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Ten Things To Remember If You Have A Child With ADHD

Ten Things To Remember If You Have A Child With ADHD

Having a child with ADHD is hard for most parents. Let’s face it, there aren’t many of us proudly telling other parents “Oh yes, my child has ADHD, and I’m so proud of him. It is such hard work, but it’s so rewarding”. It’s exhausting, never-ending and not for the faint-hearted. Because of the stigma attached to ADHD, most parents tell very few people. ADHD is often linked with other issues such as dyslexia, oppositional defiant disorder, sensory processing disorder, and a whole heap of other “labels,” so parents can find themselves feeling even more overwhelmed and lost in a morass of labels and confusion.

When you type ADHD into Google, a mere 58,100,000 results come back, and I can guarantee you that the majority of them will be negative, scary and gloomy. On the first page of Google results, ADHD is described as a brain disorder or a mental disorder involving neurodevelopment – talk about focusing on the negatives! However, there are so many positives to this type of personality that aren’t always discussed or highlighted among stressed and overwhelmed parents.

There is a legend that the Native Americans couldn’t see Christopher Columbus’s ships sailing to shore. It’s said that because they’d never seen anything like this before, their minds simply couldn’t process the information and their brains wouldn’t allow their eyes to see the ships. As the story goes, one man noticed ripples in the ocean, so every day he would watch the ripples, until eventually he could spot the ships.

Once he spotted the ships, he told all other the Native Americans, and then they too could see the ships. Now, where am I going with this? I’m telling you this because if your child has ADHD, like most other parents, you have probably spent an enormous amount of time sifting through some of the 58,100,000 Google results, and you are probably feeling sad, confused, overwhelmed and scared for the future of your ADHD child.

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Well, today, I would like you to think of yourself as one of those Native Americans, and I’m man who has just seen the ships. It may be hard for you to see the ships, and I totally understand that it could take some time, but just allow yourself for the next few minutes to open your mind to a more positive side of ADHD.

1. Learn about all the people in the world who are thriving with ADHD

There are so many amazing people on this planet right now who have ADHD and are thriving. There are so many writers, musicians, artists, actors, athletes and entrepreneurs who have ADHD and have learned to see it as a gift. They have learned how to use this “superpower” as their ultimate positive trait, and they are thriving in life. And it’s not just grown-ups, there are children and teenagers with ADHD who are making a mark in this world and sharing their journeys. Start to read about these people, gain knowledge about them, and empower yourself. Then you can empower your child and watch their confidence grow. Try searching Google for things like: “ADHD is my superpower,” “Thriving with ADHD,” and “ADHD kids rock.” You get the drift!

2. Discover who you are

There are so many parents who discovered they had ADHD after their child was diagnosed. I’m not suggesting that every parent who has a child with ADHD has ADHD themselves, but it’s becoming more recognised that the little ADHD apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Think about who you were as a child. What did you parents say? What did your school reports say about you? Were you a drifter or a wanderer? Remembering who you were and discovering who you are now could help not only yourself but also your child. And, better still, it may strengthen your bond with them. Remember the saying, “birds of a feather flock together.” Maybe you and your child have more in common than you think!

3. Help your child to find his or her passion

I know it’s hard when you feel that you can spend most of your day either screaming at you child or wanting to scream at him or her, but take some time to discover your child’s strengths. Does he or she like art, nature, or building things? Is your child good at running, dancing, or gymnastics? There was a little boy in America named Pierson Feeney (he’s one of the positive ADHD searches you should type into Google). His mum noticed that he would constantly move his feet and that he found it difficult to concentrate in school. Medication didn’t work for Pierson, so his desperate mum decided to try something different. She enrolled him into a dance school, and the rest, as they say, is history. Pierson now dances after school every day, and because of his love of dancing, he has learned how to focus on something he loves. He is now able to focus more in school and is thriving in life – for Pierson, ADHD is his greatest asset!

