The Divide and Conquer Routine

Phelan

When they get married, most moms and dads—especially moms—have a certain idea of what they hope their family life will be like. Often they imagine pleasant scenes of family togetherness. The children will play and enjoy one another. Mom and dad will get a kick out of the kids’ activities, and take pleasure in one another’s reactions. They will feel family unity, warmth and joy. 

Then, along came ADHD. These little bits of imagined interpersonal heaven did not seem to materialize as often as expected. The brief patches that did occur were often marred by anticipatory anxiety, or shattered by angry explosions.

It turns out, the famous, “The more the merrier” doesn’t always apply. When ADHD is involved, it seems, the more people who get together in one place at one time, the greater the chances for aggravation, noise and conflict.

This unwanted situation is sad but true for many parents. To some extent, in families where ADHD is present, the dream of a congenial, peaceful and enjoyable family may need to shift. Parents need to change their expectations to meet the realities of life with ADHD.

Mom says to dad, for example, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we took the kids to Disney World?” His honest answer might really be, “No, it would not be fun. The kids would probably fight on the plane, in the rental car and in the hotel room. When we’d have to decide what to do, no one would be able to agree. Sit down meals would be a chore, and our ADHD son would want to buy everything he saw. The whole experience would make him overly excited, and his tantrums would become even more frequent than they are now.”

Now, there are many ways for parents to get the training and coaching they need to address these challenges and make lasting changes for their families. When ADHD is involved, positive interactions between family members are possible. But when the whole family is together, sometimes it helps to Divide and Conquer. 

With the Divide and Conquer Routine, we take advantage of a useful and proven fact about ADHD kids: These kids are much more manageable in one-on-one situations. So we recommend that the family group be divided up, when necessary or appropriate. This strategy is a tremendous help when it comes to encouraging upbeat and enjoyable interpersonal interactions, and can actually foster healthier relationships between parent and child.

There are numerous ways to apply the Divide and Conquer Routine. For example, imagine a family of four in a fast food hamburger place. If they have no ADHD children, they can sit at the same table and probably enjoy themselves reasonably well. But let’s imagine they have one ADHD child and one non-ADHD child. After getting their food, they might split up for a while, allowing the child with ADHD to avoid sibling distractions and eat his/her food. As one parent takes one child to one table, while the other parent takes the other child to another table (preferably out of sight of the first one), everyone will enjoy their meals. It’s important that the ADHD child not feel stigmatized, but that the decision is matter-of-fact, simply made to enable everyone to get a meal completed in a reasonable amount of time (with a minimum amount of drama).

Here’s another example. Let’s imagine that a couple with an ADHD son and an ADHD/LD daughter do decide to take the kids to Disney World. They can use the Divide and Conquer method to make things run more smoothly. On the ride to the airport, one child sits in the front and one in the back. On the plane, mom and daughter sit in seats 23 E and F, while dad and son sit in seats 17 A and B. In the motel room, both kids use sleeping bags. One child sleeps on the floor on one side of the king size bed and the other child sleeps on the floor on the other side of the bed. While at the park, mom takes one youngster for the morning and dad takes the other. The family meets for lunch, maybe sitting at adjacent tables. Then parents and kids switch partners for the afternoon.

Sound a bit weird? Maybe it is—but it works. Divide and Conquer certainly does not mean you give up all whole-family activities. That’s impossible, and not why you had more than one child in the first place! But it will mean the people in your family will have more opportunities to sincerely enjoy one another. I guarantee it.

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