By Joseph Sacks, LCSW
Are you frustrated with your child's lack of focus and poor school performance? Are you upset by your child's misbehavior and impulsivity? If you are interested in a simultaneous or alternative treatment to ADHD medication, or a longer lasting treatment that continues after the meds have worn off, I highly recommend Parenting Counseling. I have seen gratifying results with many children, as there is a connection between parenting and ADHD symptoms. Parenting Counseling is about developing a relationship with a psychotherapist, and through that relationship over a period of months, gradually “Tuning up” the way we interact with our children. This process has the goal of promoting the child’s emotional health and reducing his ADHD symptoms. How does it work?
Many parents of children with ADHD tend to scold or reprimand their children just a little too much. This extra scolding generates in the child a fear of being scolded, which appears when the teacher talks or while doing schoolwork. This fear preoccupies the child and is the source of further distraction from his work. So, through Parenting Counseling, we work on a plan to reduce scolding and reprimands. This process is not something one hears once and the problem is fixed. It takes review over a period of months to incorporate new attitudes into your parenting approach. After the children get used to being scolded and reprimanded less, their fear is reduced and it is no longer itself a source of distraction. For a detailed discussion of the pitfalls of scolding and reprimands, click here.
Many parents of children with ADHD are in the habit of issuing just possibly 10 percent too many commands. They tell their children what to do or not to do just a little too often. Let's say a particular child can handle 20 commands per day and still function happily. If however he regularly gets 22 commands, resentment, frustration and anger will build up over the extra restrictions. These feelings simmer in the back of the child's mind and distract him during his schoolwork or in class. Therefore through Parenting Counseling we work on a plan to reduce the overall quantity and frequency of commands we issue to our children, which makes them feel much more comfortable, less restricted and in turn less distracted. I help parents develop a personally tailored plan detailing which commands to cut out which to leave in place, which will help bring your child into his comfort zone. For a detailed discussion of how to reduce commands, click here.
Children are completely dependent on their parents for all of their needs, especially their emotional needs. This means that they depend on us to make them happy. If that happiness level is too low it is intolerable for them, as they are powerless to change it. They regularly rely on us to rescue them from unhappiness. If a child's happiness level is lower than it should be she will be more distracted and find it difficult to focus on her schoolwork. So, through Parenting Counseling we work on implementing the golden habit of making our child's day pleasant and raising his contentment level. Very often just changing a few parental attitudes make a happier and better adjusted child, resulting in one who is better able to focus on his work.
Again it takes time over a period of months to work on issues that may be blocking a parent from raising his child's happiness level. Children who are going through family conflict or other stressors will require particular attention to bring that contentment to an appropriate level.
Avoid arguing in front of them
All parents sometimes argue or bicker between themselves, and some do so often. However, even minor arguments when witnessed by the children can unfortunately be extremely traumatic for them. Children don't have the presence of mind to realize that it is only a minor argument which will soon pass, leaving the marital relationship intact. During an argument they tend to fear the worst. Many children have reported to me that when their parents argue they feel sure that they're going to split up and that they are going to be abandoned! They further blame themselves, "If I was a better child mommy and daddy would get along." These thoughts and feelings linger in a child's mind and distract him terribly during his schoolwork. It only takes a moment to understand intellectually that one ought not argue in front of the children, but it takes time in Parenting Counseling to turn the practice into a solid habit. During arguments, passions flare up and words tend to spill out no matter who is listening. It takes time and discipline to learn to turn on the TV and go argue behind closed doors. However as a result the child will feel much more secure and be less distracted during his schoolwork.
Many parents of children with ADHD are terribly afraid of academic problems and in the attempt to fix them put a little too much pressure on the child academically. Unfortunately this can cause great stress in a child and make him even more distracted. Therefore, through Parenting Counseling, we work on reducing academic pressure and creating a relaxed pleasant learning environment for your child.
As I've said elsewhere, the number one parenting error is too much criticism. Even so-called constructive criticism, if administered on a regular basis, can damage self-esteem and create chronic feelings of shame. These feelings distract the child terribly during schoolwork. Through Parenting Counseling we work on reducing our critical attitudes towards our children. Many parents tend to catastrophize and have an exaggerated fear that their child’s current misbehavior will lead to an intolerable situation, to delinquency or worse, and therefore criticism is necessary. However parents can be helped to safely reframe these fears as uncalled for, since most misbehavior is well within the range of normalcy and not cause for alarm. I help distinguish between benign misbehaviors and those that are more serious and call for attention. Thus the impulse to criticize our children is reduced, so reducing the child’s resulting shame. This helps in turn to reduce the child’s distraction during schoolwork. For a detailed discussion of the pitfalls of criticism, click here.
Reduce Sibling Conflict
Another thing we work on in Parenting Counseling is evening out perceived inequalities in treatment between siblings. If a child feels his sibling is more favored even a little, it can result in strong negative feelings which distract him from his work. We work on identifying and resolving these perceived imbalances.
We as parents are the most important element in our child’s life. We possess tremendous power to positively influence her emotional health and well-being. “Tuning up” our parenting while he or she is still young can prevent many problems from arising.
This is all great news for the parent of a child with ADHD. Contrary to popular belief, ADHD is not genetically hard wired. It can be significantly remedied through changing our parenting which, together with Child-Centered Play Therapy, is particularly effective.
Feel free to peruse the rest of my interesting blog, the specialties on my website, or download one of my informative free reports. If you would like to learn more about parenting and ADHD and would like guidance or treatment, you may call me at 646-681-1707 for a free 15-minute consultation. I look forward to speaking with you!