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4. Don’t feel embarrassed when talking to teachers

Michael Phelps, the Olympic swimmer, has won 23 gold medals, but when he was younger, he couldn’t concentrate in school. His mother was told by his teacher that Michael couldn’t focus on anything, yet he has gone on to be the most decorated Olympian of all time. He couldn’t concentrate in the classroom, but he could focus on swimming, and like Pierson, through his passion, he learned how to focus. Instead of talking about what your child can’t do, ask the teachers to explore what they are good at. Are they good at sports? Are they are a fast runner? A good singer? Do they have rhythm or a good ear for music, or do they have artistic talents? Oftentimes, kids with ADHD are very creative. Ask the school to work with you to find your child’s passion. If they are good at something, their confidence will grow, and they will thrive – this could be the thing that makes them succeed!

5. Accept what it is and go with it

So many parents want to try and change their child, and this could simply be because of peer pressure. We all want to conform and come across as a “normal” family, but kids with ADHD are different, and making peace with the situation and accepting it can be very liberating. Parents want their child to stop being impulsive, hyperactive and inattentive, but realising that their brains are wired differently, letting go of how you think your child should be, and embracing the child that you have is very healing. Recognising and accepting their flaws will help you stop and see their rainbows on a rainy day. Every child is good at something, but it’s often hard to see this when you are hell-bent on trying to change them.

6. Try to make peace with your child’s bad days

So many parents feel that their ADHD child does things to upset them on purpose. They don’t listen, and they are hyperactive and defiant. However, learning to make peace with it and accepting what is will help so much. When they act out, often it’s because they are over-stimulated or feeling anxious. Kids with ADHD can have emotions that are so much more intense than other kids’, and they struggle with the simplest of changes. A change in routine, a different teacher, or even a different type of clothing or meal can flip them into a rage. Remembering this on bad days or during bad moments can help so much. Just go with it, accept it and be confident in yourself as a parent. Try not to feel embarrassed in front of other parents; everyone is going through something, it’s just that no one talks about it!

7. Use a positive type of discipline

At the end of the day, we are raising mini-humans, and just like in the animal kingdom, they need the leaders of the pack to keep them in line. However, like animals in the wild, if you try taming your spirited children too much, they will fight back! This can then mean that you can’t even get them to obey a single instruction, which is draining and hard for parents. Using a simple method like “pasta in the jar” is great because it’s visual and easy for both the child and the parent. You simply place some dried pasta in a jar, and each time the child doesn’t listen to your instructions, you take one piece of pasta out of the jar. As soon as you take pasta from the jar, immediately give them a way to earn that pasta back. This allows them to act in a positive way and helps them to self-regulate. If they have all the pasta in their jar by the end of the week, then they get a reward! Simple!

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8 One-on-one time parent time is crucial

Having one-on-one time with your child who has ADHD is often something that can fill you with dread, but having that special time with your little bottle of pop can often be the thing that helps their behaviour. Don’t overthink it; this special time could be as simple as doing crafts together, taking the dog for a walk, or visiting the park. Try not to use this time as a reward for them; instead consider it essential “mental health” time. Even if they’ve had a particularly “bad” week and you feel like you don’t want to give them this special time, try and remember: the children who need the most love are often the ones who ask for it in the most unloving ways.

9. Give them a safe space

ADHD kids will often have more thoughts before breakfast than most people have all day, and in time, this could be their greatest gift, but when they are young it can send them into sensory overload! While going to a friend’s house to play or meeting friends at a café or restaurant might seem like nothing to you, to them it can seem like the end of their world. Allowing yourself to see who they and accepting it will help you in these moments.

Be honest with family and friends that you may not always be able to attend dates, and don’t apologise for this. You have a different type of child who needs to be nurtured in a different way. When you see that your child is overwhelmed, encourage your child to go to his or her safe space. It could be their bedroom (this is why it’s great not to use this space as a punishment room). It could be a den that they have made, even under the table – but it will allow them to self-regulate once again. Trying to get them to conform will often end in disaster for the parents.

