What do you do if your child seems to be showing ADHD type behaviours?

How do you cope with the outbursts and the excessive energy?

I felt distress as I watched the Prime Time RTE programme dealing with this heartbreaking subject and saw the despair that some parents are experiencing.  I imagine these parents WISH that they could receive an immediate response from those who could make a difference, instead of horrifically long delays before they receive any support.

Any person with an ounce of compassion would be wondering how these parents cope with the unrelenting energy of their child and the torment of ‘How do we get through today (or even the next ten minutes)?’ I admire the courage of these parents who allowed the television crew to capture some of the frustration and anguish, that I imagine many experience daily.

I’m writing this blog not only to express my concern and appreciation for these parents, but also to encourage parents that things can get smoother. I’m not saying ‘perfect’, I’m not saying there won’t be bumps and sharp turns on the journey but there is hope. The good news is that, as parents, we CAN DO SOMETHING to create calmer homes and more happiness, while we are waiting for the services to respond. We can discover how to support children to behave more cooperatively. I know from my own experience, that parenting isn’t easy. And I imagine that it’s particularly challenging if you have a child who is wound up like a clockwork toy and who seems to push against every boundary.

‘wound up like a clockwork toy’     Clipart by Ron Leishman – http://clipartof.com/435819

As I watched the RTE PrimeTime television documentary, I spotted some simple, subtle ways in which parents can create more harmony and connection.

So here’s TEN PRACTICAL TIPS, based on interactions observed within the film footage of the Prime Time programme, to support you in taking little steps creating smoother relationships and more cooperative behaviour.

1. What I observed when the child is acting out.

Parent: ‘This is not you.’ But this IS part of who the child is, right now, at this moment.  His behaviour does not need to define him. He’s so much MORE than only this behaviour. But when we deny that this is ‘him’, we are, in a sense denying part of who he is.

A response you could find more helpful:

‘You’re angry right now.’ Help him to NAME and CLAIM his strong emotions. As he can CLAIM his feelings, over time he’ll learn also to TAME them – to be in control of his emotions, instead of his emotions being in control of him.

2. What I observed when the child is in tears:

Parent: ‘You don’t have to cry anymore.’

A response you could find more helpful:

Focus on being present to your child, show sympathy and give support. Let the tears flow naturally. Apparently the tears we cry when we are emotionally upset are chemically different to the tears we cry when we peel an onion. The ‘upset’ tears contain stress hormones. So ‘Have a good cry’, ‘Cry it all out’ make sense. The tears will be healing when the child senses our gentle, loving support alongside him, when we’re relaxed with his tears and not trying to stop them.

3. What I observed when the child is distressed, as she remembers the awful thought she had, which were a side effect to the medication she’d been given: Parent: ‘Those thoughts are gone.’ But they’re not gone. She’s still upset about them!

A response you could find more helpful:

Acknowledge the experience. Give her a safe space to talk about them. Then reassure her that the upsetting thoughts were brought on by the medication. In life, it is not so much the bad things that happen to us that are the concern, but rather that we have not yet woven them into the fabric of our lives. Like embroidery that was knotted and tangled at the back, the child needs support to gently untangle these threads and to weave them into her ‘narrative’, her story of her life. Daniel Siegel’s book ‘Parenting From the Inside Out’ is a great resource to understand this more fully. Making sense of our own unique life story is rather like a beautiful Persian carpet – provided it is well woven, the dark patches are an integral part of the beauty of the design. In a similar way the ‘dark patches’ of our lives, when worked through so that we understand this part of who we are, have the potential to become part of the richness and beauty of our personality.

 

4. What I observed when the child is energetically bouncing on the seat, as the parent is trying to interact with someone else:  Parent: ‘Can you stop it please.’

A response you could find more helpful:

Anticipate moments like these and have activities to attract his attention and keep him busy. With younger children, playdough is ideal and tends to have a soothing effect on the child. Crayons and paper are great to have on hand. With older children construction toys like Lego and K’nex can keep their attention. Also keep in mind that still periods probably won’t be long. When you hold an awareness that your child is probably doing the best he can right now, it’ll be easier to adapt to his needs, even if that means inviting the visitor to walk and talk, so that your child can work off some energy.

Also, rather than giving a negative comment say what you do want. Instead of ‘stop it’ give the child a choice, directing his attention to something positive he can do. ‘You can choose to sit next to me and listen or you can choose to play with these toys.’ When the child is given a choice he’s far more likely to cooperate.

