Motivating Children with ADHD

UWindsor Blog Post by: Brie Brooker, M.A.

ADHD ChildIt is often said that being a parent is one of the most rewarding experiences of adult life. But for the parents of children with ADHD, the joys of parenting often come with daily struggles to manage a child’s behaviour and to keep him or her on-task. These challenges can leave parents feeling drained, frustrated, and isolated, often wondering if there is hope that their child’s behaviour is within their control. At the same time, children with ADHD may also feel frustrated, often desiring to comply with their parents’ requests but struggling to resist competing impulses and focus on the task at hand.

So what are parents of children with ADHD to do? Overreliance on punishing undesirable behaviour can be frustrating for a child, but when it comes to reinforcing good behaviour (whether through praise or a more tangible reward), research suggests that children with ADHD process this reinforcement differently than other kids do. By basing parenting strategies on these differences, parents may increase their (and their kids’) success.

Here’s what research tells us about how kids with ADHD are motivated.

  • Reward JarKids with ADHD may need more rewards in order to achieve the same level of performance as their peers. This suggests that parents of kids with ADHD may achieve better success by celebrating even the small victories, such as completing part of a chore or homework assignment.
  • Immediate rewards have a greater impact. Research also suggests that kids with ADHD are more motivated by immediate rewards rather than the promise of a reward later. However, parents may wish to teach their children with ADHD the value of working toward a more distant goal. One strategy which has been successful for kids with ADHD is the use of “tokens”: children earn small rewards (stickers, marbles in a jar) which may be collected and exchanged for a reward after a point (for example, after the child earns 10 stickers).

These are, of course, general findings based on large groups of children with ADHD, and every kid with ADHD has their own unique strengths and weaknesses. Moreover, it’s been suggested that individual factors such as ADHD medication can also impact reward processing, making kids with ADHD respond to rewards more similarly to non-ADHD kids. However, these findings may serve as a starting point for increasing success opportunities and making the parent-child relationship more rewarding for both of you.

Brie Brooker, M.A. (Doctoral student in Clinical Neuropsychology at the University of Windsor)

The courage to get real

Stylized drawing of young woman and lion, sky in background, reaching for heart representing courage.

“Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage.”   Anais Nin

In a previous blog article (When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change) I talked about Malcolm Gladwell’s contention that learning disabilities may in fact be what he called “desirable difficulties”. He contends that in spending a lifetime confronting and managing a learning disability, a skill set is forged which turns out to be a significant advantage when harnessed in the right way, potentially resulting in something extraordinary. I believe that one of the character traits forged during this process is the ability to function in the face of fear: courage.

Having courage is not the same thing as being fearless. In fact, appropriate fear plays a very important role in our survival. It would not be smart to ignore fear when we are faced with legitimate threats; it’s the thing that warns us that it’s time to fight or flee. Fear was indispensable to our ancestors confronted by sabre-toothed tigers and marauding enemy tribes. It wears different, less physically threatening faces in the modern age (often, it may in fact be False Evidence Appearing Real) but it still feels just as threatening and provokes the same instincts as it did in our ancestors. Courage is the thing that allows us to rise above the fear, to respond bravely when every instinct is telling us to run (or hide). Courage trumps fear, empowering us to meet challenges, stretch our limits, and find fulfillment in our lives.

It’s hard for me to use the word “courage” without thinking about one of my favourite movie characters, the Cowardly Lion in The Wizard of Oz. The interesting thing about the Cowardly Lion is that he was so focussed on his fears that he couldn’t see things as they truly were. In the beginning he is ashamed of being afraid, not understanding that true courage means taking action despite our fear (something he actually does frequently to protect his friends). In the end though, with a little help from the wizard, he is able to “change the way he looks at things” to recognize and accept his authentic, courageous self. He is finally led to the discovery that courage had been within him all along, and learns that you don’t have to be fearless to be brave.

