Friday, January 26, 2007

Daily lessons for an at-risk child

When I reviewed the scientific studies for my book, I discovered that there may be some things parents can do to prevent ADHD or perhaps lessen symptoms. One theme that repeated over and over in many studies was that a close parent child relationship was associated with better impulse control in children. Remember though, that this correlation SUGGESTS but DOES NOT PROVE that a close relationship prevents impulsivity.

Cross-cultural studies also suggest that physical holding of infants and much physical affection toward young children decreases impulsivity as children mature. There is little doubt that an at-risk child needs plenty of time spent loving every day. This daily time spent loving will also lessen the complications of ADHD. It is likely that it is much harder to have a close relationship with an impulsive child. These children protest a great deal when their desires are not being gratified.

The goal with at-risk children is to help them to fully develop Ability to Love. Ability to love involves both enjoyment of affection and care-taking behavior. It is possible for children to enjoy being affectionate and yet not learn care-taking behavior. Think about it, loving without care-taking is rather empty and meaningless. Our children need lessons in care-taking every day.

Teaching kids care-taking can be tricky. I am not suggesting that it is healthy for a child to be burdened with the responsibility of taking care of everyone else at the expense of his childhood. Somewhere between over-indulgence and excessive burden is the happy medium of teaching care-taking. In between times of playing and enjoyment a child needs to be directed to take care.

Tips for teaching care taking

At-risk kids need care-taking lessons repeated every day. Teaching care-taking occurs with teaching manners. For example, have you noticed your child run for a door, open it and go through without a thought regarding who is behind him? Teach your child to stop and look to see if anyone else wants to enter or exit. Teach him to hold the door for other people especially if they are elderly or handicapped. In this way lessons in care-taking and manners go hand in hand with lessons in impulse control. When you teach a care taking behavior to your child, follow your instructions with the statement, “We all have to take care of each other.” If your child hears this everyday it will eventually sink in!

Pets are also a good vehicle for teaching care-taking. Often however, a pet comes into the family, children are told the pet is their responsibility and mother ends up with yet another being to care for. To avoid this trap, have your child accompany you while you both care for the pet. Ask him to retrieve food and water dishes, clean the cage with you etc. If you have a dog, insist your child walk with you and the dog every day. Don’t give him the option of saying, “No!” When you have a dog you have to take care of him even when you think you have better things to do.

Children also learn care-taking through chores. Again, at-risk children may not be capable of doing chores alone. Instead, do them together. The important lesson your child learns is that he has to stop playing awhile to spend time taking care. This also builds impulse control.

At-risk children are often preoccupied with ideas of power. For example a child will say, “I’m as big as you.” Or “I’m Superman.” When you hear your child boast of his power, use this as an occasion to say, “Since you are big, you have to help take care of things.” Use your child’s drive for power to his benefit. Teach him daily that power means responsibility and care-taking not just privilege.

The price of not learning care-taking

People who are power-motivated and have no concept of caring for others, have an enormous sense of entitlement. The price you will pay for not teaching care-taking will be your child developing a sense of entitlement. This entitlement means that he believes it is everyone else who must take care of him. A child raised in this way will not be capable of functioning as a parent or spouse. Teaching your child care-taking may involve upsetting him. Why should he slow down to help an older person? Why should he put down the videogame to walk the dog? Sometimes children have to feel uncomfortable in order to learn important lessons. If this is your situation, and your child complains and protests, don’t give up. Keep insisting he put his own needs and desires aside a little every day to take care.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Parenting Pitfalls with ADHD kids

Parenting a child with ADHD is an exhausting and difficult task. The job is even more taxing when parents worry if they are to blame for a child’s problems. Having to cope with worry and guilt cuts down on the energy available to care for the child. In the next few weeks I will be discussing the relationship problems that arise between parents and children with ADHD.

The problem with ADHD is not so much the ADHD itself but the complications of the disorder. Complications include school failure, substance abuse, and disruptive behavior disorders (ODD and CD). Researchers have identified three patterns of parent child relationship problems associated with complications of ADHD.

Pitfall 1: Accidental training of undesired behavior

Most parents are concerned and want the best for their kids. However, everyone is so stretched these days. Full time employment is in itself tiring and leaves little energy left to cope with a child that has problems. Parental fatigue and depression often set the state for the first pitfall, accidental training of bad behavior. Children with ADHD have a great deal of energy, this energy makes them want. They want possessions and they want to do what ever impulsive thing comes to mind at any given moment. They lack the brain structure required to cope with this feeling of constant wanting. All they know is want means do!

