Category: Parenting

ADHD Strategy Guide for Parents PART I: UNDERSTANDING

ADHD Strategy Guide for Parents PART I: UNDERSTANDING

Why I Made This Guide

If your son or daughter has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), odds are that you already have experienced some of the parenting challenges that come with it. Even more likely is your growing concern about your child’s ability to handle the necessities of life both now, and more importantly, in the future. In my time as a Marriage and Family Therapist specializing in treating adolescent and adult ADHD, I am consistently astonished at the lack of information parents are given about ADHD after their child has received the diagnosis. In an effort to properly equip parents, I created the following guide to serve as a quick reference on Attention-Deficit disorder. It is outlined in 2 parts, each to address a different aspect of conceptualizing and working with the disorder. I hope you find it to be an informative and useful tool to: (a) better understand your child, (b) develop creative ways of connecting with him/her, (c) avoid parental burnout, and (d) give your child the best chance to succeed academically, personally, and socially. The following is part 1 of 2.

Part I: UNDERSTANDING

Managing Expectations

The first and possibly most important point I can emphasize to parents is that if your child has ADHD (especially if you do not) he or she probably does not think like you do. This goes beyond the simple differences that separate the priorities of adults and kids. We are talking about fundamentally different ways of mental processing, information absorption, and execution of behaviors. If these differences are ignored, misunderstood, or go unaccommodated,  they can lead to a number of emotional issues and detrimental habits that can carry into adulthood. Understanding these differences and how kids express them is a crucial first step in helping them to thrive.

Attention Span

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Often very short capacity to maintain focus compared to their peers when it comes to things ADHD kids don’t like (e.g. homework, listening in class). Conversely, attention span can be seemingly infinite when it comes to things they do like (e.g. video games, watching YouTube).
  2. Easily distracted by visual and auditory stimuli (things they see and hear).
  3. Often have a difficult time prioritizing incoming information. Trying to have a conversation with them in a crowded or noisy room can be a challenge because the ADHD brain struggles to determine which information it picks up is most important.
  4. Prone to daydreaming or random thoughts that pop up and draw their attention elsewhere.

THE BENEFITS

  1. Propensity for creativity and invention as time spent daydreaming is when new ideas are formed.
  2. Being easily distracted by one’s environment isn’t always a bad thing. This can make teens hyper-aware of their surroundings, giving way to fast reflexes and heightened spacial awareness. This can be particularly useful when playing sports. Teens with ADHD may appear to be naturally gifted athletes.
  3. Teens with ADHD can be highly observant, as their distractibility makes them curious.

Disorganization

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Consistent difficulty with planning, organizing, and creating/maintaining structure or routine.
  2. Likely to find complex objectives that require multiple steps to be tedious and a challenge. There is a deficit in the ability to prioritize tasks, to think linearly, and to focus on both long and short-term goals at once. Therefore those with ADHD are prone to giving up such endeavors due to frustration.
  3. The ability to place events in order of sequence can be limited. This may manifest in a number of ways such as difficulty recounting the events of the day, or in telling a story.
  4. Are frequently unprepared for tasks, projects, or assignments that require significant planning.

THE BENEFITS

  1. Due to inherent difficulties with strategic planning and forward thinking, teens with ADHD often compensate in the only way they know how: to adapt.
  2. More likely to be flexible in the moment and successful on the fly, adapting to the necessities of the situation.
  3. ADHD kids may seem witty or clever as they can process rapidly in certain situations.
  4. Resourcefulness: without organizational skills, teens learn to recruit the help of others.
  5. Are often self-taught, preferring to learn from experience in the moment rather than reading a manual or text book.

Forgetfulness

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Due to shortened attention span and high distractibility, encoding information and memories is often more challenging.
  2. Can frequently lose or misplace personal items due to lack of attention and organizational skills.
  3. Likely to forget to do things that are not seen as instinctively important to them (e.g. chores, checking in with parents).
  4. May resort to lying about completing chores or homework that they forgot to do in order to avoid punishment or disappointment.
  5. Can be prone to interrupting others in conversation. This is due, in part, to thoughts or ideas coming quickly and the fear that their contributions can easily be forgotten if not shared immediately.

THE BENEFITS

  1. ADHD teens may be better able to let go of anger and frustration by moving on quickly.
  2. Teens develop a stronger sense of what is important to them as indicated by the things they choose to remember.

Pleasure Drive

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Extremely strong attraction toward excitementactivities that are pleasurable, or anything enjoyable or new.
  2. Likely to prioritize fun over obligations.
  3. May lie or be deceitful to get out of responsibilities in order to resume pleasurable activities.
  4. May require constant reinforcementvalidation, or reward to see obligations as worthwhile.

