, she CAN work to develop a better perspective, step into someone else’s shoes and manage her own behavior to meet expectations.  But this is not an overnight journey and often your child means well but cannot change without help and support.

It’s What Lies Beneath That Needs To Be Addressed

So now you know that your child’s behavior may not be 100 percent in his control. Our tendency as parents is to jump right in and fix it. If the bike is broken, not a problem, that can be fixed. A shoelace needs to be tied, easy! But in the case of a  child with , watch out—do not assume that the problem you see is what needs fixing.

The behavior itself is like an iceberg. There are the parts of the behavior we see and then the brain-based skills and executive functions below the surface of the water, that you cannot see and that are driving these baffling behaviors and making your child seem not to care about meeting your expectations.

Executive functions are the management system of the brain. The underlying brain-based processes that control attention, self-management, self-regulation, self- awareness, controlling emotions and organization and planning.

https://www.understood.org/en/learning-attention-issues/child-learning-disabilities/executive-functioning-issues/understanding-executive-functioning-issues?gclid=CjwKCAjw1_PqBRBIEiwA71rmtV2Li_TGVeBijw4lNtQ7DMM7bpCLkK9-R1lOjnHfC_ToXyd0uXLhhRoC7goQAvD_BwE

 

Behavior for a child with ADHD is like this iceberg.  It’s the unseen portion that drives the child’s behavior. To help your child you will have to go to those deeper dimensions—the heart of your child’s experience —to be able to develop the skills that foster change and growth. 

 

The Social Behavior Iceberg: You child’s observable behaviors—the ones you find baffling or frustrating—are like the visible tip of the iceberg. The reasons for that behavior lie below the surface, in the way that your child is hardwired for certain strengths in brain-based skills, while some others are unevenly or less developed.

The key to move forward is to come to understand that if your child could do better, he would do better. Assuming your child is not trying to annoy you or embarrass you but that he is struggling and does not have the skills to meet your expectations.

Now should you just sit back and excuse the behavior? Certainly not! As a parent you want to recognize your child’s strengths and you want to recognize the skills she needs to develop. Just like learning to swim, throw a ball,  make a doctor’s appointment or manage a homework assignment- all children need coaching and guidance.

In this case- your child may not read ordinary social cues and respond appropriately. This is an area that will be an ongoing challenge but also an opportunity to learn the practical problem-solving skills needed to adapt, engage, learn, and thrive as a social being.

 

It’s Okay For My Friends To Have Thoughts Different From My Own

As you stand in line behind your daughter,  you hear her speaking in a sassy tone to her friends – clearly wanting her way and getting it by being bossy and mean, “I don’t want to do it that way, besides it’s a stupid idea.” Hearing this, you wince in embarrassment thinking, “why is she always so rude to her friends?”  This isn’t the first time you’ve seen your daughter express some “less than desirable” character traits. When you ask her about the encounter, she seems to have no idea that she has been rude.  She tells you, “It was a stupid idea, mine was better”, clearly missing the point.

One of the reasons your child might seem to be rude or inconsiderate is because of those weak executive functions. One major skill that we all need to get along with others is to step into their shoes, think about how our behavior impacts our friends and to adapt our behavior to make sure we are considering the feelings of others.

This skill of stepping into someone else’s shoes is called theory of mind.  Having theory of mind means understanding that other people’s thoughts and feelings may be different from your own. How many times have you heard Grandma say, “think before you speak”? Great phrase, right?

The problem is that the child with who does not have the ability to read the minds of others cannot hear or notice that their tone, misguided humor, or abrupt subject changes may come across as rude and outright mean.

The child with ADHD  can misread behavior and therefore does not understand how their physical and verbal actions affect other people. Teaching children theory of mind means helping the child to consider others’ point of view, perspectives, desires, motives, and intentions.  To do this effectively, parents  will learn to use open questions and to develop this key skill.

 

Learning to Step Into Someone Else’s Shoes

So how do you begin this journey? Your goal is to help your child recognize that you and others have feelings about his actions and that those feelings affect how you react to him.  Coaching is more than just a way of communicating. Coaching is a combination of using open questions such as “what do you think made Lucy get angry?” along with reflecting or summarizing what you hear.

 

Step 1 

Getting Your ADHD Child To Open Up and End the Love Hate Relationship With Your Child

Learn how to ask good questions Open-ended questions use the words who, what, when, where, and how. They ask, rather than tell.   And open questions encourage your child to talk and problem solve. 

If you tell your child “ you are always rude, and you did not think about your friend’s feelings.” He is apt to just shut down and he does not really contemplate the situation from all angle. 

