ADHD: Top 3 Solutions for the Easily Distractible
As a K-12 student I always tried to get a window seat where I would sit, head in hand, looking out the window, gazing at twirling ventilator that spun on the roof of the nearby supermarket.
Against the background of my teacher's talking, I imagined being outside, running across the rooftops. My teachers called me lazy, and said I had a bad attitude, and I was nearly kicked out of every school I attended.
Today I am a happily married medical doctor, dad, author and national speaker on ADHD! What happened? And what can YOU do to help YOUR child thrive? That's the topic of this two-part series.
Motivating the Inattentive Part 1 of 2
Earlier this year I was talking to Shelly, a mom whose job in Iraq was to disable roadside bombs. She was complaining that she had to tell her 17 year old son to brush his teeth every morning. I could see the frustration in her along with the fear that if her distractible child didn't remember to brush his teeth after 17 years, what will happen to him next year when he was on his own at college? She was more afraid for her son's future than she was afraid of dismantling bombs!
I asked her a simple question, "What happens to him when he doesn't brush his teeth?" The thought of a negative consequence like he doesn't eat breakfast until his morning chores are done had never occurred to her. As Shelly would say, this issue is mission critical. If your children have no reason to pay attention or remember they will be using your attentiveness and memory for the rest of their lives. Before you can solve your children's distractibility by building habits of attention, motivation that empowers needs to be your goal.
Parenting author Kevin Lehman gives this simple motto - "B doesn't happen until A is done." No debate, no discussion and no excuses. "I forgot." doesn't work anymore. In the case of Shelly's son - breakfast doesn't happen until morning chores are done. And breakfast ends at 8:30 am the next meal is noon. Moms are many things, but they shouldn't be a short order cook when their children get around to showing up for meals.
If this is happening in your home I recommend you change the rules at your home. Get a book on discipline. My favorite is Danny Silk's "Loving Our Kids on Purpose" because it reminds me of my father. But if you don't like Biblical references, Kevin Lehman says the same thing without them. One of the key points both make is that you need to discipline early and often so that you don't let it build up until you are frustrated and angry. Distractible boys often feed off your anger —it builds their adrenaline—and that feels good to them. You don't want to reward them for making you angry. (Girls may feel the relationship is collapsing rather than their behavior needs changing.)
Warning! ADHD is a genetic disorder. If you are not the source of the genes then your spouse is. This presents a few problems. We, distractible people, (or inattentive as the shrinks call us) tend to daydream. After a lifetime of being yelled at for daydreaming we my well overreact when similar issues come up with our kids. If you find out that is happening be sure to discuss the issue with your spouse privately. He or she may want to take a less active role in the discipline. However, if they have struck a successful balance with their daydream issue then they might want to take the lead in the discipline.
Okay, assuming your child is not using your attention and memory, your basic game plan is to put them in a situation so they need to build habits of attentiveness. The best way to do that is to feed their passion. I have never seen anyone be inattentive to his or her passion. As a person pays attention they develop a better eye for detail, complete more projects and in general develop the habits of attentiveness.
I have actually written an entire book, The Purpose of Passion, on this issue. Here is the short version. Many parents confuse "feed their passion" with "do their child's passion." The purpose of passion is to draw you down a path to unfold your destiny and promote maximum growth and development. The passion does the drawing and the path creates the growth. If you do your child's passion, then you walk their path and deprive them of the struggles that teach.
The picture I would like you to keep in mind is when your child first learned to walk. Walking was your child's idea. You were two baby steps away and gave encouraging comments. Your child fell. You didn't emphasize the failure, but encouraged your child to try again. Eventually, your child learned to walk.
Keep these things in mind: On passion's path your child will fall and get hurt. You won't like it. What parent does? Sometimes the pain is so deep that you need to give your child time to grieve. During that time remind them of their successes and suggest they set a time to end the grieving and try again.
You will be tempted to make the path easier, to buy this or that. (KEY: Never put more money or effort into your child's passion than your child.) Support; don't lead. Just as carrying your child doesn't teach him to walk, so also will leading, a form of enabling, be fruitless. Last, you know how to do this. If your child is walking, you have done it in the past.
The main difference between when your child had a passion to learn to walk and her current passion is you were sure that she would learn to walk, but you are doubtful of success for her current passion.
Take heart! Passion's purpose is not about successfully reaching the goal; it is about what you learn along the way. The only way your child can truly fail is to not try. Your job is not to tell her how impractical her goal is, but to reassure her that she can do it. Neither of my parents believed I would get into medical school, but they never mentioned it to me until after I graduated and became a doctor. Keep your fears to yourself and feed your child's courage.
One other issue is very important; parents need to know the difference between feeding a child's passion and feeding his addiction. Today, the most common addiction of young children is video games.
There are five criteria for addiction (see Purpose of Passion), but a way to tell if it is an addiction is take the video game away. If your child gets angry that is a good indication that video games are an addiction.
Feeding your child's addiction has the same effect as doing your child's passion. The addiction consumes the time your child would be following his passion. The fewer steps down passion's path the less learned, and the less fulfillment your child experiences.
So when did I learn to develop habits like paying attention to details, completing all tasks assigned and just staying focused? In the first days of my internship! One of my passions was (and still is) medicine. I had just completed a 24 hour shift and my resident was reviewing items from his list that needed to be done before I could go to sleep. I wrote nothing down, depending solely on my memory. My resident suggested we get back together at noon.
At noon my resident went over his list and I had forgotten a few items. The resident added to the list some other things that might be useful and suggested we get together at 5 pm. The other intern who had everything done was dismissed and went to bed!
From then on I developed many adaptations. I listened closely to the resident's suggestions during the night and created a list of what needed to be done. I pinned my pen to my shirt so I wouldn't lose it. I did many other things to stay focused. My driving motivation was to be a good doctor—and my short term desire was sleep! In the end I had developed habits that increased my attention, habits that remain with me today, 40 years later.
The other two solutions are: 1. Stop lowering your child's attention span; and 2. Teach him to lengthen their attention span. I know it is hard to believe that you do things to lower your child's attention span, but the evidence is impressive. We will discuss both in the next article, ADHD: Top 3 Solutions for the Easily Distractible Part 2.