De-stress your holiday season: SIMPLIFY

Every year, at this time in December, my clients and my friends are usually very stressed. Some people have a long list of gifts to buy and wait until the last minute to do their shopping. Some people schedule back-to-back social plans and celebrate with gusto. Other folks dislike the holidays altogether and would prefer to hide in bed under the covers until January. In general, everyone seems to be in a state of perpetual motion, running from one thing to the next, trying to get things done and seeing family and friends. This pace is not only challenging to Stress and relaxmaintain but also especially hard for kids and adults with ADHD who get easily overwhelmed, even without the holiday fervor. How can you create experience that is fun, rewarding and calmer for you, your family and your ADHD child or teen?

Start with a mindset of “SIMPLIFY, not COMPLEX-IFY”. Usually the holiday overwhelm comes from two main sources: leaving things until the last minute and trying to do too much. Let’s face it—everything takes longer than we think it does. If you start planning your tasks with that mentality and give yourself more time to do things, the process will go more smoothly. Here are some suggestions for addressing this:

1. Make a master list and then break it down into shorter ones, with no more than 3-4 different places in one outing. Map out where you need to go and group places together than are near each other.

Businesswoman present2. Teach your ADHD kids to do this too by explaining what, why and how you are doing things when you go out together to run errands.

3. Schedule in a break for hot chocolate or tea to break up the trip.

4. Be sure to cross things off your shorter and master lists when they are completed. You can do this yourself or ask your kids to assist you. It’s easier to see your accomplishments this way.

Secondly, reduce the number of social engagements. The holiday season is usually jammed packed with things to do, people to see and places to go.   As parents, we have to take into consideration how much our ADHD children and teens can actually tolerate, process and enjoy. Sometimes you have to curb your own desire and capacity to do several things in a day in order to help regulate what your kids can really manage. Part of the holiday stress for ADHD kids and families comes from having too many of these activities in a row and not enough ‘down time’ to process them. When your ADHD daughter has a meltdown at 6 p.m. because she doesn’t like the macaroni and cheese, it probably has nothing to do with the food and everything to do with unloading steam from holding it together for so long throughout the day.

To cut down on the “squeeze it all in” mentality, you can:A busy calendar.

1. Sit down with your family and decide how many things in a day people really can handle during the holiday season.

2. Talk about what constitutes ”down time” and make sure it includes something that is settling rather than stimulating. Limit individual technology use and encourage quiet activities including playing games, reading and listening to music. Maybe watch a family movie. Write down these ideas and post them on the refrigerator so people can refer to them when they are most needed.

Good luck and Happy Holidays to All!Abstract Happy Holidays Background

The Myth of Multi-Tasking

Recently, I attended the Learning and the Brain Conference in Boston where I listened to many wise people talk about how our society is under siege from “information overload.” Daniel Goleman, author of  several books including “Focus” and “Emotional Intelligence” mentioned that we process 5 times as more information today than just 20 years ago.       Multi-tasking contributes directly to this sense of being overwhelmed and over-extended.Business woman multitasking

How many of us can relate to the following scenario? We are in the kitchen at 6 p.m. trying to prepare dinner while we are talking on the phone and looking at our texts when the Beep comes in. Meanwhile, our teenage son is watching television while doing his math homework and checking Facebook. We are all hijacked by our devices into thinking that we can do all of these tasks simultaneously. However, our brains are not fooled. While we seem to be over-activated and addicted to the constant stimulation, our stress hormones rise with every text or email alert, exhaust the connections between different parts of our brain and increase our susceptibility to illness, accidents and inattentiveness.

What can we do about this unhealthy trend that promotes disconnection from ourselves and from each other? Reduce your own multi-tasking and help your kids cut back too. Here are a few suggestions:Businessman overworked at office

1. Make a conscious effort to do one thing at a time. First, this means noticing when you are multi-tasking and pausing to stop engaging in one of your activities. Examples would be NO texting while driving (a cause of over 300,000 accidents last year) and NO texting or taking phone calls during family meals. Recently I saw someone talking on his cell phone when he was biking–YIKES! How about using the time when you are doing chores or helping your kids with homework to connect with each other and take a technology break? It’s not easy to do but the pay-offs will be increased sanity and calm for you, for them and for your household. (By the way, listening to music while doing something, interestingly enough, didn’t seem to be included in the multi-tasking/information overload processes.)

