Why A More Relaxed Parenting Style Is More Effective For Children With ADHD
An Interview With Parenting Coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus
When children with ADHD won’t behave, it’s only natural that parents try to bring them in line by being even stricter. In the opinion of parenting coach Elaine Taylor-Klaus, that’s a big mistake.
Elaine is the co-founder of ImpactADHD, where she helps parents overcome the challenges of raising a child with ADHD. In this interview, she shares her thoughts on getting children through the challenges of being home-schooled during Covid-19, and why authoritarian parenting backfires with ADHD children.
What are the main challenges that you see parents facing now with schools being closed?
So I work with parents who have complex kids with a variety of challenges – ADHD, autistic spectrum disorder, anxiety, learning disabilities. And what we’re seeing in this quarantine is a few different things with complex kids.
Interestingly enough some kids are actually doing better. It’s a small percentage, mostly kids with anxiety issues or those who are on the spectrum. I find that when they’re taken out of that school environment, they’re actually sometimes doing a little bit better with the homeschooling. They’re more responsive, lighter, less stressed-out, and actually doing a little better academically. But that’s only maybe, probably 20% of the population (of complex kids).
The challenges I see have to do with a few things. We’ve got a lot of kids struggling because this mono-dimensional way of learning – usually a Zoom video call or something like that – isn’t working for them. They need other forms of sensory stimuli, audio, visual, kinesthetic, they need movement and interaction. And it’s boring. Boredom is the enemy of kids with ADHD in particular because it just shuts down the brain, there’s nothing to stimulate it, nothing to work with.
A lot of our kids, particularly younger kids, have this sense of a separation between school and home. Especially if they’re not used to doing a lot of homework, they have this sense that school is work and home is play. So that creates a lot of resistance, especially if that’s not what they’re accustomed to.
I would say that a lot of parents are experiencing resistance from their kids, for lack of a better term. I see it in kids of all ages. For the younger kids it may be, “This isn’t where I’m supposed to be going to school.”
For the older kids it may be, parents feel like they need to be getting more involved in their kid’s learning, and the kids are accustomed to parents not being involved, so there’s this vying for control that’s happening. And the kids may or may not be ready to do it independently, but they certainly want to be.
So for the kids who are doing better being at home, is that just going to make it harder on them in the long run? Will they only suffer more when they have to go back to school after a six-month break?
I think it remains to be seen. What I suspect we’re going to see in our population is an increase in homeschooling. I think there are some parents who thought they might want to consider it but always thought it would be too hard, and now they’re seeing it’s not too hard, it’s actually easier. So I think you’ll see about a 5-10% increase in homeschooling, is my guess.
And parents will begin to advocate for their kid’s education differently. There are definitely going to be some kids who will get back and really struggle. But for those kids who have embraced their learning in this process, some will have taken ownership of their education for the first time ever. And so there’s going to be something exciting about these kids getting back into a school environment, and seeing their learning as theirs, not something they’re doing for someone else.
So when they’re doing it because they’re curious and they’re interested in learning, and they’re beginning to see themselves as learners, it’s very possible they can come back into a traditional environment and do better in school, because they now see themselves as someone who’s capable of learning, in a way that they weren’t confident they could do before.
Overall, what are the biggest mistakes that you see parents frequently making with ADHD children?
Probably the biggest is trying to tackle everything at once. You can have a list of things to tackle, and a chart of milestones for kids to reach, but our expectations get out of sync with where our kids are. So the biggest challenge parents face is not meeting their kid where they are developmentally and setting expectations that are appropriate where where they’re at.
And that doesn’t mean the kid can’t learn to do all those things eventually, but parents need to learn to pace themselves, and pace their kids so they can learn to do things one at a time and really gain some confidence in it.
Another one is “naughty vs. neurological.” A lot of parents look at their kids behavior and think the kids are being naughty, when really neurologically they’re struggling to behave. When we look at a behavior and judge it as naughty, we can really take it personally, we can think they’re disrespectful, we can judge them and say they’re unmotivated, that they don’t care. It leads to kind of an assessment of them being bad or misbehaving.
When we look at the challenged behaviors from a perspective of, they’re struggling and need some help, it leads to better understanding so we can treat them with compassion and improve their behaviors.
You’ve mentioned the Impact Model for tackling all kinds of challenging situations in kids – can you explain how that works?
The idea is to first identify a change that you want to see. You take some time to get curious, understand what’s going on with that behavior, what the challenges are, what might be standing in the way. And before you start putting solutions in place, you really take the time to understand.
You want to understand what’s going on with that behavior, what’s motivating it, what the challenges are. And also understand what is happening in the brain, where the brain is contributing to the challenge, and what it takes to activate the brain. Is there a role for positivity in the conversation so that positivity can motivate and inspire the kid, and also are we setting reasonable expectations.