10. Choose Love

ADHD kids can be hard to love, but at the same time they are often very intuitive, and they know when people don’t like them. They will feel disapproval from their parents too, and the more they feel this, the more they will rebel! Being mindful of how you talk to them and how you speak about them (when they are in earshot) will affect their self-esteem so much. Low self-esteem in children causes them to be anxious, which can then supercharge their ADHD. Their impulsivity, hyperactivity and inattentiveness will then be on steroids, and it will become almost impossible to parent them. Showering them with love (even on bad days) won’t breed spoilt children with attachment problems. It will instead raise their self-esteem and give you a happier, more compliant little human.

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Instead of thinking about all the negative aspects of ADHD, we need to think about the positives. We need to imagine Mozart composing his symphonies or Dali and Picasso drawing their masterpieces. We need to think about Jim Carrey and Robin Williams making people laugh, Steven Spielberg and Walt Disney creating some of the most iconic movies of all time, and David Neeleman, the founder of JetBlue Airlines, making positive changes in the aviation industry. All these people not only had ADHD, but better still, they had someone who believed in them. Someone like that one man who could see not only the ripples in the water but the ships themselves. ADHD kids are hard to parent, but with a little compassion and understanding and a truckload of patience, they can become the most awesome humans! We could be holding the key to the success of future writers, musicians, artists, actors, athletes or entrepreneurs – let’s be the ones who help them achieve it!

Featured photo credit: Jason Rosewell via unsplash.com

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Susy Parker

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Published on March 5, 2020

How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills

How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills

Tommy wants his toy back. His brother is playing with his favorite toy and he wants it back. Tommy starts to scream and is hitting his brother uncontrollably. He is three and these fits of rage and lack of self-control rear their ugly head daily. Their parents rush into the room and diffuse the situation. They are at a loss as to why Tommy has little to no self-control.

Is it just the terrible twos that are stretching beyond the twos? Or is there something else that can better explain his behavior?

Actually, Tommy, like many little tots, is still developing his executive functioning skills. These skills are imperative in helping us regulate our behaviors and exhibit self-control. Parents need to understand the role of executive functioning skills and how they can help their child develop these skills.

I will provide an explanation of these skills and tips in this article to help parents with this understanding.

What Are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive function is processes in the brain that help us function. Executive function helps with the execution of the variety of skills. These are a top 10 list of the skills associated with executive functioning:

  • Paying attention
  • Completion of a task from start to finish
  • Self-motivation
  • Self control, impulse control, and inhibition (the ability to control one’s actions and behaviors)
  • Organize and make decisions
  • Manage time properly for completion of tasks
  • Mental flexibility (being able to change directions with a task when needed)
  • Accurate self-assessment (able to look at one’s abilities and achievements objectively)
  • Memory and recall (ability to keep information and retrieve it when needed)
  • Task initiation (ability to dive into a project and get started)

People with low executive functioning skills have a harder time socializing, getting tasks completed, and controlling their basic impulses. There are a variety of problems and even diagnosable disorders associated with executive dysfunction.

For example, when a first grader with poor executive functioning skills wants the pink ball at recess, and another littler girl has the only pink ball, the little girl who wants the ball may hit the other child because her impulse is to do whatever it takes to get that ball.

She has not developed the skills to process the situation logically nor the ability to develop a plan to ask politely to share the ball. Her executive functioning skills are not developed enough so she reacts without thinking about the consequences. Her impulses take over.

The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University explains the role of executive function as follows:[1]

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

We are not born with executive functioning skills. These skills are something we develop.

Good parenting methods can help with the development of these skills. They are important because the benefits of learning these skills can last for a lifetime. These skills are those we begin building early in life and we can continue building upon in childhood and into adulthood.

This building upon skills is called scaffolding. It is never too late to develop executive functioning skills, but the earlier they can begin developing the better off a person will be in handling life, as the skills build upon themselves.

The Importance of Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills affect us in every area of life. Here are some examples.

