Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Most Important Thing You Can Give Your Child with ADHD

by Terry Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC
If you are like so many parents I have interviewed over the years, you no doubt have felt the frustration of having to repeat yourself many times, of raising a child who is easily distracted and doesn’t listen well, of endless homework battles and poor school performance of a child you know is very capable and intelligent. You may also have a difficult time being patient with the child who gets frustrated easily, having frequent meltdowns and perceiving everything as being unfair.

As challenging as kids with ADHD can be, they are not unlike other kids in that they need to know that they are important and accepted. They often have experienced being reprimanded time and time again for their behaviors. They are often misunderstood as being lazy or unmotivated or irresponsible. So they fear being rejected and they need to know that they are valuable to you.

It is so easy to focus on the negative consequences of your child’s behavior; he or she hears numerous complaints about getting a D or F in class. But how often does the same child receive positive comments for things going well? Are our expectations for these kids unreasonable? Are we spending too much time trying to put out fires and not enough time teaching them skills to help them overcome ADHD traits?

I learned the answers to these questions the hard way over the last few years. I became increasingly aware of ways in which I actually hindered my relationship with my children by having unreasonable expectations for them. I was unaware of how I was unintentionally making them feel worse about themselves.

When I was a teenager, school was extremely important for me, perhaps too important. In part, I based my self-worth on making good grades and being on the honor roll. Perhaps because I had undiagnosed ADHD and it was more difficult for me to focus and complete assignments, I compensated by working even harder to keep my grades up.

Before I had kids of my own, I had already envisioned them accomplishing the things I wish I could have accomplished. I dreamed they would be excellent students and high achievers. I even had colleges picked out for them! I envisioned my children as students rather than real people. I didn’t know my children would be diagnosed with ADHD and be greatly challenged with school. One had a learning style that didn’t even lend itself to a regular classroom; although extremely intelligent, that child performed very poorly in the standard school setting.

What was my reaction? It was generally negative: “Why can’t you try harder?” I had so much experience working with people who struggled with the same issues in my clinical practice, but when it came to my own children, I was unable to be objective.

Over the years, I learned an important lesson: The most important thing I could give to my children is unconditional love. It is the kind of love that never goes away. It is bestowed not because of something a person does; rather it is there just because of who a person is.

If you’ve struggled with giving your child unconditional love, here is what you can do:

•    Think of love as an action, not a feeling. Feelings are something we get from others and if we stop getting them, we often react by changing our behavior somehow. If someone has to do something or act in a certain way to receive your love, that love is conditional.
•    Love yourself unconditionally, too. Let yourself be human, capable of making mistakes.
•    Your child needs and wants your total acceptance. This means that what he or she thinks and feels must be heard, honored and respected even if you don’t agree.
•    Separate your child from the behavior. Children need to be loved for who they are, not for what they do. You may not like their behavior, but it can’t change your love for them. It is so easy to shut down emotionally because of inappropriate behavior; make a cognitive choice to love your child anyway.
•    Appreciate the uniqueness of each of your children.
•    Do whatever is needed to encourage your child to believe in himself or herself.
•    Exercise forgiveness and admit when you make a mistake too.
•    Create an atmosphere of good communication and trust.

So go make a difference in your child’s life!

Terry


Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He has been a principal study investigator for several clinical ADHD medication trials. He is also a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD. This blog post originally appeared in the June 2014 issue of Attention magazine.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Why Am I So Angry?



by Terry M. Dickson

More evidence that there is a strong emotional component to ADHD has emerged over the past several years. Although ultimately it was not included, this emotional component was taken into consideration in determining the diagnostic criteria for ADHD in the DSM-5, the latest revision of the diagnostic manual. Folks with ADHD often have a difficult time regulating their emotions, and when faced with overwhelm, can have angry outbursts that hurt their relationships in the process.

