Manage Anxiety in Your ADHD Kids

This month’s blog is actually an interview that I had with the team at ImpactADHD. com. It focuses on building resilience and competency as a way to help ADHD kids manage their anxiety.  Check it out!  http://impactadhd.com/manage-emotions-and-impulses/kids-with-anxiety/

Fear of mistakes? Help your child with ADHD keep trying

“If I don’t try, I can’t fail!” and “If I can’t do it right, why bother at all?” are common refrains I hear from ADHD kids who come into my office. What is this unwillingness to try really about? Laziness, boredom, self-criticism? No, I don’t believe so. When children and teens with ADHD don’t want to make efforts or take risks, it’s usually because they have too limiting beliefs about themselves. Either they think they mostly fail and want to avoid more defeats or they think that it’s not acceptable for them to make mistakes. In both cases, the result is inaction.

Kids with ADHD usually have grown up with a series of negative comments about that are labeled “constructive feedback.” Actually these statements feel anything but constructive. One 10 year-old boy told me “There’s nothing good about feedback. It’s usually bad.” Even parental or teacher redirections are interpreted by kids and their concrete thinking as them being wrong, bad or improper. Avoidance and perfectionism can then emerge as coping mechanisms.

Children and especially teens with ADHD can be expert avoiders. Tired of feeling wrong or doing poorly in school more often than not, they just give up. Perfectionism in kids with ADHD usually comes from feeling like they are never good enough. It can stop them from starting anything, especially writing, before they even begin. Sometimes they will agonize for hours which will delay them even more. How can we keep your sons and daughters engaged and willing to attempt things?

  • Acknowledge past mistakes as something that happened but aren’t who they are. Since learning means messing up, regrouping and doing things anyway, investigate the details of what occurred with the original mistake.
  • Ask questions with no blame and a neutral tone of voice like you are a detective: “What happens when you sit down for a test in biology? I saw you study at home. . . What might have helped you before the test that you now know based on your experience?”
  • Break tasks down into smaller, more manageable parts. When something seems overwhelming, difficult or uninteresting, start small. Together, choose some fun activities that can be used as incentives. “Instead of creating all 5 paragraphs of your book report, let’s just work on the first one. Then we can play a game of cards and do the second.” Your assistance and even sometimes just your presence, can be the difference between doing nothing and starting something.
  • Be open about the mistakes you make. Talk about them and what you did to deal with your errors. By doing this, you not only model your own flaws and problem-solving skills but also the shared human experience of having foibles in the first place.
  • Practice self-forgiveness and accountability. Let your kids see how you do this and verbalize it for them as well. Watching you shows that they can do it too.

Addressing these challenges takes time. Be patient with yourself and your ADHD child or teen. If you notice that you are frustrated, take some space, regroup and try again later when you are calmer. Remember, any negativity from you about avoidance and perfectionism only make them stronger.

 

Reduce Holiday Overwhelm–Simplify!

Despite our best intentions, it seems like most families are frequently more stressed by the holiday season that they would like. Between our regular responsibilities of work, parenting and other life tasks, we now add shopping for gifts, planning family celebrations, attending holiday parties and cooking special foods. Perhaps you work all day, make dinner, put the kids to bed and then shop online or cook until midnight. Or maybe you rush out to shop during lunch, hurriedly eat a sandwich at your desk and then wrap gifts in the bathroom after the kids are asleep. Sound familiar?
Everyone is excited about the holidays and there is much to enjoy.
Yet, sometimes you may feel like things are rushed and out of control. Parents often feel so pressured during this season. ADHD kids, with their knack for picking up when things are frantic and responding to that energy, really benefit from slowing things down. When too much stimulation comes at them, they just don’t have the ability to process what’s happening effectively. They become easily overwhelmed and, depending on their personalities, act out their feelings in ways that, unfortunately, can be inappropriate. You, too, may be reacting to all of the things you have to do in ways that aren’t your best self. How can you approach this holiday season so that everyone is calmer?