So what does this have to do with learning disabilities? Just this: That school can be a scary proposition for a kid with a learning disability. Will I have to read aloud in front of the class? Will I be able to plan ahead and practice my passage so that I don’t screw it up? Am I going to blank out on the exam again, even though I studied hard and I know the material? Am I going to be bullied again today? Will I be called stupid or lazy or be laughed at in class? Why am I doing so poorly when I work so hard? And yet these kids get up each morning, marching bravely off to school to face whatever dragons may await them there. If we agree that courage is a kind of inner resolve, a resiliency that allows us to face scary circumstances head on, then let’s agree that these kids have it in spades.

It’s been said that courage doesn’t always roar; sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says “I’ll try again tomorrow”. That is what kids with learning disabilities do every day. But there comes a point for them when an even greater courage is required: The courage to acknowledge, accept, and embrace their learning disability in order to create the kind of life they want for themselves. I was reminded of this recently when a young woman arrived at our office to identify herself to us as a student with a learning disability, and to request accommodations. She explained that she’d had an IEP and received support throughout elementary school, but had decided to go without it in high school because she “didn’t want to deal with the label or the stigma”. She did reasonably well in high school with a lot of very hard work , and had hoped that trend could continue through university. It did not, which brought her to a realization that it was time to fully accept, confront, and manage her learning disability, and she is now well on her way to doing that. She readily admits that the prospect of that is scary, but she is ready to take it on…with courage.

I asked her what had ultimately spurred her decision to finally explore this aspect of herself without shame or embarrassment, and her answer was simple: “I was just tired of being afraid.” She went on to say that what she always had feared was being vulnerable in the face of other people’s judgement and rejection. She had always felt pressure to present her best possible self, and there was no place in that perception for anything resembling a flaw or an imperfection. It occurred to me as we spoke that we are all in the same boat, but that not all of us have the courage to deal with our issues the way this young woman was. Most of us do what we can to avoid confrontation with the “shadowy side” of our selves, but in finding the courage to learn about and accept all aspects of herself she felt lighter and truer and more authentic than she ever had.

Successful people with learning disabilities don’t get there by accident, and they don’t get there by denying who they are. And if it happens that who they are is in small part a person with a learning disability, then they go about learning what that means for them, and doing everything they can to understand and manage that aspect of the “self”. They don’t deny it. They don’t hide from it. They don’t run from it. They find the resolve to confront it and deal with it. It requires vulnerability, and self-acceptance, and authenticity, and…courage. And maybe that is one of the qualities that Gladwell is talking about as one of the positive side effects of living with “desirable difficulties”.

Author and lecturer Brene Brown had this to say about courage: “Courage is a heart word.  The root of the word is ‘cor’, the Latin word for heart.  In one of its earliest forms the word ‘courage’ meant to speak one’s mind by telling all of one’s heart.  Over time this definition has changed, and today we typically associate courage with heroic and brave deeds. But…this definition fails to recognize the inner strength and level of commitment required for us to actually speak openly and honestly about who we are and about our experiences – good and bad”.

A Turkish proverb says that a lion sleeps in all of our hearts.  Real courage is about connecting with who we truly are by entering our own hearts and awakening our inner lion.  It’s about being authentic in the face of fear and vulnerability.  It’s about accepting and loving ourselves (and one another) warts and all, which let’s face it, can be a messy business. But it’s the only way to live an authentic life, and it’s one of the greatest gifts we can give to one another.

Organize your Life!

One of the most frustrating parts of having executive functioning difficulties, is the lack of a clear organizational system. Simple, everyday tasks become difficult when you don’t know where to begin or worse…when you are ready to begin you can’t because you cannot find the necessary tools for the job. This can really get in the way of not just learning, but life in general. Those with poor organizational skills often end up late for school, appointments, social functions, etc.

Whether it is the child that is lacking in organizational abilities, or the parent (I’m guilty of this!) here are a few suggestions and strategies to help make things go a little smoother.