THE BENEFITS

  1. Frequently seen as fun-loving by friends and family, the life of the party.
  2. Often regarded as charming.
  3. Can use creativity to find ways to make the mundane more exciting and interesting. 
  4. Like to make others happy.

Impulsivity

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Those with ADHD are prone to low impulse control, which is the difficulty resisting sudden intense urges or desires that they feel must be met in order to avoid sadness or frustration.
  2. May suddenly blurt out words, thoughts, sounds, songs, etc…
  3. Behavior can often come across as rampant silliness or juvenile.
  4. Likely to act without thinking.
  5. Likely to be more reactive to their environment than their peers.
  6. Can develop a sudden desire or “wanting” of something, and can act out emotionally or aggressively if this desire is not met.
  7. Can be more susceptible to peer influence.

THE BENEFITS

  1. Impulsivity can take the form of spontaneity, leading to adventure.
  2. Less likely to “over-think” things, teens with ADHD are more likely to try new things and have new experiences.
  3. May demonstrate bravery, and are more likely to take risks.
  4. Like to joke and keep the mood light.

Frustration Tolerance

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Teens with ADHD often have a significantly lower frustration threshold than their peers.
  2. Likely to exhibit a strong resistance toward things that cause mental fatigue or frustration.
  3. May abandon interests or pursuits that they are not instantly good at or that suddenly become harder over time (e.g. school, sports, creative arts)
  4. Difficulty with things that require sustained mental effort.
  5. Can be emotionally explosive when efforts are not fruitful, are interrupted, or result in failure (e.g. throwing a tantrum when losing at a video game or team sport).
  6. Will frequently turn to pleasurable activities quickly when frustrated rather than work through challenges.
  7. Highly impatient, usually with themselves, likely due to unrealistic expectations of their abilities or of how rapidly a task should be completed or a skill learned.

THE BENEFITS

  1. Dramatic examples of frustration and emotional reactivity make it easier for parents and educators to identify when a teen with ADHD is struggling.
  2. Due to frequent frustration, teens with ADHD are more likely to know what soothes and calms them based on the activities they seek out when they reach the limits of their frustration.

Boredom with Routine

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Tendency to be easily bored correlates to the need for newness.
  2. May succeed for a period of time with routine when it is still “new,” but will frequently fall apart or intentionally deviate from routine when the “shine of newness” wears off, or if frustration sets in.
  3. May initiate conscious or unconscious efforts to sabotage routines just to break the perceived monotony.
  4. Require unique and evolving means of maintaining their interest.

THE BENEFITS

  1. To avoid boredom, teens with ADHD are more apt to find new and creative ways of doing something.
  2. Likely to employ and nurture skills of ingenuity.
  3. Often find more than one way of solving a problem or completing a task. Can occasionally find a more efficient way through trial and error.
  4. As with impulsivity, boredom with routine leads to trying new things.
  5. Drawn to activities or interests that are unique or out of the norm.
  6. May seek professions as adults that involve what they “love to do” rather than those which merely pay the bills. This can lead to a more fulfilling work life.

Constantly Changing Interests

THE CHALLENGES

  1. Very common in those with ADHD due to a combination of the excitement drawn from new things/passions/endeavors and chronic abandonment of those very same things when they become challenging, routine, or frustration sets in.
  2. Likely to struggle with following through when it comes to pursuits.
  3. Many projects get started, few are seen through to completion.
  4. Prone to difficulty in one or more of the following areas: starting somethingmaintaining effort, or finishing something.
  5. Can be extremely confusing and frustrating for parents as ADHD kids may seem “all-in” with a passion or activity one minute, then “totally over it” the next.

THE BENEFITS

  1. Teens with ADHD can be natural problem solvers, finding quick resolutions to problems and moving on to the next issue before their focus/interests change.
  2. Frequently changing interests can provide ADHD teens with exposure to many different pursuits, giving them a larger pool of passions to draw from.
  3. Driven to variety, potentially expanding worldview and understanding others and their interests.

Achievement vs. Potential

  1. Those with ADHD often demonstrate intelligence, creativity, brilliance, passion, quick-wittedness, which suggest strong potential for success. 
  2. Due to combinations of the cognitive processing/behavioral issues mentioned above, productivity and achievement are often far below what is seen as their potential.
  3. Performance continues to drop precipitously due to chronic disappointment exhibited by family members, educators, and mentors because those with ADHD appear to be squandering their innate talents.
  4. Those with ADHD are often aware of their abilities and are just as bothered by their inconsistency as those around them.
  5. Secondary emotional symptoms often develop (e.g. depressionanxietyanger) resulting from years of shame, living with disappointing others, peer rejection, and feeling misunderstood.

