You will only be able to handle a conversation like this if you can remain calm and access your higher brain (pre-frontal lobes). Remember not to take the misbehaviour personally. Make sure you take a deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth before you begin the conversation.
Early self-control intervention is necessary if you want your child to have a chance at leading a successful life regardless of ADHD. We need to enhance our own self-control skills in order to help kids develop theirs.
As a professional who has worked with numerous children with behavioural problems in schools, the mother of a child with ADHD, and having been married to someone with ADHD, I know the difficulties of handling this disorder first hand. I know the frustration, desperation and agony of feeling powerless to assist the person you love.
ADHD is an actual brain disability, no matter how hard people try to make it seem otherwise. The name of this disability also does injustice to the real issues faced by people living with ADHD. We should stop thinking of ADHD as an attention deficit problem, since those of us who live with ADHD people will know that they can concentrate perfectly and even hyper-concentrate when they feel fascinated and interested in the topic.
ADHD is actually an inability to self-regulate. This means that these children cannot regulate their emotions or their actions in a way that works towards a goal in the future, unless they are totally absorbed in the topic and it provides some sort of instant gratification.
Normal self-control develops as children learn certain skills:
The age between three to six years old is the time period when self-control naturally develops if the circumstances are ideal. Unfortunately there are factors that prohibit or slow the natural development of self-control.
These factors are:
For the purpose of this article, I am not going to elaborate on the first two factors mentioned. The exciting part for me as a therapist and coach is that I am able to see the positive effects that exposure to and teaching of self-control to parents and teachers have in assisting children to better handle emotional situations that they are faced with. When parents and adult role-models such as teachers focus on enhancing their own self-control mechanisms in a way that provides the child with positive examples of how to handle tough situations, the child feels more secure and able to adapt and learn from the examples shown by the adults in their life.
However, as with most complex topics, there is a trick.
These skills can only be taught to children with ADHD in real-life situations. This is because people with ADHD have a working memory problem. This means that they have a problem applying previously learned information in a current situation. They might know what to do, but when they need the knowledge, the fact that they lack self-control prevents them from accessing the applicable information.
One could think of the brain as play dough (malleable), because of its ability to adapt. This concept gives us hope because it means that brain patterns can develop if children are taught self-control mechanisms repetitively in a realistic situation that requires the specific pattern of behaviour.
Unfortunately because the behaviour of children with ADHD causes so much frustration in the people around them, and they are often only diagnosed when everybody has nearly given up on them, they suffer severe emotional distress due to their inability to regulate themselves. They know how people perceive them and they get extremely frustrated with their own inability to “get their ducks in a row”. This just contributes to a downward spiral of negative self-worth and subsequent bad behaviour.
What is the answer?
The solution is to provide the adults (parents and teachers) in the ADHD child’s life, with the skills to teach self-control in the moment when it is needed, without losing control themselves. This often requires a complete mind shift - It requires developing your own “SUPER self-control powers”!
As a mother this little guy has often visited me over the years, I actually think he likes me a lot. If I think back he has also visited me as a child before I had to sing on a stage or play a piano exam. And the weird thing is, he always tells my body I need to go to the toilet. He also showed up when I was an adult and had to stand in front of groups of children to speak to them. He always try to convince me that I am not good enough, that things are not going to work out. Another way my body responds to him is that I develop eczema.
Over the years and especially over the last two years I got to know him very well. But the interesting thing is, that he always speak to me about something that might happen in the future. And he somehow succeeds at telling me that the outcome is going to be bad. As my eczema got really bad and spread to my eye lids, my life coach suggested that I talk to my body and listen to what it is trying to tell me. As a professional skilled in externalisation I didn’t find it difficult and was amazed how the eczema literally disappeared by the end of the session.
This was a pivotal moment in my dealings with my friend anxiety. I realised that he is needed when I am really in a life threatening situation to warn me of danger, and it is also good if he shows up when I really have to get a job done. So I need him in my life, but I must also be very aware of when he shows up and try to throw me off balance by his negative talks about the future. If he starts screaming really loudly, he affects my brain in such a way that I can’t think and make good plans. I had to find a way to keep him under control and tell him to leave.
So how do I do it?
I breathe; I literally breathe in slowly through my nose for four counts and then out through my mouth for four counts.
Then I question; what is really going on here? Why am I freaking out? Has the thing I am freaking out about happened yet? What proof do I have in this moment that it is going to happen?
Then I accept; that I do not have control over the outcome of everything in my life, and that whatever happens future I am not there yet, and I can only what this moment is offering me.
So how does this apply to parenting?
Parents and especially parents of children living with ADHD often experience anxiety about what the future is going to hold for our children. What if they never learn to be on time? What if they never remember to write thing down? What if???????
So today I want to encourage you to try my formulae. Stay present with what you can handle today, and how you can support them to be successful today.
One of my favourite quote’s is from the movie “The best Marigold hotel”; it says: “Everything will work out in the end, if it hasn’t worked out, it is not the end yet.”