Is anger something that is hurting your relationships, resulting in strained relationships within your family and with your friends? Here are some truths about anger when it is not controlled:

      It impedes our ability to be happy.
      It can send marriages and other family relationships off-course.
      It compromises our social skills, thus interfering with healthy relationships.
      It can result in non-productive business because of strained relationships.
      It can lead to health problems because of increased stress.
 Anger is not always bad. It is a natural reaction to feelings of hurt and betrayal. It needs to be expressed at times and not held inside. However, aggressive forms of anger that are out of control can further hurt you socially, mentally, and physically. The goal of anger management is to help you find healthy ways to express that anger and resolve the issues that trigger it. Here are some tips for you:


      Give yourself a “time out.” Find a safe spot for yourself and try deep breathing to calm down. Close your eyes and breathe all that stress out.
      Give yourself a break. Go for a walk, get some exercise. Fresh air will do you good. Later you can come back to the problem from a new perspective and solve it!
      It is okay to express your anger in a healthy, non-confrontational way. Decide what the real issue is. Once you are calm, state your concerns while being sensitive to the feelings of others.
      Learn to recognize those ADHD moments that trigger your anger. Think about the effect your anger had on others around you. How might you handle the same situation differently from now on?
      Ask yourself this question: “Will the object of my anger even matter ten years from now?”
      Take care of yourself. Make sure that you get enough sleep, eat a healthy, well-balanced diet, and exercise regularly.
      Brainstorm positive solutions to the problem.
      Learn to think before you speak. In the heat of a discussion it is more difficult to listen. It may be easier if you pause in the moment, allowing yourself to collect your thoughts and reflect upon what the other person is saying.
      Use humor to release tension.
      Know when to seek help from a counselor or coach.



Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He has been a principal study investigator for several clinical ADHD medication trials. A Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, he is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Paying Attention to Our Kids

by Terry M. Dickson

Several weeks ago I watched a high school basketball game. When we got home from the game, my daughter, who is one of the cheerleaders, told me: “You didn’t seem to be watching us when did our cheers. You weren’t even watching me!”

The truth is that I was more interested in watching the game. I wanted our team to score more baskets than their opponent. I knew that this game really mattered; it would determine who goes to the playoffs. To be honest, I wasn’t even thinking about watching the cheers on the sidelines.

Do we pay attention to our kids when they need it the most? Are we able to drop everything from our minds and concentrate on our kids when they need our attention and support?

As a parent with ADHD, I know what it is like to either be so hyperfocused on one thing or so cluttered with many thoughts that I miss golden opportunities to connect with the very people I love. Sometimes those opportunities are here and gone before we know it.

Here are ways you can pay more attention to your child(ren):

1. Do not multitask when spending time with your children. Put down everything else and focus completely on them.

2. Always keep your promises. If you tell them that you are going to spend a certain time with them, always follow through.

3. “Catch” your child doing something good and praise him or her for it.

4. Always make direct eye contact with your children so that they know they have your full attention.

5. Show your children that you are interested in learning more about their interests, even if it means listening to things that may not interest you.

6. Spend one-on-one time with each of your children every week.

7. Integrate time together with your child into your daily schedule. Allow the child to help you with certain tasks, such as shopping or putting stamps on envelopes.

8. Drop a note of praise for your child in his or her lunchbox.

9. Communicate how much you value your child and provide words of encouragement.

10. Talk about a topic of interest to both of you and the child’s feelings about it. When you provide an atmosphere of love and trust, he or she learns good communication skills.

Enjoy spending time with your kids!

Terry


Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He has been a principal study investigator for several clinical ADHD medication trials. A Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, he is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Words of Encouragement

by Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC

One of the best things I learned from coach training is that you can’t make someone else act or think in a certain way. You can only model good behavior and be a good example. Ultimately, each person has to take ownership for his or her life. So whether you are addressing your spouse or your child with ADHD, don’t attempt to mold them like clay. It doesn’t work! Besides, you can’t wave the magic brain-changing wand and make ADHD symptoms go away. But there is one thing you can do: You can encourage people and build them up.

Words can build up or they can tear down. Words that tear down can be internalized and may falsely define who another person is. Words that build up may inspire another person to greatness. Discouraging words also can alienate and result in communication breakdown and lack of trust.

Encouragement goes straight to the heart, however.

