Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Hands-On Support for Parenting

guest blog by Cindy Goldrich, EdM, ACAC

ADHD involves more than just difficulty with inattentiveness, impulsivity, and hyperactivity. For many children, it involves difficulty with managing their emotions, their ability to plan and carry out their goals, and much more. Children with ADHD often feel misunderstood, overwhelmed, and ill equipped to manage what is expected of them. When they don’t seem to be working toward their potential or are acting defiant, parents find it difficult to know how to react in a way that will truly change their child's behavior.

When a child is diagnosed, parents often are given little more than some reading material, general advice, and perhaps medication for their child. Yet the family’s most pressing need, particularly for the parents, is to become as knowledgeable as possible about this complex and often misunderstood condition. Wonderful resources are available, but for many parents, nothing replaces contact with other individuals who can help them understand their challenges and support them through a process of growth and change. Enter the world of parent training and parent coaching.

Parent the child you have

Every person is born with a unique chemistry, physique, and temperament. As parents become more educated and aware of how the traits of ADHD impact their child’s life, they become more conscious of how they must adjust their parenting to match the needs of their child. This is what I call “parent the child you have.”

Children with ADHD, just like all children, are blessed with a range of strengths and talents. It is vital that we recognize and nurture their interests and passions even when it may seem to take time and energy away from some of their academic pursuits. One of the greatest challenges children (and adults) with ADHD face is that many of them have a slower processing speed and a less accurate sense of the passage of time. As a result of this and other challenges (distraction, organization, etc.), they often need more time to accomplish what their peers do. I refer to this as having a “disability perspective.”

No one wants to think of their child as having a disability; however, if we do not recognize the disabling aspects of our personal weaknesses, we do not make appropriate adjustments in our expectations. With limited hours after school and on weekends, it is important to balance the academic pressure and expectations with the activities that bring the child personal growth and satisfaction. Parents must coordinate and support this complex balancing act so that the child is not in a constant state of frustration and stress due to the range of demands and expectations placed on them at school.

Always keep in mind that ADHD looks different in each child. With “parent the child you have” as your guiding principle, you will be able to help your child thrive. The more you and your child can learn about how ADHD affects your child specifically, the more equipped you both will be to face the challenges ahead.

Parent training: CHADD's Parent to Parent
by Katherine McGavern

In 2006, CHADD created Parent to Parent, a comprehensive course taught by parents of children with ADHD who have been trained and certified by CHADD to teach the program. The seven-session course covers a wide range of information, starting with the science of ADHD and proper assessment. Then it outlines multimodal treatment options, including a comprehensive look at ADHD medications. The course introduces parenting strategies and positive behavioral interventions for ADHD management at home and school, a complete description of school accommodations (educational rights) and how to get them, guidelines for building an education team, advice about how to talk to the child about his or her very special brain, and a view of ADHD across the lifespan.

Each of the weekly two-hour sessions covers an area of information absolutely essential to the successful management of ADHD. And best of all, the training is from a parent's perspective, brought to you by experts who have faced the same struggles, questions, and challenges you face. In addition to the classes you will receive a Parent to Parent workbook full of helpful articles, tips and worksheets to use in your own family.”

Limited to twenty-five parents per session, Parent to Parent encourages interaction among its "students," who experience the relief and comfort of being in a training filled with other parents who are struggling with the frustration, exasperation, confusion, and helplessness that usually accompany an ADHD diagnosis.

Find out when the next Parent to Parent class is being offered and follow the links to enroll.

Parent coaching
by Cindy Goldrich, EdM, ACAC

Parents often find they need support in addition to understanding the essential science and laws regarding ADHD. Some seek out therapy to help them understand and cope with their feelings; for many, however, support comes in the form of ADHD parent coaching.

Family members, friends, and even well-meaning teachers and other professionals may offer advice and strategies with the intention of helping you “fix” or “teach” your child. You must learn to trust your inner voice and tailor your parenting to meet the needs of your unique child. For some, this will mean providing tighter control, for some it may mean offering more guidance and support, and for others, it may mean reducing certain obligations or expectations in the present time. These are some of the issues a parent coach can help you explore and resolve.

