The past few weeks have been tough. Bedtime anxiety, tears over missing friends, refusing school work, an emotional and frustrated mom trying to work and teach. Can anybody relate? There have been beautiful moments too. Family basketball. Daily lunch together, all five of us sitting at a table laughing. But sometimes I veer off course and the negative emotions get the best of me.
Being a school psychologist, I have worked with hundreds of students and found some tried and true touchstones. These touchstones are the things I know for sure about working with kids. But why can it seem so much harder to remember this about my OWN kids? The touchstones don’t make me the perfect parent, or prevent me from losing my temper or being unfair. But when I lose my way, they work, and they bring me back. I hope they work for you.
1. Start with your child’s strengths.
What is their gift?
What is their superpower?
What do they live to do?
Sports, art, words, nature, dance, music? Sometimes this “super power” can even be the very thing that drives everyone nuts! Their energy. Their sensitivity.
So if they won’t do a worksheet, maybe they are talented at creating videos. Maybe they will create an art piece on the topic. Maybe they won’t do fractions, but they will cook.
When we work in weaknesses, the best we can hope for is average. When we work in strengths, THAT is where people soar! So much of ADHD intervention is aimed at shoring up weaknesses. Fixing, solving problems, troubleshooting. While we want to improve challenging areas, this model causes our children to view themselves as broken. A shift to strengths is so powerful for that reason.
2. Make it fun! For goodness sake make it fun!!!!
If everyone leaves your school table in tears, do something else and make it fun! During this time of stress and newness, being home all of the time, completing every assignment as assigned is NOT a hill I would die on.
The dysregulated brain does not learn. Does not hear you. Does not problem solve, respond to consequences or lectures. So stop!!! How can you tell if a child’s brain is dysregulated? Fight, flight or freeze. Tears, yelling, storming off, crumpled papers, refusal. These are the symptoms. If you witness this, stop.
Take a break.
Do something fun.
Ditch the reading and dig for worms.
Read aloud from Harry Potter while in costume.
Stand on your head and make them laugh.
3. Meet them where they are!
If your child won’t read the book assigned, will they look at a comic? Will they listen to a book on tape? Will they listen to you read aloud? Find their entry point for literacy. The thing they WILL do. The thing they CAN they do. Start there. Happily. Easily.
Once they are routinely engaging in that activity, you can add a little challenge. Turn up the heat a little. But first you have to get your foot in the door. We do this by accepting where they ARE and meeting them there. Kids with ADHD are constantly having to form to the mold of everyone else. It is a gift to for once, to take a walk on THEIR path, listen to THEIR drum. I have found that the more willing I am to meet a child on their path, the more willing they are to visit mine.
4. Create rituals and routines…
Family lunch. Reading time. First math workbook, then basketball. Lights out at eight.
Routines and rituals are MUSTS for all kids, especially those with ADHD. Routines lower the cognitive load. They make actions habitual, so things that once took effort and decision making are now automatic. For brains that struggle with efficiency and processing, the more routines we have, the more brain power is left for the important stuff. So find your routines and stick to them!
5. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself a break!
If you start one routine and it’s an epic fail, ok!! You can adjust.
If you mess up. Lose your mind. Lose your temper. Ok!
This is where our kids get self esteem. THIS is where they learn to be human! By watching us they learn to own themselves, warts and all. They see that humans are imperfect. We are good AND bad. Smart AND dumb. Right AND wrong. Give your kids the blessing of witnessing this!
You are providing your child with a front row seat to some of the most powerful learning of their lives right now.
What is to be human.
To make a mess and clean it up.
To be overwhelmed and persevere.
To be blessed and troubled.
All at the same time.