Tuesday, July 28, 2015

What Can a Conference Do for You?

guest blog by Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, PCC

To say that my life changed dramatically after attending my first CHADD conference is the understatement of the year. My eyes were opened and widened at that first conference. I was struck most by the sense of community, the sense that we all belonged together, and the realization that I was not alone. There were so many others “out there” who understood — plus others who were helping and supporting other parents just like I wanted to do.

I met a woman there who had an experience similar to mine. We agreed to join forces to help other parents using the skills we had each learned in coaching training. We wanted to offer the kind of help we each wished we’d had years earlier on our journeys.

Long story short, we returned to the CHADD conference the following year with the honor of being recognized as an Innovative Program. Wow! We launched our new venture and returned as exhibitors the following year. Since then we have returned each year as presenters.

I have been an active volunteer for CHADD for several years, and now serve on the national board of directors. CHADD’s conference is one of the highlights of my year — it’s a chance to learn, explore, teach, ask questions, connect with other parents and professionals, and know that I’m doing something constructive every year to keep my family on a solid course to success.

Now, imagine what attending this year's conference could do for you and your family!

Don't miss this year's CHADD conference in New Orleans! Hear from top ADHD experts; engage in the issues that matter most; learn new strategies.

Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, PCC, is the cofounder of ImpactADHD.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Conference & A Life Lesson

guest blog by Marie S. Paxson

At my very first CHADD conference, I heard educator Terry Illes explain to parents that "I don't know" is an acceptable answer to the question, "Why did you do that?" Until then, whenever one of my children with ADHD got into mischief, hearing "I don't know" as their explanation only made me more annoyed. I usually followed up with something like "How can you NOT know?" or "Well, you can go to your room and think about it until you know!" I thought I was teaching them to think before they acted next time.

Then Dr. Illes explained executive function and the part of the brain responsible for advance planning. Impulsive behavior means no advance planning occurred. Therefore my kids really didn't know why they caused a problem. And my role wasn't to punish or shame them for skills they did not have, but to help them understand how their brains worked and how to compensate for EF differences.

I had a life lesson a few months after that conference. My 11-year-old son insisted on "helping" me by unloading a warehouse-size bag of cat litter from my car. When he reached our entryway, instead placing the bag on the floor, he simply let go of the bag from about chest high. Dust and clay particles went everywhere. I didn't yell, but my body language indicated my annoyance as we cleaned up the mess in stony silence. A few hours later, my son came to me and said, "Mom, how did you know the bag of kitty litter would explode if I didn't set it down gently?" I answered, "I don't know." AND that was the truth.

I'm so glad I attended the conference, because now when my children say, "I don't know," I realize they are being truthful.

Don't miss this year's CHADD conference in New Orleans! Hear from top ADHD experts; engage in the issues that matter most; learn new strategies.

Marie S. Paxson is a past president of CHADD.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Friendship Feedback & Parents with ADHD

guest blog by Amori Yee Mikami, PhD

This series on being a friendship coach for your child with ADHD began with a discussion on building a positive parent-child relationship. I also shared guidelines for helping your child make and keep friends.

My next post described how to set up successful playdates, the cornerstones to deepening friendships among elementary-school children.

Today let's consider the quality of the feedback you give your child following those playdates. Learn from the examples to make comments that actually help your child. And if you have ADHD, too, here are some specialized tips on being your child's friendship coach.

Giving your child friendship feedback

Here are some tips and examples of helpful and not-so-helpful comments from parents to children.

1. Keep it brief. It will be easier for your child to follow what you say.
  • Poor: "In this last playdate you talked with your friend early on about who should go first, which your friend wanted to do, and I think that was helpful to lead to your friend feeling welcomed by you as a guest here."   
  • Better: "Nice job letting your friend go first."

2. Be specific. Your child needs to know exactly what behavior is expected.
  • Poor: "Nobody likes it if you are a bad sport when you lose."
  • Better: "If you lose you can say 'good game' to the winner."

