Have you ever been walking into a grocery store with your ADHD kiddo thinking, “What is he going to do in here that is going to mortify me today??” And about 10 minutes later, you’re staring down at that same child in full-on ADHD meltdown mode in Aisle 5. She’s laying on the floor, yelling loudly, kicking, and screaming… maybe a few profanities thrown in for good measure… while other shoppers pass by, giving you those “isn’t-your-child-too-old-for-that” looks.
It never fails, right?
Or maybe you dread going to whatever team sport your kiddo is signed up for this season because every practice, without fail, your child does something WEIRD that makes his peers think he’s… well, just WEIRD!
You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you?
It makes no sense to you – or to anyone else! Because when your child is one-on-one, he’s sweet! He’s not weird. She’s not awkward. She’s intelligent, empathetic & skilled! And, frankly, you KNOW there is nothing she wants more than having genuine friendships and to be accepted.
So why in the world does she continue to behave in odd ways that completely ostracizes her from her peers?! Is she INTENTIONALLY self-sabotaging her dreams?
I’ll tell you what’s up… Because of his ADHD, your child lacks what Russell Barkley refers to as his “Mind’s Mirror,” or more simply, self-awareness. We all use our Mind’s Mirror to: (1) focus inward and monitor our own behavior (the “mirror”) and to (2) stop doing (or never start) inappropriate behaviors when it seems wise to do so. These are classic “inhibition” skills.
For all of us non-ADHD folk, we know our Mind’s Mirror is working because, for example, we are able to recognize that we are speaking at too high a volume in the library (or maybe you stopped yourself from speaking too loudly in the first place). We also realize that singing the most recent Adele song is something you can do in the shower, but not while paying for a new pair of shoes at Nordstrom.
But for your ADHD kiddo, think — Do you have to constantly remind your child to use their inside voice over and over and over and over… and over?! Does your child say completely inappropriate stuff to the check out lady? Does he have holy hell ADHD meltdowns right in the middle of a public place? Most kids would feel embarrassed by this behavior, but in the heat of the moment, yours doesn’t. He has absolutely no ability – zilch, zero – to turn the mirror on himself and inhibit or modulate his reaction based on his surroundings.
So let’s get real for a second. If your kid has ADHD and they do crazy sh*t in public all the time, they are behaving exactly as expected. Let me repeat… THEY ARE BEHAVING EXACTLY AS EXPECTED!
Let that one sink in for a moment.
So what do we do about it?
Our job as parents is to meet our your children where they are to help them do one of two things:
- develop their own Mind’s Mirror, and/or
- develop skills and tools to work around their lack of a Mind’s Mirror.
My husband often asks, “Why does he seem so anti-social? Why does he do things that make other people not like him or think he’s weird?!” If you’re finding yourself asking the same thing, I want you to walk away from this post with a new understanding. Your child was NOT born with and has NOT yet developed his Mind’s Mirror – his ability to self-monitor and change behavior based on the environment he is in.
In later posts, we’ll talk about really practical tools (the nitty-gritty, down-and-dirty ones) and more theoretical methods you can use to help them develop these skills, including things like the Social Thinking Theory.
For now, I want to leave you with two very important reminders that can help you help your kiddo in every interaction you have with him:
- Remember Your Child Cannot Help It — He Has An Invisible Disability.
- Plan Ahead for Sh*t To Go Down — Because It Will.
Remember that your child cannot help his ADHD meltdowns – he has a disability.
So often because ADHD is an “invisible” disability, parents become humiliated, angry, confused, and helpless. I get it! You wonder what other people think of you and your parenting skills when your child is making a scene in the middle of the football field.
But you need to know: this isn’t about you. It’s about your child, and in that moment when she’s embarrassing you the most, she needs you the most. She needs your help to learn HOW to pay more attention to her own behavior, figure out HOW to monitor it, and learn HOW to either inhibit the behavior before it starts OR stop doing it altogether.
And most importantly, we all know that a good parent provides their children exactly what they NEED. Even when other people don’t understand it.
Plan ahead for sh*t to go down.
Russell Barkley has a five-step plan in his book, Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete Authoritative Guide for Parents, which I’ve summarized here.
- Immediately, before you enter the place where all hell usually breaks loose, stop yourself and your child. It is super important that this happens immediately before you enter. For example in the driveway of the friends house, the parking lot of the store, or the lobby of the doctor’s office – not the night before, or even at the beginning of the drive over.
- Give your child only 2 or 3 rules that pertain to behaviors they often struggle with. Be specific. Vague directives like: “be good” are absolutely useless. An example of a specific rule I often use is, “Walk with one hand on my cart.” (It helps keeps his hands from wandering to the merchandise, keeps his emotions grounded, AND makes sure he never wanders off).
- Tell him the POSITIVE consequence he will receive for sticking to the rules, and – again – make it immediate (see a theme here?). It can be small – picking out a candy in the checkout line is a good rule, or we use Pokemon cards. Whatever will motivate your kid, focus on that.
- If there is a NEGATIVE consequence you need to use for behavior, tell him upfront what it will be. Don’t be overly threatening. A negative consequence needs to be swift and relevant. In all honesty, I try to stay away from this step if I can. My child becomes so worked up about what he might lose that he loses all ability to be successful in the moment.
- Follow through like an adult. If you said you would reward good behavior, let your child know frequently if she is doing well or doing poorly, and give her a reward or punishment swiftly and without emotion (definitely easier said than done!).
If these are good but you want to know what it actually looks like in real life, I’m developing descriptions and videos of behavior modification techniques that have worked for us! Stay tuned!
For now, comment below, send it to other parents you think it would benefit! Know you’re not alone, and please, please, please(!) take some time in the comments fill us in on what is works for you and your kiddo.
Together, we’ve got this!
P.S. Looking for more parenting strategies that work? Want someone to help you troubleshoot your particular concerns / child? Check out the Honestly ADHD parent coaching page!