Open questions allow your child to hold the mirror up to his behavior and to hear his own assessment. They also make it easier to have the conversation since you are not interrogating him- you are curious – detached asking him what the situation is.

The process looks like this:

Joseph, who thinks all facts are worth arguing about, even with adults and often times goes so far as to correct other adults.  He tends to say things like “actually that is not true.” Correcting adults and peers alike.

 

First: Ask Joseph, “How do you think I feel when you correct me?” Have him look at your face and interpret what you are feeling can also be beneficial.

 

Second: No matter what the answer is, even if it’s a shrug and an, “I don’t know,” continue to ask him, “I am curious what made you look up the answer on your phone?”

 

Third: Give Joseph space allow him to think about it.

Joseph tells you that he was “sure you were wrong and knew he was right.”

 

Fourth: Keep cool.  Ask Joseph “ what do you think I felt when you doubted me and looked up the answer?”  or  “ what is the price of being right?”   

 

This begins to help the child think about what the unspoken social rules were and what they are expected to do in the future.  The questions help the child with ADHD pause and reflect on other people’s state of mind.   In the minivan or on the go, continue to ask him questions when his conversations present as forgetting other people’s feelings.

 

Questions can center on:

  • What do other people feel?

  • What is the reaction to their behavior?

  • What did the other people’s facial expression tell them about their feelings?

  • What was the behavior that would make people feel positive about them?

  • What was the appropriate behavior in the situation?

 

The open-ended question coaching technique walks the child with ADHD  through interpreting other people’s point of view to examine how their actions and behaviors affect others.  Self-regulation and other coping skills may need to be practiced to help children put their best foot forward, but the key is to help the child consider how they come across to those in their everyday interactions.

Step 2  

Learning to Collaborate and Manage Conflict Helps You Create Cooperation With Your ADHD Child

When challenges arise teach your child how to reflect On an ongoing basis and on the spot when the child is rude, presents inconsiderate behavior, or is dismissive, begin to ask him open-ended questions that allow him to reflect on his actions and how he might make other people feel.

 

Additional questions to stimulate conversation include:

  • How do you think other people feel when you don’t show interest?

  • What were the circumstances and how did you adjust?

  • What were the typical behaviors in that environment?

  • What did you notice about the other person?

  • What could you do when you are bored?

  • What happens if your tone is dismissive?

  • What do you think your peers think when you are bored and abruptly stop talking?

 

Step 3

Choose a specific situation that’s been difficult for your child and explain that thinking about her past behavior can help to figure out what to do right now. It can also help to predict your child’s likely future behaviors. Offer an example from your own experience. Walk through the questions to have a dialogue about your child’s view of the situation:

 

  • What do I know about my past behavior or usual behavior?

  • What are my interests?

  • How have I reacted to other similar situations in the past?

  • What social signals am I sending?

  • What choices do I have?

  • How do my choices come across as likable, appealing behaviors?

  • What reaction will my behavior get in the future?

  • How can I consider this person’s feelings—stand in his shoes, see his perspective—when making choices about how I speak or behave toward him?

 

How to Trade the Language of “Tell-Tell-Tell” for “Listen and Learn”

How many times have you said, “How many times have I told you…?” To make the shift from the “tell-tell-tell” mindset to the more effective coaching practice of “listen and learn,” start by trading phrases.

  • Instead of try harder, you can say: What’s getting in your way? What would you like to do differently? What are you expected to do as a friend?”

  • Instead of “Be more friendly” you can say: “What do you think being friendly and likable looks like?” “What are you doing that is friendly?”

  • Instead of “Stop being difficult” you can say: “What’s going on for you right now?”

  • Instead of saying “Your attitude about this is so negative” you can say: “What is the story you are telling yourself?” Or “I hear you being kind of negative what is going on for you?”

  • Instead of “Get control of yourself” you can say: “You’re the boss of your behavior—how can you take charge of (your body, your words) right now?

  • Instead of “Stop being so mean to your friends.” you can say: “What could you do to help meet your friends in the middle when deciding where you want to go?” “What would it be like to ask what they want to do?”


Think of Your Child as a Glass Half Full

It’s easy to lose sight of your child’s strengths when you’re preoccupied and angered with their weaknesses. When you learn how to shift that focus and identify your child’s strengths, interests, and brain-based processing style, it’s a game changer.

Children who tend to dominate conversations can learn to be able to interpret and consider the feelings of others. It’s a journey, and consistency is the key. Parents should find comfort in knowing that all children benefit from patient and nurturing parents and the open-ended questions technique is well suited to parents who wish to help their children become more kind and aware of how their behavior affects others.