3. Stay in the present. This is especially important when you are giving negative feedback; the child can’t do anything about the past.
  • Poor: "You always have to move your guest’s pieces in games. You did that today with your guest, you did it the last time we had a playdate too, and your teacher says this is a problem at school too." 
  • Better: "I think that your guest today wanted to move his own pieces in the game. Next time, you move your own when it’s your turn and let your guest move his own when it’s his turn."

4. Stay positive. Catch your child being good to encourage more of that behavior in the future.
  • Poor: "You shared your dolls but then you really didn’t share your video games after that. You need to work harder on sharing the whole time."
  • Better: "Awesome job sharing your dolls so well! Your friend really liked that."

All in the family

Sometimes parents of children with ADHD have ADHD symptoms, too. This can make being a friendship coach for the child easier in some ways and more challenging in others. Here are some tips to remember:

•    Empathize with your child.
Having ADHD yourself can make you more patient and understanding when dealing with your child’s friendship difficulties. This has the positive benefit of building a good parent-child relationship so that your child trusts you to be on his side and help him as a friendship coach. Also, having ADHD may help you better anticipate your child’s social behaviors and needs.

•    Take things one step at a time.
Some parents with ADHD struggle with providing the level of structured, organized playdate that is recommended here. Just pick one friendship-coaching tip that is realistic to try with your child first, and focus on doing that one tip well. It might help to write on your calendar which friendship-coaching tip you have chosen so that you are reminded about your goal. Once you practice the tip it will get easier, and then you can work on adding another friendship coaching tip later.

•    Work together as a team.
Some parents with ADHD have difficulty networking with other parents, similar to the difficulties that their child with ADHD has in relating to the other children. You and your child might both set a goal that, during soccer practice, both of you will talk to other adults and children to each think about one potential friend to invite for a playdate. Remember to celebrate your successes as a team afterward, too.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!

Join the conversation about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Amori Yee Mikami, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a registered clinical psychologist in British Columbia. She previously taught at the University of Virginia. Mikami received CHADD’s 2006 Young Scientist Award.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Fun & Friendship: Tips for Successful Playdates

guest blog by Amori Yee Mikami, PhD

While your child with ADHD attends elementary school, you can aim for one to two high-quality, supervised playdates per week. As I mentioned in last week's blog, playdates are the cornerstones to deepening friendships among children at that age.

Remind yourself that your child will have better and worse days as he or she is working on being a better friend. We all have ups and downs. Try not to get too discouraged with yourself or with your child when there are minor setbacks, so long as your child’s friendship-making skills are improving overall.

Also, remember that your child does not need to be the most popular boy or girl in the class. In fact, sometimes children who are the most popular develop other problems. The goal is for your child to maintain a small group of close friends who truly like one another and can turn to each other for support. If you can invest in helping your child develop a few strong friendships, then this will set the stage for your child to become a happy, well-adjusted adult.

Here are some tips to make playdates happy occasions.

Before the playdate

•    Choose the right friend to invite over (see last week's blog on identifying good potential friends).
•    Have your child and the friend decide in advance what they would like to do during the playdate. Then, plan the activity with your child and don’t leave a lot of unstructured downtime.
•    Put away (with your child) any toys that your child doesn’t want the guest to touch.
•    Have snacks on hand in case there is a period of boredom. Then you can bring out snacks and revitalize the interaction.
•    If there are poor friendship behaviors that your child shows consistently, pick no more than one or two to discuss with your child in advance. Tell your child you’ll be watching out for him to do well in these areas and (if necessary) you will give him a reward afterward for behaving well. Remember to tell your child the positive behavior you would like to see and to pick a standard that is slightly above his child’s current performance, but not so far above that it is unattainable.
•    Make the first playdate last no longer than one hour. Make it a shorter amount of time if you are not sure your child can behave for one hour. The guest should leave on a good note.