2. Teach your children to turn off or put away their cell phones when they are doing homework. Set up a tech-free study period followed by a time-limited break that could include checking for texts, Snapchats, Facebook messages, etc. I recommend starting with 45 minutes for middle and high school teens for working and 10 minutes for the break. Use a timer for the break to mark its beginning and ending. For elementary school children, 20-30 minutes for studying and 15 minutes for a break seems to work well. Also, help your kids navigate fewer open tabs on their browser too so that the study period is really productive.

3. Create some time for conversations with your children when you are not distracted by your phone. It doesn’t feel good to anyone to have someone turn their attention away from you to their buzzing phone (texts, calls, emails, etc.) while you are in the middle of saying something that you think is important. This may look like multi-tasking but it’s really more like dismissing: you turn away from the person next to you towards the digital universe.

Talk to your kids about the benefits of doing fewer things simultaneously, even if it feels weird to try it. When you model this change in behavior for them and stick by the guidelines yourself that you want them to follow, you decrease the information overload and build cognitive strengths like improved attention and memory. It takes fortitude and persistence, so start slowly but don’t give up!!


Avoiding the Homework Hassle

It’s 5:30 p.m. You have arrived home from work with a pizza for dinner to find a pile of dishes in the sink, the television blaring and your kids’ stuff strewn on the kitchen counter. To make matters worse, you received a phone call earlier in the day from your son’s fifth grade teacher letting you know that he hasn’t been doing or turning in his homework and will miss recess for the rest of the week to catch up. You are both tired of the homework battles. Yet you, as the adult, have to muster up the energy to talk about the dreaded topic of homework and, even worse, to supervise it. How can you manage this situation effectively and successfully?Daughter looking a phone and ignoring her mother

First, it is important for you to take a deep breath and ask yourself what matters most right now. That answer should involve connecting positively with your child. Your child or teen spends most of her day struggling to do the work she is assigned in class and to focus while she is in school. She is trying to keep it all together. When school is over, she needs a break from studying–whether it is time playing outside or doing sports, time in an after-school program with activities she likes, time doing she loves like playing music or time just being with friends. Her brain needs to do something different. Your job is to support this break in whatever way your can. The key to successfully beating back the homework monster is to make sure that she knows this break is time-limited AND that homework lies on the other side of it.

Secondly, it is critical that you create an incentive-based structure for doing homework with your child or teen. Ask him how long he thinks he can work without getting distracted. For kids with ADHD under 10, this period can vary from 10-20 minutes. For kids between 10-14, it’s usually 15-30 minutes and for teens between 14-18, it’s likely 30-50 minutes. Then, set up a plan that you BOTH agree on. This plan includes establishing work periods for these agreed upon amounts of time which are then broken up by TIMED breaks of no longer than 10 minutes. Breaks can include snacks, texting, Facebook, a phone call, walking around the house or going to the bathroom. The plan should also address the length of total studying time.Mother scold at her son

At the end of the desired study period, your child has earned a reward which you must agree on. For one family, that reward could be one show on television; for another, it could be a specific amount of computer time; for a third, it could be reading a story together on the sofa. Whatever works for your family and is interesting for your child or teen is a good choice. REMEMBER, kids with ADHD get bored with routines so you will likely have to update or change this reward regularly.

Initially, you may have to work alongside your child or teen to make sure that work is actually occurring during this period and to answer any academic questions that could arise. You can call this ‘family work time’ and use the opportunity to catch up on your own stuff (balancing the checkbook, answering emails, reading an article of interest). Often, it helps to go over the various homework assignments before starting and then make sure they are completed at the end. If your child is stuck and wants your assistance, then please give it. Otherwise, try, try and try some more to keep your comments about how he could do things different (re: better) to yourself. Reviewing the work itself is tricky: sometimes it makes your child feel bad about what’s been done instead of good about completing it because the focus becomes the errors in the work. I advise you to let the teacher correct the work for mistakes and for you to provide a supportive, consistent environment to do the homework.Mother with son doing homework

Lastly, celebrate when you have a successful homework period by pointing out what you noticed that went well. For instance, “I liked how you stopped doing your math at break time but then went right back to it” or “I see how hard you are working on that English paper and I am proud of you.” These comments go a long way towards building self-confidence and emphasizing the positive efforts your son or daughter is making!