Slowing down is the first, most important step. Many families just take on too much during this time of year. Perhaps you have some organizational or planning challenges yourself that add to feeling overwhelmed. Of course, exercise, yoga or meditation are generally helpful but you probably need more than that right now. Here are specific ways that you and your ADHD sons and daughters can manage the holidays with less stress and more calm:

  1. Take a minute to think about your to-do list. It may very well seem too long and impossible to accomplish in the time you have. Go through the list and mark the things that are most important to you. Since this can be hard to do, talk with your partner or a friend to assist you in prioritizing and eliminating. Removing, consolidating or getting help is the first step in creating balance.
  2. Ask your kids to reflect on their gift list. Maybe they can pick a few bigger gifts or activities instead of several smaller ones. This would make things a lot easier for you and possibly better for them. You can help your ADHD child or teen with this and model how to simplify.
  3. Ask your children to assist you in activities they like–cooking, shopping and wrapping. This will also reduce your burden and encourage their participation. Most ADHD kids like to do things. Why not have them work with you on holiday projects? Even if it takes management, you are connecting with them, teaching all kinds of skills and involving them in the process. It’s a win-win.
  4. Talk with your family about the holiday plans. While it may be challenging for ADHD kids to plan ahead, they certainly have opinions about what they like to do. When some of their preferences are part of the picture, you increase the likelihood for their cooperative participation.
  5. Set reasonable expectations for togetherness. Remember that ADHD kids especially need down time to regroup mentally and emotionally. Make sure there is time each day for this. It doesn’t matter if they are reading, watching tv, playing a computer game, drawing, playing with Lego or listening to music–they need time with reduced input that they choose. This time helps their
    system de-activate. You, too, would probably benefit from some time like this.

It sounds corny but less is actually more in these weeks. Take some time to do less and you and ADHD kids will reap the benefits!

 

Happy holidays to you and your family! 

Making ADHD Family Vacations Fun!

“Are we there yet?” “How much longer?” Family vacations often start with high hopes. Everyone imagines bubbly laughter, good food and happy connections. You are excited and so are your kids. Usually, things work out as you had hoped: people get along well and have a good time. Sometimes things don’t work out as much as you would have liked. Arguments, tantrums, logistical difficulties bring everyone down. What are the ingredients for a successful ADHD family vacation?

In the New York Times travel tips section on July 10, 2016, Kay Merrill, a family travel specialist, recently offered some ideas for making family getaways as good as you imagine them to be. Her article inspired me to create suggestions about traveling with ADHD kids.

  1. Include everyone in the planning: Family trips work better when everyone’s interests and needs are part of the equation. ADHD kids like information and respond well
    when presented with it. Even children as young as 5 years old have ideas about what they like to do. Put together a file (digital or hard copy) with maps, places to see and interesting activities that you have pre-selected as possibilities. Then, sit down as a family, look these over and see what intrigues folks. Rule things in that appeal to your children but also to you too. This way the trip can be fun for everyone.
  2. Include everyone in the preparation: Everyone can play a role in getting the family ready for a trip. If your child can read and follow a list, then they are old enough to participate. Make a short packing list of things that they could put together:  favorite toys, games, books or even clothing. Be specific. Instead of saying “Pick 3 toys,” try saying “Pick one doll, two of her outfits and 3 books.” Instead of writing, “pack your clothes,” ask them to lay out “2 swimsuits, 3 pairs of socks and 1 pajamas”–neutral items that don’t require checking in with you to select. When ADHD kids help out like this, they gain a sense of competence and autonomy from being responsible for themselves. Simultaneously, you gain some much needed assistance in the packing
    process.Holiday suitcase
  3. Create a break in the day: Packing too much into a vacation often has disastrous results. An itinerary of going, going, going all day is exhausting and overwhelming for everyone, especially ADHD kids. They often benefit from unstructured time to process their new experiences–whether that means reading, playing computer games or swimming in the hotel pool. You will likely benefit from a rest too. Talk with everyone in the family about what time of day would work best and use an alarm on your phone to make it happen.
  4. Be open to the unexpected: Spontaneity often leads to amusing surprises and hilarious memories. Be flexible and curious about opportunities. In those inevitable challenging moments, try to find a silver lining and some laughter. Remember, you are on VACATION. The goal is to have fun. 