In Conclusion

It’s important to consider the mental and behavioral traits of adolescents with ADHD with an open mind. Not all teens necessarily exhibit these characteristics and not all have the same level of functionality. Many kids have developed “ADHD-like symptoms” where they demonstrate some of the behaviors above, but not enough to qualify for the full-blown clinical diagnosis. However, these teens struggle just as others do, and so we must address the symptoms they bear, regardless of their label. To do so, parents unfortunately must ask a lot of themselves regarding increasing their patience, mental flexibility, and by adapting their parenting style to meet the needs of their child. All of which will be outlined in PART II of the ADHD Strategy Guide for Parents, coming soon…

 

 

 

 

Why Teens Don’t Talk to Their Parents…And What You Can Do About It

Why Teens Don’t Talk to Their Parents…And What You Can Do About It

If you’re the parent of a teenager and feel that communication has broken down, an important first consideration is why communication has fallen apart. Here are four common, and often over-looked, reasons that teens avoid talking with their parents.

1.) NATURAL DEVELOPMENT

Any developmental psychologist will tell you that the hallmark of the adolescent years is the pursuit of identity and the biological drive toward seeking independence. These are not choices teens make, they are based on human development and instinct. This can often be a difficult transition to grasp for parents that (until now) are accustomed to their children relying on them for nearly everything. And with such reliance usually comes open communication and dialogue between parent and child. Parents know just about everything that goes on in their child’s life: who their friends are, performance in school, hobbies, interests, dreams, etc…until kids enter those pivotal teen years.

Since teenagers are new to the idea of independence, their efforts to obtain it are mostly trial and error. As a result, often the first instinct a teenager exhibits is to distance his/her self from their parent(s). This includes such behaviors as: intentionally doing the opposite of one’s parents, questioning rules and expectations, resisting or outright rejecting parental advice, and a notable drop in communication.

Teens begin to shift their focus from family to friends when it comes to advice, emotional support, camaraderie, and bonding. These are the first strides teens take toward individuation—which is considered the healthiest form of independence. As adults, this is represented by people who are independent, self-reliant, and yet are able to ask for help and support from others. In order for teenagers to achieve individuation, parents have to embrace the most terrifying of activities: learning to let go.

To clarify, “letting go” doesn’t mean handing your teenager the keys to the car, a wad of cash, and saying “good luck with your life.” It means empowering teens to develop life skills through their own experience. There are number of ways to help your teen to feel empowered, but here are two of the big ones.

Decision-Making:Seize every possible opportunity to encourage your teen to make as many ageappropriatedecisionsas possible. This gives teens a sense of control over their lives and builds confidence in their judgment and ability to make good choices.

Give them some space: Take a step back, both literally and figuratively, to see what your teenager can do. Let them make and learn from their mistakes. Teenagers desperately need this time to learn to problem-solve and become more self-reliant. Be sure not to step too far back, teens thrive on the knowledge that a parent is right behind them if they need support. And when your teen does seek your counsel, it’s important to avoid shaming him/her by meeting them with empathy rather than judgment.

 

2.) FEAR OF JUDGMENT

Nobody likes to be judged. Especially teenagers. Especially by their parents. As a parent, it’s more than likely you are aware that teenagers are not only hypersensitive emotionally and often insecure about who they are, but have an impossibly strong drive toward acceptance. Interestingly, teens don’t just crave acceptance by their peers, but by their parents as well.

Judgment is a form of rejection, the opposite of acceptance. So if a teenager is crying out for acceptance and is afraid you as a parent might judge him/her, that teenager is far less likely to approach you to talk. It’s hard enough to be rejected by your peers, but when a teen feels rejected by a parent it becomes a betrayal. The scary part is that parents often don’t even realize they’re doing it.

In my work I have observed countless instances where parents make judgmental comments to their teenage child about his/her interests, choices in friends, use of free time, even appearance. Regardless of circumstance, parents represent two crucial themes to their kids that cannot be betrayed if you want to foster a healthy family relationship: safety, and unwavering acceptance.

As a parent, you don’t need to share your child’s interests in order to appreciate them. You don’t have to dress like your daughter to know she has style. And you don’t need to account for every second of your son’s free time so long as you know he is safe and responsible. If you can make space in your heart and mind to accept your teenager’s differences rather than judge them, you will find a much stronger bond.

