Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Help for Hypervigilant Parents



guest blog by Sheila Grant, MS, RN

As a recovering, card-carrying hypervigilant mom, I have vast experience with the associated behaviors. I was constantly on the lookout for any potential danger and jumped in to ensure that my children were spared from any discomfort. (They weren’t spared anyway.) With a longstanding compulsion to protect my children at all costs, I was on guard, on edge, and exhausted.

To be fair, I had good cause to be concerned and protective. When my two young children were diagnosed with ADHD, they were constantly getting into one scrape or another. Arguments with neighborhood kids, upsets at school, difficulty doing the smallest tasks, and verbal impulsivity were frequent occurrences. I cringed every time the phone rang, hoping it wasn’t a neighbor or a teacher calling to tell me my child was in some sort of trouble.

All parents want to protect their children, but the urge to protect children can become even more intense when the child is diagnosed with ADHD, because we know the child will have unique challenges. It is appropriate and prudent to offer the type of support and care he or she needs.

Effective and critical strategies to support your child include getting comprehensive evaluations and following up with appropriate therapies, including medication, academic supports, IEPs, coaches, and therapists. Being available emotionally and physically to guide a child is important for all parents, but it is critical for those parents who have a child with ADHD. These behaviors are indicative of concerned and caring parents who want to support their children and help them to cope with the challenge of having ADHD.

So, then, what is hypervigilance and what does it look like? Psychologist Lynn Margolies describes hypervigilance as being hyperalert to danger and hypersensitive to one’s environment. There is a constant scanning of the environment to protect or guard against a real or imagined threat. Severe, acute anxiety accompanies hypervigilance and may lead to mental and physical exhaustion.

One way to tell if you are hypervigilant is to recognize how you are feeling. Are you constantly tense and on guard? Are you in a state of panic, is your heart racing, and is your stomach upset? Do you feel an urgency to act? Do you listen in on your child’s phone conversations to ensure she is being socially appropriate? Have you followed your child as he drives through the neighborhood to ensure he is going the appropriate speed? Are you lying awake at night obsessively reviewing what you could have done better that day in regards to your child? Do you believe you are the only one who can help your child? Are you consumed by your child’s difficulties, to the point that you do not have a moment to enjoy life? Are you feeling anxious and depressed?

Hypervigilance doesn’t protect you or your children from danger and may even cause you to make mistakes. Being in a constant state of fear may impact your ability to focus and concentrate as well as your physical and mental well-being. Hypervigilance renders you ineffective in solving problems and navigating your way through the challenges of raising a child with ADHD.

Paradoxically, the effort to protect your child at all costs has the opposite effect of what you hoped for. Jumping in to fix all of your children’s problems ensures that when they become adults, they will have difficulty solving their own problems. As parents, our job is to help our children, teens, and young adults learn how to solve problems—not to jump in and fix them. Obviously, it is a fine balance and the problem-solving must be age-appropriate.

When you are on hyperalert at all times, you send your children a strong message: “You are not capable of caring for yourself or managing your life, so I will.” You may not be saying this out loud, but your children get the message loud and clear.

Here are five tips to help you get on the road to less hypervigilant parenting:
•    Find a supportive community; create a circle of care.
•    Get help for yourself.
•    Get the help you need for your child; ensure appropriate supports are in place.
•    Consider a spiritual perspective.
•    Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint. Pace yourself.

The dance we parents of children with ADHD are required to learn is tricky; the steps are complex and there are always missteps on the journey. We must balance our role as parents to be concerned and available without harming ourselves with excessive vigilance and anxiety over the lives of our children who have ADHD. When we manage our own anxiety and become more centered and calm, our children will surely benefit.


A longer version of this post appeared in the February 2015 issue of Attention magazine, available through our free app, which you can download on the App store. Current CHADD members can access it through the app at no extra cost.

You can also join the conversations about parenting kids with ADHD on Attention connection, your social network for all things ADHD!



Sheila Grant MS, RN, is co-coordinator of Chester County/MainLine CHADD where she facilitates the parent support groups. She is a psychiatric nurse on the adjunct faculty at Immaculata University.


Tuesday, December 30, 2014

New Year, New Calendar

guest blog by Karen Sampson Hoffman, MA

Along with shopping for holiday gifts (five children call me aunt and one toy store awaits my mad dash), I hunt for two calendars every year. One will become my sister’s family notebook, where she keeps track of everyone’s schedules and events, and one will be a pocket calendar for me. Without them we wouldn’t be able to keep track of the routines, events, and holidays in our very busy lives. It just wouldn’t be New Year’s without the New Calendar.