1.ROUTINE – Create a routine for your family. This is so important. Routines can easily become habits when they are DSC_0014-3Snap 2012-03-07 at 08.02.04consistent. This paves the way for leaning life-long strategies to help organize your life. Time management is always a valuable lesson. Making a schedule for your young children to follow can cut out a lot of family arguments as well. If children have assigned shower times and homework
times, there is no fighting over who goes next in the shower and yelling to turn the tunes down (depending on the age of your children). Always include homework time, a chore and free time in the routine. A balance is necessary. If your child doesn’t have time for these things, you may want to consider a shift in activities for better time management.calendar

2.FAMILY CALENDAR – Have a central family calendar that is posted somewhere with high visibility, like the fridge. I bought an “Mom’s Ultimate Family Fridge Calendar”. It comes with stickers for different activities and
appointments. You could also find many different DIY calendar ideas on Pinterest. It is way easier to plan events and activities when everyone knows what is going on.

2.PERSONAL AGENDA – Another important tool for children as students is the agenda. Many students are expected to carry an agenda for school each day. This
provides an essential daily means of communication between the parent and teacher. Phone calls and interviews are good for periodic checks, but in order for you to get the full picture on your child’s agendaschool day, an agenda routine is necessary. Some teachers and/or schools do not follow this policy. If that is the case it may be difficult for you to convince your child to consistently use an agenda, but give it it a try. It keeps them organized with assignments and homework and they can transfer any important days onto the family calendar at the end of the day.
Some teachers use blogs and websites to relay this type of information. That is great news! Make sure that checking the blog or website is built in to your child’s nightly routine.

3. ORGANIZE! – Organize and reorganize and reorganize! We finally get a room organized and then VOILA! All your hard is gone. Of course it is…it takes work to stay organized. Make sure you expect this to happen. Look for lots of ideas on how to organize parts of your house. I find most of mine on Pinterest or Google. It does take time to adjust to news ways of organizing your items, but it is worth it when you are looking. I use labels and pictures to help organize things at home and things at school. If you aren’t sure where to start, a FANTASTIC website for organizing your life is:

http://www.flylady.net/

 

This website really can help you clean and organize your entire house. She has tons of great ideas and even better – a routine to follow!

Most of my favourite ideas come from Pinterest though…

shoe-organizer-boy-spring-craft-photo-420-FF0408BABYA14

books

4. GENTLE REMINDERS – Remember – everyone needs lots of reminders! That usually includes the parents too. It takes a lot of work to change a lifestyle. You can do it! Life will be so much easier in the end.

Mindfulness

In my last few blogs I have talked about tips to help parents help their child (children) with anxiety problems. What I have learned is that if a system, or way of doing things (as the parent) has been established it is difficult to implement all of the things that have been suggested unless you are cognitively aware of the things your child is doing, and consistent in establishing routines and setting consequences in advance.

The other side of things is; what can a child with anxiety do to help himself or herself? Of everything I have heard from different speakers, or read on line or in books, the paramount way to help yourself is developing ‘mindfulness and learning self-awareness.’ In simplified language – helping you control your thoughts and finding ways to cope with internal distractions.

What is mindfulness?mindfulness

In her book, ‘Don’t Let Your Emotions Run Your Life For Teens’ Sheri Van Dijk says it is about paying close attention to what you’re doing in the present moment, noticing when your attention wanders, and bringing it back to what you’re doing. It is also about accepting, or not judging, whatever you happen to notice in the present moment, whether it’s thoughts you’re having, emotions that are coming up, things that are distracting you, or whatever.

Life is full of distractions, and what mindfulness does is try to help you deal with the distractions. It cannot help in all situations because sometimes the distractions are not things we can control. What it tries to do is allow an individual to control distractions when they are internal. I am sure everyone can remember a time they had to re-read something they have just read because, simply put, our mind was elsewhere. I know I love the fact that I can pause and or rewind live TV because I just missed something. Maybe it is because somebody was talking to me, or you were doing something else while watching TV, but maybe it is because my mind was wandering.

Why is mindfulness important for the person with anxiety?  It is important because often times when their mind is wandering, it is about things that make them anxious (an upcoming test, homework, something at home, a friend who is upset with you….). Mindfulness, if done correctly, can help this person to be able to concentrate more or solely on what they are currently doing and in turn, allow them to remove the stressors (anxiety) they are feeling.

