When I was a young and inexperienced therapist in the early 2000’s, I read Dr. Ross Greene’s ‘The Explosive Child,’ and I was blown away by his philosophy about child behavior. In it, he explains, ‘kids do the best they can with the skills they have.’ In other words, when we see negative behaviors in children such as a meltdown it’s not because they are being manipulative or trying to get their way. It’s because their skillset is not yet evolved enough to deal with the situation they are currently experiencing. It made so much sense to me as a therapist who worked with young children. If you ever watch a child having a meltdown, you’ll notice that it’s extremely unpleasant for them. It’s a total loss of control. It’s humiliating, exhausting and often seems frightening for the child to experience. In my 17 years of work as a therapist and 9 years experience as a mother of a child with ADHD, I’ve learned the best discipline you can give your daughter or son with ADHD is to strengthen their problem solving skills. In my experience, this is best done by teaching and modeling. It’s for this reason that I don’t believe in timeouts or behavior charts. These tools only serve to let our children know what will happen when their skillset is exhausted. Instead, let’s discuss how to de-escalate situations by adjusting expectations and teaching calming strategies.
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff.
It’s not earth shattering or anything you’ve never heard before. But when it comes to some of the best and most effective advice I can give to parents of kids with ADHD, let the little things go. What does this mean? Well, is it a travesty if your daughter wears the same t-shirt that she did yesterday? Is it really worth imposing your will on her? Also, think of it this way, by being more flexible with your parenting you are modeling flexibility for your daughter.
2. Use distraction.
This usually works well with younger children. However at the first sign of agitation (and you most likely know exactly what this looks like you’re your child), try ‘changing the channel.’ You can do this by making an environmental change (moving to a different room or playing some favorite music)
3. Don’t make demands.
Resist the urge to ‘turn up the volume’ on the situation. Think of it this way, when your daughter begins to show signs of her diminished skill set, you can’t expect her to meet a demand. Think about escalation like a wave that your child is riding, you can either jump in and ride it with her as it rises, or you can stay on land and offer her a life line.
4. Decrease stimulation if escalation continues.
Remember that your child’s brain is different—it sends and receives information differently and sometimes inconsistently. Turn down the lights, have others leave the room quietly, turn down the music or tv. Offer a blanket or a calming object such as a pillow or stuffed animal. Give your child some physical space.
5. Practice using non-judgemental language.
Telling your child that they are acting like a baby or trying to embarrass them won’t help the situation. Remember that your child is already probably not feeling great about themselves in this moment. Using harsh language or judgements may only serve to send their self-esteem downward.
6. Listen to and reflect your child’s views verbally.
Making sure to verbalize your child’s point of view is extremely important because it teaches her that her feelings are valid. While you may not agree with what is happening, however your child is feeling is her reality. Reflect back and restate to her what she says calmly.