 

My new book, Why Will No One Play With Me? will teach parents how to coach their child through any social problem. Be sure to take my new checklist to determine if your child needs social skills help at carolinemaguireauthor.com.

 

 

Managing My Reactions as a Parent

Does parenting a child with ADHD stress you out? It does for me, at times. While I know it’s hard to manage your anger when things feel like they’re spinning out of control, the following tips will help you as a parent manage your anger and move toward a better outcome for both you and your child.

Does this Scene Feel Familiar?

Your daughter is late for karate, but she has to run back into the house because she didn’t put her karate belt in her gym bag. While she was saying “bye” to the dog one more time before running out of the house, the dog squeezes through the door and is loose. Now you have to put the dog back in the house; you’re late, you’re tired and stressed, and your emotions are running amuck.

Stop the Cycle of Emotional Reactivity

As the parent of a child with ADHD, you’ve probably had times when you were pushed over the edge. You know the frustration that builds in your body as you pulse with anger, your emotions percolate, and then … you erupt.

This kind of an emotional reaction is hard to avoid … and it has a ripple effect. Your response dictates what happens next between you and your child. So how can you change the cycle?

  • Notice your own body signals. Try to understand what’s happening in your own body – how your anger shows up. Everyone has a point when they can get too angry and lose a bit of control, and the trick is to start noticing the signs that happen in your body before you cross the that line. This means taking your own emotional temperature. Once you notice the initial irritation, focus on identifying strategies to help keep you in control, strategies you can pull up in the moment, like breathing deeply, listening to music, or pausing to consider whether the incident is big or little deal in the grand scheme of things. Use self-talk to move toward a calmer state. If you take a parent “time out” before you reach your top level of frustration, you will be able to deliver your message in a way that will improve your effectiveness as a parent.

  • Don’t give punishments in anger. Dial in the anger and take a pause, and avoid throwing out nuclear punishments. Model positive emotional regulation, instead. Take some time when you are upset, and wait to respond until you are calm. Typically punishments rendered when you are in the “thick of it” can be too much, and often you’ll end up having to backtrack. With unjust consequences, you actually dilute the effectiveness of the punishment. Children have a fierce sense of what’s fair, and when their parents have been unjust, the problem snowballs … and children are less likely to take responsibility for their own mistakes.

  • Pick your battles. This does not mean that you do not have to ignore all behaviors and let your children rule the roost. But you should think in terms of prioritizing behaviors. Understand which behaviors are being worked on, and which ones can wait to be addressed. Also consider which behaviors are important to the happiness and well being of the family. For example, if it’s 7:30 p.m. and you know that asking your child to pick up a towel from the floor could result in a huge battle, consider letting it go this time. Let your child go to bed in a good mood, instead of spending 20 minutes arguing about a towel. If picking up the towel is a behavior you’re working on, then you can address it the next day when it is less likely to cause an upset. But ask yourself, “what’s most important right now?” and try to limit your corrections to what is essential.

Parenting a child with ADHD can be extremely rewarding; it can also be quite frustrating, and the rewards can be difficult to remember when the dog runs out the door and you are late to karate!

There are times when you think that you are the only family struggling to get it right. Many parents sacrifice their hobbies and free time to manage homework, plan meals and taxi their children to all of their many activities. Be sure to remember the importance of “me time” — time off to take care of yourself. It can help you manage your reactions and cope with the frustrating moments better. Go for a 10-minute walk, let your family know you are taking a “time out” and spend 20 minutes reading your favorite book. Even if it’s just little moments to breathe, they will improve your mood and how you manage the next wave of activity.

This article was originally published at ImpactADHD. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Raising the Consistently Inconsistent Kid

One day last summer, my daughter arrived for her swim meet in great spirits, as if she could tackle anything. She danced around with her friends, red-cheeked with excitement. When her group was called, she got up on the block, adjusted her goggles, and swam faster than any other six-year-old. She was in high gear, revved with self-confidence. And most importantly, she seemed to be very present. She was her best self.

But at her next swim meet the very next day, she was not interested in racing. It was raining outside, and she decided she wanted to watch Cake Boss and eat Chinese food. After I pried her away from the TV and loaded her into the car, I sensed doom. All the way to the meet, she kept telling me that the race would be canceled. When we arrived, she did not frolic with her friends as she had the day before. Her mood was ill-tempered and stormy. When I saw her take the block, I knew she was going to hold back. She finished the race, but she didn’t make very good time. Immediately afterward, she picked a fight with one of her friends, and I had to separate them.