Knowing what a big difference encouragement has made in your own life, how can you be an encouragement to those in your family? Here are some tips:

  1. Be aware of what encourages you and do the same for others.
  2. Write your spouse or child a note with words of encouragement.
  3. Always be specific when you offer praise: “You did a great job at _____.”   “I really appreciate that you _____.”
  4. When you see positive changes in the other person’s life, affirm that person: “You really seem to have a great attitude about _____.”
  5. If encouraging thoughts come to mind, share them with your family.
  6. We all make mistakes, so look beyond fault. It may just be an opportunity for you to teach that there is much learning to be gained through failure.
  7. Remember that most people may not reach their potential without someone believing in them and taking the time to tell them so.

Terry


Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He has been a principal study investigator for several clinical ADHD medication trials. A Certified Professional Co-Active Coach, he is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

The Poncho Principle and the Siesta Effect

by Tracey Powell, MS
I didn't know I'd be learning several highly scientific principles of parenting ten years ago when we brought home our two beloved puppies, Poncho and Siesta (names not changed to protect confidentiality).

Poncho, the brown and black one, was eager to please and passed all good puppy tests such as fetching, coming when called, etc. Siesta failed all such tests, especially the one when you put a blanket over your puppy to see how vigorously it tries to get out. She liked it there and to this day loves to hang out on or under a blanket. This was our first parenting lesson in appreciating everyone's unique personality.

The Poncho Principle was learned way later, when our two daughters were toddlers or preschoolers and the demands of childcare and scheduling had gone way up. Up to the point when trading $500 for one uninterrupted hour of personal time would have seemed totally reasonable. So, in my overworked state, I was trying to get out the door for a scheduled appointment and needed to take my normally obedient dogs out for a bathroom break first. After running around getting everything ready with little help, Poncho could sense the stress and wanted nothing to do with me. He wouldn't come. I recall screaming near the top of my lungs at him: “Get over here!!” He promptly froze and peed on the carpet.

Poncho Principle—As angry yelling goes up, productivity goes down.

Yes, it's a true, little-known scientific principle. Yelling orders in anger is counterproductive. You will end up cleaning up extra messes if you fall into this regularly because kids will either (1) freeze and regress in fear like Poncho; (2) learn that push back is an effective way to get your attention, and your emotional reaction may end up fueling more oppositional behavior; or 3) be like Siesta and hide. Some kids will respond with compliance to occasional yelling, but these kids are also likely to respond just as well to much milder forms of instruction.

Bottom line: As your ability to keep calm increases, so does your child's ability to comply. Don't worry if you've done a good bit of yelling at your kids. We've all been there. The point is, it could be a sign to spend some time thinking about the next two principles.

Principle Two—Routines and praise work with dogs and kids.

If you are yelling a lot, it may be time to take a step back and think of what behaviors you need more of from your children. Whether it's self-care, using kind words, or being compliant, talk about what needs to change and make your expectations clear. Create a little routine and provide incentives. This could sound something like, “We've been having trouble getting out the door in the morning, so we need to focus on getting everything done by Go time. You will earn points to cash in for computer time at the end of the day when we follow our morning checklist cooperatively and are ready to go on time.” Get a visual timer. Make a game of it if you can.

Once you've developed a reasonably consistent routine, praise praise praise each step toward greater compliance with that routine. Using the incentives and specific praise will get you far, and you might even find over time that you're making very little use of consequences.

Dogs only need treats and lots of “good dog!” praises to know they're doing well. Kids are tougher and they will push back on routines for a while. The more oppositional or distractable your child, the more consistent work you'll have to put in. But keep telling him what you specifically liked about something he did each day, and eventually he'll see the pay-off of complying with family routines. Think, “I like how you put that game away right when you were finished with it. That really helps things go smoothly,” or “I like how you went to your room when your brother was starting to pester you. That seemed like a good choice.”

Because it is such hard work to be the creator of routines, and to keep giving praise on little points of progress, the Siesta effect might be the most important to remember for all overworked parents.

Siesta Effect—As you save energy and time for yourself, your parental effectiveness goes up.

Siesta loves to lounge and sees no need to jump up and do something for someone every time they ask (unless of course there's a highly attractive treat in hand). Think of her when your kids are asking for too much help and you're thinking they should do this themselves, but you just need to make the whining stop. Go back to thinking of the routine you'd like to see developing and start working on it. Your child will become self-sufficient more quickly and feel proud of the accomplishment if you take the time to set up that routine.