In other words, if you are not thinking about the present, you must be thinking about the past or the future, and probably not about happy things – more often than not, (especially for anxious person) you are thinking about what did or might go wrong, or things that generate painful emotions – sadness, anger, shame…, this triggers the anxiety and causes more internal distractions.

Mindfulness is about living in the present so you are not living in the future or the past. It is realizing that things are okay just the way they are, right now in the moment even if the moment is not great or full of happy emotions. The thing is, even if you have to deal with what is actually going on in the present, it is better to do that, than dealing with the emotions being brought up by thoughts of the future or the past as well as the present.

There is so much more I can say, as mindfulness is a huge thing, I will touch on how to become mindful in my next blog.mindful

More Anxiety Tips…

In my last blog I talked about anxiety in children and offered some tips to help your child deal with anxieties. I want to stress again how difficult it is to follow the steps. The thing you have to remember is these are tips offering long term solutions and life strategies, not immediate response tips. In the moment they are the hard things to do. What you want, and it’s the job of any parent, is an adult who can function in society in any situation they may face, be it social, job related or by chance.

To continue on the list I started last time, I am going to offer some more tips, but first let’s revisit some of the suggestions from last time:

self awareness

  • Reduce excessive stress
  • Create a routine
  • Give consequences
  • Be supportive
  • Encourage their independence
  • Build their self-confidence

Set realistic expectations. It is important to have expectations, but remember that an anxious child may get frustrated if goals or expectations do not seem attainable. Break larger tasks into smaller steps and offer encouragement so your child feels a sense of accomplishment. Let them take steps forward, but let them do it at their own pace.

Control your reactions. Although it is important to be understanding and caring, do not overreact or let anxiety trick you into thinking that something is too hard or impossible for your child. Keep things in perspective. Yes, it might be challenging, but it can be done! On the other side of the pendulum, sometimes it is hard to understand our child’s anxiety or why something is so difficult for him or her. When we don’t acknowledge that our child is having a hard time with anxiety, the child may try to hide it (and suffer alone) or the symptoms may become more pronounced, (the pouting, arguing or misbehaving) in order to get the attention he or she needs.

Be Self-aware. It can be very difficult dealing with an anxious child. As important as it is to control your reactions for your child’s sake you also must manage your own reactions, for your own good. Do some things for yourself (enjoy a night out, read a book when the kids go to bed, go for a walk, or whatever helps you keep a positive perspective). Remember the basics: eat well, get enough sleep, and exercise! You can’t be helpful to your child if you don’t take care of yourself. You also need to be careful not to pass fears on to your children. Try to present a neutral reaction to situations and let you child know it’s safe to explore things.

Try Something New

Take Risks. This is true for everyone, but doubly important for an anxious child, so that they can build self-confidence and develop the necessary skills for dealing with people and their environment. Encourage your child to try new things such as ordering the pizza, or asking the store clerk a question. The other thing to remember is that children learn from example, so you can model brave behaviour by trying new things yourself.

Avoid Avoidance! Anxious children tend to want to avoid things that cause them anxiety. Even though avoiding things may reduce stress in the present, it allows fears to grow and makes things more difficult in the future. Avoid letting your child avoid things. Instead, encourage him or her to try things and take small steps towards facing fears!

Once again I do not offer this information as an exhaustive list, but as someone on a learning curve myself. Stay true to what you believe and know is right for the big picture, and not to simplify or ease the present situation. 

What I’ve Learned about Anxiety in Children (…so far, anyways)

As the parent of an anxious child, I have been researching (and experimenting with) different methods of not only reducing anxiety in children, but ensuring that their self-confidence is intact and behaviour is appropriate.

It is our job as parents to teach.

Many people are reluctant to change, especially children. Some children are markedly more anxious about doing tasks, going places, working through a problem (and the mistakes that are ultimately made), trying new things, etc.

As parents we must help them to learn how to cope with these challenges rather than avoid them.  Trying to avoid stressful or anxious situations does not teach your child how to cope. It does not give him/her the sense of pride and accomplishment. Children need the chance to face their fears, complete a task, or solve their own problem. Each challenge and task faced successfully gives them a sense of accomplishment.