If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, this scene probably sounds very familiar to you. For ten years, I have worked with hundreds of frustrated parents who have relayed similar experiences. Their children are erratic and inconsistent, and they don’t know how to improve or control their children’s behavior. Like these other parents, you probably understand how hard it is to raise an unpredictable child. One day your child is brilliant and confident, and the next day, your child is a raging ball of dark emotion. You never know which version of your child will be showing up to the party. Your child’s dramatic mood swings and undesirable behavior may also be causing to you to feel a wide range of emotions: anger, shame, confusion, guilt, or hopelessness. I’m here to tell you that these feelings are very common.

Many of my clients have been in the exact same position as you are right now. One thing I often tell parents of children with ADHD is this: from now on, expect the unexpected. Accept the fact that your child is going to be a consistently inconsistent child for a very long time. Go through a grieving process, if you have to, in order to move forward. Most likely, your child’s challenging behavior will arrive at the wrong moments—when you are least equipped to handle the drama. Try to come up with some coping strategies to calm yourself down when these challenging days inevitably arise.

After you have gained this knowledge and acceptance, you can begin the change process. Most inconsistent kids want to be good, but they don’t know how to be good. Ross Greene, a leading expert in child psychology, puts it this way: “Children exhibit challenging behavior when the demands being placed upon them outstrip the skills they have to respond adaptively to those demands.” In other words, when your child reacts explosively, your child lacks the skills needed to handle the situation. Inconsistent kids need help with building coping skills, seeing things from another’s perspective, and developing problem-solving strategies. These much-needed skills are called lagging skills.

One way you can identify your child’s lagging skills is by asking yourself the following question: “What is getting in the way of my child’s success?” Start by trying to figure out what the overall reasons are for your child’s inconsistency. Some kids freak out about timed events or tests. Some can’t handle peer pressure. Some don’t understand social boundaries. Some don’t know what to do when they make a mistake, and they fall apart and blow the rest of the race, recital, test, etc. Ross Greene’s lagging skills assessment can help you identify your child’s lagging skills.

There is Always a Label

A client brings me a video of a school play where a hyperactive kid rocks back and forth, fidgets and dances around. It is hysterical, but I understand painful as a parent to watch. Unlike other kids her age, the little girl knows her lines and her part. During the big scenes, the child is front and center. She lights up the stage and she has charisma. She twists her hair and rocks on her heels, but she also talks at age six with a British accent and steals the show.

Her mother even after watching this with me is so frustrated. She feels her daughter “won’t act normal”. I have heard this story many times. The kid who does not stand in line. The parents who wonder why a child who cannot self-regulate and touches other kids in the hallway or whose behavior is “too much”. My client with the video tape fears labels.

I hear this a lot. She does not want the ADHD label because of the stigma. I do get that, but I will admit to you – there is always a label.

These kids are often characterized as difficult or disruptive. Other parents offer unhelpful and unwarranted advice, many times unfairly judging the behavior as if the child is trying to be this way, but there is always a label. When a kid is placed in the hallway or has to go to the principal every day, there is a label. When they are reprimanded time and time again until they see no point in trying – they have a label, and it’s not good.

I wish there were no labels. In the land of unicorns and fairies, there would not be. The fact is that other parents, educators, and communities label children who struggle with behavior. Often the label is to “type” the kid as a class clown, odd, out of control, or worse.

People resist diagnoses and labels, but sometimes we need to reframe our thoughts. If the label says that the kid is not willfully being difficult, that he is doing his best but that he cannot boss his body. Then isn’t that a better way to think of someone than to think of them as difficult or challenging?

Everyone is Working on Something

“My son will not sit in circle time,” one mother told me.

“The principal is constantly calling about my son’s behavior on the bus. What can I do? I am not even there,” another mother bemoaned.

“The teacher keeps calling me to complain about my daughter’s slow pace. When my daughter doesn’t get her class work done, the teacher keeps her in during recess to finish her work, and she has a meltdown every time,” another parent admitted.

Do any of these statements sound familiar to you? If so, you are not alone. Millions of parents across the U.S. receive phone calls from schools, teachers, coaches, and other parents regularly about their children’s irregular behavior. These types of well-intentioned calls can be very draining. Parents with challenging kids often hear too much about things their children do wrong. Sometimes, behavior is aggrandized and made to look like a larger problem than it needs to be. Society is very critical of kids today. Adults often expect kids to be adults, or they expect kids to change their behavior overnight.

