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“Only Connect: The Guide to Connecting with Your Teen”

After 30 years of teaching and counseling teens with ADHD, I have come to realize one thing: Nothing makes a bigger difference than a strong, genuine connection. Here are some off-beat, ADHD-friendly ideas for forging one.

I have been fascinated by teens since second grade. They have their own music, their own clothes, their own rules, their own language, and I thought that was soooooo attractive. In fact, I still do. Working with teens (particularly those with ADHD) is like visiting a foreign country — and I love to travel!

When I began teaching and counseling teenagers with ADHD, it connected me to my own adolescence and helped me redeem my awkward puberty. I realized that I was quite comfortable sharing my own former trials and tribulations without passing judgment on my young audience.

The British author E.M. Forster wrote a book called Howard’s End. I remember nothing about the book except for the quote at the beginning: “Only connect.” When I am with teens, that is my goal.

I am willing to look foolish if it means that we will connect. I am willing to be honest and admit lack of knowledge or experience, if it means that we will connect. I am willing to share my doubts and fears, if it means that we will connect. My goal, my purpose, when I am with teens is to learn about them and to figure out how to best reach them.

Over the years, after hundreds of conversation with teens, I’ve developed the following list of off-beat ADHD interventions that you’ve perhaps not considered before.

[Free Download: 13 Parenting Strategies for Kids with ADHD]

#1 – Extreme Self-Care

I’m not talking about egotism or considering yourself better than others. Kids in general don’t get a lot of self-care. Childhood is a rough and tumble time and we are accustomed to thinking of kids as resilient. Kids with ADHD are resilient but they are also very sensitive and being out in the world can be overwhelming, exhausting, and/or stressful. Your child needs plenty of TLC, and he needs to learn how to give it to him/herself. This includes silent time, play time, reading or being read to, baths with Epsom salts and essential oils (lavender is popular for calming).

#2 – Help Others

When things get tough, the only thing that consistently stops me from feeling sorry for myself is helping others. This may mean teaching a new skill to someone, passing out food or clothes, walking a dog, holding an infant. There are so many possibilities. I think it’s important for families to help those in need but I also think it’s important for kids to find a place where they can shine and be recognized for their own contributions, apart from their families and friends. This does wonders for a child’s self-esteem, and can have a life-long positive impact.

#3 – Hang Out with Adults

Your relationship with your child is, of course, a vital part of her life. The security and love you provide are essential, but it’s healthy for kids to ask: Who am I beyond what my parents see? In my experience, kids with ADHD can benefit greatly from the perspective of adults to whom they are not related. Often these people can see that, beyond the ADHD, beyond the frustration, there’s a wonderful person. Of course parents see this too, but hearing someone “outside” of the nuclear family validate your child is simply invaluable. Surround your child with positive, loving adults, allow him to have some one-on-one time and special moments with his aunts, uncles, grandparents, and with some of your friends that have a loving, uplifting connection with your child.

[Have a Teen with ADHD? Encourage Communication & Avoid the Drama]

#4 – Art Work

Visual art tends to bring out a whole host of emotions, creative thoughts, and original concepts and connections. Whether your child tends toward abstract art or realism, color or muted shades, paint or collage, this non-verbal expression can uncover aspects of your child that are difficult to access in a conversation. Ask your child about the artwork, and allow him or her to tell the story hiding inside. It’s so amazing to see their world in this way.

#5 – Group Activities

As a child, I wasn’t good in groups. I often felt like the “odd man out.” Despite this, I believe that it’s important for kids with ADHD to experience group activities. Find groups that your kids will enjoy. For example, I hated most team sports but I loved kick ball and softball. I loved Camp Fire Girls for a couple of years. Knowing that an adult had my back made me feel braver. Knowing that an adult would teach me without denigrating me made me willing to learn. Not all group activities fit, but finding ones that do is invaluable for ADHD.

Try these and see how much easier it can be to parent your wonderfully brilliant child!

[How to Steer Your Teen Without Hovering or Nagging]