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Health

If a teenager doesn’t have good impulse control skills, then that individual may be more likely to succumb to peer pressure. Their lack of self control can affect their decision making and lead to drug addiction, alcohol abuse, or addiction to pornography.

The executive functioning skill of self-control has an effect on our food choices. If we lack self control with food, we are more likely to make poor food choices, based on impulses. Junk food can easily become the go-to food for an individual who lacks self-control with food.

Academic Success

Memory is one of the primary areas of executive functioning. If an individual has not developed good memory and recall skills, they will likely do poor in school.

Studying for exams, learning how to memorize and recall information are imperative to success in school. Planning skills and task management skills (i.e. completion of assignments) is also imperative to academic success.

Career Success

If someone has poor executive functioning skills in the area of planning and task execution, then career success will be limited.

When assigned a work project, the individual with poor planning skills may wait until the last minute to prepare their presentation. Their poor time management and planning skills can lead to workplace failures.

Social Relationships

When a child doesn’t have good executive functioning skills which includes self-control, they may fail to see the feelings of others in the moment.

When they lose at a game, they may sulk or cry. They may also yell at their playmates when they don’t get their way. Worse yet, they can act out violently, such as hitting and biting when someone has a toy that they want. Their ability to control their impulses is poor when they have not developed good executive functioning skills.

Romantic Relationships

The man who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer when it comes to physical romantic interactions may be someone who lacks impulse control. He may know right from wrong, but he has not learned how to control his impulses. This can obviously lead to major problems in any romantic relationship.

If you don’t want a son who rapes girls (or vice versa, because that happens too), then you need to instill more than a sense of right and wrong. They must also be taught self-control and to navigate their impulses to make good decisions in heated situations.

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Executive Functioning Skills

A great deal of executive functioning skill development occurs during childhood. How a child is raised will have a big impact on whether or not they have developed good executive functioning skills by adulthood.

1. Routines

Daily routines can help establish order and predictability. Children (and adults) benefit from routines that establish good daily habits. For example, in the morning some good habits to establish and expect from children are getting dressed, brushing their teeth, putting on their shoes, combing their hair and preparing their backpack.

Making their bed, picking up their room, and other chores are also good daily tasks to add to the routine if your child isn’t doing them already. If you wonder what kind of chores are age appropriate for your child, you can check out this posting from Focus on the Family. They have provided examples of age appropriate charts along with a free printable chore chart.

If your child has difficulty getting things done in the morning, then create a chart for them to check off their tasks as they complete them each morning. You can find charts online for purchase, such as major creative websites like Etsy. They have magnet boards that can be customized for tasks you want your child to do each morning. Amazon has a variety of these premade boards for sale.

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Just use the search terms “daily routine charts” or “morning routine charts” and you will find lots of options. If you are crafty you can easily make one yourself. Below is chart of one such product found on Amazon using the search terms I mentioned above.

    2. After School Homework Time

    Most kids do not come home from school and decide to get started on their homework. It would be great if they did! If your child does this, then you need to realize you have a unicorn. Most children need reminding about homework, especially in the early days when they first start receiving homework.

    It is helpful to set aside a specific time period after school when homework is to be completed. For example, you can set a rule that they must do it immediately after school, and they cannot use electronics or play until it is finished.

    Getting your child in the habit of doing their homework sooner than later helps with planning skills. Having a teenager who waits until 11pm on a Sunday night to start a book report that they have known about for a week is a bad habit.

    Don’t let your child become an out of control procrastinator. Start teaching them time management and planning skills early in life. You will reap the benefits too.

    Start helping them plan on getting homework done before they can play is a good policy. It also helps with developing self control, as they must get the work done before they can do something enjoyable. They learn to appreciate their electronics and free time more when they have accomplished a task (i.e. homework) to earn the right to play.

    3. Calendar/Agenda

    Get your child in the habit of using a calendar or agenda book at an early age. When I was in 6th grade, our school issued an agenda book to each student. I have since been using the organizational habits I learned from that time in my life. I will still record writing deadlines among other appointments in my book.