During the playdate

•    If your child is showing minor behavior problems, calmly whisper a reminder in her ear.
•    If the behavior problems are more severe or if the reminder doesn’t work, ask to see your child in the other room and tell her what behaviors need to be changed. If you do it privately with your child, it won’t make the guest feel awkward. If your child is behaving that poorly, the guest will have already noticed that, and will be relieved that you are doing something about it.
•    Unless the problems are so severe that someone is in danger, don’t send the guest home. The guest shouldn’t be punished for your child’s misbehavior. Plus, your child loses the opportunity to socialize. Give your child a different punishment afterward. Then, ask yourself what you could do differently next time before the playdate to reduce the likelihood that this will happen again.

After the playdate
•    If true, tell the other parent that the children had a good time and you hope they can get together again.
•    Use the principles of effective feedback to tell your child specifically what was and was not good friendship-making. Remember the 4:1 ratio and to praise for even 25 percent correct.
•    If you had a contract with your child about how to behave, then give your child the rewards that you promised if your child showed these target behaviors.

NEXT WEEK: How do you give your child friendship feedback? Can you be your child's friendship coach if you have ADHD, too?

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue! Join the conversation about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Amori Yee Mikami, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a registered clinical psychologist in British Columbia. She previously taught at the University of Virginia. Mikami received CHADD’s 2006 Young Scientist Award.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Become Your Child's Friendship Coach

guest blog by Amori Yee Mikami, PhD

Does your elementary school-aged child with ADHD have social issues? Just as you can help your child succeed academically, you can help your child make and keep friends. Here are some guidelines.

Build on a positive parent-child relationship.

Children will be more likely to listen to constructive feedback and guidance about their friendship problems if they feel their parent is on their side. Think about the parallel with your own life: Do you want to improve your performance for a caring, positive boss, or for a critical boss you can never please? In order to do this:
•    Spend special time doing a fun activity alone with your child - without directing, teaching, or criticizing.
•    Pick your battles wisely. If your child is doing ten things wrong, focus on the most crucial one or two first. Most children can only handle working on one or two things at a time before they feel overwhelmed.
•    If your child is upset, try to be empathetic and listen to your child’s feelings first for ten minutes before you jump in and suggest what your child could do differently next time. If the problem is already in the past, delaying ten minutes before you give constructive suggestions will not hurt anything.

Give friendship feedback.

Try to keep the ratio of positive to negative feedback about 4:1. Research has shown that this ratio keeps adults happy with their marriages and jobs; children are no different. It is exceptionally hard to maintain this high ratio when parenting children with ADHD because of their behavior problems; most parents report they are nowhere near this ratio. In order to get there:
•    Start by praising for 25% correct. This actually encourages your child to try harder than if you wait around for your child to do something a 100% correct before you praise and your child never or rarely manages to do it.
•    Don’t spoil the praise by adding backhanded criticisms such as, “You did a good job today, but why can’t you do this all the time?”

When your child has behaved badly and you need to address the problem behavior:
•    Keep it specific to the behavior that needs to be changed and not about character.
•    Try to talk about the behavior that just occurred and not about what may have happened in the past.
•    If you feel yourself getting angry, it is okay to say to your child, “I am getting upset and I don’t want to say something I don’t mean. Let’s take a break to calm down.”

Identify good potential friends.

These should be same-age peers who seem already inclined to like your child (or at least don’t dislike your child), share common interests with your child, and won’t be a bad or destructive influence. It’s more important to choose the right match for your child than to choose the most popular child in the class. Ideally, you also want to choose a peer whose parent can provide the supervision your child needs and who understands your child’s behavior.

