If you have Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD) or if you have a child with AD/HD, you know that school is a difficult place to be. Why do I say that? Well, because teachers in the average school setting expect that students are able to sit down, take out their notebooks, listen to a lesson, take notes, maintain an organizational system that will allow for homework to be completed, returned and turned in, as well as plan ahead for upcoming project, assignments, and tests. And by the way, you can use some technological devices, but don’t even think about taking out your cell phone. Wow! Most adults still struggle with these types of tasks, and therefore rely on other people, post-its, secretaries, and all sorts of devices to get through the day.
One young man describes his experience with inattention as an inability to stay focused in class because he becomes internally engrossed in his own thoughts. He doesn’t remember what triggers his drifting nor does he know what pulls him out of it. He appears like he is attentive but because he is not impulsive or hyperactive, he is perceived as paying attention. However, his experience is that he misses large amounts of information in class. He also misses information in his conversations with his peers, parents, etc, etc. He can be perceived as forgetful, unmotivated or even lazy. But is he really? No, he needs strategies to help him get through his day…
So, how do does one manage all of the academic and life demands? Here are a few strategies:
Tag it, Clip It, Post It
If you are struggling to remember to do something at home or in school, like write down your homework in your planner, place a visual cue on the top loop of your backpack. One particular young man attached a lock to his back pack and each time he looked down, he saw it and it reminded him to take out his daily planner and write down his homework assignment.
Use whatever you have or anything you find to be interesting or strange – like a clothes pin, a ribbon, or whatever else you can think of. Use post-its to write down reminders in prominent areas (e.g., on your mirror with a note that says, “Pack sneakers in backpack).
Set your alarm – yes, you can use your cell phone to set an alarm that can be used to remind yourself to take your medication at the same time each day. Set it and forget it!
Use the stop watch on your phone to time a break so that you return to an assignment in 10 minutes instead of 60 minutes. Set your cell phone alarm to give yourself 30 minutes to work on a writing assignment before taking a 10 minute break.
Color code each of your subjects (e.g., History-blue, English-red, etc). Cover your books in covers that correspond with the subject and use folders, binders, etc that are the same color. That way, each time you open your locker, you see red and that means English book or notebook. No words to process, only colors
Now that you have color coded your subjects, create a white board schedule of the month and write down all of your homework assignments, papers, and projects in the color that corresponds with the subject. One quick glance at your white board and you know which assignments are coming up based on the date and color.
Do you have a daily planner on your phone? Great –use it! Many people DETEST the paper and pencil based daily planner but are more than happy to write down assignments into their phone and reference their phone often.
Do you have an upcoming dentist appointment you don’t want to miss, put it into your phone and now you won’t forget it.
This is just a small sampling of the different types of strategies that students with AD/HD can use to stay organized and encourage follow-through and completion of assignments.
There are many more and many can be tailored to your specific interests and areas of strength. Think outside of the box – it’s what you do well without even trying!
In the interest of your well-being,
Behavior is a very powerful form of communication…. especially for children who don’t have the awareness of how they are feeling and what they need in addition to the ability of translating all of that into a verbal message. There are some adults who still can’t verbalize how they feel or what they need!
Kids speak in behaviors and not necessarily words. Facial expressions, crying, stomping feet or even hair pulling are all ways that children try to tell us something.
Traditionally, the old school way of handling negative behavior is to rely on punishment. However, we are now wise enough to know that punishment may work, but only for the short-term. Besides, with punishment, you are giving a one sided message – don’t do this… but then what is your child supposed to do? Punishment also doesn’t allow you to get to the root of the problem and only results in additional or more complex behaviors moving forward.
I prefer a positive behavioral support approach that allows you to understand why the child is behaving in a particular way, so that you can then begin to replace the behavior(s) with more appropriate or functional behaviors.
So why do children act out? There are 4 functions of behavior:
1- To gain attention
2- To gain or avoid sensory feedback
3- To gain a tangible
4- To avoid or escape a task
Function 1: To Gain Attention
Children want your attention. They want to be valued and recognized. They want your positive attention more than they want your negative attention, but if they don’t get your positive attention, they’ll take what they can get.
Function 2: To Gain or Avoid Sensory Feedback
Children engage in behaviors, such as jumping off of a chair or high surface or running out of a loud room, in order to gain or avoid sensory feedback.
Some children crave deep pressure or movement all day long. They engage in behaviors that will help them to satisfy that sensory need. For other children, they are unable to process large amounts of visual, auditory, or tactile information. As a result, they avoid activities or rooms that have too much visual stimulation or sound. Some children avoid certain activities, such as painting or playing with sand. Some also avoid certain textures of food.