Settling Back into School with Success

Once the excitement of returning to school wears off, it’s time to assess how well the transition to school has actually been going. By now, the patterns of waking up early, doing homework and managing activities has settled in–for better or for worse–and the carefree days of summer may seem long past. Your daughter may be happily embracing the new
experiences of school or she may be slugging through them. Woman looking for books from shelfYour son may be doing his homework diligently or spending more time texting than actually studying. Whatever the situation, taking some time to evaluate this first month is a worthwhile effort towards creating a year of effective and engaged learning. It can also help you lower any stress that may be starting to creep into your family life.

First, it is critical to reflect privately on how this month has unfolded: what has worked and what has not. I think it is always helpful to jot down some notes about your thoughts not only to remember them but also because writing often clarifies our thinking. Then, get input from your child’s teachers or guidance counselor via email or phone calls, also taking some notes. If you have not made contact with these people before, introduce yourself and the conversation as a chance to check in. If you have spoken with them already, getting an update is still useful. Make sure to inquire if any 766 (IEP) or 504 accommodations are being followed and how they are implemented. (If they aren’t, then arrange a meeting ASAP!)

Next, arrange a time to chat with you child to get his/her perspective. Discuss successes and challenges–academic, social, athletic. Look for specifics. This chat is not about criticism, blame or evaluation: it’s based on your curiosity about how things are going for them.Woman Watching Her Daughter Use A Computer

Review your mutual goals for this year and whether this month has been on track towards obtaining them. Share some of the positive information you have received from the school. Help your child understand the ways that she has already adjusted to the new year.

Talk about the family practices related to school. How are the mornings and evenings going? Do you need to post a schedule or a list of reminders? Is there an appropriate study space for your son? Is your daughter’s notebook organized in a way that makes sense for her?  Can you monitor technology and social media use (overuse)?

Together, pick one area of improvement based on your thoughts, teacher/guidance counselor feedback and your child’s own impressions. Make a simple, straightforward plan for addressing this issue, positively and concretely. Try it for one month and check in weekly about how it’s going. Establish a regular, weekly meeting of 5-10 minutes (maximum) so there is no chance of your child feeling nagged. Follow up with the school too as the month unfolds.

At the end of the month, decide together if there has been sufficient progress on this issue or if it would still benefit from more attention. If you both agree that things are moving along well, you can mutually pick another one or just continue what is already working. Remember to stay as positive as you can, noticing your child’s efforts as well as the outcomes!

Beating the ADHD Back to School Blues

As the beginning of school approaches or, perhaps, has already started, many kids with ADHD/ADD can feel a mix of excitement and dread. Rentrée des classesSome are excited to see their friends again but dread the start of the academic year. Others would just prefer to avoid the whole scene–social and academic. Often, they are sad to say goodbye to the freedoms of summer and the pleasure of homework-free days. Making this transition back to school can be challenging for even the most well adapted kids who don’t have the challenges of ADHD to contend with.

To beat the ADHD Back to School Blues, you have to help your child or teen navigate this shift to school by easing them into the changes ahead. Such support requires looking back and looking forward to identify and build upon successes and lessons from the previous year. Try these steps:

1) Talk about the return to school by reviewing with your child or teen a few  positives and negatives about going back–being as specific as possible.Group of students in a hallway

2) Then look at what successes your child or teen had last year that you would like to see repeated and she would like to see repeated. If you can’t come up with any at first, take some time to think of a few examples. No success is too small to mention.