Children with ADHD can be poor judges of who likes and who does not like them. This may be because they miss social cues from peers, or because they want to have more friends than they truly do. You can help your child sort out good potential friends by getting involved in your child’s activities to observe which children seem to get along with your child. In order to identify good potential friends:
•    Ask your child who he or she likes to play with and why, and what they do together.
•    Ask your child's teacher (or group leader of an extracurricular activity) who in the class might be a good potential friend for your child.
•    Volunteer to help out in the classroom and in your child’s activities. Observe the children to see who might be a good potential friend.
•    Hang out during activities and network with other parents. You will get to know them and they will be more likely to invite your child places.
•    If your child consistently wants to play with one peer you consider a bad influence, make a pact to first invite someone else for two playdates. Then your child can invite the peer of his or her choice for the next playdate.

Arrange fun playdates.

Playdates are the cornerstones to deepening friendships among elementary schoolchildren. Aim for one to two good, high-quality, supervised playdates per week for your child. Is your child currently having zero good playdates? Then it is more important to have one good playdate every month than to pack in two playdates per week where the quality suffers.

NEXT WEEK: Your guide to setting up successful playdates.

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue! Join the conversation about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Amori Yee Mikami, PhD, is an associate professor of psychology at the University of British Columbia and a registered clinical psychologist in British Columbia. She previously taught at the University of Virginia. Mikami received CHADD’s 2006 Young Scientist Award.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Your Best Summer Vacation Tips

Vacations are meant to be a time to relax and just get away from it all. But when your family is affected by ADHD, it’s hard to escape those ADHD-related complications that can mar your summer fun.

We know you want not only to survive your vacation, you hope to thrive. So we asked CHADD members—the real experts—to offer their five best tips. Here's what they learned from their not-so-perfect summer vacations. They did it so you don't have to!


•    Use your hyperfocus to research hotels and flights.
•    Use your upcoming vacation as a carrot (reward) to motivate you to tie up projects at work.
•    Ask someone else pack for you to make sure you’re packing appropriately.
•    Have your spouse or traveling companion review the itinerary.
•    Make lists and be sure to write down all flight and hotel information. 

John, Redwood City, California

•    Start planning and packing about a week in advance.
•    Use a permanent checklist of everything you need to do before you travel.
•    Identify activities, connect them with wardrobe.
•    Collect all items in one place.
•    Have a second complete set of items like toiletries packed and ready to go.

Donna, Pleasant Hill, California


•    Keep sleep patterns consistent.
•    Make travel plans to and from destination during the child’s best time of the day.
•    Be outdoors as much as possible—fresh air and sunshine are the best “medicine.”
•    Although kids with ADHD need structure, be willing to be a little more flexible during vacations than you are during the school year.
•    Don’t set your expectations too high. Be willing to give and take, and ENJOY!

Kate, Ooltewah, Tennessee

•    Bring toys, activities and food along with you in the car or on the plane.
•    Familiarity helps. Plan ahead and let your child know where you’re going. Also consider repeat visits to the same destination.
•    Get to your destination early and do something active, so your child is ready for bed at night.
•    Modify your own expectations to accommodate your child and his or her needs.
•    Expect the first night to be rough.

Bradford, Frankfort, Illinois

•    Start talking about the trip two months in advance, and say what has to be done.
•    Use a packing list with easy-to-read categories (shirts, pants, toiletries, etc.) and checklists.
•    Bring card games, handheld video games, books, or notebooks for downtime on the trip.
•    Be clear on rules to follow for each location.
•    Meet the friends and families of any new friends your child makes on the trip.

Pam, Minneapolis, Minnesota

•    Keep children entertained and out of trouble. We bought twin DVD players that can play separately or together. One child prefers movies, while the other prefers games.
•    Bag complete sets of clothes individually and give one bag to each child each day. We also pack spare clothes separately for unplanned emergencies. Pop-up laundry baskets can help keep the dirty clothes in one spot.
•    Never, ever leave home without copies of prescriptions and double-checking medications. The medication bag is on the packing list to double-check before we leave for a trip.
•    Schedule planned breaks during the car trips. If the kids are younger, then think about stopping at restaurants with playgrounds.
•    Kids with ADHD like interesting activities while parents like to relax and rest. It’s important to pick places, such as restaurants like Chuck-E-Cheese, where kids can have a safe and contained place to burn energy while parents relax.