A trained professional who combines the knowledge of coaching, parenting, and ADHD, an ADHD parent coach provides parents with appropriate tips, tools, strategies, and ongoing support to manage the complexities of raising a child with ADHD. Once a parent is educated about the impact that ADHD, executive function deficits, stress, anxiety, and pressure have on learning and behavior, the parent coach can help the parent set reasonable goals. Through ongoing encouragement, recommendations, feedback, and support, the coach can help the parent develop the tools, strategies, and confidence necessary to remain accountable to the changes he or she wishes to make.

Change and growth take time, patience, and sometimes a little extra help and support from someone outside your family who can add insight and perspective. A trained parent coach will provide you with the support, strategies, and structure needed to make the real and sustainable changes in your family. With proper strategies and a proactive approach, the road may still be difficult, but success and satisfaction will be well within your reach.

An earlier version appears in the June 2014 issue of 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!

Cindy Goldrich, EdM, ACAC, a mental health counselor and a certified ADHD coach, specializes in coaching parents of children who have ADHD. She is the cofounder of the Long Island Professional ADHD Consortium.
Katherine McGavern coaches adults with ADHD and is a certified Parent to Parent teacher. She  is a member of the editorial advisory board of
Attention and a co-founding member of CHADD Mercer County.

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Becoming Happier

guest blog by Marie S. Paxson

Ever feel like your kids took a look at that chart of all the bad things that can happen to young people with ADHD… and started using it as some sort of to-do list?

I believe these difficult episodes reinforce the theory that those with ADHD may have a thirty percent lag in brain development. So their growing years are going to last longer.

Last week I talked about managing unhappiness. While you will need to master that skill, that’s only part of the equation. You’re going to need some ways to become happier while raising challenging children.

These suggestions may feel contrived. We all want happiness to just appear as needed, but it doesn’t work that way. Genuinely happy people invite it in and make room for it. The elements of ongoing happiness and contentment include gratitude, spirituality, and pleasant memories.

Let’s start with gratitude. Ugh!—right? I’m not a sunshine-and-rainbows kind of gal. I embrace my tendency towards snark, since I’m not mean spirited. But it is hard to argue with the scientific evidence that gratitude increases one’s ability to be happy. Research also suggests that expressing gratitude should be done frequently, not just while one is unhappy.

If you don’t know where to begin, you can start with saying a quick thank you for your food, clothing, and shelter. Since you are doing this to increase happiness, the habit is more important than the topic.

Here’s what I do, since smelling the roses doesn’t come naturally to me. On a regular basis, I express gratitude for all of the near misses in my daily life. My dog didn’t chase that jogger? Check. Spilled beverage didn’t ruin my paperwork? Check. Husband didn’t bring up the topic I asked him to avoid at a party? Check. You get the idea.

This leads us right into spirituality. Research has shown that those with strong faith or spiritual beliefs are happier. If you are part of a faith that you like, you could delve deeper. If aren’t finding meaning with your current method, you might consider changing congregations. If you don’t know what you believe, exploring different spiritual paths can be comforting as well as enlightening. The point is to connect with something outside of ourselves.

Another strategy to increase happiness is to think back on a time when you were happy or happiest. What were the elements of that time of your life? Can some be replicated now?

Suppose you recall being really happy at your cousin’s wedding. What enjoyable elements were present? The people you were with? Staying at a hotel? Dancing? After identifying this, you can add these as “essentials” to be enjoyed regularly. If you have adult ADHD, you may need to create a reminder to scan your weekly schedule to ensure it includes joyful activities.

Remember that suggestion from last week’s post about radical self-care? Take it seriously. Popular culture describes radical self-care as making a priority of stress reduction and engaging in enjoyable activities. It is moving self-care to the top of your to-do list. It means dropping everything and putting your needs first.

Why do it? It seems counterintuitive to do relaxing or interesting activities during a crisis. But radical self-care can break the cycle of obsessive thoughts and useless worry. It can restore balance to your thoughts and prevent erosion of your general health. Also, do you want your children to remember you as a depleted, frazzled parent with weak coping skills? Do you want them to think that is an appropriate response to life’s difficulties?

Look online for examples. The most important aspect is that it is individualized. Don’t just follow a list created by others. Do what speaks to YOU.

The bottom line is that you are going to a parent for a very long time. Your role will not end when your child turns eighteen, twenty-one, or even thirty, although your daily involvement will change. Making the effort to increase your happiness will maintain your health and improve your ability to problem solve, which will pay off for your entire family.

A longer version of this post appears in the April 2015 issue of 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!

