Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Become Your Child's Friendship Coach

guest blog by Amori Yee Mikami, PhD

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

Build on a positive parent-child relationship.

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

Give friendship feedback.

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

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

Identify good potential friends.

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

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

Arrange fun playdates.

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

NEXT WEEK: Your guide to setting up successful playdates.

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

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

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Your Best Summer Vacation Tips

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

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


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

John, Redwood City, California

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

Donna, Pleasant Hill, California


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

Kate, Ooltewah, Tennessee

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

Bradford, Frankfort, Illinois

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

Pam, Minneapolis, Minnesota

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

Loretta, Charlotte, North Carolina

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

Tabitha, Carterville, Illinois

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

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

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Manage Those Lazy, Hazy, Crazy Days of Summer

 guest blog by Paula L. Novash

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

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

Maintain a routine

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fun summer activities

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

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

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

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

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

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

Look for bonding opportunities

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

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

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

Keep track of the kids

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

Parents need to recharge

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

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

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

Reconnect as a family

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

Summer Activities for Kids with ADHD

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

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

Paula L. Novash is a freelance writer.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Improve Your Parent-Child Connection

guest blog by Cindy Goldrich, EdM, ACAC

“I try to help him, but he just won’t listen.”
“We are fighting more than ever.”
“She is a wonderful person, but somehow I can’t get through to her.”

The very nature of the disorder means that kids with ADHD are often off-task or emotionally deregulated. As a result, many parents spend so much time correcting or corralling their children that they feel they have lost some of the joy, love, and connection they crave. Parents often lose confidence, perspective, and hope when they feel they are in a constant battle to just get through the day. Children, including young adults, suffer as well. What may seem on the surface to be defiance or lack of care is often a wounded child who feels judged, scared, misunderstood, and sometimes helpless.

Without a safe, trusting relationship, children do not invite parents into their world. Sometimes, it is valuable to take a step back and acknowledge that there has been deterioration in the relationship. Parents must take the steps necessary to spend quality time on a more consistent basis. Sometimes it can start with a loving statement: “I love you very much and I realize that we are spending too much of our time arguing or stressed out with one another. I miss spending carefree time just one-on-one. Let’s make a plan to spend time together doing something that you want to do.” The goal here is to just enjoy—not to teach or make changes in your child. It is through building this connection that important conversations can happen more easily.

Shift your parenting perspective from "manager" to "coach"

The goal in raising children is that by the time they reach adulthood, they are ready to live and function independently. A lot of growing and skill development must occur before young adults can successfully manage their time, materials, finances, and relationships independent of regular parental input and support.

Children, especially teens, often have an inaccurate sense of what is involved in truly accomplishing what they are expected or desiring to complete. Parents often describe that their children act as if they can pull it all off at the last moment, and then in the end find that they can’t. This is sometimes referred to as “magical thinking”—believing that somehow everything will get done and all will work out. Parents often recognize that their child is not yet ready for certain freedoms and responsibilities, fearing that if they leave too much room for their child’s decisions, their child might fail. Some, in their love and parental anxiety, jump in to rescue their children from experiencing the harsh reality of their actions (or lack of actions). Others resort to enticing incentives and harsh consequences, only to find neither sufficient to change their child’s behavior (except for limited time and activities). Both of these approaches often leave the child feeling frustrated or resentful, as they feel not respected, trusted, or worse, controlled.

To learn what they need to do to manage independently, children need to be taught the skills but also have ample opportunity to experiment and learn from their own experiences. For parents to be accepted as supportive and welcomed in their child’s growth process, they need to have a deeply trusting, connected relationship with their child. Constant parent-child conflict can be exasperating and detrimental to a child’s growth and well-being, not to mention stressful on the entire family unit. Parents do a tremendous service if they collaborate with their children about the role each of them plays in making sure the child carries out certain roles and responsibilities. Discussing in advance how much help and under what conditions a parent will assist—whether with homework, maintaining an orderly room, or exploring new activities—the more the child will learn to develop important life skills.

A parent coach can effectively facilitate conversations between parents and children, opening the door to communication and allowing each to feel empowered and truly heard by one another. As an outside observer, a parent coach help a parent explore how to gradually shift the responsibility of managing all aspects of a child’s life from the parent to the child, at reasonable and appropriate times. The parent can then take on the role of coach and will be able to provide the child with encouragement, recommendations, feedback, and practical techniques—without creating resentment and resistance.


Plan to spend one-on-one time with each of your children on a regular basis. Depending on the age of the child, the total number of children you have, and other family obligations, aim to set aside half an hour a few days a week for each child. This time can be spent in a variety of ways; however, there are three basic guidelines:

•    Plan time with your child in advance. This is a great way to say, “You are important to me.”
•    Make sure it is child-centered time. Focus it on an activity of their choosing.
•    Make sure it is nonproductive time. They can teach you, but you are not in teacher mode.

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.