And then the goal is not just to get the kid to do what we want them to do. The goal is to bring them through a process of problem-solving, so they understand their own challenges and they’re working and collaborating with us. They’re an active part of the problem-solving process rather than having someone else “fix them.”
They take ownership of their own improvement. And kids with ADHD have a dysregulation problem, and we help them manage it so they can learn to control themselves without feeling judged or shamed in the process.
Identify a change you want to see. Get curious, understand what’s going on with that behavior. Before you start planning solutions, understand how this is happening in the brain.
What can parents do to keep kids from getting bored over the next few months?
During this quarantine, there is a great opportunity to focus on learning, not schooling. Talk to kids about what they’re interested in and what they want to learn about and find out about and explore. Our kids are the most creative and fascinating people on the planet, if only they get the chance to express that creativity.
When my kids – they’re all young adults now – when they used to say, “Mom, I’m bored,” I’d say, “Bummer. What are you going to do about it?” The best thing you can do for a kid with ADHD is let them get a little bit bored, because that’s where inspiration and creativity come from.
If kids don’t let their minds slow down sometimes, it’s hard to create space for creativity. Now I know that can be a bit risky with impulsive kids, so I’m not saying don’t monitor them, but I do think a bit of boredom is an opportunity.
So you think kids should get more personal choices about how to learn or what to read or study?
Definitely. And I’d say whether they’re in school or not, our kids are always learning, if you pay attention to that. Maybe they want to learn to build a kite or a boat if they’re inclined to build things, maybe they like to write, or they’re into strategy. Whatever kids are into, there’s a way to harness that and for them to see themselves as creatuve.
And we need to expand our notion of creativity. There’s this notion that people are only creative if they can draw, and that’s absurd. The ADHD brain is so varied, and there are so many ways to be creative. So helping kids to see themselves as creative thinkers is a very powerful opportunity.
When school starts up again, will there be issues with kids who have fallen behind?
Yes, but I think a majority of kids will be behind. So the whole class will have to catch them up; it won’t be a case of one or two kids who have that issue and get ignored. For the first time it won’t be just the kids with ADD who are behind; it’s going to be most of them. So the schools will have to adapt, and I think they will.
I also think kids may not need as long to learn as we think. Three to four hours a day is often enough to keep up with their peers. We have this 8-hour day mentality and we may not need that. We may discover that we have room to add back in culture, art, PE.
Do you think a lot of the structure and schedule of school is for the benefit of parents rather than kids?
Definitely. There’s a lot of research, especially around how early school starts and how that stops kids from getting enough sleep. And people have to get up sometimes at 5:30 or 6:00 in the morning, and that’s largely to help parents get to work on time, rather than for the sake of the kids.
It’s clear that school starts too early and there’s too much homework. The research particularly around teenagers is incontrovertible; teenagers should not be starting at 7:30 in the morning. And I hope schools can take this into consideration and find a way to adapt, because the research really doesn’t support the way things are done right now.
Can you share a few tips or strategies for getting children do do what they’re asked?
One strategy we use is called ACE – Acknowledgement, Compassion, Explore your options. You need to remember that the kid is human too, they have their own desires, and just because getting them to take out the trash is your agenda doesn’t mean it’s their agenda.
We need to start by acknowledging that kids have their own stuff going on right now, and maybe right now isn’t always the best time to do their chores. So maybe say something like, “I’m sorry to interrupt you, I know this isn’t a good time, but I really need it done. When do you think would be a good time to do it?”
Then they can come back and negotiate with you. This is a great opportunity to teach negotiating skills, and you’d rather they learn it from you than from someone else.
Do you think there’s room for kids to pick their chores, or that that helps?
Absolutely. The more agency kids have, the more ownership they’re given over these decisions, the more buy-in you’ll get and the better they’ll do.
ADHD kids do not have a “just get it done” button. Their brain’s not wired that way. They need the dopamine, they need the serotonin, they need some stimulation to push them to get it done. You need to help them find their motivation. And they don’t want your motivation, you need to help them find their own motivation, and if you give them some choice, that’s one way to do it.
But the goal here is not to control our kids. The goal is to transfer ownership to the kids, to help them control themselves. So we want to guide them, and we need to let them practice self-ownership.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus is an author, parent educator, and certified coach. The co-founder of ImpactADHD.com, co-creator of Sanity School® (an online behavior therapy program), and co-author of Parenting ADHD Now! Easy Intervention Strategies to Empower Kids with ADHD, she provides coaching, training and support for parents of complex kids – and parents raising kids in complex times. Her newest book, The Essential Guide to Raising Complex Kids with ADHD, Anxiety and More will be out in September 2020, and is available on pre-order with bonus gifts including a “Parenting in a Pandemic” supplement. Elaine has served as a parent advisor for the American Academy of Pediatrics and on the national Board of Directors of CHADD. She is the mother in an ADHD++ family of six.
For more information, you can download her free e-book, 10 Tips for Calm & Confident Parenting of Complex Kids.