Marie S. Paxson chairs the editorial advisory board of Attention magazine. A former member of the organization’s national board of directors, she is a past president of CHADD.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Managing Unhappiness

guest blog by Marie S. Paxson

Can you be the parent of a child with ADHD and still be happy?

Meeting attendance doubled when our CHADD chapter presented this topic. Ironically, without the coordinator’s expert leadership, it could have become one of our gloomiest meetings.

You may be surprised to learn that managing unhappiness is one of the keys to increasing happiness. As the parent of two young adults with ADHD, some of the lessons I’ve learned and insights I’ve gained about managing unhappiness may be helpful for you.

•    During difficult times, is aiming for happiness even realistic? Some things are just sad or upsetting. Learning to stay in uncomfortable moments is not instinctive. It was much easier to go to my favorite vices, like distracting myself by meddling, uninvited, into other people’s business. I had to learn techniques to “sit with the sadness.”

•    If you are in a truly miserable situation, learn about and practice radical self-care. You may want to tackle a problem immediately, but it is better to stabilize yourself before taking part in tough decisions or difficult conversations.

•    Connect with others in a similar situation. You will probably have to look outside your circle of friends who are raising neurotypical children. Having understanding and supportive friends provides many benefits. Make this a priority. One Mother’s Day, my best friend and I didn’t like how our teens were treating us. So, we went to a local restaurant for brunch together. Yes, it was odd being surrounded by happy moms and grandmoms receiving flowers and adulation from their families. But since that was not our experience, we celebrated our ability to rise above it all. Jill and I ended up giggling and feeling so grateful we could count on each other. (We met at a CHADD meeting, by the way.)

•    Adjust your expectations. I like the saying “Don’t go to the hardware store for a loaf of bread.” This means having reasonable expectations and not expecting actions that are beyond our children’s current capabilities. If our children will struggle with forgetfulness, lack of focus, or impulsive behavior, why do we get annoyed when they display these traits? Recognizing that they are a work in progress provides perspective. Realizing that they pay a bigger price than we do for their difficulties invites compassion.

•    Avoid braggy parents who have “perfect” children. You are NEVER stuck with these folks; you have choices. In their company, fake a lost phone or stomach distress. Get away from them as soon as you can. Sometimes braggers do this because they miscalculate their audience. Sometimes they are taking credit for their child’s accomplishments. Sometimes they are lying. The reasons don't matter. Just like baseball players don't swing the bat at every pitch, you don't have to listen to every story they share about their fabulous children.

As you add more happiness to your life, you will develop greater tolerance and may even appreciate other children’s accomplishments. But if you aren’t there yet, don’t make yourself miserable… RUN. As you are running, send the bragger a warm (not smug) thought. Sooner or later, all children make disappointing decisions and these parents do not have the coping skills or resilience that you have acquired.

•    Don’t overdo the parental sacrificing. All parents give up time, energy, and money. If you feel resentful about missing a favorite aspect of your life, that is a sign that you have scaled back too much.

Next Week: Becoming Happier

A longer version of this post appears in the April 2015 issue of 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!

Marie S. Paxson chairs the editorial advisory board of Attention magazine. A former member of the organization’s national board of directors, she is a past president of CHADD.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Six Steps to Managing ADHD Overload

guest blog by Mark Bertin, MD

When the logistical details of life and school accumulate, they become overwhelming for students with ADHD. If they have weak executive function skills, they will require ongoing support from an adult.

What steps can you take to help children and teens with ADHD learn to manage the academic demands that increase as they grow older? And if your child falls behind and must somehow weather an academic storm, what strategies can change the situation and teach him or her to better manage ADHD challenges?

1. Clear the decks. When needed, hit the reset button. Forge a one-time amnesty, forgive the backlog, and begin from scratch. If someone is not yet able to do what is being asked every day, there is not much chance they are going to keep up plus catch up. If amnesty is not entirely possible, at minimum we distribute the backlog over time so that the total work required every day is sustainable. The goal is maintaining a reasonable amount of work each day, within what is possible for any individual.

Kids should not expect this type of amnesty to be constantly available. However, “responsibility” and “motivation” only follow from success, and success stems from asking kids to work within their actual ability level. Homework isn’t meant to bring to mind Sisyphus pushing his boulder up the hill, never to quite reach the top before it rolls down again. If a child can get five things done each day and we keep asking for six, eventually the child will fall behind.