Think of how scared little Poncho must have been when I lost it and yelled at him. But remember, don't beat yourself up if you have yelled. Just return to following routines and the Siesta effect. Because four out of five seasoned parents surveyed would probably rank “Taking Care of Yourself” as Important Parenting Principle Number One.
 
 

Tracey Powell, MS, has over five years of experience as an individual coach/therapist and family coach and is affiliated with Psych Ed Coaches in Northern Virginia. She specializes in working with people with ADHD and related conditions including anxiety, depression, social challenges, and academic/career/personal transitions. Tracey works with children through adults and takes a supportive, action-oriented approach to helping clients meet clearly defined goals. She really enjoys helping parents develop positive parenting practices. Tracey is also a certified volunteer parenting educator with CHADD.

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

The Bird in the Mirror

by Terry Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC

We have lots of pets in our home. This morning, I noticed our parakeet looking at ‘himself’ in a mirror in his cage. He must think it is another bird like himself because he sits there for hours singing to his ‘friend.’ But the ‘other’ bird never sings back!

Do you ever feel like you are ‘singing’ your values and beliefs to your teenage son or daughter and there is no response, like you are talking to yourself? One thing is true: Unlike the bird in the mirror, your kids are hearing you whether or not they are living out your words or not. Continue to model for them good behavior and sing out your love to them. One day, it may make a difference!

In the meantime, here are some tips you can use to improve your relationship with your child:

1. Give your child unconditional love and acceptance.
2. Learn to better listen to your teen’s ideas, even if you don’t agree with them.
3. Model good behavior to your child. Be a good example.
4. Show your child that he or she has value and is important.
5. Allow your child to participate in decisionmaking with your guidance.
6. Give positive ‘strokes’ as much as possible such as compliments, hugs or pats on the back.
7. Don’t just focus on bad behavior or poor performance. Look for improvement and emphasize this instead.

Remember that your words, no matter how well meant, will seldom be heard if the relationship is not there. So cultivate an atmosphere of love and trust!

Enjoy!
Terry

Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute and serves as vice president of the board of directors of the ADHD Coaches Organization. He is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Ten Traits of Terrific Teachers


by Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC

Although this blog is addressed to parents, I hope teachers will identify and agree with the traits I describe.


Is your child struggling at school? What is his or her relationship with the teacher like?


Recently I was reminded of how NOT to teach students. My teenage daughter told me about an incident at school in which her feelings were quite hurt. Her teacher approached her and asked: "How did YOU get into Honors English? What kind of grade did you get in English before?" Ironically, my daughter has a solid "B" in the class, which isn't too bad.
Perhaps you have encountered a teacher like this one before. Now if this particular teacher thought that she was encouraging, I've got news for her. You cannot hurt someone's feelings and then expect him or her to work harder. It usually doesn't work that way. In my opinion, the best teacher is someone who helps rather than discourages, who brings out the positives and is flexible to different learning styles.

In reality, the best teacher for a child with ADHD is someone who:
1. Is a good role model and is firm and fair to all students.
2. Has a positive attitude and tries to bring out the best in students.
3. Has a well-structured classroom with an environment that is safe and comfortable.
4. Is able to assist students with transitions and help them maintain focus and attention.
5. Is flexible to different learning styles.
6. Provides a high level of expectations yet is able to assist students to achieve success when they face new challenges.
7. Provides predictability in routines and schedules.
8. Is able to provide accommodations for students with special needs.
9. Emphasizes improvement and personal best efforts
10. Offers a lot of "hands-on," engaging instruction.
 

Terry M. Dickson, MD, ACG, CPCC, is the founder and director of The Behavioral Medicine Clinic of NW Michigan that has served and supported children, adolescents, and adults with ADHD for over eleven years. He is a graduate of the ADD Coach Academy and the Coaches Training Institute and serves as vice president of the board of directors of the ADHD Coaches Organization. He is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach. Diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, Dr. Dickson speaks regularly on ADHD and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert online. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.