Lecture 2: ADHD in the family

Sorry this comes so late but the special ed teacher at “Kitty’s” school wanted to borrow the lecture binder…

The second lecture that I went to at the Child and Youth Psychiatric Department (BUP) ,  was all about how ADHD affects the family. There is no denial that it does put a strain on you. It’s stressful and you get more tired, it tears on the couple’s relationship, especially since one in the couple usually has the ADHD symptoms as well, you have a bad conscience because the siblings of the ADHD child, often have to stand back or take care of themselves, you often get socially isolated because you don’t dare to take the child with the disorder with you. But it can also pull a family together and make it stronger.

The first thing you as a parent must do, is to strengthen yourself in your role, become secure in that role. The difficulties that your child has can create a feeling of insecurity and frustration with yourself as a parent. You might have a difficult time understanding and accepting why your child can not act and develop like other children of the same age. A lot of parents also feel bad because they don’t manage to rear the child properly according to society’s standards. And the constant need to control your child can feel overwhelming since the child really doesn’t want to be controlled.

How might you react?

* Why can’t he ever learn? I’ve told him this a thousand times!

* Is he doing this on purpose or can’t he help it?

* Should I sweep in front of him or put age appropriate demands on him?

* He needs constant controlling and yet he won’t let me do it.

* I’ve become a “nagging bitch”.

* He is driving me crazy.

* I loose my temper and then I get a guilty conscience.

* I give up – he can do as he pleases.

Obviously it is easy to get in to this way of thinking and the psychologist showed this evil circle that starts with the child acting inappropriate. The parent corrects the child. But the child continues by whining, sulking, arguing, talking back or refusing to do as told. The parent starts to beg, nag, explain, yell and threaten. Then the child throws a fit, screams, cries and rages. And the parent answers by loosing control, getting furious, cries or gives up. And the child’s behaviour has now been reinforced and has escalated. The parent feels completely like a failure and gets a bad conscience and the child continues to misbehave.

How does one break this evil circle then?

* You can’t take the child’s reactions personally.

* You must accept that you are a good parent.

* The child cannot help that he has the difficulties that he has.

* Try to keep calm and practice self-control.

* Think and act “pedagogical”.

* Maintain adult authority.

* Do not let the child steer you.

* Focus on the positive.

What you need when you are a parent of a child with ADHD

* Stamina and a LOT of patience.

* You have to be your child’s “self-help” till they are quite old. They can’t steer/control themselves which means that they get a lot of criticism, hear a lot of nagging and get very little praise. You have to think for them. Curling parent is the motto.

* You need an ability to see, encourage and praise what is good/positive

* You often have to overlook the child’s difficulties and shortcomings

* You have to accept the role as your child’s “defence lawyer”. Fight for his rights!

* You need support from others! Which is not always easy to get.

At this part of the lecture, you are told that you need to get to know your child again. You need to have realistic demands and expectations.

* You need to find out what he CAN do, not what he is expected to be able to do at this or that age

* Prioritize what is the most important thing right now?

* When it comes to expectations concerning being able to perform everyday skills, you have to take off 30% of the child’s age. My 9-year-old, is in other words on a 6-year-old’s level when it comes to these skills. What the skills are: Keeping track of clothes (tons of mittens, beanies, socks go missing as well as bigger items of clothing and other belongings)), putting things in the dirty wash instead of wearing the same shirt an entire week, brush one’s teeth…

* Don’t care about what others think- you know your own child best.

* You must help curl the child, brush the carpet in front of them, be their “help-self”. They say this over and over in the lectures.

The next topic of discussion was how to help your child get a better self-esteem by succeeding. They fail so often and are told as much, so this is important for their entire being.

* Starting point should be based on the child’s strengths and interests.

* Encourage and praise – often and lots.

* Communication must be simple and clear.

* Reduce the nagging, talk less – show in actions.

* Help the child get started, do the task and complete it.

* Define and break down tasks/assignments in parts.

