Recently, I was at an ADHD conference with my daughter. We were sitting in a session on Tourette and ADHD when one of the parents in the room asked about how ADHD might connect to her son’s refusal to wear underwear. The presenter assured the mom that sensory challenges are really common in kids with ADHD (Tourette or no), and we all commiserated for a moment on the epic hunt for the perfect socks, non scratchy t-shirt tags, etc. We all wished that life could be easier for our complex kiddos.
Unfortunately, the underwear mom did not like that answer. She shared for another 10 minutes on how she’d created a behavior chart to encourage successful underwear wearing, bought hundreds of dollars worth of different styles, fabrics and shapes of underwear trying to find ones her son would like, and she was just fed up.
At this point, my daughter turned to me and said ‘Why does her son HAVE to wear underwear? It doesn’t seem like that should be this big of a deal.’
What If We're Making Things Harder Than They Need to Be?
In my opinion, my daughter was absolutely correct. As far as I know, wearing underwear does not directly correlate with any tangible success factor in life. If your kid does not want to wear underwear, and is fully potty trained, who cares if he’s going commando?
But it got me thinking. As parents of complex kids, we do many things that make our lives harder rather than easier. The underwear battle is just one example.
Do you ever wonder what you could be doing differently that might make everyone in your house happier?
For the parents I work with, these are the most common battles that you might consider avoiding to ease the stress and strain of everyday life with complex kids:
- Relax the dress code: Maybe it’s Easter Brunch, or your sister’s wedding…whatever the occasion, your kid needs to be dressed up. This may seem like something that’s non-negotiable, but if you can bend a bit here, you’ll have a much better time at whatever event. You have to ask yourself which is more important – that your son wears inflexible, slippery dress shoes, or that he’s comfortable enough and you get to spend a full hour enjoying yourself instead of having to leave early because those darn shoes hurt! Tennis shoes with dress pants, bare legs instead of tights, collared shirts with no tie, dress pants with elastic waists instead of buttons and zippers…these are all perfectly acceptable alternatives for dressy events that can reduce stress for everyone.
- Stop rushing: We are all busy, over-scheduled, and over-worked – and sometimes it feels like we haven’t slept in like 10 years. This is not your child fault. And yet, most of the parents I work with (this happens in my own house, too!) start to get triggered when they realize they are running late. Maybe it’s getting out the door in time for school, work, band practice, basketball…whatever. We start to tense up, start loudly encouraging our kids to ‘Hurry up! We’re going to be late!’ start blaming our kids for making us late. ‘If you’d turned off the tv/gotten out of bed/brushed your teeth when I asked you too we wouldn’t be so pressed for time!’ Sound familiar? And while there are many things we can’t control, we CAN choose how many activities we do, or how much time we give ourselves to get them done.
- Highway hygiene: This is one of my favorites! My entire family (most of whom also have ADHD) brush their teeth in the kitchen right before we walk out the back door to go to school/work/wherever. My teenagers and my middles all put their deodorant on in the car. Sometimes they do it at home, but when they forget, they have backup deodorant in their backpacks and in my glove box. My daughter and I (both with ADHD) put on any makeup we’re wearing for the day in the car while parked in the parking lot of wherever we’re going. The makeup stays in the car too. This cuts down on everyone running back upstairs to brush teeth, put on mascara, etc. at those critical moments when we’re already running late! See tip number 2 ;-).
- Welcome to the Land of the Lost: the lost coat, the lost lunchbox, the lost socks (an amazing amount of socks!), the lost homework…things are going to get lost. At a ridiculous rate! Our kids have complex challenges, and this is one of those areas where they’re still not developmentally ready to keep track of everything. And while I know it’s frustrating, annoying and a huge hassle, we have to cut our kids a bit of slack here. I’m not saying it’s ok to lose things. I’m saying be ready for when things go missing. Your daughter isn’t doing it on purpose. She desperately wanted to hang on to the hot pink coat with the white faux fur trim, but she doesn’t remember where she left it. Try to see that she’s trying. Create some systems to help her (and you). Have backups of everything when you can. I have about 50 pairs of cheap Wal-Mart sunglasses strewn across the US because I still manage to lose the darn things all the time. I’m not proud of it, but I know it’s going to happen – so when it does, I’m prepared.
How to Talk Yourself Through This
When you're faced with inevitable frustrations that might have been avoided, but weren't (because you have complex kids and these things are all pretty typical in our world), try to ask yourself:
- Does this really matter?
- What is most important right now?
- How can I help the situation and maintain my child's self-esteem?
- Do we have to have all the game pieces put back into the monopoly box just so, or can we throw them all in a Ziploc bag and call it good?
I say call it good.
And if you're still struggling with how to make life easier, just think: wearing no underwear means fewer loads of laundry to do!