What is the ultimate goal in raising our children? We want them to live purposeful, peaceful and independent lives. So how do they achieve purpose and peace when they often run aimlessly and recklessly through each day? Frustration is a common experience for the whole family! I have found that accomplishment will produce a sense of purpose, and structure will help promote peace. Once these two areas are maintained, independence will blossom. Then happiness and joy will flow!
Of course the basics for living a balanced life involve improved eating habits, plenty of fresh air and exercise, quality sleep, chiropractic care and nutritional supplements. Maintaining their overall health through regular pediatrician visits is important. And helping them nurture friendships will teach them social skills.
How I wish there was one single method to help our kids with this struggle of ADD and ADHD! Over the years we have tried many methods and had to keep changing them, lest they became boring. So I'll highlight a few of the tools we used that brought success. But one tool was simple, yet the most difficult: keeping the tone of my voice calm and giving precise directions. I spent years refining this technique, I admit. But it makes a difference! Also, giving them two choices helped, such as, "Do you want to brush your teeth first, or make your bed?"
At Home: Preschool through Grade School was the time when reward charts worked well. They achieved a sense of accomplishment, and success brought forth peace. Chores were listed (pictures for non-readers) down the left side of the chart and days of the week were listed across the top of the chart. A typical list of chores for a 4 year old might be: brush teeth, get dressed, feed pets, make bed. Please don't list generalities like "clean room". Be specific, like "pick up Legos". We would always list at least one task that they were already successful at so they could feel some confidence along the way. For each accomplished task, they would pick out their favorite sticker off a sheet and stick it on the appropriate square. For older grade school kids, the point system that translated into coins (up to a few dollars a week) worked well.
After a certain amount of stickers were on the chart, they would receive a reward. The daily total number of stickers or points varied, depending on the difficulty of the tasks, and could change from week to week as we started seeing success. For example, if a 6 year old had 5 difficult tasks and 1 easy one to achieve, we would reward the child if he accomplished 3 out of the 6 tasks. That meant he was accomplishing at least 2 of the difficult tasks because you expect them to achieve the easy one. The next week we could change it to receiving a reward for 4 out of the 6 tasks. Don't expect perfection before they can earn a reward. And use plenty of verbal praise along the way!
At first, the rewards needed to be daily. With time, the reward would come weekly. Points (number of stickers) would be totaled daily and then added up at the end of the week if they were receiving only a weekly reward. The rewards could be anything from playing a card game with a parent, to extra TV time. We tried to use gifts as a reward very sparingly to keep our budget from exploding!
At School: Grade School through High School is the time when you must obtain support from your school. If your child is consistently experiencing behavior issues, homework issues or low grades, and you get no positive results from consultations with the teacher, it's time to write a letter to your principal (and a copy to your teacher) requesting a formal evaluation. After all the test results are compiled, you will sit down with a small committee of school staff to discuss a plan of action. This could be as simple as accommodations in the classroom (504 Plan) to a more complex set of behavioral/and or educational goals (an Individualized Education Plan, IEP). Check out the Advocate listed in the Resources section for great support in this field.
In Public: Haven't we all experienced the humiliation of bad behavior in public? There are a few tools I've used over the years that have helped. First, make sure you are not going out at a time when your child is hungry or tired if at all possible. Even well-rested, these kids often have energy to burn. At the grocery store I found giving them a task on each isle was helpful. When they were younger, I would ask them to pretend we were explorers, other times we were detectives. But getting them involved in the process is very helpful. I would also remind them that if were were successful with the task, they would receive a reward.
Now I want to share a technique I used on more than one occasion, usually in the grocery store. Our kids with ADD/ADHD don't "look" like they have any challenges. Their wheelchair is in their mind. So when Sean would act out in the store, I would get a lot of judgmental looks and comments. I would often feel humiliated and a failure as a parent. I remember one time in particular that is burned in my memory. Russ and I had taken Sean to see a doctor that had experience with special needs. Russ and Sean were playing in another part of the waiting room while I filled out the forms. There was a lady near me observing Sean acting out of control. Russ was having trouble containing him. The woman leaned near me and hissed, "If they only tried spanking him, he would behave!" I was so shocked at her judgmental remark I simply replied, "If spanking worked, he would be a perfect child!" Her embarrassment at the realization that I was the mother of that child didn't faze me. She needed educating. But sometimes I'm too weary for that, so I discovered another tool. Although I don't know sign language, I would utilize a few of the signs when I was desperately trying to finish a task in public with Sean acting out. Once the people around me realized I had a special needs child, they became my advocates instead of my judge. They would offer to help me or just be sweet and encouraging. I learned a few signs from a children's sign language book. Try this and see the transformation!
Ultimately, to change negative behavior, you must become a keen observer. You need to figure out what occurred just before the behavior.This is KEY! Perhaps they were overstimulated by noise. Our son used to always act out while waiting in line outside the classroom. Our solution: put him at the end of the line where it's the most quiet. The behavior disappeared! If you are able to deal with their behavior at a low level of anxiety, you can usually calm them down.
From my success in this area, I was able to create a "Behavior Hierarchy" document that I would give to family members, caregivers and teachers. At the bottom of the page I typed his typical everyday behaviors in green. Just above that I typed (in yellow) behavior I noticed when he was starting to get anxious (pacing, cussing, name calling). Above that I typed (in orange) in the next set of more intense behavior. Finally, at the top in bright red, I typed in the most aggressive behavior he displayed when he is totally out of control (hitting, biting, spitting, etc). This has been an extremely helpful document over the years. At our IEP meetings, I would share with the teacher how to observe his behavior in yellow. That meant she needed to take immediate action to calm him down. The "action" would be written down in the IEP as a goal. Cross-brain activities such as swinging or walking (with an aid) would usher in a calm enough state where he could then talk about what was bothering him. It's important not to try and reason with your child when they are in these heightened times of anxiety. Their brains are in the "flight" or "fight" stage. This is the time for intervention only. We still use this "Behavior Hierarchy" form today with his caregivers in his Adult Family Home where he lives.
If these tools don't work for your child, you may need a different type of intervention. Please visit our Resource page for "Helping the Behaviorally Challenging Child" (HBCC). For more support, see CHADD (Children & Adults with ADD/ADHD) on our Resource page.
With time and the appropriate tools, you will help teach your child daily organization, internal control of their impulses and a desire to earn a reward. Your child will begin to experience a more purposeful, peaceful and independent life which will bring happiness to your whole family!