Loretta, Charlotte, North Carolina

•    Pack brightly colored shirts so your child stands out and can be easily spotted.
•    Set limited physical boundaries as soon as you arrive at your destination; for example, "Stay in between this large rock and that tree. Do not go outside the box."
•    Use walkie-talkies to maintain constant contact.
•    Take advantage of your child's interests. For example, my son loves marine life, so we bought him a book on Caribbean fish. He spent hours finding fish he had seen during snorkeling trips.
•    Schedule regular quiet time each day so your child can refocus and keep from getting overstimulated.

Tabitha, Carterville, Illinois

•    Let children and teens pack what they want to bring, including their favorite things that make them feel at home.
•    Allow them to partake in deciding each day's activity. 
•    Listen to them when they are tired, and be aware of their body language telling you they've had enough for the day.
•    Count down the days with them so they know how many days of vacation are left.
•    Reassure them they'll be home soon and back to the familiar surroundings and routines.
•    Take children to familiar places while you're away, such as McDonald's, Target, or WalMart.
Nancy, Upper Pittsgrove, NJ

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Manage Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

 guest blog by Paula L. Novash

School’s out and children look forward to sunny, lazy days with free time to rest in the hammock or splash in the pool. But for parents who are dealing with children with ADHD, summertime can be challenging. Without the imposed routine of the school year, there's lots of time to fill. And when kids are bored and squabbling, those extra hours of daylight can seem endless. How can families develop summer plans to maximize warm-weather fun and minimize conflicts and behavior issues?

Anticipating areas that may be sources of stress, such as lack of structure, will help. “Summer should be a vacation from school but not a vacation from life,” says school psychologist Terry Illes. “Relinquishing all routine is a prescription for disaster. The schedule can be different, and it can be flexible, but if parents have established boundaries and kids know what to expect, they will be less likely to push limits.”

Maintain a routine

The daily schedule can include elements such as waking time and bedtime, chores, scheduled activities such as camps and classes, and free time. Parents should make sure children have time for active play and exercise. And they may also want to consider screen-time guidelines for use of electronic products.

Parent Liz Tibett says her family plans their summer together. “We make a family summer schedule in writing and allow our children to have input,” she explains. “There has to be a balance between free time and constructive activity time.”

Using a schedule helps avoid summer pitfalls like not eating regularly or sleeping enough, Tibett points out. “It’s important to watch your ADHD child’s diet. Without a schedule eating times seem to be sporadic, and who doesn’t get cranky when they are hungry?” Typical summer fast foods create dietary imbalance. Further, the medications taken by many people with ADHD may interfere with appetite at mealtimes, but result in a voracious rebound when a meal is not available. “Plus it is important to adhere to a reasonable bed time. Lack of sleep aggravates behavior and increases attention span deficits,” she adds.

Many parents include some sort of academic time in the schedule but make it fun. Reading books on topics kids are especially interested in, but may not have time for during the school year, is a good idea. Regular visits to the library give children the idea that reading is part of life. Some libraries have summer programs especially designed for children.

“We try to read together at least every other night to keep the ‘school work’ activities in place. Otherwise it’s close to impossible to set kids on track when September comes around,” says Tibett.

Mom Catherine Eisenhart says early morning swim lessons have worked well for her family. “It’s especially important to have an activity scheduled early. That gets the day off and started so you don’t lose structure,” she explains. Eisenhart says she thinks of her summer routine as a “schedule of fun, not a schedule of obligation. Summer is a time of exploration and creativity.”

Fun summer activities

From a neighborhood play group to a trip to the science museum, parents can find abundant offerings for kids of all ages.

