With everybody struggling now more than ever, I see a few major habits in my clients living with ADHD that hurt their mental health more than help them. Let’s look at these behaviors and explore how you can make a few shifts that will improve your family’s daily living and relationships. Instead of trying to change all of these at once, pick one to work on at a time. Notice any progress with specific praise and be patient. Change take time and practice.
- Spending too much time on social media: Social media not only seems to use up time faster than everybody notices but it also is built to so that people compare themselves to others. These comparisons are rarely favorable and people walk away with not feeling positive about themselves. As one adolescent girl told me, “No one ever posts pictures of their face mid-menstrual break-out or of their bombed test grade.” Kids feel pressured to keep up with friends, stay in touch and maintain an image that they’ve created. For kids with ADHD who often struggle socially, this creates more stress in their lives. This tension interrupts their ability to reflect on themselves, what they think and create a sturdy sense of self. Solution: Make sure your son or daughter has in-person, COVID safe interactions with peers to balance online socializing. Talk about FOMO and explore the difference between what kids worry about in their minds and what’s actually happening with their friends. Help them create a conversation starter if they are shy or a practiced response when they overwhelmed. Many kids with ADHD need help having a phrase or two in their vocabulary to facilitate connections with peers. Talk with them about the cultivated images other kids post about themselves and how those may contrast with who they are inside. Normalize their insecurities and social challenges and experiences most kids deal with as part of growing up.
- Eating meals on the run: So many kids eat fast food or grab something to munch while watching Youtube videos. Many families eat dinner in front of the television with little conversation. Sitting together to healthy meals build connections while modeling how to slow down and eat socially. When kids rush to gobble a slice of pizza and chips, they’re not providing their brains or bodies with the appropriate fuel needed to think and function well. Solution: Sharing a meal is not only good for our physiology but it also provides an opportunity to connect with people face-to-face and talk about our lives. During a sit down meal, our bodies slow down and properly digest our food so we can absorb the nutrients and simultaneously take a much-needed break from the chaos of our lives. Set aside a few times per week to have a family meal if you can’t do this nightly. Ask your son or daughter about “a high and a low or a happy and a crappy” moment that happened during the day. Even if the meal is short, you’re showing them the importance of healthy eating and how meals are social events.
- Having arguments via texting, messaging or emailing: Disagreements that happen over texts can often inflame situations instead of lowering tension. Kids often say things over text that they wouldn’t say in person either because the statements are inappropriate or because young people lack the courage to communicate their thoughts this way. Since we can’t see or perceive the effects of what we are saying via online communication, there’s no way to detect how how the other person is perceiving those words and feeling inside. It’s easier to disengage and avoid accountability for your words and actions. Solution: When we communicate face-to-face, we can detect these reactions. Kids need to learn and practice interactional skills not only for healthy personal relationships but also for school and other life situations where they have to deal with others. Practice direct communication at home with attentive awareness. Give neutral feedback when you notice your son or daughter is upset by saying “I heard you say X, did I get that right?” or “I notice that you are starting to raise your voice. Can you please change your tone?” Ask them to notice your facial reaction and what this is showing them. This helps them become more attuned to the impact of their words and actions on others. Brainstorm other ways to deal with relationship issues so they understand the options they can rely on.