 

5. What I observed: television constantly on.

A response you could find more helpful:

Create a family culture where the television is off, unless you’re actually sitting and watching something together, and even then be thoughtful about what programmes you chose.  All children needs calm space, and particularly those with very high energy levels. Exposure to energetic or aggressive action is likely to evoke more of the same. (However, be aware that sudden changes in his routine, like suddenly stopping television viewing, are likely to trigger a strong emotional reaction. You need to discuss and plan other enjoyable activities to replace the television viewing, probably making this a gradual adjustment).

 

6. What I observed was the parent talking about the child’s issues to others in front of him. Children tend to live up to their parent’s expectations. Whilst it makes sense that you really need a space to talk about the challenges you’re facing, if he hears from you that he’s ‘out of control’ /’a challenge’/ ‘wrecking your head’ the message he receives is that this is what you expect from him, and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.

A response you could find more helpful:

You are facing such a huge responsibility it makes sense that you need a safe space to let off steam – but please find it away from the ears of any children. Also notice that talking with some people will increase your sense of frustration and powerlessness, whereas others will encourage you and help you to be the clear-headed, compassionate parent you want to be.  Find the safe, encouraging friends and professionals who will genuinely support you.

 

7. What I observed when the child acted aggressively:

Parent: ‘Upstairs! Don’t kick me.’

A response you could find more helpful:

There’s a fine line between giving him ‘time with himself’ to calm down and reflect on what’s needed and ‘time out’ as a punishment, which isolates him from you. When a child experiences being emotionally abandoned by the parent, he’s likely to protest. All conflict is a protest at the disconnection. This statement might seem strange when he’s acting out when you’re still physically present, but your child senses when you are angry or have emotionally disconnected from him, and he reacts. At other times, your child may have disconnected from himself; then he’s unable to take control of himself. Ironically, these times, when it’s hardest to stay emotionally engaged with him in a supportive way, are the times he most needs connection with you. He needs you to help him regain control of himself.

Also when we give negative commands the child doesn’t hear the ‘don’t’ – he tends to only hear the command, e.g. ‘kick me’. Rather say what you DO want, such as, ‘Peter, calm down.’ (in a calm, connecting voice).  (Using his name at the start of your sentence also helps him to reconnect and to focus on what you are saying).

 

8. What I observed when the parent is discussing the child’s experience of a situation:

Parent: ‘You love your teachers.’ Child: ‘NO!’

A response you could find more helpful:

Create a listening space for him to share his perspective. Hear how it is for her. The child needs to be able to make sense of her experience. If she is being rejected by other children or reprimanded at school it’s likely that she’s feeling frustrated and she needs to be able to process those feelings. She needs home to be a safe space to share how she’s experiencing what’s happening in her world. That doesn’t mean we encourage her take a ‘Poor Me’ attitude, but once she feels heard and connected she’ll be in a better place to reflect on what she could have done differently, that could have been more helpful.

 

9. What I observed was the child cavorting in spiderman clothes.

Over many years in preschool education I saw time and time again that when children are dressed in ‘invincible’ outfits, ‘invincible’ behaviours erupted.  Part of our school policy became ‘No spiderman, batman, etc outfits.’

Think too about the choice of toys. You may notice that when he is playing with certain toys it sparks OTT behaviour. Some toys are far more likely to evoke aggressive or hyper-active behaviours. Discover the alternatives that lead to calmer ways of playing.

 

10. What I observed was the parents’ pain when it is inferred by others that the child is ‘a brat’ or ‘bold’.

A response you could find helpful:

Whether a child is challenged with ADHD or not, labels like ‘bold’ or ‘brat’ are never helpful. Any child is likely to feel attacked when negative labels are used. In our minds, we need to separate out the behaviour from the child him (or her) self.  It ‘s more helpful to say ‘I don’t like it when you …   and I would prefer it if you …’

Likewise we need to beware of labelling ourselves. Self-criticism, like ‘Bad parent’, is only going to make us feel bad. The stress level with dealing with a child with challenging behaviour is already high enough, without the added pressure of self-punishment and self-criticism. It’s easier to be reflective about what’s working if you think in terms of:

‘What am I doing that’s helpful in this situation?’

By noticing what we do that creates more cooperative behaviour, we discover how to create more of the same. Particularly, we can start noticing the ‘good times’ and discover how to create more of this in our lives.

