ADHD tends to be a very complicated constellation of symptoms. There's no blood test that we can give to examine whether your child has ADHD. It's really a diagnosis that is based on symptoms and what we observe in children. The funny thing is when you look through the system list, all of them are things that most children do at least occasionally to some level. So, when we make a diagnosis of ADHD, it's because many of these symptoms are appearing at a level that is higher than we would expect from most kids. Having said that, I think we over diagnose of it in our society, and there are cases that we miss. But either way it's a challenging constellation of behaviors.

Now, this article is not intended to be diagnostic. If you are a parent of a child with ADHD or if you suspect that or if you don't care about the diagnosis but you are having some challenges with your child then I have some behavioral suggestions that can make a huge difference. Let's look at a model that I've shared before. Let's start with a quick review of one of the most basic principles that we need to understand as parents. We'll talk about how that ties into ADHD as well. It goes back to control and maturity and how these two things interact and affect each other. Control means control over your own life. It goes from 0 to 100% control so you can have all of it or none of it or somewhere in between. And maturity has to do with how grown up you are. But it's not just about age. it's about stage. As we talk about stage we divide this into three chunks and I  just label them stage 1, stage 2 and stage 3. Now remember the least mature you are, the less control you have. The more mature you are, the more control you have. Kids aren't mature enough to take full control of their life and that's why we get to share that control. How mature they are, determines how much control they get to have.

Now as a quick review. Stage 1 is the least mature. We know they are in stage 1 when they exhibit fighting, opposition, defiance, tantrums, yelling, screaming and demanding. It's a very immature stage. These things by the way are totally appropriate for toddlers and two year olds. But, if you have a 16 or 17 year old doing that kind of stuff, that's a problem. We call that immature.

Stage 2 is where we stop fighting and start cooperating. In fact, I would put cooperation right on that dividing line between stage 1 and stage 2. If your child is cooperating, they are at least on stage 2. Stage 2 is much more pleasant for parent and child because we are working together. Negotiation occurs at stage 2. You don't want any trouble, you want to keep peace and so you go along with reasonable requests.

Stage 3 is where we kick in to responsibility. That is where there's empathy and that's an important term to remember. Empathy means that you understand and care how someone else feels. When this occurs in your child, they understand and care how someone else feels and  how their behavior impacts that person. Empathy, service, morals, values, ethics. Those are the things that drive our behavior on stage 3. It is easy to see when our kids get to stage 3, they get to have more control. Parents should back off when kids get to stage 3 because it's all about self-discipline and self-control at that point. Using this model, determine where your child is and that will tell you as a parent how much control we need to take.

What does this have to do with ADHD or quite frankly any other diagnosis or condition or syndrome that our children may have. A kid with ADHD is not going to be regulating and monitoring their own behavior and its’ effect like kids who don't have ADHD. That brings them way down on the maturity scale, which means they don't have as much control over themselves. That means parents need to take more control. Does that make sense to you? So, what if it's some other syndrome? What if they've got some kind of a developmental or pervasive delay of some kind? Well, that also bring their maturity level down. I'm not saying that in a judgmental way. I'm saying that in acknowledgement. It just means somebody else needs to kick in with control. Most of what I encourage parents to do with their ADHD child or as a parent of an ADHD child is to get clear about the control and maturity exchange so that you are taking the right level of control as a parent. What we want to do is encourage our children toward more maturity and self-control through training, teaching or educating them so they can run their own life more appropriately. I think our job as parents is to work our way out of the job. Eventually they don't need us controlling their lives. You see where we're going with that?

Here's what I really like as a practical approach and a big shout out to Foster Cline and Jim Fay authors of, “Parenting with Love and Logic.” You might be familiar with the Love and Logic people and curriculum and the wonderful materials that they have made available. They are great resources for parents and I highly endorse what they are doing. The steps that Foster Cline and Jim Fay presented or suggested, mirror the four I will share with you today.

First give the child a task. Give your child a task that they can handle. How can you tell if your kid can handle it? Well, this could be confusing when you're working with ADHD or another diagnosis or syndrome because sometimes we are not sure if our kid can handle it as they haven't done real well in the past. I want to get past the whole motivation thing, just simply as yourself,  “Are they capable of it?” Here's a little quick shortcut to get there. If you as a parent are frustrated because your child is not doing x, that means they are probably capable of doing x. If you believe they can’t do it, you're not going to be frustrated. Your frustration will tell you something. Pay attention to that. If you're feeling frustrated, its probably because you've observed maturity or traits or skills or behaviors in your child, that suggest maybe they can handle it and they just not. So, give them a task that they can handle.

Now I love step 2. I think Cline and Fay were brilliant when they came up with this. “You hope that they blow it.” Hope that they'll blow it. This goes contrary to what we are thinking as parents but here's how it ties in to an ADHD brain. The pre-frontal part of our brain is the part that helps us to regulate our own behavior and do logic and do problem solving and rational thought. That part might be getting a little lazy in the ADHD brain. We want to stimulate it to wake up. One way that we do that is through problem ownership. What I mean by that is whoever feels the weight of the problem is the person who owns it. This is going to upset some of you as parents because most parents try to own the problem? We want to shift the problem from your shoulders over to the shoulders of your little one in an appropriate way, in a way that they can handle it. We want to take the problem from our own shoulders and put it back on their shoulders because then if they own the problem, they are more likely to engage that prefrontal part of their brain to actually solve the problem. Kids are basically brilliant when it comes to efficiency. Their child or adolescent mind is thinking, “Hmm…should I worry about this or should I let someone else worry about this? That's easy, I'll let someone else worry about it because that's easier for me.” They'll do that all day long.

When we hope that they blow it, we shift the dynamics psychologically to where they start to take on the problem. A pretty good rule of thumb for kids is, if mom is smiling, kids are thinking. If you hope they blow it, you are not going to be all anxious about whether they were successful or not. You are not going to be reminding. We call it reminding, they call it nagging. Shift the dynamic. We have two more steps so stay with me.

Step 3 is to allow the consequences to do the teaching. I would also add a little piece here, empathy. We already talked about empathy briefly when I got to stage 3. Empathy has two important components, that you understand and care how someone else feels. Model that for your child. We are not going to clobber them with consequences. The consequences come for their choice for blowing it in step 2. Which is good because we wanted them to learn something. When we get to step 3, we let those consequences fall and then we kick in with empathy. Don’t say, “I told you so.” We are not going there. It is simply empathy. “Oh, wow, buddy, this is tough isn't it?” Yeah join with them in feeling back and you can't be sarcastic about this, it won't work. Be genuine and connect with them in an emphatic way because they are going to suffer  the consequence. I used to tell my kids the good thing about living in our house was they don’t have to like the consequences. They would grumble, but it's true. They don't need to like it. In fact, it's better when they don't because that's going to increase the learning through empathy since you wouldn't want that consequence either.

Step 4 is the powerful learning step where we get to give the same task again. This sends a powerful message and think about how this might address the issue we are dealing with ADHD. The message is, “Hey, you are smart enough. You've got the brain power. You've got the problem-solving ability to learn from your mistakes. I trust you to learn from this experience, now let's give it another try.” This encourages them to think. We want them to do some thinking, If they are thinking, they are not going to get into so much trouble. ADHD interferes with the thinking process and pulls us down on the maturity scale. If you use these steps, I think we can make a difference for kids with ADHD. Sounds kind of challenging but you are up to the challenge. You are a good parent and I know that because you are here and you are learning new techniques that will help you and your child become better.