Function 3: To Gain a Tangible
Children who engage in particular behaviors (e.g., tantruming) may be trying to communicate the need for a tangible. For example, I am hungry and I need food. Or, I am tired, and I need a bed or place to sleep. You may also notice that some children engage in behaviors when they are denied access to a tangible, such as a toy.
Function 4: To Avoid or Escape a Task
Ever notice that one particular child cries or throws a tantrum when it’s craft time? Perhaps the activity calls for fine motor control (e.g., coloring or cutting) and the child doesn’t have the skill or the hand strength to be able to do this.
Even activities that we believe are fun may be overwhelming to a child. For example, I observed a child respond to a teacher’s comment, “Come on, class. Stand in line if you want to go to the petting zoo!” She thought her comment was motivating to the class and would encourage them to stand in line. However, one student wouldn’t stand in line. In fact, he began to sing out loud and run around the class. He was looking to avoid the petting zoo – something about the petting zoo frightened him and he engaged in a negative behavior in order to avoid the seemingly positive class activity. Who would have thought?
The Power of ABCs
Now that you know what some of the functions of behavior may be, it’s time to put on your detective hat and keep track of the behavior via an ABC Chart which is an antecedent-behavior-consequence chart (sample below). This will help you to see patterns of behavior so you can begin to gain an understanding of the function of the behavior.
A Few Behavioral Strategies
Model words and behaviors - Give the child the words (e.g., “Help!”, “I need help,” “I can’t do this” ) and role model positive ways of behaving (eg., tap or say “excuse me” instead of hitting).
Make accommodations - If you have a fidgety or restless child on your hands, don’t try to make him/her sit still. Give him/her movement breaks often. In fact, give the child ‘jobs’ such as handing out paper or pushing in seats in the classroom. At home, let your child go outside and jump on the trampoline or run around the yard to release extra energy.
Reinforce – Make this your ‘tool’ of choice - praise when your child is showing positive behavior, and praise the student often for specific things he/she does during the day. You will most certainly catch more bees with honey than you will with vinegar. And make sure that your praise or rewards are immediate so that the child can begin to associate the positive behavior with the positive outcome (i.e., consequence).
Ignore certain behaviors – Ignore negative behaviors, such as whining, crying, begging or demanding, while you are reinforcing the positive ones.
Take it to School
Understanding your child’s behaviors will be difficult at first, but once you understand that there is a function, a reason, something your child is trying to tell you, this will become easier for you. Remember to share your observations and your data collection with your child’s teachers so that there is continuity between school and home in terms of how your child’s behaviors are handled. If you are using a certain system, see if your child’s teacher can adapt it in the classroom. Why reinvent the wheel? Greater continuity means clear-cut expectations for your child, which in and of itself, can lead to a decrease in negative behaviors.
In the interest of your better well-being,
Whether you like to admit it or not, you and your spouse each have a parenting style. You may have a similar style or you may differ. Whatever the case may be, it’s helpful to know each other’s approach to parenting as this will help you to better understand each other as well as make decisions together.
When parents are not aligned in their parenting style, this gives your children the chance to take advantage of your differences. It also ends up in unclear rules or a lack of consistency in your home. And, it’s okay if the two of you don’t have identical parenting styles, but it’s not okay to disagree and argue in the presence of your child(ren). Instead, discuss the situation together and come to an agreement – and then share your decision with your child.
So, what is your parenting style? There are four:
1- Authoritarian Parenting:
This is the old school approach to parenting where strict rules are set in place and the expectation is that your child(ren) will follow… because I said so! With this style, parents have high demands but low responsiveness to their child’s needs. This parent expects obedience without questioning.
This type of parent also establishes rules and guidelines for their child(ren) but is more responsive. This type of parent is accepting of questions and wants to hear his/her child’s thoughts. When rules are broken, this type of parent is more forgiving and nurturing rather than punishing.
Parents who use this approach make few demands on their child, can be indulgent, and rarely discipline. This is the exact opposite of the authoritarian parenting style in which the parent uses a non-confrontational style, and wants to be his/her child’s friend.
This parenting style is characterized by low demands, low responsiveness and little communication. This type of parent will meet his/her child’s basic needs but are not involved.
At the end of the day, remember, you are the parents and you are in charge. Your child(ren) rely on you to be the authority figure even if they act in ways that make you think that they don’t want those boundaries. Boundaries are healthy. In fact, boundaries create a sense of safety and security.
As parents, figure out which parenting style you use and decide how you will parent your children together, consistently, every day, and without disrespecting each other.
Dr. Liz Matheis
Dr Liz Matheis and her team specialize in assisting children and their families with Anxiety, Autism, AD/HD, Learning Disabilities and Behavioral Struggles