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Each year, we take our son to have a vision examination. Every year, for the past three years, he has needed a change of lenses. His vision has changed, and the glasses just weren’t working for him anymore. Parents of children with ADHD and trauma often feel as though the “traditional parenting lens” they use to see their child’s behavior is not working. They wonder what they are doing wrong and ask the question: Can there be any way to help our child manage his outbursts? The good news is: YES! But it starts with understanding the assumptions underlying traditional parenting techniques and grasping onto a new lens through which we can view our child’s behavior.

1. Kids do well when they can.

Traditional parenting techniques usually divide into two categories: rewards and consequences. But underlying rewards and consequences is an assumption about our child’s behavior: Kids do well when they want to. If we operate with that assumption, then we believe that finding the right motivator is the key to behavior. But parents of ADHD and trauma kiddos know that our kids want to do well. And honestly, who wouldn’t? So what’s the alternative lens through which we can view our kid’s behavior? It’s the belief that kids do well when they can. When we view our child’s maladaptive behavior through this lens, the question is no longer “Why is he/she being so manipulative/bratty/bull-headed/etc.” Instead it changes to “What is preventing my child from doing well?” To better understand that, we need to understand how the brain works.

2. Keep the Brain in Mind

When a person feels threatened or stressed, the amygdala in the brain begins to produce cortisol. This is the fight/flight/freeze hormone in our brain. For kids with ADHD, the sensitivity to threat or stress can be heightened. So what seems to us as not a big deal may very well be a big deal to them. This happens particularly when the child has an unmet need (hunger, feeling safe, feeling loved, etc.) or a lagging skill (inflexible thinking, understanding social cues, etc.). Because of this stress, cortisol is released, and it blocks access to the thinking part of our brain called the frontal lobe. This is where cause and effect resides. So just about the time you’re disciplining your child and saying, “Because you screamed at me you’re in time out,” your child’s brain cannot receive that input, and the teaching is lost on the child. So, what do we do in the meantime?

3. Learn to calm yourself and your child, not correct.

When your child is in a meltdown is not the time to try and teach the child or correct the child’s behavior. The child is in a dysregulated state, and the goal is to help the child get regulated.

Ways to do this include:

  • Deep breathing
  • Speaking slowly
  • Naming and validating the emotions your child may be feeling (“I would be angry too right now.”)
  • Not isolating the child but staying with them.
  • When your child is calm, create a “calming plan” and offer it when meltdowns happen.

This is not an exhaustive list, but it will begin to help you create a plan to help you remain calm in the midst of the storm.

When our children are in the middle of a meltdown, it is normal to let our emotions take over too. We have to choose to think and respond, rather than just feel and react. Remember, your kid wants to do well, but sometimes their brain won’t let them. It’s our job to help them identify what’s preventing them from doing well and work through it so they can. When our traditional “lenses” aren’t working, it’s time for new ones.

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Jared and DeAnn Jennette started Embrace Parent Coaching to help parents of adopted children or other children with trauma and a diagnosis of ADHD, SPD, or other
“alphabet soup” diagnoses. For more information and coaching on “changing your lenses,” contact them at Embraceparentcoaching.com

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