In homes affected by ADHD, planning takes conscious effort. More so for long-range planning, which is what most of us do as we approach the new year. Getting our calendars ready is important. Finding a calendar early is vital, since they disappear from stores sometime in early January.

Planning for the year

There are rhythms in routines. The rhythm of the year goes into the calendar first. If you find a calendar with holidays already marked, you’re ahead of the game. Mark the dates of public and religious holidays, along with family holidays and neighborhood or school events. Next make sure to add birthdays, followed by anniversaries. If you know vacation schedules, put them in now. This is the time to make reservations for family trips or to schedule time in the coming months to do so.

For those who have children affected by ADHD, now is the time to make plans for your child to attend specialized summer camps or programs:
•    Start early in finding and applying to camps. Programs fill up quickly and scholarships may be limited.
•    Review your options. There are many styles of camps, from day camps to overnight adventures camps, to one s that focus on academic, arts and social skills.
•    Evaluate your child’s strengths, weakness and desires.
•    Talk with your child about possible programs. You may want to select three programs you are comfortable with and allow your child to choose from among those.
An article on savvy tips for selecting camps for children with ADHD appeared in Attention, and the National Resource Center on ADHD, a program of CHADD, also has a resource on camps

Planning by the month

For each month, consider which events will require additional pre-planning. The goal is always to take large projects and break them into smaller “bites.” Perhaps your family celebrates Easter; one weekend could be Chocolate Bunny Day for making candies and a separate weekend will be Spring Cleaning. The same can be done for other holidays.

Most organizations keep members informed through e-mail newsletters. When the monthly or weekly announcements arrive, jot them on your calendar right away. Get information in the calendar as soon as it comes your way and you’ll be better able to plan.

Planning by the week

Some calendars allow you to view one week at a time; or, you can draw up weekly calendars to keep on your desk or the refrigerator. Decide which day is your Day One or the start of your week. On Day One, check your calendar for all events, holidays and projects. Prepare a to-do list and keep it with your calendar for easy reference. Many people find it helpful to cross off accomplished tasks or to draw through a day once it’s ended.

Smart planning

•    December or January—Mark all holidays, birthdays, anniversaries, and vacations. Find summer camps, programs, or holiday destinations.
•    February—Make reservations. Begin family and friend talks about holiday locations for the year.
•    March and April—Make sure revisions are in your calendar.
•    May and June—Prepare for summer; make arrangements at work for vacation or at home for children during the summer.
•    July—Mid-year review of the calendar; holiday discussions with friends and family.
•    August—School shopping, late summer sales for business clothes and start planning for the holidays.
•    September and October—Start budgeting for holiday gifts and home repairs before winter.
•    November—The holiday season has begun. Break holiday projects into “bites.”
•    December—Finish holiday shopping. Make the holidays work for you by delegating and keeping projects manageable.

And December’s most important task: Find a new calendar for the coming year!



Karen Sampson Hoffman, MA, is the coordinator of the NRC's Ask the Expert webinar series and a contributing editor to
Attention magazine. An earlier version of this article appeared in Attention magazine.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Teach Your Children Through Storytelling

Have you ever wondered how you could connect with your child with ADHD in a way that would help him develop good character? And have a healthy perspective about the world she lives in? Well, consider telling your child stories.

People used stories to teach moral lessons long before words were printed on a page. Believe it or not, storytelling is a powerful way to shape your child’s perspective. You, as a parent, are the amazing author. Children can easily identify with the characters of a story, especially in real-life scenarios.

Stories can help children develop a perspective for where they fit into the world around them. They can help children see beyond themselves as well as understand certain complex truths. There are family stories that can give them a healthy perspective about their identity. Cultural stories can help them to gain a deeper understanding about the "other side of the world" and how they fit into the world in general. Stories can help children to develop empathy for others who are less fortunate. Stories from religious texts and classical mythology can help them see the difference between "good" and "evil." The list goes on and on and is limited only by your own imagination.

Many children with ADHD are quite creative and imaginative and respond well to storytelling. By telling stories to our children, we teach them values that hopefully will guide them the rest of their lives. Make a difference in your children’s lives today through storytelling!

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 and has been interviewed locally and nationally on radio, television, and CHADD’s Ask the Expert. Dr. Dickson and his wife of 32 years have two teenage children, both of whom have ADHD.

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.