Parents have the enormous job of teaching a child with a lot of desires that want does not mean do. To teach this lesson parents must train consistently. Accidental training of nagging, temper tantrums and other impulsive behavior occurs when parents give in to the want that set off this behavior. Unfortunately, giving in periodically trains negative behavior as well if not better than giving in all the time! Beat this pitfall with consistency. Maintain consistency by taking care of yourself.

Pitfall 2: Harsh parenting

Parents of kids with ADHD know that their kids have a lack of impulse control and other skills required for ae appropriate behavior. The struggle is to see this lack of skills as associated with a disability rather than stemming from something the child is doing on purpose. The behaviors of some kids with ADHD try the patience of the best of parents. Parents usually repress the anger and frustration they feel about a child’s behavior. But repression isn’t perfect and the parent who struggles with anger and frustration can fall into the trap of harsh parenting. Harsh parenting and punitive discipline make ADHD related behavior problems worse. Parents prone to hash parent can do better by taking tie away from the child, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and practicing stress management techniques.

Pitfall 3: Proactive parenting becomes a luxury not a way of life

Researchers have observed a correlation between a lack of proactive parenting and complications of ADHD. What is proactive parenting? Proactive parenting means knowing what kinds of situations get your particular child in trouble and avoiding these situations. It means redirecting your child toward constructive activities. Proactive parenting is a lot of work and again may be difficult to do when exhausted.

A common theme

All three of these pitfalls have a common theme. That theme is parents who are tired, stressed and or depressed. A parent with a difficult child should think of himself/herself like a star athelete. You have to take charge of keeping yourself in tiptop shape in order to win! Practice self care including a healthy diet, exercise, stress management and fun time. The good news is that all of these positive health habits will also help your ADHD child.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Teaching Kids Anger Management: Lesson 1

At risk children may be anger prone. It is important for parents of at risk children to actively teach them how to deal with anger and frustration. Here are the four truths of anger management.

1) We are in charge of our own feelings.
• Although we can’t always stop ourselves from being provoked, we own our own feelings.
• We feel our own feelings.
• We must label our own feelings.
• We must calmly communicate our own feelings.
• Since feeling anger is part of being human, we have to learn healthy ways to deal with anger.
• We can find ways to let anger go.

2) We are in charge of our own thoughts.
• Some thoughts keep us angry. Some thoughts calm us down.
• We can choose to have calming thoughts.
• We can practice using calming thoughts to cool off.

3) We are in charge of our own behavior.
• We own the hurtful actions that we inflict on others.
• We can stop hurting people with actions.
• We can learn to control what we do with anger.
• We can express angry feelings in ways that are fair to others and ourselves.

4) We are in charge of our own words.
• We own the hurtful words we speak when angry
• We can stop hurting people with words.
• We can use the firm and fair words: "I feel ____ when you _____."
• We can talk about feelings and try to work things out.

Learn these truths for yourself and teach them to your child verbally and by modeling the behavior. Recently my four year old son said, “I feel mad at you!” I then said, “If you are mad,take a deep breath and walk away.” He said, “Like the monkey in the video?” He was referring to this site:

We visited the site once, one month before he said this, He remembered it better than I did. He therefore highly recommends this site! The monkey exercise is gone but there are other videos to watch together.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Make your New Year's Resolution stick

In the New Year many people resolve to live healthier lives with the hope of losing weight. Recent studies indicate that weight loss and successful life change are dependent upon a person’s impulse control. As I discussed in Study links mother's poor impulse control with obesity in children, impulse control determines a person’s ability to choose healthier foods over very tasty fattening alternatives. A mother’s modeling of impulse control when it comes to food, helps children acquire this skill.

Further support for a link between impulse control and obesity in children comes from a recent study, Relationship of childhood behavior disorders to weight gain from childhood into adulthood published in Ambul Pediatr. 2006 Sep-Oct;6(5):297-301. In this study Dr. Anderson and colleagues followed 655 kids for 20 years into adulthood. They found that impulse control disorders (like ADHD) were associated with obesity that began during childhood and continued into adulthood.

In the light of this recent scientific data, we can surmise that knowing how to strengthen impulse control is important in seeing your New Year’s Resolution stick. Willpower is another word for impulse control. The most important thing to know about willpower is that it is a finite resource and can be used up. Stressful life events and daily hassles use up our willpower and this is why people tend to eat fattening foods in the evening. Focused academic problem solving also tends to use up willpower, as the brain gets tired. Willpower is strengthened by sleep, relaxation and social support. A healthy diet will also strengthen impulse control and will power.

Help your child and yourself keep that New Year’s Resolution by not stocking up on unhealthy foods. Share plenty of affection and get plenty of rest. If you and your child are under stress try to eliminate the sources of stress. Cope with tension by taking walks together for 30 minutes a day.