I wish you well on your family trip–whether you stay close to home or venture further afield. ENJOY!!

How to Create Unstoppable Teens

CreatingUnstoppableTeens_A

FREE Online Interview Series!
Join me and 21 other experts for this FREE virtual conference, and learn the essential skills teens need, and what YOU can do as parents to set them up for a lifetime of happiness & success:

Creating Unstoppable Teens:
Help your teen develop the skills they need to thrive…in and out of the classroom! June 18 – 27

Visit the link below to register, and receive access to the entire interview series, absolutely free:  http://unstoppableteens.com/Sharon

I HOPE THAT YOU WILL JOIN US!

Get More Love in Your ADHD Family

Too often ADHD families are so busy dealing with the stress of daily living that cultivating loving connections can take a back seat more that everyone would like. Recently I read “The 5 love languages: The secret to love that lasts” by Gary Chapman. In this best-selling book, he starts with the idea (from Dr. Ross Campbell) that we carry around from childhood an internal ’emotional love tank” waiting to be filled with caring, affection and kindness. When this happens, children develop normally but when the tank is empty, kids misbehave (p.20). Mr. Chapman thinks adults have the same needs but fail to give love in ways their partners can actually receive it. In looking at couples and how they can improve their relationships, he identifies 5 ways of communicating love: words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service and physical Red heart paper cut out with clothes pintouch.

I think Mr. Chapman’s ideas apply just as well to ADHD families. When you are running to the lacrosse field to bring your daughter the cleats she forgot yet again, when you are arguing with your son to pick up the mountain of dirty clothes off his floor so you can find the missing library book or when you are sitting down for the nightly homework struggle, taking the time to consider how to express your love for your ADHD child is likely not at the forefront of your mind. You are just trying to manage the stressful situation in front of you. But, there are other moments when it can be. Quieter, calmer times like the moments when you read a story, when you share a snack, when you chat casually in the car.

The value of the Mr. Chapman’s model lies in figuring out how your ADHD son or daughter best receives love and tries to express it to you. This understanding will promote a natural give-and-take of closeness that will fuel both of your love tanks. First, start with yourself. Ask yourself what feels best to you. Is it when someone says something nice to you about you or something you have done (words of affirmation)? Is it spending meaningful time doing something together (quality time)? Is it getting a special something, a token of thanks (receiving gifts)? Is it when someone does something helpful or nice for you (acts of service)? Is it being hugged, caressed or holding hands (physical touch)? While these all may be important, try to decide on your top two choices.

Then consider your child. What do you notice feels good to him or her? What do you think helps the two of you feel close? Again, pick your top two choices. Next, ask them. This conversation itself is already enriching your relationship. See if you can make an agreement about what filling their love tank looks like (be as specific as possible but ruling out buying gifts daily). Have them pick the most important one or two. Remember, that what nourishes them might be different than what nourishes you. That’s okay. The goal here is to deepen the positive bonds between you. As their parent, your job is to initiate that.

Making a concerted effort to put some extra attention and energy into nurturing the love language that feeds your child the most will certainly strengthen your connection to each other. This bond produces the cooperation, affection, honesty and fun we all wantAsian child doing shoulder massage to her mother in our families. ADHD kids, who often suffer from feelings of low self-worth and wrestle with many daily frustrations, particularly benefit from being seen and heard. You will reap many rewards–affection, cooperation, humor–by doing more of what feeds them. I am confident that they will start to reciprocate as well and you, too, will get some fuel for your own love tank.

Creating incentives that work

Creating Incentives that Work:

How to do you get your child or teen to do things around the house? Do you
ask your daughter nicely to set the table at first but then resort to yelling when she won’t get off her phone? Do you calmly warn your son that it is time to turn off the television but then shut it off angrily when he ignores you? Is there more stress than cooperation in your family than your would ideally like?