3) Together, make a list of 3 goals for this year that are achievable and realistic. Keep them simple and concrete. For instance, if your son struggles with math and got a  ‘C’ last year, getting an ‘A’ in math may not be a realistic goal for this year but getting a ‘B’ might be. Prioritize these ideals and agree to focus only on Number One for a month. Set a date for a follow-up conversation to check on his progress before moving on to Numbers Two and Three.

4) Identify worries about the school year with your son or daughter. Your goal is to empower him or her towards feeling a sense of control over any concerns instead of being controlled by them. Strategize some manageable solutions and write them down on an electronic device or on a piece of paper (that you post so it doesn’t get lost) for future reference.

5) Give your child or teen time to adjust to the school routine. It takes ADHD kids longer to re-adjust their internal body clocks and their minds to a new schedule. Sur le chemin de l'école.

Good luck and welcome back to school!

Savor the Summer and Take Your ADHD Kids Outside

As we head into the last weeks of summer and for some, the early return to school, it’s worth taking some time to savor the great outdoors. Spending time in nature is beneficial and fun for all of us: we can kick off our shoes and wade into the ocean, hike to a beautiful vista or just have a picnic in our own backyards. It’s especially great for kids with ADHD. When any of us venture outside to a beach, park or any green spot, our entire demeanor shifts. We shed some of the stress of our daily lives, feel more relaxed and connect with the atmosphere around us. Children, teens and adults start to feel a welcome sense of spaciousness and freedom. Family Bonding Happiness Togetherness Park
For kids with ADHD, this freedom is often sorely needed.

Children and teens with ADHD need a chance to let go from the pressures of all things that they struggle to remember to do and from not feeling good enough at doing them. They spend so much time trying to focus, stay organized and correct their mistakes that a break from these pressures is a welcome relief. On a family excursion outdoors, they can just be in the moment. They can enjoy the diversity of outside activities and explore the many facets of the natural environment. They may be happy just to be in a different physical space and do nothing at all. These experiences in nature can be very restorative for them and for you as parents too. They also provide ideal times for family fun as the ‘shoulds’ of our daily routines are transformed into games, explorations and discoveries.

Here are some tips to having a successful summer family outings with ADHD kids or teens:

1. Pick a location that offers something for everyone and doesn’t require much planning. Talk with your family about the experience and what people want to do so you can all collaborate on making a good experience for everyone.Happy family playing on the beach at the day time

2. Limit your expectations. Whatever happens has to be okay with you and okay with your child. Share your hope for the day and listen to theirs.

3. Give your teen or child a few specific, simple tasks to do in preparation that are written down and can be checked off. This gives them more practice in developing those ever-needed executive planning and organizing skills.

4. Create some guidelines about appropriate behaviors for the excursion (not more than 3 because the kids won’t likely remember them). These should revolve around safety primarily and be logical and explicit (e.g. no swimming alone or without permission, no hiking away from the group, no wandering off from the picnic area).  Remind your child or teen of these 3 guidelines as you arrive at the location.

5. Focus on the positive. There will likely be a blip or two. Something may happen that will frustrate you or your child. Take a deep breath, focus on what’s most important and help him/her recalibrate. You could both try paying attention to something appealing in the nature around you to help you move on.

Enjoy your adventures!

Follow me on Twitter to learn more about my integrative strategies for attention, behavior and learning @drsharonsaline!


Feeling overwhelmed by something? Break it down!

One of the most common problems for many kids with ADHD is getting overwhelmed by a task. Whether it is doing homework, cleaning up a bedroom or looking for a summer job, they feel swamped and don’t know where to begin. Often they avoid doing these things rather skillfully and don’t respond to reminders you offer them. How can you help your child minimize his or her procrastination and get down to business?Frustrated high school student

One of the main issues behind most procrastination behaviors involves the size of the task. Something small can feel enormous. When a project seems too big for any of us, it’s usually daunting to start it. For kids with ADHD, that feeling of intimidation is especially powerful and immobilizing. They often think: “Why start something that seems impossible to finish or even partially finish? What even bother?” So they can freeze and unwittingly become masters of avoidance.

The best solution to feeling overwhelmed by a project, task or chore is to break it down into smaller pieces–sometimes really small pieces. We want your child or teen to be able to accomplish at least one step towards completion and no step is too little in this process. With the confidence of doing something instead of worrying and negative self-talk, they will be moving along towards the goal at hand. It’s this movement that builds confidence and further action.

