An ADHD diagnosis can be alarming, upsetting, frightening. “What's wrong with my child?” we wonder in fear. It's no laughing matter. Or, is it?
We hate feeling scared about our children's future. But what do we want instead? What's the opposite of scared? Calm? Brave?
I suggest it's laughing. Laughing or fearful; amused or anxious; gasping for air, or paralyzed with fright.
Pick one. You simply cannot be both at the same time.
Laughter may seem frivolous or silly, but it's actually crucial for well-being.
It is inclusive, and it reduces fear.
Any good screenwriter understands this relationship between fear and laughter. For example, the star of the monster movie tiptoes through the empty house, flashlight flickering. She hears a creak, spins around, and is jumped by none other than her mischievous cat, Muffin! We laugh, relieved. Nothing to be afraid of...
We actually turn to each other -- laughter is a shared experience, after all. Then a shadow falls over the star, as she bends to pick up her cat, and then…we scream…
When fear vanishes, we laugh. Laughter is freedom. It's liberating. It connects us. What a powerful life tool!
You cannot be afraid when you are laughing. It's why the most trusted public figures are comedians who speak the truth: Johnny Carson, Bill Cosby, Jon Stewart.
When we experience fear as individuals, even in a crowded room, we focus on ourselves. Our body chemistry changes. Our mindset narrows. Even our peripheral vision disappears.
When we laugh, we open up. We expand. This is important, because there is so much fear around ADHD. (Pointless, misguided fear, based on misinformation, lack of understanding, or stigma. But that's another story.
In the world of ADHD, we can use humor as a sword or a shield. We can playfully attack those we think deserve to be mocked (think Jon Stewart or Steven Colbert); or defend our selves from the slings and arrows hurled at us (think Ellen DeGeneres or David Letterman).
I'm not suggesting that you do a Rodney Dangerfield standup routine for your child. “Hey, I tell ya, I don't get no respect with my ADHD. Just once I'd like to arrive at a meeting while it's still happening...”
But you can lighten up. Relax. Smile, for heaven's sake. There's no monster in the closet. Learn what ADHD is, what can be done, and focus on hope and strengths. Get the help you need, and find strategies that work.
For some of you, ‘lightening up' may be a huge challenge. But it has a big payoff. Because, try as you may to hide your concern, doubts, regret, anger, and helplessness... well, I'm sorry, but you're not that good an actor. Your child knows. Kids pick it up.
So how do you lighten up around a serious and potentially scary ‘mental disorder'?
- Make life fun.
Every day.Don't make your life entirely about ADHD. Look, ADHD is going to be there anyway, whether you're playing a game of Balderdash with your kids, visiting relatives, or doing homework. So make it fun. And for goodness sake, don't make it ‘educational fun.' I'm sorry, Flash Cards are not fun. Yes, they're more enjoyable than multiplication tables, but who are you kidding? Keep it simple and go for joyful, silly fun: Try Hungry Hippo with it's silly, infectious energy. That will keep things from getting too serious.
- Teach your kids to fail forward.
Keep a big picture perspective. If a child is upset about something, acknowledge the upset, and reframe it. Everyone fails at things. Everyone struggles. It's just ADHD kids can fail more often, and feel it more deeply. But hey, the best hockey team in the world scores 3 goals on 30 shots. What makes them the best is that they learn from every missed shot, as well as every goal. And they keep taking more shots.
So, allow your kids to fail, learn from it and move on. I highly recommend they find a hobby, a skill that offers endless victories. With me it was magic. Every time I learned a new sleight of hand was exciting. I had a secret power! Find something that they find fun, challenging, and simple enough to see improvement.
- Lighten up about yourself.
Kids follow your lead, so be the change you want to see in the world. If you realize you're being too serious, let it go. But don't get down on bended knee, look your seven-year-old in the eye, and confess, “Forgive me, my little one. I have control issues, compounded by fears about the future of the economy let alone the future of the planet...”
Instead, smack your forehead, roll your eyes, and shout, “Mommmmmy! You need to lighten up! You know what's the best way to overcome worrying? Making funny faces!” (Okay, that's just what I'd do, but you get the idea.)
With ADHD in the family, you're going to have your fair share of mess-ups, and worry, and upsets. Try to remember that each upset is not the end of everything. My dad said, ‘Someday you'll look back at this and laugh.' I figure, why wait? Go ahead and start laughing now!