Mom Cristie Gibbons says her children have explored a wide range of programs in her community. “The kids participated in a yoga class last summer, a class on electricity, and one on dissecting animals,” she says. “One camp includes a bus ride out to a school that owns horses and boats so the kids could have a ‘traditional’ camp experience. Another is at the local art museum, where they participate in art projects.”

Camp opportunities are also available for kids whose ADHD needs to be managed in particular ways. Mom Virtryece Louis Michel’s son attended a specialized camp at a university. “His day was planned to the minute. It included practicing social skills like being a good friend, self-defense, and how to handle teasing,” Michel says. “He had specific measurable goals for behaviors, too, and I received daily progress reports and parent training.”

As children grow, they may pursue more independent, yet still structured, summer activities. Cheryl Monroe’s fourteen-year-old son has branched out from local camps to sleepover ones.

“At skate camp my son has been in a dorm environment and has had the great gift of caring for himself under supervision. Some of the things I glean from the week kill me (like what he does or doesn't eat), but I have seen the advantage of his being responsible for himself,” says Monroe. “This has been huge for him because we tend to ‘run’ his life to keep it moving. It also enabled him to go on a school trip to Greece this summer without me. He's very proud of himself.”

For more summer activities suggested by parents, see the sidebar that accompanies this article.

Look for bonding opportunities

Many families find that the relaxed summer routine gives them more time to interact in positive ways. Cristie Gibbons values family dinners, which can be more relaxed without homework looming. “We have a lot to discuss at night since the kids are involved in so many things,” she says.

Catherine Eisenhart’s family has regular movie nights. “My four children take turns picking the movies, and we write whose turn it is on the calendar so there’s no room for argument,” she says. Eisenhart will also ask grandparents to babysit so that she can take her older son and daughter to the pool after her younger two are in bed.

Liz Tibett shares, “I allow my kids to pick a night-time activity based on good behavior, such as ‘ice cream time’ at their favorite shop. That, too, can become a summer routine.”

Keep track of the kids

One challenge of summer is that children may go off in many different directions. Parents may feel stressed at not knowing exactly who is playing where and with whom. As children have more freedom to move about the neighborhood, parents can set up regular check-in times. For instance, a younger child may wear a watch with an alarm, and when it rings he or she is expected to call or come home. Teenagers can carry cell phones.

Parents need to recharge

Psychotherapist Sari Solden, author of Women with Attention Deficit Disorder, says that a summer schedule is not just for children. “Anchors are replenishing for you, the parent, as well,” she says.

Solden also suggests that parents share child and family care duties. “Make sure you are not the only energy source in the house,” she continues. “Seek help from grandparents and partners. Hire a neighborhood high-school or college student who can drive, or trade off child care with other parents so you can maintain space for yourself.”

Most of all, Solden suggests being realistic about expectations. “Try to not be over- or under-structured,” she says. “Waking up without any plans is challenging, but don’t plan every moment, or you’re probably setting yourself up for disappointment.”

Reconnect as a family

“Be careful not to make summer all about the things you and your child haven’t kept up with during the school year,” cautions Dr. Illes. “The routine of school can be especially grinding for children with ADHD,” he continues. “These children need some concentrated downtime to refresh their energies and renew their enthusiasm. Use the summer to reconnect and enjoy each other.”

Summer Activities for Kids with ADHD

Day camps
Play dates
Crafts, such as scrapbooking, collecting, etc.
Sports programs, especially in noncompetitive leagues where everyone participates
Visits to parks
Nature walks
Reading aloud
Art projects and classes
Bike rides
Science programs
Day trips to a children’s museum, zoo, or aquarium
Children’s theater programs or performances
Volunteering individually or as a family
Board and card games
Interactive computer or video games
Gyms and exercise classes
Community college classes
Dance programs
Secondary school summer programs like auto shop, carpentry, or cosmetology
IMAX movies
Visiting an observatory or airport

An earlier version of this post appeared in Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
Join conversations about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!

Paula L. Novash is a freelance writer.