Of course, the big question is: “How do I create tasks that are the right size to promote starting them?” The answers lie in working collaboratively with your child or teen to set up a plan that fits his capabilities. Being as specific as possible and remaining calm in the face of any frustration are the keys to working together successfully. For instance, when the room is very messy, agree that you will each pick up a few pieces of clothing per night so cleaning up is more tolerable. Or, when there are 30 math problems, try starting with half or even less (providing the teacher agrees to this) and increase steadily when those are successfully attempted and finished.Asian Teen Playing or Working on a Laptop Computer

Here’s how to get started:

1. Before you sit down with your son or daughter, ask yourself “How long can he really focus on a chore or homework before he gets distracted or bored?” You know your child quite well and, whatever the answer is, keep that in mind when you create the plan.

2. Schedule a time when things are calm to talk about this issue. Ask her how long she thinks that she can concentrate before she needs a break. She might not be able to assess this very well so then you can offer your insights. Whatever she suggests, go with the smallest amount of time that comes up. If it’s 15 minutes, great; if it’s 45 minutes, great too. Decide together how many work periods she can handle in one day. For example, ADHD kids from 8-11 years old can usually do about 20-30 minutes of homework per day; ADHD middle schoolers can handle about 30-60 minutes ; ADHD high schoolers manage 1-2 hours. Talk about starting with the most difficult components of the task first when concentration is the strongest.

3. Then discuss the length and range of acceptable activities of the break he will need after the work period. The activities should be something from which he can easily disengage without an argument. Activities to consider are having a snack or a drink, playing a brief game (e.g. TicTacToe), taking a brief walk around the room or the house and using the bathroom. Avoid technology during breaks because stopping their usage is typically quite difficult. Breaks of about 5-10 minutes are usually adequate for school-age kids.

4. Try it out! If it’s still hard for your son or daughter to accomplish something, then the task remains too big. To make it smaller, reduce the length of the work period. I have seen parents start with 5 minute work periods and eventually move up until 30 minutes, going slowly and steadily. This may mean you may get less help initially with raking the leaves or only one page of math problems is completed. However, frustrating this may be for you (and understandably it could be), remain patient. No matter what, the breaks do not change in length. Longer breaks seem to be harder for kids to recover from and then you are back at the beginning of procrastination problems.

Remember, that every successful step benefits from recognition. Praise what images-4you see being accomplished so that your child will eventually learn to do this for himself. This process of breaking things down can also be helpful in school where you, your child and his teachers can all be involved in determining the size and scope of what work periods and breaks look like for him.


The Secret Shame of Having ADHD

I have been working with kids and teens with ADHD for over 20 years and there is one constant that I have seen: every single person has a deep seated sense of shame about having ADHD and being ‘different’ from his or her peers.  Sometimes this shame is obvious: your daughter can’t seem to make friends, can’t write as well or easily as her friends and spaces out at her desk at school. Sometimes it is more hidden: your son boasts about his accomplishments at video games and basketball but hides his tests from you or procrastinates endlessly before starting homework. Either way, the shame about not being able to succeed at school or manage life tasks as well as other kids starts early in life and continues into adulthood.

Upset Young Woman Sitting Alone with Her Head in Her Hands on Bench Next to Books and Backpack.

School is usually the hardest domain of functioning for children and teens with ADHD. People with ADHD seem to be blind to time: they are living in the moment. Future rewards and delayed consequences don’t mean a lot to them. For example, knowing that if you apply yourself today to a boring spelling sheet will help you later next week when you have a test doesn’t really matter that much because the experience NOW is so intolerable. So, if this experience is so miserable and the end result seems intangible, why even bother? If we add to this thought that your child believes he is bad at spelling anyway and hates writing too, then the effort is truly not worth it and shame, avoidance and distraction set in.