A final note:

The one small step that can make a huge difference is to recognise that we can’t change our children (as much as we might like to, particularly on some days!) but we can change the way we react or respond to them. The secret is to develop our own mindfulness in our parenting, so that we become more aware of what’s working and what’s not.

While you’re waiting for the help you deserve, the help your child needs, I encourage you – don’t just wait.  Use the time to develop your own awareness about WHAT WORKS to create connection, communication and cooperation between family members.

If this article has been helpful for you, make sure you are signed up for the Koemba newsletter. You’ll be just in time to hear about our January special: exciting new material about what to do when children’s difficult behaviour challenges you.

Val Mullally MA

CEO Koemba Parent Coaching

copyright©valmullally2012

 

Last edited November 28th 2012

‘Good girl’, ‘bright child’, ‘difficult’, ‘ADD’, ‘ ‘slow’, ‘shy’, ‘lazy’.

The list goes on and on – but what is the impact of the labels we put on our children?

Think about going to the store. You pick up a tin of peas.

What do you expect to get inside?

Peas.

What you see is what you get – right?

The label on the can refers to what’s on the inside.

The labels we put on children are putting a name on what we see on the outside.

When we label the child we’re naming a type of behaviour that we’re seeing on the outside.

We’re seeing the lazy behaviour, or shy behaviour, or whatever.

And we’re presuming that that’s what’s on the inside.

The label is ignoring all the other wonderful aspects of this child.

The label limits us to seeing just some aspect of our child’s behaviour, as though that is who the child IS.

When we’re labelling children ‘What you see is what you get’ is often the outcome.

We’re putting blinkers on ourselves regarding all this child’s wonderful potential.

And we may well be putting blinkers on the child as to all he is and all he’s capable of becoming – his wonderful potential.

Label a child and he’s likely to live up to your expectations.

Even pet names: ‘My little monster,’  ‘cheeky monkey’, ‘my baby’ can have an alarming way of becoming a self –fulfilling prophecy.

So what’s wrong with positive labels, you may be asking.

We’re still limiting who that child is.

The child who owns the label ‘clever’ may find it difficult to relax, have fun.

He’ll have to be living up to his reputation of always knowing the answer.

And that might mean always having his head in the books.

”Little miss sunshine’ may end up denying her sad feelings, her angry feelings. She may become a people pleaser – because the message she received was that it’s her job to be the sunshine in every situation.

What about ‘good girl’?

Doesn’t every parent want their child to be good?

Well, yes, of course we do.

But stop and think about it.

We use the label  ‘good’ when the child is doing what WE want them to do.

Does that mean that they’re ‘bad’ if they’re not complying with us?

When the child’s agenda is at odds with ours, she’s likely to resist or protest.

We might not like that behaviour but what’s it trying to tell us?

If our focus is to raise competent children who have a sense of who they are and where they’re going in life, it’s helpful to resist labels as far as possible.

I was recently at a Parent and Toddler group and watched a four year old carry the plastic cups back to the counter.

Resisting the automatic  ‘good girl’ comment, I said, ‘Thank you.’

She came back with two more cups. I said thank you again.

The third time I said, I figured I needed something else to say:

‘You’re picking up the cups and bringing them back for us.’

Round four:

‘And now you have two more cups!’

Round five:

‘You’ve picked up all the cups off the tables. That was helpful.’

I had to think harder to find a meaningful response that fitted the unique situation. I also named the impact that this had.

If she hadn’t picked up the cups, that wouldn’t have meant that she wasn’t a ‘good girl’. She might have been tired, or occupied with something else.

Sometimes labels are given because we are seeking to understand some challenge the child is facing.

Perhaps a clinical diagnosis has been given.

This can be very helpful for the parent to have some sense of what challenges  they’re facing.

I’m just asking that we bear in mind that this still only describes some aspect of who the child is.

There’s a big difference between saying,

‘My child is dyslexic.’

and

‘My child has dyslexia.’

The dyslexia (or whatever) is the challenge your child is facing.

It doesn’t define who he is.

Think about the difference between saying,

‘My child has a learning disability.’

And

‘My child has a learning challenge.’

A disability is something you have to live with.

A challenge is something that the courageous can overcome.

Language can limit.

Or we can choose to use language that affirms and believes in our child’s amazing, unlimited potential

Like the name on the tin, a label is just something that we attach.

It’s something we can also discard.

If we recognise labels that aren’t helpful– we can toss them today.

We can choose to see the incredible richness, the wonder of who our child is and can be.

Last edited April 12th 2011