If you are the parent of one of these unique kids, the negativity is probably starting to get to you. These criticisms may be making you feel stressed, frustrated, or even ashamed by your child’s behavior.  Even though, deep down, you understand that change and growth takes time, you wish you could do something that would make your child “fit in” now so you didn’t have to watch your child struggle with the pain of being different.

Remember, other parents throughout the country are going through the same ordeal. Every child develops at his or her own pace. At a BBQ this summer, a mother of a challenging child said that what kept her sane was to remember that “everyone is working on something.” She went on to explain that even the well-behaved straight-A student in her son’s class was working on not fighting with her brother on road trips. Her son’s teacher was working on reducing her credit card debt. Her son’s coach was working on eating healthier and losing weight. By reframing the criticism in this way, you can put your child’s issues into perspective. Yes, your child may be lacking some skills, either socially or academically, but you can work on developing those skills—just like everyone else. Everyone is working on something.

When the phone calls start rolling in, and you are feeling overwhelmed, you can also use these tips to help you keep calm.

  • After you receive a phone call, do not talk to your kid about it the minute the kid walks in the door. The conversation isn’t going to go well if you talk to them when you are still angry and frustrated. Instead, wait a few hours and broach the conversation when you are in a positive frame of mind.

  • Next, allow your child room to explain what happened. You could say, “I heard you had a rough day. What happened?” Your child’s perspective may help you understand the situation more fully.

  • Get your child excited about and involved in the problem-solving process. Change comes easier when your child sees the value in changing.

  • Look for small wins and improvements. Real change takes years. Remember to acknowledge and celebrate your child’s small successes.

  • Find a network of support. Find other parents who are going through similar travails and talk to them about your frustrations.

  • Communications with teachers, administrators, coaches, and other parents should be more about problem-solving and less about blaming. If you feel like the phone calls are all about blaming, try to turn the tables and involve the caller in the problem-solving process.

  • When talking to teachers or administrators over the phone, ask for insight into why this problem happened. Because you can’t be at school to regulate your child’s behavior, teachers need to step in and encourage change at school as well. To get teachers to partner with you, you can ask them open-ended questions, such as, “What skills do you think my child needs to develop?” and “What are you going to do at school to help my child develop those skills?” and “What can I do at home to help my child develop those skills?”

  • If you receive daily phone calls from one adult, you could also ask for a summary of your child’s behavior at the end of the week so you don’t have to face the constant negativity.

  • If the same problem keeps popping up, try to arrange a meeting with your child’s school team (the principal, the teacher, the school counselor, etc.) and come up with a long-term skill-building plan together, keeping in mind that your kid is not going to change by next week.

Above all, when you receive a disheartening phone call, remind yourself of the big-picture perspective. You are not the only parent receiving these phone calls. You are not the only parent working with your child on big issues like behavioral problems, social skills deficits, or low academic performance. Everyone is working on something.

The White Noise Experience: An Answer to Getting Work Done

In college, I could not work in the library. And I could not work in my dorm room. Baffled by the dilemma, I bounced from space to space, trying to find a place I could focus. Instead, I ended up wasting time and getting frustrated. In high school, I had achieved all academic milestones in front of the television. I had worked night after night with the TV on, which was hardly an ideal strategy. I now know that too much TV can actually hinder information retention. Still, something about having that background noise helped me focus, and I couldn’t find a good substitute for that study aide in college.

Flash forward a decade. At a conference I attended, I decided to try to multi-task and get some blog posts done during one of the lectures. I sat at the back of the room and wrote blog post after blog post. I was surprised by how easily the words flowed out of me. Alone in my quiet office, I struggled to write even one paragraph. But in the back of a lecture hall, I was on fire!

When I returned home from the conference, I took a moment to analyze why this environment increased my productivity. And I remembered that one of the greatest tools that helps ADHD folks increase their focus is to have a body double. A body double is someone who sits with ADHD students as they tackle tasks that may be difficult to complete on their own. For example, when I run on the treadmill, I run much faster when someone is running next to me because I don’t want the other gym member to think I’m lazy. That gym member acts as my body double. A body double serves as a motivator and reminder to help keep ADHD people on task and accountable. While no one was watching me write those blog posts in the back of the lecture hall, the mere bodily presence of others and their noise had the same effect on me. Perhaps, being in the back of the lecture hall created a noise body double.

I had seen this phenomenon work for some of my other ADHD clients as well. White noise helped them focus when nothing else worked. When I was prepping to talk about this subject on Attention Talk Radio, my co-host, Jeff Copper, said, “Oh yeah. That works for me too. I call it the white noise experience.” Now, I use Copper’s term to describe this tool I have used with my kids consistently over the last decade.