Interestingly, even though kids with ADHD will often comment about their lack of intelligence, ADHD has nothing to do with intelligence. It is a biological disorder which is directly related to executive functioning deficits. Having difficulty writing a paper due to a lack of planning, prioritizing and organizing thoughts means  your daughter can’t translate her ideas into text not that she lacks intellectual capacity. BUT, what she interprets from her struggles, is that she is ‘bad at writing.” She feels ashamed of herself; she doesn’t measure up. I bet that if you asked her to talk her way through that same history assignment, she would do a fine job. ADHD is a disorder of performance: your child or teen can’t apply what he or she knows when it is required and in the form that it is being asked. Sadly, it FEELS like failure and stupidity and can look insufficient in a typical classroom setting or at home when chores were forgotten once again.

How can you address and reduce this pervasive and sometimes debilitating images-13feeling of shame? While there are many ways to address this issue, here are a few of the most important things you can do:

1. Make sure your child has sufficient and useful support in school. Identify his or her cognitive strengths and weaknesses, amplifying executive functions that are strong and targeting the weaker ones with appropriate interventions. Keep any supports in place after improvements are seen to make sure they stick.

2. Use this knowledge about your child’s functioning at home. If your child can’t remember things, make lists together. If your teen has a messy room, make a united plan to assist him in organizing it. Try to work on the same issue at home that he is tackling at school so he can see some progress in his functioning in both arenas.

3. Lean into your child’s strengths, noticing and praising her for what she is doing well and trying to do well. Her efforts are especially important since kids with ADHD often feel under- appreciated for how hard they try just to do what other kids do naturally.

4. Normalize ADHD behavior. We all have different types of brains that process information in unique and idiosyncratic ways whether or not we have ADHD. These differences are part of what makes people diverse, interesting and innovative. While academics might be hard for your middle-schooler now, later on she could be a terrific actress with her flair for comic timing or a stellar paramedic with her calm demeanor in crisis and spelling may not matter as much.  Since kids may not talk about their challenges with each other, they often feel isolated and embarrassed by their limitations.

5. Focus on something your child enjoys or does well and amplify that. For 6-8 hours each day at school, your child is dealing with situations and tasks that are difficult for him or her. In addition to being humiliating at times, this process can be exhausting and demoralizing. Look for what is working, what makes them happy and notice that as much as, indeed more than, you pay attention to what needs Male Elementary Pupil In Computer Class
improving. ADHD children and teens get plenty of this feedback at school, on the sports field and from their friends. So, if that means your son only reads books about Minecraft because that game is his current obsession, then smile, because at least he is reading.


Spring Anew: Nurturing kids to “Stop, Think and Act”

When the crocuses start to send up their green shoots and the snow finally melts into massive puddles, excitement about the spring infects everyone.
Kids happily shed their heavy coats in favor of galoshes and move enthusiastically into the warmer weather. purple crocusesI have been thinking about how this extra spring energy reflects the natural levels of enthusiasm and activity that many children and teens with ADHD possess. Typically, these kids  move quickly into action, often saying or doing things without pausing to think about what will happen next. We have to teach them how to do this. Imagine what would happen if a crocus or a daffodil didn’t have its winter pause to fuel its spring arrival?

Instructing kids how to pause and reflect before they ‘spring’ into action is one of our greatest jobs as adults. The ability to consider choices and predict the results of decisions matures over time, developing fully around the age of 25. So, you have to teach these skills NOW in order for them to grow stronger as your child matures. Your efforts will insure that the tools for self-control, self-reflection and good judgment are evolving in tandem with muscles, height and weight.

In order to teach “STOP, THINK and ACT”, frankly, you have to be able to do it yourself. Pause for a minute right now and ask yourself:  “How do I stop myself from interrupting others? How easily can I refrain from impulsively eating a treat that I should avoid or purchasing something that I don’t really need? What do I tell myself in these situations?” Being aware of how you monitor your own behavior will provide you with insight and patience for supporting your children.

It works best to start teaching “Stop, Think and Act” by having a conversation with your child or teen. Do this in a calm moment; not in the heat of frustration.Hispanic girl and her mother working on a computer

1. Ask when are the most challenging times for him or her to consider making better choices.  At the playground? In the cafeteria during lunch? After school waiting for the bus? At a party on Saturday night?