    Have your child record their assignments in their own agenda book. Putting major assignments on a calendar is also helpful.

    Using a calendar or agenda book can help with establishing planning skills. If they look at their calendar in the morning and see that they have their term project due and basketball practice after school, they can go out the door with the completed project in hand along with clothes for practice. Helping your child prepare for their day, week, and month becomes easier when it is visible on a calendar.

    Do digital calendars work? Yes, but not as well as paper calendars. There is always a risk of losing things that are digital or having a dead phone. Having it on paper can also allow for a quick “month at a glace” viewing (if they have calendar that shows month to month like I do). Such a glace can provide quick reminders of what needs to get done in the near future or appointments that need preparation.

    4. Set Rules

    Rules are the backbone of the household function. If kids don’t know what time they are supposed to be home, what chores are expected, and when they should be going to bed, then they are not learning planning skills in the home.

    Kids need clearly defined rules. It doesn’t mean that they have to be strict or over the top rules. However, they need to be clearly conveyed to each member of the household. Putting them in writing will definitely make it clear.

    Setting clear rules such as no shoes in the house, no yelling indoors, no eating in the living room, etc. can help kids understand the parameters for their behavior inside the home. This helps them to develop self-control as they learn what is expected.

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    Broken rules should result in consequences (for example in our home it is usually loss of technology time or a time-out). Setting rules is setting expectations. This helps with children and their development of a variety of executive functioning skills including planning, organization, time management, paying attention, and self control.

    5. Consequences

    Consequences definitely help with the development of self-control. If your toddler learns that temper tantrums always lead to time outs, then they eventually stop with the tantrums because they realize they aren’t worth it.

    Consequences should be reasonable and age appropriate. For more details on this topic, you can check out my previously published article: How to Discipline a Child.

    6. Break Down Big Tasks

    Kids that have a hard time getting started on large projects or tasks simply feel overwhelmed and they freeze up. Help your child out by breaking down a larger task.

    For example, if they have a book report due next month then help them examine the steps involved. First would be writing the book, next writing the report, and finally turning in the report before the deadline. You can help them set the dates to get each of the tasks completed in a timely fashion. You can even go as far as helping them assign themselves specific chapters to read by certain dates. It helps them to see their big task as a series of small tasks that they can complete more easily and build upon.

    Breaking down big tasks can help with a child who has problems getting started on projects. It can also help them develop their planning, organization, and follow-through skills. These are all executive functioning skills that are wonderful to develop earlier in life than later.

    7. Memory Games and Play

    Playing games and allowing your child to play can help with the development of executive functioning skills. Memory is one of the top ten executive functioning skills.

    To help a child develop their memory, you can play matching games, such as the one actually called Memory. You can also play sorting games, hide and seek, and matching games. These types of activities can help with memory, recall, and the development of other executive function skills too (i.e. planning, organization, motivation).

    Teaching your child to sing songs from memory and play an instrument are also very helpful in developing executive functioning skills. Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child provides a resource list of fun activities you can do with your child to help them develop their executive functioning skills.[2]

    8. Motivate

    Internal motivation

    does not come automatically for all kids. Sometimes children need to have external motivation to get them down the path toward success. Once they feel success and enjoy their pursuits, they will learn to self motivate.

    To get them started you may need to help motivate them. Offering genuine praise for their success is one way to motivate. If you are motivating them away from bad decisions, you may need to use consequences or discipline. However, praise and rewards are always more motivating in the long run.

    9. Home Organization

    It is hard for a child to learn how to be organized, not lose their personal items, and keep on schedule if their home life is chaos. A home that is clutter filled, unkept, and where things are easily lost does not lend itself to helping a child develop good executive functioning skills.

    Some home organization methods that can help your child include having a specific place for backpacks, coats, and shoes to be placed when not being used. This will help with their routine, planning, and time management skills.