The white noise experience occurs when a person’s focus and productivity is increased by background noise. For some people, the hum of music, activity, hustle and bustle, or other background noise helps sustain their focus. Most of the students I work with are searching for the right moment, the right place, and the right mood to get work done. Driven by distractibility, they often struggle to work in study spaces in which they “should” be able to work, but they end up not being able to accomplish even basic tasks. When I suggest a non-traditional study environment with plenty of white noise to these students, they miraculously blossom.

For example, I once had a client whom we’ll call Alice. Alice was an English major, and she had difficulties getting her work done on time. By the time she came to see me, she had a month’s worth of work backlogged. She had tried all the traditional study tricks. One day, I suggested she sit in the back of a lecture hall in another department—such as calculus or chemistry—a subject that wouldn’t peak her interest. She ended up attending an engineering TA session. During one forty-five-minute session, she was able to finish two assignments, which was a huge productivity leap for her. After getting permission from the engineering department, Alice started attending TA sessions regularly, and her backlog of work quickly disappeared.

If you or your child has had similar struggles, consider using the white noise experience to help increase your focus. Try different study environments that can provide non-distracting background noise, such as coffee shops, school gyms during game time, or parks on nice days. If you find yourself too distracted in those places, try putting on some instrumental music, using a white noise machine, or plugging in a noisy fan in your bedroom or office. I know that this advice may seem counterintuitive. Most people mistakenly assume that a student or professional with ADHD should work in a quiet space without any potential distractions so they can focus wholly and completely. However, time and time again, clinical practice has shown that the ADHD brain can actually function more efficiently with white noise present. Because everyone is wired differently, this tool may not work for every person with ADHD, but I strongly urge you to test it out!

Birthday Parties, the Cafeteria, and Other Social Obstacles

You learned that your middle-schooler is skipping lunch to avoid the cafeteria. Should you address it head-on, giving her advice that she probably won’t listen to, or demand that she go to lunch? It is hard to know. The cafeteria is where everyone comes together to socialize and hang out. For a child with ADHD, lunch can be very challenging.

Social struggles are not restricted to school. Children have the same deficits at home, at stores, on the ball field, and in every life setting. Many kids want to improve their friendship skills, but don’t know how. That’s where you come in.

Working with your child to meet social challenges leads to behaviors that your child can use everywhere. The following strategies will help your child make friends – and move through the socially difficult years of adolescence more easily.

How do I help my son stop avoiding the school cafeteria?

Children avoid the cafeteria because they are bullied, but also because they don’t know how to interact with peers, join a conversation, or even where to sit.

> Debrief your child. Without telling your child he is doing anything wrong, ask open-ended questions to find out what he thinks is happening. Ask about whom he sits with, when he feels uncomfortable, or if there are friends he would like to sit with.

> Practice skills. Nothing is tougher for kids than joining a conversation that is in progress. Suggest a little detective work. Ask your child to go to lunch, listen to what everyone talks about, and report back. You and he can role-play conversations that build on the topics the group talks about most often.

> Get outside help. Avoidance is not a plan, so if your child can’t navigate social situations, have her work with a professional social skills group.

How can I help my child when she isn’t invited to class parties?

If a child isn’t invited to birthday parties, concerts, or other peer activities, it is time to team up and find out what might be causing the problem.

> Discuss things, without blame, to help your child diagnose why she isn’t fitting in. Walk her through her day at school and ask her to recount one or two of the social interactions she had – what she said to a classmate, how that child reacted – and discuss what she thinks she could have done differently.

> Talk about different types of friendship. Many children with social challenges try to make friends with kids who do not share their interests, or they misinterpret social cues and think any friendly person wants to be friends. Help your child understand different kinds of “friendships”: There are people you say hello to, acquaintances, people you interact with, and real friends. Brainstorm with her about ways to befriend children with whom she shares interests and who treat her well.

> Find ways to meet others with similar interests – social clubs, youth groups, and other interest-based activities. These places give your child a chance to socialize by talking about things the kids like in common.

How can I make group projects less intimidating for my daughter?

Group projects are tough for her because she has to contribute, advocate for her ideas, participate in the discussion, and present a final project. The following case study shows how to make group projects less challenging for your child.

Ali is 12 years old, and she hates group projects. She and her mom write the teacher asking for advice about what she can do better in the next group project. The teacher says Ali should speak up more and identify a role she would like to take on in the project.

