Parenting and ADDBuild on your child’s strengths, focus on strengths, nurture strengths -- we hear this advice so often, but what does it really mean? Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D., psychologist and author of several books including The Gift of ADHD Activity Book: 101 Ways to Turn Your Child’s Problems into Strengths, explains that parents need to ask themselves, “What is right with my child?”
Too often we fall into the trap of pointing out problematic behaviors in children with ADHD. In doing this, we lose sight of the unique abilities and strengths that each child possesses. What are your child’s gifts? What are his/her strengths? Once you identify these areas, it is easier to keep moving in a positive direction.
Dr. Honos-Webb notes that the gifts of ADHD often include creativity, emotional sensitivity, exuberance, interpersonal intuition and attunement to nature. She advises parents to build on these strengths rather than excessively focusing on patching up weaknesses.
“Transform yourself from a frustrated parent to a coaching parent,” says Dr. Honos-Webb who encourages parents to try to problem solve rather than punish when their child does not follow directions. It is so easy for parents of ADHD children to become overwhelmed and frustrated – frustrated at their child for not following the rules, frustrated at his/her energy level, frustrated at the teachers for not being able to manage behaviors, frustrated at themselves for losing patience and feeling overwhelmed!
Dr. Honos-Webb explains that as parents we tend to blame ourselves for our children’s problems. “When a child fails, the parent internalizes the failure, feeling like they are fundamentally flawed as parents.” Changing our perspective can make a world of difference. Reframe your role as that of a coach.
Be the Coach
“Coaching simply means that before you start using consequences, you work with your child to build skills,” says Dr. Honos-Webb. “Just like a coach helps a player learn to shoot hoops through skill building and practice, you assume you have to help your child build skills rather than assume he or she is just trying to make you mad.”
Think of it as though your child is in training. “You may need to say every day, multiple times to your child, ‘talk in a normal voice’ when he is whining or ‘talk it through’ when he starts to act out his anger,” says Dr. Honos-Webb. Coaches do not punish players in training; instead they give repetitive feedback and practice, practice, practice.
Coaches also give directions and state expectations in a calm voice (most of the time!) and they point out to their player what they should be doing, rather than what they are doing wrong. Dr. Honos-Webb gives the following example: “The coach doesn’t scream in frustration, ‘Stop straightening your legs!’ This strategy doesn’t work because it doesn’t tell the player what he should do. It doesn’t even solve a problem, and depending on tone, it may even humiliate.”
It is important to adopt a problem solving attitude, rather than a blaming one.
Connect with Your Child
Connect with your child by listening. Listen to what he has to say. Ask your child how he sees the problem behavior. Listen to his response. Show you understand his point of view. Dr. Honos-Webb notes that the simple experience of being heard and understood can work wonders for a child.
Help Your Child to Understand His Emotions
Dr. Honos-Webb explains that we build a child’s emotional intelligence by validating his emotions and reflecting back to him that it is okay to be mad, sad, or afraid. Help your child gain experience tolerating these difficult feelings. Let him know this is a normal and healthy part of life.
Catch Your Child Being Good
When you give your child positive feedback for positive actions, those behaviors will increase. Catch your child being good. “You really worked hard on your homework tonight and I noticed you put your homework folder right in your book bag when you were finished.”
Give Your Child Plenty of Positive Attention
Children crave attention. If they aren’t getting it in a positive manner, they have been known to “act-out” in order to gain attention. Negative attention is still attention. Try to nip this in the bud by setting aside special one on one time with your child each day. “During this time be entirely present with your child. Look them in the eyes, touch them lovingly and listen closely to your child,” says Dr. Honos-Webb. “This intense presence will give them what they need and head off desperate pleas for attention. Sometimes just a few minutes will prevent large energy draining hassles.”
Sometimes it is helpful if parents identify three rules that if broken will have consequences. Discuss these rules and expectations with your child and come up with specific consequences. If your child breaks these rules, enforce the consequences immediately. For all other rules that your child does not follow, Dr. Honos-Webb suggests parents handle them by giving more information, problem solving, and recognizing the importance of practice and repetition.
Stay in Good Communication with Your Child’s Teachers
“Research has shown over many decades that your child’s educational outcomes are very closely linked with how much the teacher likes your child and how much they expect from your child,” notes Dr. Honos-Webb. Be an advocate for your child. Connect with your child’s teacher. Respect your child’s teacher and try to form a positive alliance with him or her. “They will go the extra mile for your child.”
Source: Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. Personal correspondence/interview. 22 Feb. 08 and 27 Feb. 08.
Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. The Gift of ADHD Activity Book: 101 Ways to Turn Your Child’s Problems into Strengths. New Harbinger Publications, Inc. 2007.
Photo © Microsoft