"Don't Worry" Syndrome
If I had a dollar for every time I heard this phrase from my ADHD teen, “Don't worry, I've got it!”
Of course, sometimes it means exactly that: your kid is confident and competent. But sometimes, it's just a way to deflect the situation, to get you out of their hair. So, how do you know when they've really “got it” when your ADHD teen says, "I've got it!"? Or when to step in to help, despite assurances that they don't need it?
Here's how I'd recommend you deal with the “don't worry” syndrome! Keep in mind that “I've got it” may be a sign that your child is actually stressed out, and even in threat mode. Since helping your child manage stress and anxiety may be the most important first step you can take, start by getting curious about what is happening for him or her. Are there certain conditions where that reaction is most common? Is it happening all the time? Spend a little time collecting information.
Then, if you feel confident that you're ready to move into action, here's my 5-step process for how to “let ‘em have it”:
Let Them Have It! (With Controls)
We want our kids to become more independent. We also want to do it at a pace that sets them up for success. The challenge with ADHD teens is that they WANT to be independent even when they don't quite have the executive function to do it.
Step 1 – Okay, you've got it:
When ADHD teens and kids say, “I've got it,” say, “good – great! I'll check back in with you and see how it goes.” Set a clear timeframe – communicate it to them and then be sure to follow up as promised. It might be a few minutes (if they are working on a small task) or even a few days for an extended project. Give them the chance to do it on their own, while quietly providing a safety net in case they can't. If they are successful, awesome – celebrate with them! If not move on to step 2 without judgment (i.e. keep the “I told you so” to yourself.)
Step 2 – How have you got it?:
Observe (without judgment), continue to let them lead, and get details. “OK, so it looks like you're still having a hard time. What's your plan? Good – great! I'll check back in with you and see how it goes.” Again set a timeframe for checking back and follow through.
Note: you might also plant the seed that you are here to help if needed, and have some other ideas if things don't turn out. When you come back, if they were successful, awesome – celebrate with them! If not, move on to step 3.
Step 3 – What are some ideas?
Ask them to come up with a few (2-4) ideas for what they might do. You might throw in an idea if they are having a hard time, or ask if they'd like some suggestions from you. Let them choose one of the ideas and commit to a plan of action. Ask how they'd like you to follow up – make sure it's something you both agree to. Rinse and repeat.
Step 4 – Here's what I think you should do:
This is where we typically go first – it's easier just to tell our kids what they should do, but with teens it typically doesn't play out well. On a coaching call last week, one of our parents was insisting, “if my son would only use a planner this wouldn't be a problem.” It's not that simple. When you make a suggestion, it's important to get buy in, and to understand how it will or won't work for your child's ADHD brain. Again, make sure you agree on the plan of action, and how you will follow up.
Step 5 – Let's work on this together:
At this point it's likely clear to both of you that some additional support is needed. Stay compassionate – remember that this is hard for them, and they don't really want you to have to be involved. So get buy in for your support, and agree to a way to work along with them, laying the ground-work for future independence. It might be as simple as a body double; or more complex, like demonstrating a framework that they can potentially duplicate moving forward.
Sure, It Takes Time, But...
I know this process takes more time than just telling our kids how to do it, but the real goals here are independence and trust building. It's NOT just about getting the work done. It's about teaching them how to get it done in the future, when you're not around so your ADHD teen can say "I've got it" and really have it!
One more thing: the steps don't always have to go sequentially – there will be times that you need to jump right to step 5. But remember this caution: only do that with buy in from your teen! If you get them to take the lead getting support from you, they'll learn to ask for help and support in other ways – which is, ultimately, one of the most important skills you can teach them.