To help your teenager feel more accepted, you as a parent need to do only one thing: embrace their weirdness. Whatever your child is into (assuming it is not something dangerous or harmful) be curious about it, try to find the merits in it, and join in with them when possible.

Example: If your teenage son plays video games like they are going out of style (which he probably does), ask to watch, ask to play, learn more about the games he is interested in.

Example: If your daughter is upset about something seemingly trivial a friend posted on social media, resist the sigh and eye-roll that often accompanies parental attitudes toward “Millennial Drama.” This is the reality of the world teens live in, embrace it and the closer you will become.

 

3.) NOT LOOKING FOR A SOLUTION

Parents are by far the most influential figures in a young person’s development. Yes, friends, siblings, and mentors are important, but nothing compares to the power of MOM & DAD. Parents are the verbal and non-verbal role models kids observe every day to determine how to exist in this world. As a result, parents quickly realize that their children look to them for instruction, solutions to problems, and knowledge about how the world works. Since this dynamic is repeated constantly for years as a child grows up, it becomes a well-learned routine.

However, as stated above regarding a teenager’s natural development, teens start seeking independence, which means finding their own answers. Unfortunately, most parents aren’t prepared for this sudden shift and default to their normal routine of trying to solve the problem.

Example:A 14-year-old boy comes home from school looking gloomy, avoiding his mother’s gaze.

MOTHER – Hey, how was school?

SON – Fine.

MOTHER – What’s wrong, honey?

SON – Nothing, I’m fine!

MOTHER – Oh, come on. You’re clearly upset. Tell me what happened.

SON – It’s just that I haven’t been able to make any friends at my new school. It sucks. I sit alone at lunch like a complete loser.

MOTHER –I’m sorry, honey. You know…tomorrow you should go talk to that Jason boy you mentioned last week. Or maybe you can try out for a sports team? Or maybe you can join a club?

SON – Ugh, never mind!

The son promptly gets more irritated and storms off to his room. Why? Because he wasn’t looking for his mother to solve his problem.

If your teenager entrusts you with his/her private dilemmas, this is a big responsibility on the part of the parent to handle it appropriately. What I’ve noticed throughout my work is that teenagers usually just want support, not solutions. They want to feel competent enough to find the answer to their own problem while feeling safely held (emotionally) by their parent(s). Here are some alternative responses the mother from the example above could have used that might be more effective:

I’m sorry to hear that honey. Are you okay?

Do you want to talk about it?

               Do you need some space?

               Yeah, that really stinks. Let me know if you need me.

               I’m here if you want to talk.

              What do you want to do about it?

              Do you want my advice, or do you just want me to listen?

 

4.) REACTIVE PARENTS

There are two ways human beings can reply to incoming information: reactingor responding. Though they may sound similar, they are completely different. A reactionis quick, based solely on emotion and instinct. A responseis slower, based on carefully considering the appropriate reply. Because a reaction comes from our instinctive brain, it serves only us, not the source of the information to which we are reacting.

EXAMPLE:A teenage daughter brings home a report card with several F’s and sheepishly hands it to her father. The father, to whom academics are extremely important, can’t believe his daughter failed so many subjects. Consequently, the father is instantly disappointed, and begins yelling and lecturing.

Guess which parent (if any) that teenage girl will approach with the next report card. Hint: it’s not going to be dad.

Emotional reactivity, more than any other factor I have come across, is the primary reason why teenagers don’t approach their parents with problems, concerns, or trust them with their secrets. Put quite simply, highly reactive parents are unsafe. What’s worse is that this dynamic can foster unhealthy habits in teens such as chronic lying to avoid punishment and developing their own explosive reactivity.

Responding is far more difficult, and requires a higher degree of patience and restraint than reacting. To respond to your teenager appropriately, there is one main question you should ask yourself: Is what I am about to say the best thing to help my child?This does not suggest the father has no right to be angry with his daughter for her poor academic performance, but when it comes to anger, remember this philosophy: telldon’t show.

We already know how showing your anger, such as yelling or lecturing, can negatively impact a parent-teen relationship. So how does a parent let their child know how they feel without reacting? Let’s use the same example of the report card from above.

When father sees his daughter’s poor grades, he looks up at her and in a calm voice says the following:

“I’m really disappointed and angry about this. Can you tell me what happened?”

“Where do you think you had the most trouble?”

More constructive and empowering responses than lecturing would be:

“What can WE do differently next time to improve your grades?”

“What can I do to help you succeed?”

A final note to parents. Be patient not just with your teenager, but with yourself. This is really tough stuff that often has a ton of emotional weight and family history behind it. The tools I’ve laid out can definitely help, but just like developing teens learning independence, it is going to be mostly trial and error.