Anxiety can be a funny creature. Sometimes it takes on the form of sadness and even defiance. No parent wants to see their child sad (or defiant). So, often we find ourselves accidentally teaching anxious kids inappropriate coping strategies. We do this by ignoring inappropriate behaviour (I’m constantly nagging, it seems!), solving problems for the child (“here, let me do it!”, instead of guiding them through the process) and taking over responsibilities that the child may have complained about (somebody has to do the dishes!). Although these tactics temporarily smooth things over and the child is seemingly happy, we have inadvertently taught the child that whining, complaining and refusing, does pay off.

3D Character with head in hands, sitting on the word Stress

Some tips to help reduce anxiety in children

Reduce excessive stress or tension in your home (excessive fighting or arguing) that can have negative effects on the child. It is also beneficial to plan something that can be done together each day, even if only for a short period of time (listen to music, do chores, read a story, go for a walk). You also need to be quick in dealing with family conflict (but not try to solve problems for them), and finally try to minimize showing your frustration by not yelling or raising your voice.

Make a routine. Construct a schedule with specific times for homework, quiet time, meals, and personal time. Establish a routine for bed time that may include reading or ‘chat’ time between child and parent. Keeping an open line of communication will help develop better ways to manage their anxiety.

Give consequences. Your child’s anxiety does not give him or her right to behave poorly, improperly or inappropriately. It is really important to set expectations and limits for your child – and follow through on the consequences for inappropriate behaviour. (Maybe losing computer or television privileges if chores are not completed). The other important part of this is to set these limits and consequences in advance, and discuss them with all family members at a calm time. Children are happier when they know the rules and what happens when they break them. Finally, just as important as setting these limits; be sure to give praise and sometimes rewards when your child meets or adheres to the expectations. You do not want to reward them for everything they do, but just knowing that sometimes they will get a reward (without expecting it all the time) is a good stimulus. (This is true, especially when they see others getting rewarded for doing things).

Be supportive. Let your child know that it is normal to have fears (we are all afraid of something) and that we can learn to deal with them. Listen to your child when they are upset, and let them know that it is okay to talk about their feelings. Help them figure out ways to deal with stress, and realize that you understand their fears. (I know you do not like…., but how can we make it easier for you to do?) Do not be afraid to use humour as it one of the best ways to deal with stress, just make sure you are not laughing at them.

Encourage their independence. It is extremely tempting to want to do things for your anxious child, especially when they are nervous or fearful – or to avoid an unwanted response, outburst or behaviour, but it is better to let them do things for themselves. That is how they learn the skills and abilities to cope with life. Encourage them to try things on their own, give them responsibility and brainstorm ways to deal with problems or situations (make up for a missed assignment at school, or deal with a problem with a friend). Remember through everything you need to be supportive to your child and they need to know you support them, but taking over and doing everything for them, does not benefit them in the long run.

Build self-confidence. Praise your child for his/her accomplishments and for facing their fears. Involve them in activities that make them feel proud, something they are good at, and help them instill a sense of belonging and pride. Give them chores and tasks that they can succeed at and earn praise. Every little accomplishment adds to their self-confidence.

children

 So, what have I learned? 

  • I’ve learned is that following these tips is not easy!
  • Being consistent in dealing with your anxious child is most important. It is difficult, time consuming and sometimes makes you feel like you are constantly harassing or nagging your child.
  • It is difficult to hold your ground and not give in simply to avoid arguments, tantrums or pouting. However, it is a necessary evil.
  • If you are starting it later than you should have – breaking your old habits is hard.

I offer this last bit of information in candor – I have made changes, sought help and believe I am doing the right things to help my anxious child.

This was not an exhaustive list of ways to help your anxious child by any means, but it is a good start. In future blog I will give further suggestions (and as I discover what works!).

