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!
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.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

ADHD and Your Extended Family

by Janette Patterson, MSW, LCMFT, and Larry Maltin, MA

As awareness grows, we are better able to address the challenges people with ADHD face at school, at home, and in the workplace. Self-help strategies abound, but the focus is usually on help for the immediate family—the child, mom, dad, and siblings. The impact of ADHD symptoms does not stop with the immediate family, however. What about the concerns and reactions of grandparents or uncles and aunts? Research is lacking on the role and dynamics of the extended family when one or more members have ADHD.

In Taking Charge of ADHD, Russell A. Barkley, PhD, writes: “Parents of children with ADHD also may be deprived of the encouragement, warmth, and assistance of a supportive family. They tell us that they have fewer contacts with their extended family members than in families without children with ADHD, and that these contacts are less helpful to them as parents and more aversive or unpleasant.”

As parents, we want to help our children to become well-functioning and socially successful people, and our own anxieties are sometimes triggered when our children with ADHD act out and misbehave. We desperately want our child to behave appropriately and to be accepted. We often feel embarrassed and defensive for our child when he gets reprimanded or described as “spoiled” by a relative. And we feel guilty for being unable to prevent these stressful occurrences.

How do we respond to when our child becomes symptomatic at family functions? How can we advocate for our child, but also validate our extended family members’ experience while respecting their opinions and decisions?

Strategies for coping and healing

Much of the research and literature on dealing with ADHD can be helpful for educating our extended family. What strategies make the most sense in managing a family gathering so that our child (and everyone else) can participate and feel comfortable?

1. Educate the extended family about ADHD. The more we can speak openly with them about how ADHD affects our child (and us) in a way that is understandable, the more we can have meaningful conversations and explore problem solving skills.

2. Develop self-awareness. Find a way to slow down so that you can take a moment to check in with yourself. Practicing mindfulness, for example helps us become aware of how we feel in the moment, and is a key element for emotional healing and building of coping strategies and skills. For some, this means finding a word or phrase to help them remember to check in with themselves. For others, it might be deep breathing exercises to facilitate the process of self-awareness.

3. Practice self-advocacy. While advocating for our child, we are also aware of our own struggles and experiences and we also need to address our own struggles. To be effective in advocating for our child, we must check in with our family member and make sure that he or she is able to listen. How many times have you experienced rejection from an angry family member?

4. Explore alternative or new ways of communication. We need to explain to our family members that our child’s behavior is not about them, but is directly related to our child’s inability to regulate his or her emotions in the moment. It takes practice, patience and flexibility to work with these highly charged, emotional situations.
  • Be proactive. Prepare for the next event by having conversations with your relatives before the family gathering.
  • Brainstorm with your relatives. Include them in the process of exploring how potential stressors can be avoided or addressed before an incident happens.
  • Be aware of your relatives’ concerns and feelings.
  • Stay positive!
5. Utilize the best ways to defuse behavioral disruptions at family gatherings. Even the best intentions are not always enough; your child with ADHD can get triggered and disaster unfolds.
  • Do “prep work.” For some kids and for some occasions, it might make sense to negotiate a “deal.”
  • Find allies. Find some benevolent family member(s) who could jump in to support you in a time of need.
  • Be prepared. Keep an eye on your child to check when the behavior is beginning to escalate so that you can step in before it gets out of control.
  • Advocate for your child and yourself. Speak up and explain to your family members what is happening and how they can help when your child is in crisis.

As parents of children affected by ADHD, it is our responsibility to develop understanding and mutually acceptable support within the extended family. It is up to you to initiate the conversation. You know your child and yourself. When you reach out to your family members and invite them to explore how you can have a more satisfying family experience, you are creating an opportunity for change.

Advocating for and supporting our family member with ADHD is an ongoing process. With practice, patience, understanding, and consistency, we can better help our child with ADHD, our immediate family, and ourselves. We can also strengthen the ties to the loved ones in our extended circles of family and friends.


A longer version of this post appeared in the June 2014 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!

Janette Patterson, MSW, LCMFT, is the co-coordinator of the Montgomery County, Maryland, chapter of CHADD, and a family therapist. Larry Maltin, MA, is program coordinator for Elkins Park Pennsylvania CHADD.

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.