Discipline and ADHD Child, Part 1: Not Feeling the Joy!
A couple of weeks ago I got an invitation to a baby naming. The invitation said, “Please join us as we name our sweet joy providing angel”. I was thrilled for the young couple, but just a little worried about the parents' expectations. Here’s the million-dollar question. Why do we choose to become parents? To feel joy? To produce angels?
Let’s consider for a moment that little joy provider has another agenda. He may decide to be difficult sometimes, make a mess often, embarrass his parents in public. Kids are very young people who have little life experience, poor manners, even worse hygiene, lots of charm and explosive potential. Kids do not show up to give us joy.
So, what’s the point? Are we mad?
Consider the process for a moment. The baby shows up totally dependent. That forces us parents to leave our comfort zone and bond completely with this pure being. The relationship gets launched immediately. The ‘terrible twos’ really rev us up for the teen years lurking round the corner. If we are paying attention, we start to gain some skills like selflessness, self-control, reasoning, perseverance, negotiating within pain and rejection maturely. We sign up for the long haul, we are fully responsible, there are no exit signs. In sort, raising our children is not about fun, pride and joy (although there are many glimpses of these throughout), it is about encountering meaning for the first time, engaging in a selfless process of very demanding work, loaded with challenge and sacrifice, and bonding fully with another. The joy emerges within us through the tiny and huge achievements along the way.
OK, now we know why we signed up. What do they get out of this arrangement?
We frequently hear that our job as parents is to help our kids be happy and build their self-esteem. Sounds nice, but as it turns out, this advice is a trap. The subtext is ‘keep your child happy by fulfilling his desires and shield him from pain and discomfort’. We are told to go easy on discipline and never let our little ones fail. Wait! How can that be? If our complex journey of raising them leads us toward meaning and joy, how can coddling and fixing lead them in the same direction? As adults, when we reflect on our most joyful and life changing moments, were they not ALL rewards for our hard work and commitment?
This reminds me of the enormous final project my daughter was assigned as a high school art major. Since she was a duel major, she decided that the project was causing too much pressure, and after three years of art class she was going to drop the major. No way! I said lovingly. We spent many long hours planning. There was some crying, anger and unfun hard work on her part. And then the project was complete, and it was beautiful. What a magnificent achievement. The glow on my daughter’s face as she presented her project proudly at the exhibition is burned in my memory. I asked her how she felt. She said, “I have never been so happy!”.
Did I make her happy? Nope! I may have even caused her considerable discomfort. If my goal was an instant happy experience, or even shielding her from failure, I would never have pushed her to persevere. It would have thrilled her in the moment to drop art. But then she would have missed the entire process of tapping into her wellspring of creativity, pushing herself to work hard, experiencing the deep joy of her own personal success, and learning responsibility by completing the course. Discipline for ADHD kids is challenging, and challenge brings growth. Happiness and a strong self-esteem come from within, we can’t infuse it by proxy. By choosing the challenging route, my daughter found happiness, I was simply her guide.
Here is an excellent video on this topic by DrTwersky.
I think most of us understand the achievement process when raising a ‘normative’ child. What happens when Mr. touch everything, bother siblings, impossible to discipline shows up? He is also sweet and sensitive, but we’re not feeling the joy! We’re feeling exhausted and have no clue how to proceed. We punish, make all sorts of empty threats and bribe him to get moving with promises of exciting activities to follow all chores. We hear from all around, treat him sensitively, accommodate, don’t expect too much. Gentle whispers say keep this kid happy, he's different, he's got ADHD. Why do we buy this story?
In this series we will examine the many causes of ADHD behavior. The first few essays examine the “instant gratification” personality and how to discipline ADHD child. Why do we buy this story??
1. We have been told by his teachers and doctors that due to his neurological disorder he is limited. His brain is wired differently. They add that it would be unfair and painful to put excess demands on him.
2. It is SO hard to raise him, we begin to believe their story in order to make sense of the situation.
3. As good parents, we don’t want to force him to do something he can’t, causing him to suffer.
We are not being told the truth. He's not limited! His challenge probably derives from his “instant gratification” personality. He is the person who has bursts of inspiration, seeks a great time, craves experiences that are vibrant, feels everything with all his senses, has fantastic ideas. The inventor, the artist, the scientist… Also, the procrastinator (when the activity is not engaging, or he is not sure where to start), the transition phobic (when he is engaged in something awesome, and we are demanding that he shift to something less enticing), the demander of all attention (getting ALL the attention is hugely gratifying), the disorganized mess (cleaning and organizing requires engaging in the same boring activity daily in order to develop habits), the routine resistant (routines directly clash with novelty) and the highly impulsive (excitement is more important than caution so caution is thrown to the wind).
If accommodated, he may become an angry frustrated underachieving terror. Right now, he is raw potential. He has as much potential as the little agreeable kids we so wish he would be like. Is he really disordered?
We are born with our personality fully loaded, we're much like our closest blood relatives. No personality type is superior to another, but some work better in some contexts and others in different contexts. Therefore we must depend on each other to succeed. For example, an organized, compliant child would flourish in school. How well would he fare in a competitive job that demands a lot of out of the box creative thinking? An instant gratification kid struggles in school, but in that same competitive job, he would shine. Both types must be raised to enhance their natural talents and develop their weaker ones.
We fail dismally when we try to raise “instant gratification” child as if he were “agreeable” kid. He’s not! And that’s good. Let’s get to know him better.
Introducing… Mr. “instant gratification”! He needs strong instant feedback all the time. Any strong response will be rewarding. If we get excited about his newest invention, great. If he bothers his younger sister and she lets out a crazy ear numbing shriek, even more fantastic. How about if we jump in and yell at him, escort him to his room and hold the door closed. We nailed it! Best reward ever. The reason we struggle so much to discipline this child, is because we are disciplining with too much energy, being too generous with the commodity he so craves.
He’s not happy, we’re not happy.
Since our yelling or loud criticism is inadvertently rewarding our “instant gratification” kid and reinforcing his ability to get the negative feedback in a heartbeat, it’s time to STOP! Easier said then done.
Let’s get working on developing the skill set needed to raise this beautiful child, this “instant gratification” son or daughter gracefully. Together we will pave the path toward happiness for parent and child.
Stay tuned for “Skill number one: Becoming a ‘Mental Discipline’ Gold Medalist”