Tag: Change

Does Your ADD/ADHD Child Make the Same Mistake Repeatedly?

Parents of ADD/ADHD children tell me that one of their greatest frustrations is that their child repeatedly makes the same mistakes. Over and over. It almost seems like having poor outcomes has no effect on what a child does. Parents often impose negative consequences to try to change their child’s behavior, to no avail. Nothing seems to work.

Let’s think about the whole process. Imagine that you want your child to complete a two step process–hang up his coat and put away his backpack when he gets home.  Every day, the coat is on the floor and the backpack is not where it belongs. You have sent him back to correct it, interrupted him while he was engaged in a TV program, and lectured him endlessly about this behavior. It doesn’t change.

You expected that, after a consequence, your son would think , “I should have just hung it up when I came in,” and  “Tomorrow, I will do this when I get home.” The problem is that children with ADD/ADHD cannot think backwards in time (“I should have done it when I came in”) and cannot think forwards in time (“Tomorrow I will hang it up when I get home”). That’s the reason that consequences don’t change their behavior. It is not that your son/daughter wants to be disobedient. You are asking them to use a way of thinking that they cannot do.

Should parents just give up?  Absolutely not! You can get your son or daughter to learn these behavior routines. You just have to teach it in “real time.”  Here’s how to do it. Start outside the door and have your son/daughter practice hanging up coat and putting away the backpack.  This cannot be done verbally; your child actually has to perform the behaviors. The only consequence is that if s/he forgets to complete the two tasks, then you schedule more practice. This system can be used any time you want your child to complete several tasks in a row.  For example, it can be used to help with morning routines, packing backpacks, or getting ready in a classroom.

This process takes some time for parents. But, if you think about how much time and irritation you have put into such simple tasks, this actually might save you time! And, it helps you maintain a more positive relationship with your child. One other thing that happens for ADD/ADHD children is that once they have learned a sequence of behaviors, they tend to remember it. You won’t have to teach it again.

The important things to remember:

  • Children with ADD/ADHD cannot correct their behavior by thinking about what they should have done, or by thinking about what they will do.
  • The way to handle this is to teach the behaviors you want—not by talking about them but by having his/her body actually do it. Repeat it until they consistently get it right.
  • The only consequence is practicing the behaviors again.

What You Need to Know About Pink Horses!

There is an example that I use fairly often in my practice and that is to tell people not to think about pink horses. What they quickly realize is that they are actually thinking about pink horses! So what is the significance of this example?

It is an important concept in working with behaviors. Very often, I hear parents tell their children, “Don’t do that!”  But telling them what NOT to do is self-defeating and counterproductive.  Just like telling you not to think about a pink horse has put that idea into your mind, telling your child to not jump on the couch may have just reinforced that behavior.

Another example of this is when we decide to embark on plan to change our behaviors. We may start dieting with the belief that we will give up all desserts. Just in thinking about giving these up, we may actually think about it more. How many times have we decided not to do something and then immediately gone out and engaged in that behavior. In part, it’s the pink horse problem.

So, what should we do?

Instead of focusing our thoughts on what NOT to do, we should focus on what to do. You will notice this in many good preschools, for example, where the teacher says, “I like how your feet are on the floor,” rather than telling them to stop squirming. In a similar way, instead of trying to give up desserts, start by deciding to eat more vegetables, for example. Thinking about what not to do is self-defeating. Thinking about what TO DO is empowering.

Are there other ways to use this principle?

Yes, this principle can be used in a variety of ways and situations. People have started using affirmations to help guide their behavior. Since these are usually positive statements (“I will notice people’s kindness to me today”), they really serve to impact our thought patterns. In a similar way, I like to use “rules” to help children learn behaviors. For example, I give children the rule that they need to greet other children when they see them at school; this is particularly needed if the child is having problems with social interactions.

In adults and sometimes in children, we see pronounced amounts of negative self-talk.  For example, “no-one likes me,” or “I’m not good at anything.” One of the approaches to address this type of self-criticism is to start with something positive to substitute.   Sometimes, we can do this ourselves and sometimes we can coach our children to make these thought changes.

Remember, think positive thoughts for behavior change.  (Notice, I did not say, “No pink horses!”)