Have you ever noticed how your ADHD son or daughter remembers the negative things people say to them more than the positive? While all human
brains are wired for the negativity bias, the minds of ADHD children and adults seem vulnerable to holding onto what is “bad” about them. Most likely, this pattern has been learned over the years when they have been criticized for not
remembering things, not doing things properly, not controlling themselves, etc. While our ancestors needed the ability to learn and remember lessons from tough experiences for survival in the jungle, people today also need to learn how to retain lessons from good experiences. This is especially true for ADHD children and teens.
Beneficial experiences not only serve as the foundation of self-esteem, secure attachment and self-management but they also nourish inner strengths. In order for the good moments to outmaneuver the negativity bias, they have to be installed in the brain’s neural structures. This process requires holding in the working memory long enough to be picked up by short-term memory structures and then transferred to the long-term memory. Of course, kids and adults with ADHD, by definition, usually struggle with working memory challenges so this transfer doesn’t occur as frequently as we would like, if at all. So the key issue here is “long enough.”
While there is no research to give us a specific time for this, “long enough” usually means holding a positive emotion, desire, action or outcome to actually feel it, to reflect on it and let it sink in. I would venture to guess this means up
to a minute if not longer. How can you assist your ADHD child or teen to do this more successfully?
- When something good happens, teach them that relishing it is important. In our ultra fast-paced world, everyone moves on to the next thing so quickly that the important integration needed to consolidate memory can be missed. SLOW IT DOWN.
- Practice doing highs and lows of the day at dinner with the family. Everyone needs to say something. No questions about the statements during the sharing. If you want to follow up on an issue, then ask first. We are trying to create a safe place to hold both the positive and negative occurrences simultaneously, giving them equal weight. This process with create new, essential neural pathways. If daily highs and lows are too much for your family, then do them once a weekly at regular meal–for example, Sunday dinners.
- Give genuine, positive feedback daily that is succinct. Honestly, nothing is too small to be acknowledged. When you do this, make sure you get down to your child’s physical level. If your ADHD teen is taller than you are, ask them to sit down so you are at the same level. Put a hand on their arm or shoulder, if that’s comfortable. Maintain eye contact and be clear that they get it! As corny as it sounds, you could even ask to repeat what they heard you say. “Look I really want to make sure that you understood what I said. Can you please repeat it?” “Do I have to?” “Yes.” “Fine,I heard you tell me that you appreciated that I hung up my coat when I got home.” Or, “I heard you say that you liked when I got off my computer right after the timer went off.” These exchanges build the neural pathways we are seeking to create, increase inner strengths and foster interpersonal connection.
- Keep it up, regardless of any unwelcome response that you may receive. Remember, the pull towards negativity and retaining bad experiences is longstanding and ingrained. Stopping your efforts to counteract it will likely increase its influence.
Start building the GOOD today!