Many parents struggle with the challenge of motivating their children and teens to do what they are supposed to do when they need to it—whether or not the kids have ADHD. In our world today, the technological gadgets and social media networking sites are far more seductive and rewarding than ever before. For kids with ADHD, such activities are more than distractions: they are completely absorbing. To set successful limits on these activities and help your son or daughter focus on what needs to be done now (like chores, homework, job, etc), you have to use an effective incentive program to reward desired behaviors.

Young Girl Washing DishesNow, you may ask: “What is the difference between a rewards and a bribe?” Good question!! A bribe is something appealing that you give to someone before she performs the desired task. For instance, we see bribes in crime shows on television all of the time: “Hey, here’s a hundred bucks if you take this package across the street.” Frequently, the package doesn’t arrive and the runner takes off with the cash. An incentive is something appealing that you give to someone after they have completed the desired action. On a crime show, this would look like: “Here’s a package that goes across the street. When you have delivered it successfully, come back and I’ll give you a hundred bucks.” The runner delivers the package, returns and gets paid his wage.

Now obviously, I am not suggesting that we should make our families into crime shows. These are just examples to clarify that incentives reward desired behaviors. Research on children and teens with ADHD has shown that reward incentives that are desirable for the kids and immediately given out support improved behavior on a number of executive functioning tasks. This means that when the incentives are attractive, they can help improve skills such as planning, organizing, persistence and self-control.

Here are some guidelines for setting up incentives that work for your ADHD kids and will work for you too!

  1. Take a few moments and think about what your child LOVES to do: the options can range from go out for ice cream, to playing Minecraft, to using Facebook or Instagram, to watching television, to sleepovers, to using your car. Make a list of all of these things BEFORE your start a conversation with him. Remember that these are privileges, not entitlements.
  2. In a calm moment, ask your daughter what are her favorite ways of spending time. Write these down and then go over your ideas with her.
  3. Together, pick one area of his life that could use improvement: getting started with homework, cleaning up after dinner, hanging up the wet towel from his shower instead of leaving it on his bedroom floor, getting to school on time, etc.mom and daughter with bin near washing machine
  4. Now, pick one item from the favorite activities list and link it directly to the activity you have chosen. For example, if the desired goal is getting ready for school on time and the favorite activity
  5. This is a process of negotiation but you must hold firm about the goal and figure out collaboratively what the appropriate incentive is to obtain it. If things get tense, take a mutual break but come back to it before the day is over.

You CAN create a win-win situation with this process. You obtain the behavior that you want without losing your cool and your child or teen gets something s/he wants too.

Change Writing Challenges into Writing Successes

Over the years, I have noticed that many, many ADHD kids seem to have trouble with writing. While someSad boy doing homework kids like it because it is a venue for expressing their many ideas quickly and creatively, others despise it because getting even a few words on the page is torturous. Sometimes the physical act of writing is hard and penmanship can be tough to decipher. Organizing thoughts in their heads and translating them into coherent essays requires that several key Executive Functioning skills run simultaneously like clockwork. These skills, naturally weaker in people with ADHD, synthesize writing into a linear, well-formed essay.

mother try to help her son to do difficult taskWriting can often be a source of tension in ADHD families for children who struggle with it. Just as asking neutral, probing questions about learning styles related to reading and math skills leads you to helping your child improve in those areas, discussing your child’s individual and idiosyncratic process of writing with them can reduce the mystery and frustration about it. In a calm moment, grab a pen and paper and try a conversation like this:

 

  1. Together, identify something that is easy or not that bad  about writing. Maybe it’s getting an idea, maybe it’s researching a topic, maybe it’s the typing. Find something and jot it down. Emphasize aloud that this is something your child or teen does well.
  2. Next, help your son or daughter make a list. This list will use a rating scale from 1 to 10: 10=THE VERY HARDEST PARTS of writing; 1=THE LEAST HARDEST PARTS of writing. Using this language is important. You have already found something (maybe a few things) that your daughter says is easy. Now you are trying to get a specific sense of what the most difficult aspects of writing are and how she thinks about them. Use the list of basic skills needed for writing (shown below) to help you. Add any of your own that you think would be important. Some ADHD kids prefer to talk out their ideas instead of writing them down; include this on your list too if it is true for your child.
  3. Brainstorm alternatives to areas that your child identifies as THE VERY HARDEST PARTS. These ideas can include getting writing support at school from teachers, going to a writing center at school, working with a friend or finding a writing tutor. They can also involve breaking writing assignments into smaller, achievable parts and making sure their teachers give them clear guidelines for writing that take into account where they need the most help.