The Advantages of AD(H)D

During my studies at the Faculty of Education (formerly, teachers’ college,) I watched a video about AD(H)D that stuck with me.  It wasn’t a very interesting video, no special CGIs, nor any fun music.  This was a video that, much like many other “educational films,” was likely produced in the 80s or 90s.  The picture was old, the sound muffled, and the clothing out of style; how anyone else would remember this video from the other hoards of brain-eating educational monsters is beyond me –but I did.  It was a simple spoken sentence that made me think.  A straight-edged, take-no-nonesense suit, with dark, moosed hair parted on the side, looked at the camera and explained that people with attention deficit do not have a deficit of attention at all, but rather too much attention to everything.

It’s true.  I can’t remember how many times I’ve had my mind on a million things at once.  My mind then started to focus on that one sentence and what it meant to me.  I started to think of all the times that I’ve multi-tasked, or have seen things others don’t notice.  I remembered the times when I became overly focused, almost obsessed with one thing.  I was looking at AD(H)D wrong the whole time.  I can pay attention, I just struggle with focusing my attention.  Why didn’t they coin it FD(H)D?

With just that one class, I began to reinvent how I approached my AD(H)D.  I saw it more as a super power than a limitation.  I began to notice how my mind has been using it all along.  When I drive, I’m never just watching the car in front of me.  I’ve got an eye on the car slowing down in front of him, the speeding passer approaching from my left, the pedestrian about to jaywalk, the blinking hand telling me that my green light is about to turn, and train that is about to cross in the distance.  I see my path clearly and quickly.  I hit the gas to get out before the car on my left passes me, honk my horn at the pedestrian to stop their would be jaywalking, make it through the light, signal to pass the slowing car, and make my right turn so that I may cross the trains path on the overpass as to avoid the delay.  After having got myself out of a would-be jam, I’m now upset because I heard over the radio that my team just gave up a goal as I was passing that slow car.

In basketball I used my mind to drive the ball.  I’d dribble up the court, weaving around my opponents until the moment where I see a trap being set under the hoop, so I drop a no-look pass to my teammate as they cut in from behind me.  My mind allows me to track all the players on the court with ease.

AD(H)D and many other disabilities do not need to be seen as a disadvantage.  If we look at each disability with an open mind, we can begin to see how we can use our abilities instead of limiting ourselves and others.  Now knowing the abilities (or super powers, if you will) of someone with AD(H)D, I know just how I want to use them.  Maybe I should feature them in a play, as acting requires attention to the entire scene, not just the person they are speaking to.  Maybe I should teach them to conduct an orchestra so that they may focus on every part being played.  Maybe I need to give them roles as supervisors, able to monitor large groups to ensure that everyone is on task.

I grew up in an educational system that was just starting to evolve.  Teachers were still handing me books, and forcing me to read rather than allowing me to explore my text book.  I would often read ahead to the more interesting parts of my history text book.  This drove my teacher mad.  She would insist that I learn what everyone else is learning, despite how horribly boring it may be.  I would fail her class; years later I would, however, go back and learn what she wanted me to after learning about how it related to more interesting parts of history.

I encourage my students to work at their own pace.  I tell the students what they are responsible for learning, and let them chose which chapter to start on.  Sometimes I let students share work; one student studies chapter 1, the other chapter 2, then they give each other the answers to the chapter questions.  Many students (and teachers) would consider this cheating, I find that it actually encourages students to ask questions about clarification and understanding; questions that lead to a deeper understanding.

In my work as a supply teacher, I was called in one day to teach an English class.  This class was reading Percy Jackson and the lightning thief on computers.  Each were at different parts, some were even reading just the paper book itself.  I opened one of the paper books, and read a part of the final battle, which I leave you with:

My senses were working overtime. I now understood what Annabeth had said about ADHD keeping you alive in battle. I was wide awake, noticing every little detail.

I could see where Ares was tensing. I could tell which way he would strike. At the same time, I was aware of Annabeth and Grover, thirty feet to my left. I saw a second cop car pulling up, siren wailing.
Spectators, people who had been wandering the streets because of the earthquake, were starting to gather. Among the crowd, I thought I saw a few who were walking with the strange, trotting gait of
disguised satyrs. There were shimmering forms of spirits, too, as if the dead had risen from Hades to watch the battle. I heard the flap of leathery wings circling somewhere above.