Instructing Self-Management to ADHD Children, One Construction at a Time
You know what temptation is like
You go to your favorite café for a cup – black, no cream, no sugar. You are trying to curb your calorie intake. But then you discover them. Fresh, warm chocolate chip cookies. The scent wafts towards you and seduces with its promise of comfort. But no! You avert your eyes They check your email. You look at the person in front of you in line and make up a story about them to pass the time. You will do whatever it takes to resist the temptation, get your coffee (okay, just a little cream) and go. Congratulations! Your executive functions have helped you use self-control.
But what happens when this ability is impaired? Your ADHD child is less able to regulate their actions. What happens to them and what can you do to teach them self-control?
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ADHD and action
In the tempting cookie example, this seemingly simple process of controlling your actions actually requires a wide variety of cognitive skills:
- we need to be aware of the situation;
- we need to divert our attention;
- we have to use the voice of our mind to get us through the moment;
- we have to solve problems.
All of this flows into that one moment, and we use leadership to make the right call.
Executive functions are a series of cognitive processes that are involved in managing everyday tasks. These skills help us do everything from managing our time and focus to planning and acting. ADHD parent and author Chris A. Zeigler Dendy calls it the “CEO of the Brain”. Since the ADHD brain matures much more slowly than the non-ADHD brain – a delay of about three years – this leads to a deficit in many of these areas. At this point in time, the CEO is still a junior executive. This is when regulation of actions becomes a struggle for children and parents.
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This is great in theory, but how does it show for our kids? Action refers to the ability to know when to act and when not to act. Classic ADHD impulsivity is actually what happens when actions come before thinking through.
Say you are on the phone. Your child could be in the background trying to get your attention all the time. “Mom, Mom, Mom …” He needs that attention right then! And he cannot effectively regulate his actions so that you can end your conversation and then focus on him.
Building structures to teach self-control
So what is a mom or a dad to do? When you recognize the times in your child’s life when impulsiveness is common, you can begin to create structures to teach your child self-control. For example, Elaine uses a structure to help her children not interrupt. She taught them to put their hand on their arm to get their attention. When she puts her hand on hers, it signals to them that she understands that they want their attention, and she will get them soon. No words were spoken and the child avoided rude interruptions. Better yet, they know, “Yes, I have my mother’s attention. She’ll be with me in a minute. “You don’t feel like,” Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom, Mom !!! ” to get your attention.
Impulsivity and other challenges related to self-regulation can make life with ADHD chaotic. Children (and ADHD adults) often feel confused as if they are navigating a world without a map that everyone else is using. This can lead to inappropriate behavior, acting out, core meltdown.
By supporting your child with healthy systems and structures, one behavior at a time, you can teach them self-control and help them control their actions more effectively. And as you support yourself with help, community – and maybe a massage every now and then – you will find that your ADHD home is less chaotic and happier.