2. Recall a situation when he or she contemplated a choice, acted on it and had positive results. Then recall a situation when he or she impulsively behaved without reflection where the results were not ideal.

3. Rewind the tape for this latter situation: ask how it could have gone differently if your child or teen had paused, mulled over the pros and cons of various choices and then selected one. Together, explore how to create such a pause that would work for him or her. Some effective solutions are concrete and ideas could include taking off a hat or jacket and putting it back it on; taking 5 deep breaths; going to the bathroom; taking a brief walk; asking someone’s opinion.

4. Speculate about similar circumstances in the future where this process could be practiced and how it would be done. Make a time each day to check in and see how and when your child using it.images

Now, try this process out at home to hone the skills. For example:  Your ADHD teenage daughter comes home from lacrosse practice and wants to watch TV before dinner. Your younger son is already watching a baseball game. She marches into the room and is about to grab the remote from him when you remind her, “Stop, Think and Act”. She halts; she hovers; she removes her hands. Success! You have helped her to interrupt the impulsive behavior and make a different, better choice. She took a small pause before springing into an action other than the one she had originally intended. Repeat, repeat and repeat your efforts so that she will soon start to do this on her own. Notice when she does (with or without your help) and remember to give specific, positive feedback as often as you can.

The Benefits of Wandering Attention

Are you concerned when you see your child or teen daydreaming? According to Daniel Goleman, author of many books including his latest one, Focus: The Hidden Driver of Excellence, periodically letting your mind drift is actually good for you. It allows for creativity and rest that the brain doesn’t otherwise engage in. I recently read Focus and was struck by the importance of occasional attention wandering which Goleman refers to as “open awareness”.Human Brain

Usually, in our busy days, our brains spend most of the time purposefully assembling, managing and applying information. We engage in actions, behaviors and self-expression that require complex mental and physical processes. Attention is focused on a variety of situations, people and problems.  This focus comes from interactions between the different parts of the brain.

The lower brain works mostly out of our consciousness, checking sensory information and events in our environment. The mid-brain monitors and processes emotions. The frontal lobes (the prefrontal cortex) are often called ‘the thinking brain’. They manage executive functioning skills like planning, organizing, self-reflection and impulse control that push away distractions and point the mind to a single task or thought. The prefrontal cortex is the last part of the brain to finish developing (around age 25) and is specifically affected by having ADHD. Of course, attention is also affected by cultural norms, technology and trauma.

We are bombarded by information every moment of every day. The constant stimulation creates what Goleman refers to as the ‘neural buzz” in our brains. This ‘buzz’ can easily interrupt us and overwhelm our capacity to manage our focus. People with ADHD/ADD are especially susceptible to these interruptions and benefit from the balance that occasional ‘zoning out’ provides. In fact, some scientists believe that daydreams might actually be time when innovative connections between new ideas are occurring.

So, what does this mean for you and your child? Simply put, allow for some down time—time when the brain can free associate and take a break from the demands of technology, relationships, academics and performance. Try this:Sad boy doing homework

1. Create technology-free time on a daily or weekly basis, depending on your child’s needs. Let your child use this time for whatever else he or she wants to do, including and especially nothing. Set limits for this time in advance.

2. Make a list of various activities for this time with your child or teen so you can avoid an argument when it arrives.

3. Participate with your child in this time, also refraining from technological interruptions. This way your child will take it seriously.

Remember this is time for personal and family balance from the busy work the brain does all day long. Take a deep breath and enjoy the wandering!

Snow what?! Getting help with winter chores

When it gets this cold and snowy, there is always extra work at home to do. How can you get your ADHD son or daughter to help you and not hold you back? Whether it’s shoveling snow, clearing off cars or carrying wood, Close-up as man shovels snowparents need help from their children but often choose to do the chores themselves. Involving your child can require extra work for you (and sometimes extra irritation) resulting in less productivity. So, most likely, you would rather just head out alone.

