The Parenting Skills ADHD Families Need

Transform your ADHD child's problem behaviors into strengths with these simple parent-child exercises designed to build better behavior and boost self-esteem


Filed Under: Self Esteem, Behavior in ADHD Kids

Your Little Genius

  • Dad: Remember when you were jumping around your gymnastics class and telling everyone that you were going to have a baby sister? Sometimes we all get urges to blurt out what we feel. Just today, I thought I'd like to tell my boss to just leave me alone. Then I realized that my boss might get mad at me if I said that. So I called your mom on the phone and told her what I wanted to tell my boss. Then I could talk calmly to my boss. Sometimes the Urge Monster will quiet down if it's fed a little bit. How could you feed the Urge Monster?
  • Sandy: I was so excited. There was no way I could stay quiet.
  • Dad: How could you feed the Urge Monster without disturbing the class? Maybe you could draw a picture of the Urge Monster or draw a picture for your sister when she arrives?
  • Sandy: Yeah, I could tell the Monster that I was going to wait and tell Daddy how I'm so excited about my new sister instead of talking during class. And I could draw a picture for my new sister to hang in her bedroom.
  • Dad: That's a great idea. Sometimes promising yourself that you will tell someone else will help you keep quiet when you need to.

Staying positive

This exercise is a little more complicated. I'm going to ask you to change, or reframe, the way you see your child's behavior. Instead of thinking about symptoms, think about manifestations of his creativity--in other words, to think not that he's "acting up" but he's "thinking outside the box."

  • Next time your child demonstrates a symptom, think of possible positive explanations for the behavior. For example, if your son bursts out with loud, inappropriate comments when you've asked him to be quiet--in line at the supermarket or in a doctor's waiting room--don't interpret his behavior as defiant. Don't threaten dire consequences (and risk escalating the behavior and creating a vicious cycle). Instead, think that your son is trying to make things livelier. You might even commend him for trying to entertain everyone.
  • Later, when the incident has passed, ask your son to reflect on his behavior. Listen to what he says, keeping in mind your new positive outlook, which is open to considering non-antagonistic reasons for his behavior. For example, you can calmly ask him why he was "contributing" at the doctor's when he had been asked to be quiet.
  • Listen attentively to learn how your son understands his behavior. He may surprise you by saying that he's noticed that people laugh at these outbursts, and he wants people to laugh more. He might even tell you that people might be less scared at the doctor's office if they were able to laugh. This is a radically different interpretation of his behavior, seeing it as generosity rather than defiance.
  • Praise your son for his creativity. Explain that this is an example of thinking and acting outside the box. You might commend him on his perception of the anxiety in the doctor's waiting room and his efforts at problem-solving.
  • Explain that, while you appreciate his creativity and think he has a lot to offer, some people might be disturbed by his outbursts. He needs to learn to temper his creative expression with respect for other people.
  • Together, brainstorm ways to express his creativity while being respectful to others. For example, he could suggest that the doctor buy more magazines for the waiting room. Or maybe he could paint a picture of people having fun in the waiting room and give it to the doctor.

Your goal is to work with your child to create better behavior. The beauty of this exercise is that, by listening to your child's motivations rather than assuming the worst, you'll gain an increased appreciation for him. That, in turn, boosts your connection - and puts you well on the way to transforming his problems into strengths.

Adapted from The Gift of AD/HD: How to Transform Your Child's Problems into Strengths, by Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission by New Harbinger Publications, Inc. Oakland, California.

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This article appears in the Summer issue of ADDitude.
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