List of basic Executive Functioning skills needed for writing:

Coming up with basic ideas (initiation)

Selecting ideas that are relevant and do-able (prioritizing)

Remembering information about the topic to focus ideas (working memory)

Making an outline or plan of your project (planning, prioritizing, organizing)

Putting together research with your own thoughts (organizing, sequencing)

Amount of time it takes to do writing (time management)

Being able to continue on the project until it is finished (goal persistence)

Father helping his daughter with her school homework

In general,  I don’t advise having you proofread or teach writing to your ADHD child or teen if there is already conflict about written work in your home. If your child is open to your assistance, then of course give it. Otherwise, let the teachers or tutors do this so you can stay with your role as supportive parent. That’s what your son or daughter really needs most to help them manage their writing frustration and build confidence. 

Good luck!

Does your child have an accurate ADHD diagnosis?

Recently, a study by the George Washington University Institute of Public Health reported that 12% of U.S. children, a whopping 5.7 millionDiagnose U.S. children ages 5-17, were diagnosed with ADHD in 2011, across all ethnic groups. This is a significant jump since the last time this population was studied in 2003. In fact, a 43% increase. The study also found that more girls have been diagnosed–up from 4.3% in 2003 to 7.3% in 2011–while the rates for boys remained steady. The study did not look into underlying causes for this increase but suggested it could be due to the tendency to over-diagnose and recommended more research.

How you can make sure that your child has an accurate ADHD diagnosis? Generally, there are three common routes leading to an ADHD diagnosis: via your pediatrician, via a psychotherapist or via the child’s school. Whichever route you choose, I want to put in a plug for psychological or educational evaluations. Testing can be a great way to understand how your child’s brain
works more in depth, how they are performing academically and what is going on emotionally. Only certified school psychologists and licensed psychologists (or neuropsychologists) are trained to and do these types of evaluations. You can go through your public school system for an evaluation. Or, you may decide 
to see someone in private practice. Both options, although different in terms of cost, time and depth of analysis, are beneficial. Sometimes health insurance companies will pay for testing but not always. Personally, I think these evaluationsPsychometrics Word Cloud Concept, however obtained, are absolutely worth it. The comprehensive information that you gain from these reports can be tremendously helpful to everyone–parents, kids, teachers. They assist you in specifically understanding how ADHD affects the brain, behavior and emotion of your child and can validate that she or he really has it. 

Of course, pediatricians are absolutely helpful and well-informed in the diagnosis process and often they are the first people many parents talk to about ADHD. To make an ADHD diagnosis, they usually rely on speaking with you to get a sense of what is going on with your son or daughter (including gathering additional developmental or family history) and giving you some forms for you and the school to fill out. The Vanderbilt, Conors and BASC scales are common ones. Based on that information and any other relevant information that you have, your doctor will make a diagnosis. Many mental health practitioners do something similar and lots and lots of experts think these are sufficient, which they often are.

But, in light of the statistics at the top of this post, what could be happening differently? Most parents want to be sure that their kids have ADHD before giving them medication, putting them in special classes or getting them expensive tutors etc. I think testing provides you with the extra information that promotes a fuller understanding of what is going on for your child. Many pediatricians and mental health practitioners recommend it but some do not. I think reliable testing and valid interpretations of the results could make a big difference.

