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

purple crocusesWhen 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. I 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.

Hispanic girl and her mother working on a computerIn 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.

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.

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.