One parent, troubled that her child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD/ADHD) didn’t do as well in school as his classmates, began to look for his strengths. She noticed her boy’s creative and artistic talents, and started to foster those qualities.
Whenever she fell back into the habit of comparing her son with kids who seemed to easily excel in school, she asked herself, “What’s right with my child?” Answering this question always led her back to encouraging him.
Think of your role in parenting as being a coach. A coach doesn’t hide in shame when she sees a player miss a shot or goal. A coach doesn’t punish the person in training for not executing techniques correctly, or yell about what the person needs to stop doing. A coach thinks of her job as building skills and solving problems. She knows that sometimes a simple change in technique can improve performance.
Move your focus from patching up weaknesses to identifying and building strengths in your child. Toward that end, here are seven activities that will nourish emotional intelligence, social intelligence, physical activity, and fun. They contain within them the seeds of positive suggestion and will give your child control over her environment. Finally, they will help you and your family open up to joy and learn how to play in an overscheduled, stressed-out world.
1. A Hearty Whoops!
One of the most important things you can do is motivate your child to keep going when the child goofs up. In other words, teach her to “whoop” the problem. Practice this by having your child make silly mistakes at home, and shout out an exaggerated “Whoops!”
Imagine a clown who slips on a banana peel, exaggerating the fall and making silly faces. You want your child to wince and admit mistakes — but not be stopped by them. Take turns with your child practicing a mock pratfall. You can also practice it by dropping a big load of laundry you are carrying on the floor. Then have your child “whoop” the problem in real-life situations — when she brings home a quiz with a mistake in it or makes a bad play in a sporting event. This fun and entertaining activity will teach her not to be failure-phobic, but to rebound from setbacks.
2. The Magic Can
Most children don’t like to clean their rooms, but ADHD kids take this to a new level. You can coach your child toward taming his messes in a playful way that’s more effective than threatening consequences or nagging. The Magic Can game can develop good organizational habits while increasing the fun quotient of doing it. Create an enchanted receptacle out of a trashcan. Dress it up by pasting photos of his favorite superhero or storybook character—Harry Potter or the Jedi from Star Wars, whatever engages him—on it.
Explain to your child that he increases his magic powers every time he throws out unneeded papers or other things he doesn’t need into his magic can. When he drops an item into the trash can, he should declare, “May the force be with me!” You can create variations on this game with a dirty clothes hamper or a toy storage bin.
3. Can I Do It? Yes, I Can
Bob the Builder, a popular TV and book character for younger kids, has a slogan he uses when faced with a building job that runs into trouble. He asks, “Can we fix it?” And the crew shouts back, “Yes, we can!” The following activity is inspired by Bob the Builder and life coach Anthony Robbins, who developed the term “CANI” to mean Constant And Never-ending Improvement.
Let your child know that when he comes up against a challenge or problem—homework, sports, or relationships— he can say, “CANI do it? Yes, I can!” This simple phrase reminds him not only to plow ahead with confidence, but to aim for constant and never-ending improvement. Demonstrate this technique for your child when you are trying to solve a problem. When your child is disappointed because someone else is doing better, remind him that the goal is his own improvement (CANI), not to compare himself to other kids.
4. Joy, Joy, and More Joy
Two of the best gifts of ADHD are high energy and emotional intensity. These can help your child pursue what inspires him with a verve others probably don’t possess. Find an activity that combines his interests in a creative way. As one example, my daughter loves Elmo, dogs, drawing, climbing on the couch, and Uncle Eye’s CD. She sits in her Elmo chair (which I put on the couch) surrounded by her favorite stuffed doggies, while she draws and listens to her favorite songs. By increasing your child’s joy, you teach her to live a life guided by pleasure, rather than one of avoiding fear or running away from punishment. Another bonus: Engaging her passions will build skills and the capacity to pay attention and organize herself.
This article comes from the Spring 2008 issue of ADDitude.