Ali’s mom understands the unspoken social dynamics in play – children meet in large groups, and assumptions are made about Ali and what she might be able to do on the project. Ali is left out of the decision-making because she doesn’t speak up. Ali and her mom discuss the personalities within the group, their likes and dislikes, and so on. Ali puts together a social database about her partners in the group project, so she can talk more comfortably with her peers.

Ali does better socially when she has a plan. She and her mom look at the project rubric and discuss which components seem interesting and manageable to Ali, and decide what Ali would like to take on. They rehearse possible scenarios. Role-playing, and learning how to ask open-ended questions, helps Ali build the confidence to speak up during the group’s discussions.

With all the prep at home, Ali slowly overcomes her social struggles and plays an important part in the group. And she has a plan she can use for the next group project.

My son has lots of virtual friends, but how do I encourage him to develop friends he can talk with one-on-one?

Connecting to other people, adapting to their needs, and engaging in the give-and-take of friendship are important skills all kids need to learn.

> Let him have virtual friends. Facebook friends and Twitter buddies may be your son’s only friends right now, and you don’t want him to lose them.

> Talk to him about why he needs other friends. Ask your child what he likes about the virtual world. Find another activity that he may like – a course in robotics or computer coding – in which he will interact with people.

> Work on social strategies. Whether it’s engaging in chitchat, turning an acquaintance into a friend, or arranging to see people outside of school, it is essential that your son knows how to approach people. With consistent practice, he will get what you and every child wants: good friends.

This article was originally published at ADDITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.

Your Child Isn’t Defiant — His Skills Are Lagging

You wouldn’t expect a child to hit a baseball before learning how to swing the bat. Many children who struggle with behavioral challenges don’t have the skills they need to do what’s expected of them, and unfortunately, ADHD behaviors can lead to harsh — and mistaken — assumptions. There is the child who barges into a room, disrupting the conversation, or the one who laughs at a joke after everyone else has moved on in the conversation. These children may appear rude or awkward, but not all we see is what it seems.

How ADHD’s Executive Dysfunctions Impact Behavior

Certainly there are times when a child seems stubborn or selfish, but neuroscience suggests that it is a lack of skills, specifically the brain-based “executive function” skills, that hold him back — not willfulness or laziness. Executive function is the brain’s hub of skills — memory, organization, planning, self-regulation, and the ability to modify our behavior in response to others.

When these skills lag, advice about pushing through does not apply. Blaming and shaming only make matters worse. This is especially significant for children with ADHD, due to their complex differences in the brain’s pathways and processes for attention and behavior.

The conversation about ADHD and executive function skills most often focuses on academic skills. What’s missing, however, is recognition of how executive function affects social behavior. Social challenges are often traced back to underlying ADHD. Read on to learn how — and then, the next time your child’s behavior frustrates or baffles you, remind yourself: “If he could, he would.”

Kids Want to Please Their Parents

Generally speaking, children do not want to fail at being a kid or to disappoint their parents. Every child wants to succeed; every child wants to grow up to become a capable human being. The idea of “would if he could” is a lens through which you look at your child and reset your understanding of him. Once your child begins to develop executive function skills — whether by getting homework done or managing big emotions — his success will motivate him to want more.

[Self-Test: Does Your Child Have an Executive Function Deficit?]

Set aside discouraging assumptions about your child’s behavior and replace them with If he could, he would. A child needs continued support to navigate the academic learning curve and the social learning curve at the same time.

Here are some steps to turn this approach into action:

  1. Believe that your child has the capacity to learn, and that he has good intentions — because it’s true!

  2. Go for responses that encourage, illuminate, and engage.Recognize the qualities of character and effort that your child shows: when he shows empathy for someone, takes pride in something he does, or rebounds from a failure. Use comments that begin with “I noticed…” or “You showed…” to highlight the positive.

  3. Identify sources of stress and distraction for your child, and find specific ways to minimize them. Stress in one area leads to stress in other areas.

  4. Talk with your child about what he thinks is going on. Show curiosity and respect him as the expert on his own feelings and perspective. By doing so, you give him a chance to practice connecting internal feelings to outward behavior. That’s the executive function skill he needs to change behaviors that aren’t working for him.

It’s easy for a child to lose heart in the struggle to learn and grow. Show confidence in the qualities she brings to her challenges. The truth is that everyone is working on something.

[8 Confidence Builders for Kids with ADHD]

ADHD Success Story: Matt Overcomes School Hurdles

Matt, who is six, was barely through mid-autumn in his first-grade class when he started to not want to go to school. He had meltdowns when it was time to get in the car, or on the way. He hated school and his mother could understand why. He spent most of the day either making trouble in class or being reprimanded for it.