2. Establish a daily plan. Create a detailed and easy-to-follow daily checklist. Setting and sustaining a plan to manage homework is not intuitive to most children with ADHD. Knowing when to get started, predicting time, keeping track of books and assignments, and many related skills are all related to executive functions. Parents should set a homework time and create a distraction-free place to get things done. If the after-school schedule varies, instead of a specific time the rule might be “work starts fifteen minutes after getting home.”

Most students benefit from a step-by-step, written checklist for how to complete work appropriately. To make certain things get back to school, include a clear ending such as “put your homework away in your homework folder.” While working, children also often find it easier to focus with scheduled stretches on task interspersed with timed breaks (such as twenty minutes on, five minutes off). In-school supports involve breaking down assignments into daily parts, checking out with a teacher at the end of the day, reminders to hand in work to the teacher, and countless other possibilities (see the CHADD Educator Manual for more).

Monitor the child's development. A ten year old might have the skills of a six year old when it comes to organization. Unfortunately, there is no one perfect measure of executive function in real life, so observe, make informed choices, and readjust based on how a child progresses.

Maybe the child is not ready to manage his or her own to-do list at school. Maybe he cannot yet see how to break a longer project into its component parts. Maybe initiating her work after school is hard, or prioritizing time, or estimating how long various assignments will take each night. All these difficulties require direct support and instruction. By sustaining a daily routine over months or years of school, it becomes a habit all the way through adulthood.

3. Externalize the system. Maintain adult support and involvement. Getting off task from a long-term plan is a routine part of ADHD, and does not typically stem from poor effort or laziness. Identify a parent, teacher, therapist, ADHD coach, or anyone else who can make sure the details are being followed. While written checklists and physical alarms also can act as external reminders, children need someone supervising with higher-level organizational skills.

A solid solution often involves parents and teachers almost taking over organization in the short run. Temporary relief from responsibilities allows more energy for learning and keeping up with the more methodical plan you’ve created. A long-term plan hands back responsibility at whatever pace a student proves capable.

4. Consider modified homework. Avoid the counterproductive punishment of adding more to an already daunting load. In Understand Your Brain, Get More Done: The ADHD Executive Function Workbook (Specialty Press, 2012), psychologist Ari Tuckman writes, “It is vital to keep up with work as it comes—because it becomes impossible to do it all at the end. Homework can sometimes be (or feel like) a losing battle where it is impossible to keep up at all. At those times it may be helpful to speak about homework reductions, especially when a student is spending a lot of time but not getting enough done.”

ADHD isn't an excuse for slacking off. Children with ADHD should show good effort and do what is needed to learn. But they also should not spend their whole lives treading water, up to their necks in schoolwork. The goal is to find a groove where a child works hard but does not get consumed. Homework is meant to augment classroom academics. While the research is vague, the recommendation is around ten minutes per grade.

5. Offer stress management tools. A first step to managing stress may simply be managing ADHD itself. ADHD compounds stress by making it hard to get anything done all day long. With ADHD, every detail may be taking ten times the effort with five times the uncertainty. Assertive management supports long-term success by balancing behavioral, educational, medical, and even complementary options when appropriate.

Stress itself makes managing ADHD difficult. Under stress, most of us fall back on old habits, become more reactive, and lose our resilience. For an individual or family living with ADHD, these patterns make it harder to keep up with any plan. Working with a behavioral therapist or ADHD coach may help both in addressing executive function deficits and in developing stress management tools. The practice of mindfulness is also an evidence-backed, accessible way to manage stress.

6. Create an early warning system. Schools should contact families as soon as assignments are missed. Finding out about seven missed homework assignments over two months is hard to address, but finding out about two over a week is manageable. Don’t allow the back-up to happen in the first place.

If work starts accumulating, step back and look at the bigger picture: Can the child do the work asked of him? Has he had an appropriate educational evaluation? At least half of children with ADHD also have a learning disability and others have language delays. Assigned homework should consider present academic abilities and avoid material above a student’s ability level.

When the student continues to miss assignments, consider whether he or she is able to handle the workload right now. Does the child need more directed organizational supports? Modifications that cut back on the amount required each night? Does medication need adjusting? Is homework even being done during the window of time medication covers?

THROUGH THE COMBINATION of an external system, adult monitoring, and modification of work, school and homework should become more manageable. As the system become more ingrained, most students with ADHD can handle a workload similar to that of their peers.

