It’s a rainy Sunday morning and you decide to make pancakes for the family for breakfast as a nice treat. You whip up the batter and drop large creamy spoonfuls onto the sizzling griddle. As the golden discs bubble, your 11 year old ADHD daughter bounces into the kitchen. “I’m so hungry. WHEN will the pancakes be ready? I want to eat NOW!” You start to feel the hair on the back of your neck prickle as that familiar irritation sets in and try to stay calm. “Soon. Why don’t you set the table while they finish? Then we can press the chocolate chips in and make smiley faces.” “No. I just want to eat NOW!” she says turning up the volume considerably. In turn, you raise your voice: “I am trying to do something nice here and all you have to do is set the table to help out. NOW DO IT!” She yells “NOOOOOOO!” and runs to her room. You shout after her “No chocolate chips for you then” and flip the pancakes with an aggressive thwack.
How did a simple conversation escalate into an unpleasant argument? Why can’t your daughter modulate how she expresses herself and just cooperate with your request? Why did you allow yourself to be upset by her in the first place? Families with ADHD children and teens often struggle with emotional reactivity and verbal impulse control. Negative feelings and unpleasant words can intensify in the blink of an eye so that the interaction derails quickly into hostility, screaming and tears. These situations can be easily turned around by bringing everyone’s attention to T.O.V.–Tone Of Voice.
So often, ADHD kids don’t really hear how they say things to other people and don’t fully understand the effects of what they are saying on them. They need help learning how to slow down and reflect on what they just expressed. But, since they are usually sensitive to criticism, direct feedback can frequently backfire. Introducing T.O.V. allows your son or daughter to reflect for themselves on how they can say something differently and lets them come up with their own changes on how they are speaking. They learn several executive functioning skills simultaneously: emotional regulation, personal insight and self-control.
Here’s how it works:
- In a calm moment, you explain to your ADHD son or daughter (and perhaps your other children too–it works with everyone!) that sometimes people need help learning how their words and their tone of voice affect others. To that end, you will be saying to them “T. O. V.” when you think they should alter how they are speaking to you and, at times, to each other. Then, you will give them a minute or two to change how their tone of voice and try again. Sometimes, all of us just need to re-calibrate and do something over.
- If your child or teen can’t manage to change how they are talking to you, then taking an immediate, timed break for personal space can help. This break allows everyone to calm down and regroup; it is not a punishment. Usually breaks of up to 5-10 minutes are sufficient but some people need more time. Agree on the time of the breaks when you have the initial conversation.
- If your son or daughter changes how they are speaking to you by lowering their volume, altering their words from provocative to more neutral or shifting their attitude, YOUR JOB is to respond to their new statements and move forward. Of course, you can appreciate their efforts when the conversation is over which provides positive reinforcement for them.
- Be prepared that they may call “T.O.V” on you sometimes too,
especially if you are yelling. How you respond to this is critical: try acknowledging your feelings or laughing at yourself or admitting that you could do better. However, the goal is not to create a constant calling out of “T.O.V.” in your household. It’s used for helping your child re-group in selective moments, such as once or twice a day. If you overuse it, it will lose its impact.
I hope that you will give this a try!!!