When I shifted over to positive psychology, I quit giving diagnoses to my clients. I haven't done it in a decade. And yet, my experience in child psychology had me working a lot with children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, ADHD. Whether your child has a legitimate diagnosis or not, I think some of the principles that we discuss here today are going to be helpful.
I'm starting with something that I've reiterated many times. Listen carefully… Your job as a parent is to love them no matter what and even if. We are starting with that because everything else I can share with you is simply manipulation if you lose track of that. That is so key, so essential. Don't be deceived into thinking your job is to make sure that they… anything. Especially with an ADHD child, because you don't have that kind of control. Your job is to love them no matter what and even if. Focus in on that, hone in on it and let's move from there and build some other skills.
Another thing that I focus on in my coaching with parents is to shift your focus. Is this about you as a parent or is this about your child and your child's well-being? Shifting the focus from me as a parent over to my child puts me in a position of power and influence as a parent. But it also becomes much more palatable and attractive to the child. So, you can have a better level of influence. This is easy to violate as parents. We get so focused on what we want our kids to do. Well notice where the focus is. It is on what I want. What would be convenient for me, what would help my life as a parent.
The focus needs to shift back over to the child. What is in my child's best interest? Now, I'm going to throw you a bone here as a parent because it is in your child's best interest for them to behave properly. To make better decisions, to cooperate and obey. That IS in their interest. But that simple shift from what I want as a parent to what is best for my child, that is going to go a long way to help you help your child.
The next thing I'm going to recommend whether you are working with a kid who has ADHD or not is to get better at implementing consequences. And doing that in a way that separates the emotion from the discipline. This is key because the emotional energy you take into a discipline setting is going to make a big difference on how well it is received by your child or the impact that it's going to have on what you're trying to accomplish in the first place.
Let me give you a tool that's going to help with this. It's a phrase. And I want you to practice this phrase as often as you can. “Either way, it's really okay with me.” Try it. Just try saying that. “Either way is really okay with me.” This implies a few things. It implies that you've just given them a choice or you've just illuminated to them that they have a couple of different directions they can go. And you've also indicated that you are emotionally detached from the outcome. “Either way it's really okay with me.”
The psychology behind this is important because if you give your kid two choices and you are okay with one but not the other, which one are they going to pick? And how do they do this? They've got some uncanny ability to pick the one you don't want them to pick. Well, if you detach emotionally from the outcome, you really are okay with either way. Here's an example. With a younger child, “Buddy, you can get into the car under your own power or under my power. Either way is really okay with me.” You know, I'm talking about a young child. Maybe 3 years old. They've got to get into a car seat. Can you enforce that? Yes, you can. That's why you're really okay with either way. He can get into the car on his own. Fine with that. Or you can get into the car under my power. Fine with that too.
Here's another example maybe using the same scenario. You can get into the car yelling and screaming and complaining or quietly and peacefully. Either way it's really okay with me. Now normally, you're not okay with the screaming and crying, right? But what if you were? Oh, that changes the energy, and the dynamics of this interaction. So, get okay with either way. You don't control whether your child is kicking and screaming or going cooperatively. Get okay with either way and then it shifts the responsibility back to the child.
Here's an example for an older kid. “Honey, you can do the dishes on your own or you can hire somebody else to do it for you.” Either way it's really okay with me. Okay, that's another great example for an older kid who is expected to help out with the dishes. And maybe she doesn't want to help out with the dishes. Well notice, I'm not giving her a choice of doing the dishes or not doing the dishes. I'm giving her a choice of doing it on her own or hiring someone else to do it. And there's some strategies on that second choice. Hiring someone else to do it? Who is she going to hire? She probably doesn't know a dishwashing service that she can call up and prepay for services, so, probably she's going to hire me if she chooses that option. See? And my fees are really high. So, she probably doesn't want to hire me very many times. That has to do with following through the consequences.
While we're talking about discipline, let's get in to something that I think is really going to help with ADHD kids especially any kid who's got some executive functioning challenges and what kid doesn't? We want to give them learning opportunities. I like to structure these in a way that allows us to have some level of control and oversight. Here's an example of one that I've done with several kids who have been officially diagnosed with ADHD.
I keep little sticky notes at my office and I have several at home too. With some of the kids that I've worked with, I'll take one of these notes and I'll write in my handwriting “Monday.” And then I'll tear it off and I'll stick it to them, maybe on their sleeve. Then I'll write “Tuesday,” on another sticky and stick that one to their knee maybe. “Wednesday,” follows and you get the picture until I get a full week's worth of these little notes that have different days of the week written in my handwriting. Then I give them a challenge. The challenge is to place this note on their mother's mirror by 7 o'clock a.m. every morning on the day that it's written. Mom's job is to check and see if the note is there, and if it is she signs it and puts it back, then the child's task is to take that note back before 8 o'clock p.m. with the signature on it.
Then I put some parameters around that like, “Mom, you don't get to remind your child to either put the note up or to take it down, you don't get to do that. You just simply sign it if it's there by 7 o'clock a.m.. And you do not sign it if it's not there by 7 o'clock a.m. no matter when it shows up. You are also to destroy the note if it's still there after 8 o'clock a.m. and no reminder.” Probably the hardest part about this experiment is mom not reminding the kids. Remember, what we are trying to do is train executive functioning.
In this particular learning experiment, we set up a reward at the end of the week if they have successfully done those tasks every day on their own without reminders. They get a fairly big payoff. Usually have that payoff be something that mom contributed a portion and the kid contributes a portion. Just to simplify it, this might be a school-aged child. Let's say 8, 9, 10 years old. Mom contributes $25. Kid contributes $25 or the equivalent thereof. So, there's a $50 pot and they get the whole thing if they successfully complete the challenge. They get nothing if they fail. Interesting experiment both for the child and for the mom. With attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or any functioning problem that kids have, we are really trying to help them start to turn on their own executive ability to monitor their own behavior.
Now, finally. I think ADHD is over diagnosed typically in our society. I think it's one way that we say, “Hey, it's hard for me to deal with this kid’s behaviors.” There are some kids who legitimately have a diagnosis that has something to do with the way their brain is working. I want you to consider medication. I'm not saying you should get it. But remember, we started this out with how do I help a kid with ADHD without medication. That's what we've been talking about. But when push comes to shove, if this is a legitimate diagnosis and if you've tried a number of these things without success, the research shows that untreated attention deficit hyperactivity disorder leads to a much higher risk of disruptive behavior in the future including illegal activity, substance abuse, self-injurious behavior. There are a lot of things we don't want to have happen if it goes untreated. So, try these things but be open to and consider the possibility of medication and consult with a qualified medical professional.
If you haven't yet got a copy of my book Pathological Positivity, that is a great place to start as you consider other options like coaching or programs that are available to help you in personal development or parenting. Click on the big orange button once you get there and let's get this into your hands as soon as possible.