A slow drip of missed details can affect anything your child must keep up with in life, but the same technique applies. Emails pile up; the solution balances getting the in-box back to zero and creating a plan to keep up every day. If the child has an astoundingly messy room, start with a one-time effort to put everything in place while in tandem establishing a new system of some kind — maybe ten minutes of cleaning before bedtime. Balancing short-term exertion with a realistic and empathetic long-term plan creates an entirely new way of living with ADHD.

A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2013 issue of 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!

Mark Bertin, MD, is a pioneering developmental pediatrician in private practice in Pleasantville, New York, and assistant professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College. He trains physicians, teachers, and psychologists in ADHD care and leads stress-reduction classes for parents. From 2003 to 2010, he was director of developmental pediatrics at the Westchester Institute for Human Development. He is the author of The Family ADHD Solution (Macmillan, 2011).

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

ADHD and Organizational Overload

by Mark Bertin, MD

Imagine that you are in ninth grade and you are given six assignments a day to complete. That’s a gross simplification over real life, which requires you to figure out when to do the work, how to do it, to coordinate various long-term projects, and to manage your busy life in general. But for now, imagine you need do nothing more than get those six things done... except you have ADHD and because of that you’re only capable of completing five.

Far from a disorder of only attention or hyperactivity, ADHD represents a neurologically programmed deficit in the exact managerial skills that allow you to handle everyday logistics effectively. So you continue to work diligently, even though people implore you to try even harder. By day two you have six more assignments plus one to make up from day one. By the end of the week, you’re potentially five assignments behind. By the end of the first month, you may be dozens of items behind—and now demands have risen to seven assignments a day. Whatever can you do?

An unexpected academic squall

There’s only so much any of us can accomplish in any one day. For someone with ADHD, that amount often shrinks compared to other people, since ADHD undermines cognitive abilities called “executive functions” that are required for planning, organizing, managing time, and prioritizing. So, where one person may be able to juggle a pressured high school academic schedule, two sports, and a social life, someone with ADHD may have used up their cognitive resources by noon.

Sometimes what had been a reasonable organizational plan no longer holds together as demands rise over time. Maybe before high school, not having a consistent to-do list or some type of logical plan to manage long-term projects was okay; not ideal, but manageable, and the procrastination did not impact life too much yet. By high school, there’s too much to mentally track and better time management becomes essential.

Each little bit not quite accomplished throughout the day rolls over to the grand life to-do list. It accumulates into an overwhelming and insurmountable pile, until eventually the whole system shuts down. A child with barely the bandwidth to keep up now is asked to make up an additional pile of missed assignments. Their cognitive gears lock when the combination of both doing their everyday work and their overdue list becomes literally too much to handle.

Stress is often defined as the perception that something in life is not manageable. The sense that the load has become impossible creates stress, which further undermines efficiency. Things fall apart—perhaps they stop working entirely. For some, it can even become “learned helplessness,” the assumption after repeated failure that there is no point to trying again. School anxiety grows and children may lie about their work, make excuses, or become oppositional in avoiding it. The solution lies in creating realistic daily demands that account for ADHD and implementing a structured organizational system that allows someone to maintain day-to-day control.

Take the rudder and hold on tight

Problem solving can be challenging even for a motivated child with ADHD. The executive function skills needed to identify the root of an issue, create a strategy, and stick to the organization system over time are all impaired. So instead of being able to pause, gather himself, and refocus as we might hope, the wheels come off entirely. He creates a plan that isn’t sustainable (I’ll stay up three hours later every night until I’m all caught up) or is inefficient to the point of increasing overall effort and stress.

To create a solution, we instead aim to “externalize the system”—when executive function is impaired, we build an external structure that supports it. Mental managerial skills are replicated through routines and reminders until they become more habitual. Thankfully, many tools support organization, ranging from day planners to sophisticated, smart-phone applications. This approach seems intuitive if you have strong executive function skills, but can be inherently difficult when you have ADHD.

Critical to implementing a new framework is recognizing the need for ongoing support from an adult. It does not quite make sense to expect someone to monitor a plan on their own if their core impairment is an inability to organize their life. Maintaining a compassionate perspective means recognizing that however it looks from the outside, the underlying issue is not effort or motivation but a developmental delay in executive function. In many ways, having ADHD undermines the exact skill set needed to start addressing ADHD in the first place.

Next week we'll look at strategies for managing ADHD overload.

A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2013 issue of
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!