Doing a chore alone has its benefits for a parent: no hassling with a reluctant teen, no reminding a child to stay with the task at hand and no one asking twenty times “How much longer will this take?” This choice, however, is problematic for everyone in the family. You wind up being more tired and perhaps even resentful that you are working alone–again. Your children or teens don’t learn the skills associated with the chore. They also don’t gain the value of helping someone. Lastly, no one gets the satisfaction of completing something together.

In order to create a win-win situation for everyone (the work is done jointly and correctly with minimal arguing), there have to be clear expectations about the tasks at hand. These simple guidelines need to be established before–way before you embark on the chore itself and will assist all of you in creating a successful experience:

1. In a calm moment that you set aside for a family conversation before the first snowflakes have fallen but after the temperature has already started to drop, brainstorm with your child or teen how you as a family want to approach the winter chores. Who wants to do what and for how long? What is the incentive that your child or teen needs to participate (help with a project that matters to him or her, an extra chunk of computer or television time, hot chocolate and a special baked treat, etc.)? What are the consequences for not participating or arguing while working?

2. Talk about obstacles that have impeded working together on winter chores in the past and strategize about how to deal with them if they re-occur this year.

3. Make an agreement about a time limit for the chore and stick with that. Discuss how you will keep track of time and how you will handle redirecting your child when he drifts off and slows down. Happy girl lying in the deep snow on beautiful winter day.
Inject some fun into the task. Try doing something goofy like playing music she likes on her iPod out loud. Make snow angels. Play catch with snowballs. Build a fort or snowman.

4. If, at the end of the time period, there is still some work to do and your young assistant has run out of cooperation, patience and concentration, set him or her free and finish it yourself. (Of course, he or she can stay longer if desired.) Remember, that you are contributing to the development of his or her executive skills by planning, participating and sticking with tasks that have to be done but may not be much fun to do. Plus, you are building lifelong memories of doing chores with a parent (remember being outside in the cold when you were a child??).

5. Share a yummy hot chocolate, warm cider or steaming tea when you are done and marvel at your accomplishment. Maybe even play a game, watch a movie or read a book together!

So, grab your gloves and shovels and get started. It’s a winter wonderland out there!

Making the most out of 2014

Happy new year! As we welcome 2014, many of us are thinking about how to make this year as good as or better than the last. What changes do we want to see for ourselves and for our children? Usually, people with ADHD/ADD can quickly create a list of several things about themselves that they don’t like and would like to improve. But several is too many. This year, 2014, let’s pick just ONE thing to focus on and do it really well!Making the most out of 2014

First, look around your life–your house, your job, your relationships, your habits and start of list of things you want to change, brainstorming up to 5 items. You can do this with your child or teen too but keep the limit to 3 items because we don’t want to overwhelm them with negativity or what’s wrong with them. It’s important to emphasize changing behaviors not personal flaws. This can be a useful family exercise too as you model for your child or teen that everyone has aspects of his or her life that can benefit from some tinkering.

Secondly, examine your list closely. Rule out items that are just pure fantasy. Look at the ones that are general or vague and make them more specific. For example, being more organized is a great goal but it isn’t precise enough to lead you or your child to do anything differently. Being more organized with my homework; being more organized about my bills; being more organized with my clothes: these are all more exact and will likely result in more success. You can create a program for something specific and actually accomplish it.

Thirdly, pick ONE thing from your list and have your son or daughter do the same. This could be the item that is screaming “Arrggh, don’t pick me” or “I hate this so I am not going to pick it” or “Yes, I have been putting this off for months (or years) so now is the time to go for it.” Examine this item closely. Is it do-able? Do you need help or support to accomplish it? Who could assist you? If your teen wants to be more organized about his notebook, how could you or someone he knows help him with making a plan for this? What does ONGOING support look like? If you want to clean up your basement, do you need a friend to aide you in deciding what to keep and what to give or throw away? Can you make an accurate schedule to tackle one area at a time?

Finally, the key to being successful with your ONE new year’s resolution is to STICK WITH IT. Create a time frame for yourself or your child and rely on it. Use technology for reminders such as making a repeating calendar item to check up on that notebook or spend 2 hours in the basement. Don’t give up when it becomes hard or you forget to do it. Recalibrate and start again. You have the whole year.