It should be really simple: I ask you to do something, and you do it!
But with ADHD kids – all kids, actually -- it is more complex than that. Leadership experts, great at motivating people into action, tell us that there are five essential elements to helping individuals get things done. We can apply what they teach to our job as parents:
- Set Clear expectations:It's important that you are crystal clear on what you are asking your kids to do, AND that they understand what you are asking.
- Use language they understand.
- Make sure you have their undivided attention before you ask.
- Give specifics: “Go upstairs now and take a shower with soap, shampoo, and water.” (Sounds silly, but it can make all the difference.)
Where things tend to break down: Typically we shout from another room, ask for things on the run, or are not specific. Our kids may want to do what we ask, but if we haven't been clear, they're not likely to ask for clarification. Also, if they have a history of not meeting your expectations, they might not even want to try. (Example: If you always criticize how they sweep the floor, eventually they won't even bother.)
- Get Agreement: To assure that your kids take action, they need to agree to the responsibility you are requesting.
- Require your child to acknowledge (maybe even re-state) basic requests when you make them.
- When appropriate, put agreements in writing, like a family behavior agreement, or internet-use contract. That way there will be no question about what is agreed to.
Where it breaks down: Kids push back when they think they didn't agree to something. “You said I could watch my TV shows before I do my homework!” We all tend to hear things the way we want to, so putting them in writing or assuring common understanding is critical to the process. Elaine's family uses, “Get it? Got it. Good.” as a way to assure that what you are asking is what they are actually agreeing to.
- Positive Reinforcement: Put some sort of a favorable motivator in place as your child begins to take action.
- Words of encouragement like “you can do it,” or words of praise like “great job,” are enough, sometimes. You don't have to have a reward for everything.
- Motivators are doubly important with ADHD. Because the ADHD brain requires “genuine interest” in order to take action, you need to spend time identifying and re-enforcing your child's motivators. With older kids it's a great opportunity for conversation – what are their motivators, what is it that they notice that helps them to “get things done?”
Where it breaks down: It's a lot of work to positively reinforce everything. Do I really have to tell them “good job” every time they remember to hang their towels up? Well, yes, ideally… until it becomes a habit.
- Consequences: There need to be consequences, a down-side, when your kids don't do what you ask, or it probably won't happen.
- These need to be set in advance (eg. house rules). That way we a neutral, supportive position and let the system be the bad-guy when the go into effect. “Man that stinks! Now you won't be able to watch TV tonight because you didn't finish your homework before dinner, and that's one of the house rules.”
- Just like positive motivators, consequences don't always have to be “big.”
Where it breaks down: With ADHD kids, inconsistency can be our worst enemy! Our kids are wrong so often that sometimes we have a hard time and let them off the hook. Also, it's tough on us to enforce the rules. If our kids are in a power struggle with us, they are likely to blame us. When they experience consequences, with our encouragement, they can actually learn to empower themselves to try again.
- Monitor Process: Put a system in place for following up to make sure that action takes place.
- Kids with ADHD do better when tasks are broken into smaller pieces. Put structures in place and monitor around steps in the process, rather than just the completion of the task.
- Plan in advance how you will monitor, and make it part of the agreement you make with your kids.
- If you don't have a way to monitor easily, find someone else to be your back-up. Consider making an alternate request if you don't have a way to monitor.
Where it breaks down: There is no question about it, parenting takes work! For some of us, it's hard to keep track of all the things we ask our kids to do, let alone remember to put a monitoring system in place. If you are an ADHD adult, consistency and structure may not come naturally for you.
As with anything, make sure to put yourself and your needs on the list. It seems upside down that asking someone else to do something might mean more work for you, but that is the reality of parenting ADHD kids. Set them (and yourself) up for success by taking it one step at a time. Start with the little things, and gradually building up to something bigger. The payoffs can be great, you'll get some additional help when you need it!