Mark Bertin, MD, is a pioneering developmental pediatrician in private practice in Pleasantville, New York, and assistant professor of pediatrics at New York Medical College. He trains physicians, teachers, and psychologists in ADHD care and leads stress-reduction classes for parents. From 2003 to 2010, he was director of developmental pediatrics at the Westchester Institute for Human Development. He is the author of The Family ADHD Solution (Macmillan, 2011).

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

More Magic of Pet Ownership, Part Two

by Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, PCC

Part one of this post described two good reasons to include a pet in your family. Here are three more reasons pet ownership can be a helpful support strategy for ADHD.

Structure and accountability

Not only can kids cultivate relationships with pets, but they can learn to put systems and structures in place to care for them. Since kids with ADHD often have a difficult time finding the motivation to accomplish “boring” tasks, a pet offers the chance to make a household chore more “interesting.” Let’s be serious — feeding the dog is at least more compelling than washing the dishes!

In our home, our youngest child is expected to feed the dog before he feeds himself, twice a day. While our son is not yet completely independent in this task, it has provided a platform to teach him to set up systems, tweak them, and re-establish them as needed.

For example, recently we noticed our son had become a bit slack on remembering to feed the dog before himself. (This is common in ADHD world when systems become “boring” and difficult to continue). Keeping a note at his place at the table was no longer working, so we brainstormed about how he could make sure he handled this task. (As if on cue, the dog looked up at him with soft brown eyes and tilted her head as if to say, “What about me?” It was perfect!)

Our son decided to draw a picture of a dog to keep at his place at the table as a reminder, along with a really funny Valentine’s Day card he'd gotten from her. It’s too soon to say if it will work, but having to address this every so often is actually a great opportunity. It teaches him that his ADHD requires constant vigilance.

By learning to care for his dog—with a parental safety net so the dog doesn’t go hungry—our son is learning critical lessons about how his ADHD shows up, and what he’s going to need to do to manage it in his life.

Managing impulsivity

As pet owners, we can’t afford to forget, for a moment, that our animals are just that—domesticated, maybe, but animals nonetheless. A girl and her dog can have the most wondrous relationship imaginable, but it is inherently dangerous. Success comes when you create a conscious environment and keep a safety mindset.

At one point, I had my doubts. There was a particular episode in Sasha’s youth when I was afraid we had made a big mistake. She had discovered a Brillo pad under the house and appeared with it in her mouth. I remember the face-off (nineteen years ago) as if it were yesterday: Rottweiler jaws clamped tight, dribbles of pink bubbles sliding down the chin and dripping to the ground. A stalemate. It is hysterically funny in retrospect, but at the time I was just hysterically terrified.

I knew Sasha loved me, but would she bite me instinctively, protecting her precious Brillo pad? It was certainly within the realm of possibility.

As we raised our three kids – and several of our friends’ kids, too – into a household of dogs, we taught them to have a healthy respect for all animals, no matter how domesticated. My kids (and my husband) never met a dog that was a stranger, so we taught them to control their impulsivity quite directly:

•    approach new dogs cautiously,
•    ask permission of their owners, and
•    hold out the backs of their hands to be sniffed

If I could be afraid of my dear Sasha, then anything was possible. My kids learned to proceed with caution before playfulness - not an easy task for a passel of kids with ADHD! It’s worth noting here that my friendly, playful spouse had learned that lesson the hard way. In fact, you might say a big black chow had to bite him in the butt to teach him how to teach his kids to manage their impulsivity.

Comfort and companionship (and energy release)

True confession: Sometimes I get jealous of my dog. My kids talk to her and feed her. My husband plays with her on the floor. She gets the attention from those I love that I wish I got more often. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

There is a pure and healing energy that a well-loved animal brings into a home, sometimes coupled with a release for unbridled hyperactivity. Talk about a perfect recipe for ADHD success!

Pets invite us to take some time each day to relax and play. They offer friendship and companionship. They ask very little in return, except that we make the time to be with them, to be kind and playful, and to take care of their basic needs.

Pets teach us to:
•    slow down
•    pay attention to the fundamentals
•    be kind
•    enjoy life
Are there any more important lessons than those?

As an added benefit, some pets offer a physical outlet for excess energy. A great dog is willing to run, wrestle, and roll around on the ground with the kids, and becomes a walking buddy and accountability partner for parents. In an ideal world, that dog is also willing to sit quietly at your feet as you do your homework. That kind of friendship can be hard to find.