* BE ONE STEP AHEAD – PREDICT PROBLEM SITUATIONS! I cannot say this often enough to people around us. One really has to be on alert all the time and see what could become explosive situations.

* Find ways around difficulties.

* Provide meaningful and regular feedback.

* Accept that the child needs a lot of support and supervision.

These were the official things they put down but then they kept on adding other things like:

* Take TIME to listen and give your child a lot of TIME.

* Remind a child instead of nagging. There is a difference! When they enter the hallway: “Don’t forget to hang up your jacket” instead of ” Did you hang up your jacket! No you did not! How many times have I told you to hang up the jacket when you get home!”.

* Be positive about what actually does get done! The teachers acted out a scene where the child rushed in through the door and took great care in hanging her jacket up but kicked the boots in all directions, threw her bag off in another one. And the mother only saw what was thrown around, not that the jacket was hung up very nicely.

* If you have to “scold” do it in a nice tone of voice.

* That was well done! How happy you just made me! works wonders.

* Give immediate praise.

* Do NOT use the word NOT.

* Do not compare the child to its siblings! “Look how good your brother is and he is even younger than you!”

* Give structure and order

* Have the child do one thing at a time. The child can only keep 1-2 “orders” in its brain anyway so do not give them a long to do list. It’s of no use since he will fail anyway.

* Do not tell the child what he should NOT do but what he should do. Not: “Do not hit your brother” but “Please be kind to your brother”.

* They have a lot of “noise” in their heads. Thoughts, ideas, you name it. The psychologist suggested that one has to jumpstart the child by clapping one’s hands , stomp a foot, start cheerleading, just to sort of wake him up/shake him up.

How does one talk to one’s child about its disability?

* We are all different.

* You are good at some things – that are difficult for others.

* You must teach your child strategies to handle his disability.

* Explain to others what you need help with.

The couple’s relationship: You have to talk to each other

* It’s important to set aside time to talk to each other

* You can not fight over whose opinion is the right one

* Instead you have to ask yourselves: How do we best support our child together?

You have to take care of yourself

* Make sure to let yourself have time alone, away from the child.

* Make sure you get enough sleep, rest, food and exercise.

* Learn stress management techniques.

* Share responsibility over the child.

* Make sure you have some other interests/hobbies.

To let siblings have room to

* You need to explain to siblings what it means to have ADHD and why the one sibling needs all the extra help.

* Try to find activities and occupations that both the child with ADHD and the other siblings enjoy.

* Show understanding and respect for the situation the siblings are in. “I know that I ask a lot from you, I know you have to be more responsible…”

* Make sure that the siblings get ALONE time with you as a parent.

How do you get the understanding from others

* Demand understanding and respect! Do not tolerate that people tell you that “if you had done your job your child would have been well-behaved”. The diagnosis has been around since 1950 and people ought to know by now that it is caused by genetics.

* Be open about it. Tell teachers, neighbours, friends… If you don’t tell them, many are going to assume that it is just a poorly behaved child. That is if they have not listened to the news, the last 60 years and have not read anything either, about it.

* Explain what ADHD means. Some things might be totally clear, but everyone might not know all the difficulties these children have. Some facts are not as well-known as others, even for parents of a child with ADHD.

* Tell people how they can help you.

* Do not shy away from asking for help.

Conclusion

* Children with ADHD affect the entire family.

* You are a very good parent.

* Get to know your child all over again.

*Adapt demands and expectations.

* Other family members must also be allowed room.

*Demand respect and understanding from others!

To not make this blog post too long, I want to finish here. BUT they handed out brochures with a lot of good information. I will write up something from them when I am done with these lectures. So keep looking out for those posts. I am trying to do a good job here, even though my first language is not English. Many of the words used in connection with ADHD are foreign to me, but I am learning and doing my best at translating. I hope that those of you that despair, and feel sad about your child’s often tiresome behaviour, is going to have some use of these blog posts.

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