Today, my goal is to encourage you to obtain testing, if you haven’t already, and especially if you are uncertain that your child has been correctly diagnosed. I have seen numerous families in my practice be reassured and enlightened by the results, even though they can be complicated and sometimes overly focussed on weaknesses and problems. While the process of getting tested may be cumbersome, I believe the pros outweigh the cons. If you think your child may be incorrectly diagnosed, I encourage you to speak to your pediatrician or school psychologist and arrange for a formal evaluation.

Four children in the library

Avoid holiday stress: Practice gratitude with your ADHD child

Feet in wool socks near fireplace in winter timeIt’s that holiday time of the year again. In all of the hustle and bustle to plan get togethers, shop for presents, wrap them and prepare festive meals, we sometimes are  just too busy to stop and consider the blessings in our lives. I am not talking about the things people post on Facebook or Instagram. Rather, I am thinking about being grateful for our families and the people in them–for the ways that make them unique and lovable to you.

Being able to appreciate ADHD kids for who they are–talents, warts and all is especially important to helping them develop the healthy self-esteem they need to grow into happy, productive adults. Ideally, noticing what your child is doing well happens every day or close to it. During the holidays, when many families spend extra time together, you have additional opportunities to connect positively with your kids and show them how grateful you are to have them in your life. Too often, ADHD kids hear more about the ways in which they miss the mark than the ways that they make a hit. Paying attention to what you love about them offers a balance for those ‘misses’ and the holidays are the perfect time to even the score a bit. Family All Together At Christmas Dinner

At this time of year, when the days are shorter, when we are living in the midst of giving and receiving, I encourage you to bring some extra light to your ADHD families by thinking about these questions:

  1. What do you really appreciate about your ADHD son or daughter? When was the last time you told them? Can you make an effort to say something during the next week at a time when they are showing you what you love?
  2. What unique gifts does your ADHD son or daughter have? How do you let them know what is special about them?
  3. What interests your child? How can you join them in something that is fun for them over the holidays even if it isn’t your favorite thing?

Acknowledging the positive, noticing individual talents and doing activities Happy family in wintertogether all show your ADHD child or teen that you care about who they are and you are glad that they are in your lives. They see how much they matter to you while you are showing them what giving love really looks like. You also nurture their self-confidence by spending quality time together. Most importantly, you reflect the essence of the holiday season by giving and receiving joy from the strength of your connectedness with your child and family. Ultimately, isn’t this what celebrating the holidays is all about?!
HAPPY HOLIDAYS with multicoloured bokeh lightsI wish you and your families peace, love and health in the New Year.

Frustrated and fed up? Use the the 5 C’s of ADHD Parenting!

Parents often ask me for the keys to raise their ADHD kids into effective, happy adults. Sometimes it’s hard for them to see that the struggles of today will eventually transform into the successes of tomorrow. Between the daily reminders about organization, homework completion, doing chores and treating others respectfully, it can be easy to lose your temper and your faith that your efforts will pay off. Will your ADHD sons and daughters will learn the life lessons you are trying to teach them? How can you maintain your cool, your hope and your positivity in light of the inevitable bumps you will encounter?

In over 25 years of working with youth and families, I have seen that there are ways of being a capable ADHD parent and raising capable ADHD kids that really work. They are what I call the 5 C’s of ADHD parenting: self-Control, Compassion, Collaboration, Consistency and Celebration. By using these tools, you can reduce your stress, create peace in your family and increase cooperation and love all around.

  1. Self-Control: learning to manage your own feelings first so you can act effectively and teach your ADHD child to do the same.
  2. Compassion: Meet your child where they are, not where you expect them to be.
  3. Collaboration: Work together with your child and co-parent (if one exists) to find solutions to daily challenges instead of imposing your rules on them.
  4. Consistency: Do what you say you will do–over and over and over again.
  5. Celebration: Acknowledge what’s working and doing more of it, day after day after day.

The trick to using the 5 C’s is making them part of your parenting routines. Take time to cool off when you are aggravated with your son; show concern and support for your daughter when her struggles annoy you; talk about any problems and come up with alternatives as a team; Father and teen son fist-bumpingbe steady and predictable, even when you feel like giving up; stay positive and notice what is going well, no matter how small.

Start today and you will see a difference before you know it!