How Coaching Helps

Coaching Tips for Parents of Children with ADHD/LD
(by Steven Richfield, Ph.D).

A parent writes: Both our son and daughter struggle with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder and Learning Disabilities. As they struggle, so do my husband and I. Communication breaks down into arguments, problems arise in school and among their peers, and we are often unsure of how to handle their emotional ups and downs. Any suggestions?

I respond: Children with ADHD and LD present unique challenges and rewards to parents. The vulnerability of fragile egos, the unthinking behaviours rooted in impulsivity, or the steep decline of emotional meltdowns can prompt even the most patient parents to look for tools and techniques to manage their children's unpredictable behaviours. These scenarios fall under the heading of what I have come to call the "Now, what do I do?" syndrome. It is a question that echoes through the minds of all parents at one time or another.

Here are some tools to help you help them:

  • Let them know through words and actions that you are on the same "team" as they are. When their emotions are peaking, children with LD and ADHD may perceive us as taking sides and rushing to negative judgments. Sometimes these perceptions are accurate. Using a nurturing tone of voice and showing an open mind send the message that we want to listen to their points of view.
  • Every interaction you have when they are emotionally charged is an opportunity for them to see you as an ally, not a judgmental adversary. Ally with them by starting conversations with comments such as, "Let me hear what you think," or, "You look like you need to talk. Let's find a private place."
  • Listen intently and resist jumping to conclusions. Instead, "float" some ideas with statements such as, "I understand your feelings better now; so, let's try to figure out what we can learn from this situation. Maybe there's a lesson here for both of us—a way for you to understand yourself better and a way for me to understand you better."
  • Move towards more meaningful discussion of the issues. Suggest that if they can be open in talking about their own contributions to an upsetting situation, positive change can occur. Don't force discussion. Offer them time to be ready.
  • When it's time to talk, make sure your "verbal playbook" is ready. Once you have built a trusting dialogue, it's time to offer your explanations about what may have gone wrong. Explain how our thinking side (the part of our minds that makes good decisions and watches over our behaviour) sometimes loses control over our reacting side (the part of us that reacts emotionally to triggers in our lives). This commonsense dichotomy resonates with most children's experience and allows you to explain how certain traps in their lives trigger the reacting side. Typical traps include being teased, insulted, or feeling embarrassed by something.
  • Suggest that all people have traps that we must look out for or our reacting sides will create all sorts of trouble for us. Give examples of how this has happened in your life or perhaps examples of famous people whose reacting side stories have made headlines. Once you generalize the discussion in this way, children tend to be more open and honest about their errors.
  • Offer "thinking side messages" as preventive strategies. Many children don't appreciate the significance of how their thoughts fuel their actions. This internal language is often running in the background of their interactions with others, sometimes spurring them on to an impulsive response to one of their traps.
  • Explain how the way we talk to ourselves when we are facing one of our traps sets the stage for whether the thinking side or reacting side wins the battle for control over our behaviour. Emphasize the plural "we" to reduce the chances of sounding accusatory or blaming. Give examples of how if they say to themselves, "I'm going to get even with that kid," the results are going to be much different than if they say to themselves, "I'm not going to take the bait from that kid." These brief, pointed mental scripts help decrease the intensity of the reacting side fires. Internal statements such as "I can't always get it right," or "I shouldn't take it personally," may help them avoid other potential traps.
  • Practicing and processing help prevent future troubles. Prepare your children for improved coping by talking about what is likely to happen in a given situation. Rehearse situations so they can practice their silent self-control strategies. After a real-life stressful situation, process the children's experience together with them by reviewing how well they coped with their traps. Reassure them that it requires a lot of practice for all of us to use our thinking side when our traps are tempting us. Adults already know that it is very difficult to desensitize ourselves from our issues. Children have even more trouble. It's easy for them to get caught up in unhelpful thinking and even more unhelpful reactions.
  • Praise them for their willingness to discuss their contributions and their desire to change for the better.

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ADHD Europe asks for better provisions for Teenagers with ADHD who continue to need access to mental health services after they turn 18.
This must be a priority across Europe so please sign the Declaration:

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