Strategies. Coping strategies. ADD-mitigating strategies. Great words. They seem loaded with promise. “Wow, I wanna get more strategies, to crush my ADHD, so I can do better at school, be a better parent, advance in my career – and ultimately be happier!”
We all want strategies, right? Would that it were that simple!
Don’t get me wrong. We SHOULD care about strategies and seek to adopt new ones, because strategies are the pivot points to new behaviors and new opportunities. They’re how we change course, how we carve new pathways in our brains (literally), and how we grow.
Healthy habits that make our lives better (e.g., brushing our teeth regularly or hanging our keys in the same place every day so we don’t lose them) are simple strategies that are “action-ized.” Whether we learn them from authority figures, or take them out of a book or article, it’s the action that makes them a habit.
In the world of ADHD parents and parents with ADD/ADHD kids, there are two problems with “strategies.” First, a strategy is useless as long as it sits on a website or as a note in your notepad. It’s just a strategy. It might be a nicely worded one — even an inspiring one — but if the inspiration doesn’t result in perspiration, it’s still sitting on that screen or piece of paper, NOT changing your life.
I mean, if you were putting every strategy you ever read or heard into action, you’d be the most successful, happiest, sexiest ADDer (or parent of an ADDer) on the planet! And if your kids had put all the strategies you’d “taught” them into play, we wouldn’t be having this virtual conversation, now would we?
Speaking of our kids, here’s the second problem with “strategies.” Kids — even (sometimes especially) teens — don’t necessarily understand the concept of a strategy. They see strategy as yet another order issued from the tyrant above. It’s no different from “Clean your room!” It’s a string of words from mom, or a teacher, or an older sibling. They’re not exactly screaming, “Yeh, Dad, gimme some more o’ those STRATEGIES!”
So, with this understanding of the barriers to strategy action-ization, let’s look at how to turn strategy into reality for yourself and your kids.
Step 1. Start with awareness of the problem and what you’re trying to achieve. Fully flesh out the magnitude and costs of the problem, and identify the benefits of the successful implementation of a coping strategy.
Step 2. Add buy-in. Buy-in has two parts.
- First, get a clear UNDERSTANDING about why the strategy exists – the problem it’s trying to solve or the weakness it’s trying to compensate for.
- Second, embrace the validity of the strategy. You gotta BELIEVE that it will work, or you won’t have any interest in putting it into action.
Step 3. Sprinkle in large doses of motivation. It comes in all shapes, sizes and flavors. It’s a critical ingredient, even though it changes with each application.
Step 5. Remind yourself that it’s your choice. View strategies as Will Do’s (I WILL do this today, and tomorrow, and…). not as Have To’s (“Dang, I HAVE to do this!”).
Step 1. Have the conversation about awareness in a non-pedantic way. State the problem clearly, and what could be achieved with the strategy. Again, it’s not enough to just issue the advice, “Do THIS! Start doing THAT!”
Step 2. Since awareness alone won’t cut it, you need to get to BUY-IN to persuade your child that it’s worth the effort. Talk about how a strategy you adopted works for you every day. It doesn’t have to be the same strategy you’re trying to teach, though that’s helpful.
Step 3. Cement the buy-in by being clear about YOUR motives. Your kid’s perception of YOUR motivation makes a difference. If your motivation is something s/he cares about (rather than all about what YOU want), it can inspire them. For example, “I care about your future – and I want you to kick @$$. I think this might help” is sure to get at least a smile.
Step 4. Your child’s motivation is a key ingredient for success. Focus on the results of using the strategy – results for your CHILD, not for you! Just as your child may not share your reasons for wanting to use a new structure, you don’t have to agree with his/her reasons, either.
Step 5. If your child has trouble identifying a motivation, then create one together. It’s okay to offer something tangible. What might look like bribery to typical kids is actually a motivation technique for kids with ADD/ADHD. Without enough incentive, their brains have a really hard time getting activated.
Step 6. Delicately apply nurturing nudging. Once a strategy is being taken seriously, there’s the need to water that sprout until it has some deep roots. And you don’t have to be Dr. Phil to know that this could be a simple matter of, “You GO, kiddo!” Do it early and often.
Bottom line: you need to be willing to “have the convo with the kids” (as well as with yourself). You need to fill in the blanks, walk them through the steps to success, and help them stay motivated along the way. Needless to say, success will breed success.
So don’t ever stop exploring and adopting new strategies. And try not to get discouraged when your kids seem to refuse to use them. Remember, it’s hard for their brains to adopt new strategies, so show them some compassion, and keep at it! (Hey, that sounds like a good strategy…)