A special treat

Recently I had a discussion with my son about a structure for making sure the dog is fed. Since he was starting to feel a little “wrong,” I stopped the conversation to assure him that he’s doing a great job. I explained that it’s important to find structures that work for him, because we’re not always going to be around. To be successful, he’s going to have to learn to use systems to get done what he wants to get done. It was a great teachable moment.

And then I had an aha! moment: Feeding the dog is one of the hardest tasks I could give to a child with ADHD. I’m always talking about improvement instead of perfection, but feeding an animal is one situation where perfection is actually important. A 90% isn’t good enough. When I told my son that, he responded,“Yeah, mom, but I can get points for extra credit. I can give her treats!”

Animals change the playing field when you have kids in your home. Having a pet invites children to learn to communicate on another plane. It’s one of those little gifts of life that is difficult to express. You can't overestimate the peace and joy it can bring.

A longer version of this post appeared in the April 2013 issue of 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!

A member of CHADD's board of directors, Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a certified coach, parent coach, writer, educator, speaker, entrepreneur, and mother. She is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

The Magic of Pet Ownership - Part One

by Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, PCC

It’s a huge responsibility to care for a domesticated animal. With a family of five with ADHD, sometimes I wonder what we were thinking. After all, who needs another mouth to feed, much less one that can’t communicate effectively when she’s hungry?

Frankly, it’s a mixed bag. On the one hand, I hate the feeling of not knowing if the dog was fed. The bowl is empty, but is she finished, or did someone forget? On the other hand, I can’t imagine life without a four-legged dependent cruising around my house (though I might have to limit the bones lying around as my age advances—they’re dangerous!).

In the end, the gifts of having a pet far exceed the challenges—even when the family has a heavy dose of ADHD.

When you have ADHD, your greatest challenge is to learn to live with it effectively. If managed with awareness, raising a pet can actually be a helpful support strategy for ADHD. It can provide:

•    adults with practice before having a child
•    kids with training in responsible relationships
•    accountability for using systems and structures
•    practice managing impulsivity
•    comfort and companionship (and energy release)

These are five really good reasons to include a pet in your family. Let's talk about the first two this week. Next week we'll cover the last three.

Pets are good practice

Raising a dog is a lot like raising a child, really. You are responsible for another living being, and for everyone and everything she or he touches. It requires emotional investment and significant resources (both time and money).

Shortly after we began our married life, my husband and I tested our parenting chops with an adorable puppy named Hobbie. We arranged our weekends around walks to the park and laughed endlessly about the antics of a puppy. We went to owner training school (let’s be serious, we know who’s really being trained!), and installed a doggie door to foster independence.

When Hobbie was six months old, we created Irish twins with the addition of a new puppy, Sasha. Those two lovely animals raised each other well, despite our nervous, hyperattentive new-parent overinvolvement. By the time our daughter was born, Sasha and Hobbie had trained us well to give ourselves over to the love of a child.

In a strange but genuine way, we felt at least somewhat ready to take on the awesome responsibility of raising a child. Do any new parents ever feel completely ready?)

Training ground for responsible relationships

To have a pet is to be in relationship with another being—and that requires skills all children can benefit from cultivating. A pet offers the chance for kids (and sometimes grownups) to care for another being who is completely dependent. It’s an awesome obligation, if you think about it, like a tail-wagging, panting, magical training ground for responsible relationship building.

Now, I know there are some adults who just can’t imagine having a pet—and that’s fine. It’s not for everyone. Like children, pets make noise, and messes, and need occasional emergency care. (Okay, I’m not so sure that turtles have ER visits, but my nephew’s gecko did!) Caring for another being is not to be taken lightly, and I have immense respect for people who choose not to have a pet rather than manage the responsibility less than honorably.

But I will say that if there is a part of you that is so inclined, or wonders if it’s right for your family, it’s worth exploring. There is something magical about exposing your children to an authentic relationship with another being who cannot speak to them, but is wholly dependent on your family for survival. Most pets require attention, interaction, and a sense of obligation to another. Any way you slice it, that’s a healthy life skill for people with ADHD to learn.

A longer version of this post appeared in the April 2013 issue of Attention magazine. Join CHADD and receive every issue!
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A member of CHADD's board of directors, Elaine Taylor-Klaus is a certified coach, parent coach, writer, educator, speaker, entrepreneur, and mother. She is the co-founder of ImpactADHD.com.