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    Having them participate in keeping a home in order helps with their development of executive functioning skills, as they are learning about organization, planning, task initiation, and task completion. Overall, the best benefits of an organized home are their development of time management skills and routine.

    10. Self Control Techniques

    Self control is an executive functioning skills that is imperative to life success. If you have a child who is still throwing temper tantrums in public at age 10 because they can’t control themselves, then you definitely have a problem.

    There should be consequences for lack of self control that is disruptive or damaging. For example, a child’s tantrums can result in loss of play time, or a child who steals a classmate’s lip gloss simply because they wanted it (lack of impulse control) will need to return it, apologize to the classmate, and will be grounded for a week. Whatever the situation may be, there should be an adequate consequence to match the failure to control their behaviors.

    Once children learn that their behaviors have consequences, they learn to control their behaviors better. A child who wants to go to the movies after church, but knows that they must be quiet during church for them to be allowed to go out with their friends, will likely be quiet during church so that they can get the desired result (movie with friends after church). Providing consequences in advance (or the potential for rewards like the example above) can help to promote self control in your child.

    Help to motivate your child by providing both rewards and consequences as fitting for the situation. Again, remember that rewards are always more effective for long term positive results and can help to create genuine motivation toward good behavior.

    11. Be the Example

    To teach your child skills that embody good executive skill functioning, you must be the example. For example, if you want your child to follow rules, then you should also follow the rules set forth for you (i.e. the laws). If you are a habitual speeder and you say things like “those speed limits are only suggestions,” you are essentially telling your child that rules and laws don’t matter. If you want children who follow rules, order, and the laws of society, then you must be a good example.

    If you want your child to not be late for school, then you should set the example for morning routines and leaving early to get to your destination. Your habits such as organizational skills, time management, following rules, planning skills, and completing tasks are being observed by your children on a daily basis. They learn just as much, if not more, through your actions than your words. “Actions speak louder than words” is a motto to live by.

    12. Teach Self-Evaluation Through Questions

    The ability to assess one’s own abilities and achievements (or lack thereof) is an executive functioning skill. If someone is weak at this skill, then they will be shocked when they fail at something.

    Help your child prepare for success and failure. If they fail at something, then ask them “what do you think you could do different next time?” If they can recognize areas that need to be improved, then their perception of the situation and the reality can become more closely aligned.

    If you tell your child “you deserved to win” every time that they lose, they are going to start believing you and they will see no wrong in themselves. You teach them to evaluate themselves by asking them questions.

    Below are some additional questions you can use with your children. Be sure to use a kind and inviting tone. If you sound sarcastic or harsh, your child is going to shut down to your questioning and it will not be productive. If you want a meaningful conversations, then use a tone that shows you care for them and are genuinely interested in their situation:

    • How do you think it went?
    • What could you do differently next time?
    • What is one thing that you could improve on before next time (next game, meet, test, etc.)?
    • What did you learn from your disappointment today (or loss or whatever happened)?
    • How are you feeling about your disappointment?
    • What did you learn from this experience?
    • What is something positive you can take away from the experience?
    • What do you think it will take for you to win next time (or pass the test or whatever the situation may be)?
    • What kind of plan do you need in place to take you to that next win?

    Final Thoughts

    Executive functioning skills are essential to human function. The weaker the executive functioning skills, the less successful a person is likely to become in life in all areas (except maybe sleep). Although routine and time management help with sleep too!

    Executive functioning skills are learned primarily in the home though a primary caregiver (usually the parent). How a child is raised (and treated), their home environment, and the behaviors (and example) of their primary caregiver play a huge role in developing executive functioning skills.

    Even if a child doesn’t develop them early in life, all hope is not lost. These skills can still be developed in late childhood and even into adulthood. Just do the best that you can do as a parent for your child now.

    More Parenting Skills

    Featured photo credit: Paige Cody via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University: Executive Function & Self-Regulation
    [2] Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child: Executive Function Activities for 3- to 5-year-olds

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