Attention Talk Radio Host, Jeff Copper, is an ADHD Coach and a leading interviewer in the ADHD world. In this interview Jeff shares HIS perspectives on parenting in the realm of ADHD.
Elaine: Jeff, if there was a magic wand to help make things easier for parents who are raising ADHD kids, what do you think it would be?
Jeff: We all want our kids to pay attention to the right thing. When they’re young, it’s easy to direct their attention. When puberty hits, the brain chemicals that are being released are designed to transform your child to become independent. Directing them becomes less effective because they’re trying to explore and become their own selves.
As a parent, we love them, we want the best for them, and we want them to pay attention to the “right” things. But, at the end of the day, nature’s against us. The trick to parenting is to relax and realize that you can’t actually direct their attention. The best that you can do is to create an environment that allows them to discover what is important to them.
Elaine: Is there a right thing for ADHD kids to pay attention to?
Jeff: Not really. As a parent, you want to create an environment for your kids to make their choices. It’s a paradigm shift. Instinctively, we want to direct our kids and protect them from harm. The challenge is to teach them to discover for themselves.
It’s really a coach-like opportunity for parents. You can ask questions that encourage them to consider their choices. They may or may not choose to consider your question. You can’t control that. But. In that moment, as they are making their own discoveries, you’ll be much more effective than you would have been by telling them what to do, or what not to do.
Jeff: Telling kids what to do and how to do it doesn’t work for kids with ADHD. Your child will do much better when s/he discovers how s/he organizes herself, or keeps time, or what s/he’s interested in.
Letting go is really hard for parents, because you can’t control what happens. When you do let go, and make that paradigm shift in your mind, it’s a completely different approach to parenting. You have less control, but in the long run, its more effective, so long as you’re involved in your child’s life.
Elaine: So long as you’re involved in your child’s life?
Jeff: I learned something as a Boy Scout leader. It has less to do with loving your child, and more to do with paying attention to your child.
Elaine: What’s the difference?
Jeff: We’re social people, and we all like to be the object of attention. As a parent, if you’re paying attention to your child, it makes them feel good. Loving them is important, but you can’t let it replace the burden we have of paying attention to them.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s really hard! It’s important to pay attention to your kids, but it’s often difficult for us to stop and listen to them. When they want to talk, it’s usually ill-timed.
But if you can listen to them, and pay attention the way they want to be paid attention to, you’re in a better position when they are older. They’ll be more apt to listen to you, to take your questions and think about them. When you haven’t been paying attention, it’s easy for a teenager to discount what you say and blow it off.
Elaine: You’ve talked a lot about creating an environment, and a paradigm shift. How can parents do that? Tell us the 3 most useful things parents can do.
- Pay attention to your kids. Subtly coach them by spending time, asking questions and modeling behavior. Listen to what they say they want and need, and what’s important to them.
- Create a coach-like environment for them – part parent, part coach — to discover that if they fail, they can learn from it. “Failing Forward” is a fundamental coaching principle. Don’t get in the way of their failures – try to encourage them at an early age. It’s easier to learn and recover at 5 than it is at 15 or 25.
- It’s counter-intuitive, but practice letting go of your need to control what they do, and how they do it. The more you let go of what you think is your agenda, the better. For example, if you don’t want your kid to get in trouble, the most effective way to help him/her is to back-off of the little items, and help him/her learn how to establish personal control. (This is particularly hard for parents who are high functioning with ADHD themselves, and tend to be really controlling.)
Elaine: Got any last thoughts?
Jeff: If you do a good job with those 3 things, then your kids will make better choices for themselves, and ultimately do what you want them to do. It’s counter-intuitive.
- You have to let go of control to gain control.
- They have to learn to fail in order to succeed.
- The harder it is for them to pay attention, the more important it for you to pay attention to them.
That’s the trick.