Positive Parenting

Laugh It Up

How humor can reduce stress at home and strengthen the bond between you and your ADHD child.

How humor can reduce stress at home and strengthen the bond between you and your AD/HD child.
How humor can reduce stress at home and strengthen the bond between you and your AD/HD child.

For every parent whose ADHD child has put the mayonnaise in the microwave or lost his school assignment pad three times, humor is a healthy substitute for disappointment or annoyance. For every child who feels bad about not being invited to a classmate’s birthday party or not making the soccer team, a good laugh can go a long way in healing the hurt.

Raising a child with ADHD requires emotional resiliency to cope with the inevitable struggles in school, the social pratfalls with friends — and the ability to help a kid bounce back from defeat. The main ingredient of resilience is a sense of humor. Finding the funny in a seemingly hopeless situation — a teen failing his written driver’s test for the fourth time — takes the edge off frustration and also improves self-esteem. When the going gets tough, the tough get funny to keep things in perspective.

In fact, a sense of humor is an attribute that most ADHD kids will need. Try to develop it in your child. You don’t need the comic instincts of Leno or Letterman, just the impulse to create a light moment when the opportunity arises. It’s never too early to laugh! Infants laugh and giggle when presented with funny faces, funny noises, and exaggerated behavior. Laughing is hard-wired into every human being.

I have found that well-adjusted ADHD families use humor to deal with problems great and small. Let’s face it: Advocating for your ADHD child in school and helping him overcome failures can create a serious tone at home. Parents need to balance that gravity with humorous interludes. Below are some examples of how playing the humor card helped to defuse tension and create a nurturing vibe.

Giggle therapy

Tammy is an energetic, emotional, stubborn 5-year-old with ADHD. For almost two weeks, she had had emotional meltdowns when asked to turn off her video game and get ready for bed. Every night brought a shouting match and threats of taking away her video games. When Tammy’s father picked her up to carry her to her room for a time-out, she became a writhing bundle of fury in his arms, hitting him when her hands were free.

Tammy’s dad decided he would take a different tack. Instead of pressing his parental authority – which would have added fuel to Tammy’s fire — her father started joking and tickling her. Tammy’s annoyed giggling soon turned to playful laughter, and she calmed down.

Silly trumps serious

Ginny was easily annoyed and frustrated. Dinner was boring, so she fought her parents when they requested that she join them for a meal. Like many children with ADHD, she found it easier to initiate tasks that involved fun. The parental directive to come to dinner interrupted her fun and offered no fun in return. To her, it was the emotional equivalent of going to jail.

After many battles, Ginny’s parents learned that she responded better to banter. Being silly made the mundane tasks of life more palatable. “Ginny, it’s time for dinner” sounded like an order, but “It’s time to eat, Pete!” was playful enough to get her attention and her cooperation. Most children, with or without ADHD, respond well to such light-hearted, goofy approaches to everyday rituals.

Play the clown

Both Tina and her mother delight in telling this story. Tina was sitting at the kitchen table having breakfast, while her mother was standing at the stove, scrambling eggs. Actually, Tina was going through the motions of having breakfast but was really too sad and dejected to eat. She had learned the night before that one of her best friends had sent out birthday party invitations — and Tina wasn’t invited. She felt betrayed, and she was crushed.

Barely swallowing the lump in her throat, Tina talked about her feelings with her mother. Her friend’s parents gave permission for only a very small party, her mother explained, and she couldn’t invite everyone. Her mother’s reassuring words didn’t help. In turn, Tina’s mother felt helpless and frustrated.

Then Tina’s mother turned toward her with a smile on her face. “Do you know how to make a butterfly?” she asked. Tina shook her head, puzzled by the question. Her mother said, “Watch!” She picked up a stick of butter from the stove, walked to the open kitchen door, and, with an overhand throw, tossed the butter halfway across the backyard. Tina stared in surprise for a second, then laughed so hard that she shook from head to toe. Her mother walked over and gave her a big hug. The “butter fly”incident managed to break the tension and lift Tina’s spirits.

A stand-up kid

Cody is a bright 8-year-old with ADHD. He did well in school after he started taking medication to improve his concentration. But Cody was shy, and had trouble making friends. He had a good sense of humor, but he was too reserved to show it.

His therapist gave him a homework assignment for the week: Find 10 jokes, tell them all to two people, and find out which one was the funniest. He copied 10 jokes from a book and tried them out on his brother and a classmate. The winner was: “Why did the skeleton take skydiving lessons?” “To prove that he had guts!”

The assignment for the second week was the same: Find 10 new jokes and tell them to two other people. After six weeks, Cody had a collection of 60 jokes and told them to a dozen people! He was not only having fun reading joke books and logging on to Web sites, but he was also becoming more confident in talking to other kids in his class. Soon, others were asking him to tell jokes and inviting him to join in their after-school activities.

The message in all of these stories is that laughter can smooth out life’s rough edges for ADHD kids and their parents.

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