We talked with Matt about what was so hard about the school day, and we identified some of the problems: Matt had reading problems that needed to be addressed with one-on-one tutoring. Stress of any kind overwhelmed him, whether related to reading, communicating about a difficulty, social anxiety, or upsetting interactions with his parents and teachers. Matt needed help with his communication and self-regulation skills.

When Matt’s challenges were acknowledged, his parents got the help he needed to address them. Matt began to develop skills, and his behavior improved. Matt wanted to do well in school, and once he had what had been missing, he could.

[Free Handout: A Parent’s Guide to Ending Confrontations and Defiance]

This article was originally published in ATTITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.

How Tweens Can Trigger Mom’s ADHD Symptoms — and How to Keep Your Cool

How many times have you been out to a restaurant for a family dinner when your tween wouldn’t put down the phone? Texting, playing games, checking to see who’s posted on Instagram — it never ends. Or maybe you’re at home and have cleaned the kitchen. You asked your child a couple of times to take out the trash and you get that look that says, “I don’t remember you asking me to do that.” You almost lose it.

Moms with ADHD have to manage their own symptoms as they try to manage their child’s behavior. Preteens and teenagers are adept at inciting our emotions and drawing us into arguments. Managing multiple schedules and disciplining children are especially taxing for moms.

Being consistent is hard, but it’s harder for moms who overreact to everyday discipline issues. Use these tips to set yourself up for success:

Be aware of your triggers. If you often lose control, look at the triggers that set you off. A trigger is an emotional reaction to something, maybe a particular situation or circumstance, that knocks you off balance. Are you hungry, tired, or did you have a long day? Are you taking on too many activities? Do you feel pressure about something? Is there a particular topic you discuss with your child that seems to provoke a reaction?

[Free Guide: When You Have ADHD, Too]

Try the following strategies to keep you focused on parenting, not on your emotions:

  • Download positive mindset apps, such as SAM: Self-Help for Anxiety Management.

  • Breathe in and out eight times, or set the timer on your phone and breathe until you feel calmer.

  • Say something to yourself that helps you regulate your anger, such as “This too shall pass.”

  • Take care of underlying needs, like hunger or stress.

Set up household policies that can help you and your spouse manage when your ADHD challenges make discipline hard. Policies should be posted for all family members to see. They might include: “There will be no more than one sleepover each week” or “Phones are parked in the kitchen and do not come out during dinner.” Each family will find a system that works best for them, but keep it simple and easy to manage:

  • Review Love and Logic (loveandlogic.com), a program to improve discipline and parenting.

  • Identify situations that affect your ability to manage. Prioritize the top three and post them in a spot where you can see them several times a day. Place a second copy in your wallet, so you can remind yourself regularly.

[“Overwhelmed Mom Syndrome” Is Very Real]

Focus on consistency in one area only. Don’t expect to be consistent with everything at once. Start with the way you approach a specific behavior you want to improve in your child — maybe your daughter is sassy or your son refuses to go to bed on time. Pick one behavior and work on it until it improves.

Collaborate with your child. This is not being permissive, but acknowledging that you have a problem with your child and are willing to work on a solution together. When you get your child’s perspective, you can often eliminate the stalemates that cause you to lose your temper.

Get support. Find your resources — a trusted girlfriend, a therapist, or a coach. Look for someone who listens and understands.

Prepare a response. Children with ADHD are champion negotiators — wearing you down, nagging, asking for privileges, treats, or answers. Have a prepared response ready for this kind of nagging. Discuss nagging with your child and listen to his response. Have this conversation when things are calmer, not in the heat of the moment. By doing this, you let the child know that you are not going to give him what he wants when he is in this state. At any time, you can let him know that you are going to pause and take a break. To minimize the back-and-forth banter:

  • Give your tween a cue, such as, “When I say thanks for the information, we need to take a break from the discussion.”

  • Suggest a replacement activity for your tween to get her off the topic she’s focused on.

[Stay Calm and Mom (or Dad) On]

Determine the seriousness of the worry. Sometimes we over-react to our child’s behavior based on societal pressures. Check in with yourself. Is this such a big deal? Why am I so worried? Could I be overreacting because of my symptoms?

  • Write down your worry. Ask yourself, “What is the size of my worry, and why this is such a big deal?”

  • Visit Social Thinking (socialthinking.com). It has a tool called the “Size of My Problem Poster.” It features a problem “thermometer” to help you see the “size” of your problem. It is a good tool for you and your tween.

This article was originally published at ADDITUDE. Reprinted with permission from the author.

 

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