For some reason, the question posed above is one that more people seem to be asking nowadays. My friend, for example, has a 5-year-old first grader. He’s a great boy: funny, smart, sociable, has tantrums when he doesn’t get his way, argues with his little sister, does not listen to his mother, and loves to play, watch movies, and spend time with his toys. My friend will sometimes yell when he doesn’t listen right away. And he may not always sit still, but when he’s in front of the TV he will. Sound familiar?
Her neighbor says that he has “all the signs of ADD/ADHD.” In my opinion, we all have a little attention-deficit/attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADD/ADHD) in us. During a long seminar, we doodle, watch the clock, get antsy, etc. I won’t go into detail about what ADD/ADHD entails. The details aren’t really the point, anyway.
I spoke with my friend again recently. Her son is going miniature golfing as a reward for behaving in school. “Maybe he does not need medication after all?” she said. I replied that medication can help if it’s needed, but that she found something her son is interested in and wants to shoot for—and when he gets it, he will be more aware of what he can achieve when he sets his mind to it.
There are a lot of factors in parenting and raising children. Yes, genetics are looked at, but also the home, school, peers, and other social areas. Each child may respond differently when he/she is interacting with a different person. We all do, in a way. Each child likes different things, responds to different things, and will “work” for different things. When those “things” are found, it’s a good thing. Parents want their children to be internally motivated, but external motivation helps. The employed among us receive a paycheck every now and then; there’s our reward.
If you have a child not unlike my friend’s son, he or she probably is on the right development track. We all age and go through various stages of growth that are influenced internally and externally—from home, in school, via genetics, etc. How the child is disciplined (taught, shaped) also matters. If a parent believes yelling will move the child to act, the child might very well wait until he/she is yelled at to do something. He might even yell back. The cycle can continue.
What have I told my friend as she has shared her struggles?
- You do not have to yell for your child to do something. If you “have to” yell, your child taught you to. Kids are smart. If they know that if they wait long enough you will pick up after them, they are going to wait. The child is then training the parent. When you make the decision not to yell, you begin to find more creative ways of instilling the desired behavior, such as counting, giving a predictable consequence, encouraging with rewards, and so on.
- Follow through with what you say. If you tell your child that he cannot watch TV until he picks up his toys, follow through. If he does not pick up his toys, he does not watch TV—even if other family members are watching. He may not like it, but he chose not to pick up his toys. You do not need to do it for him. When he does pick up his toys, he can watch something, assuming there is still time. If he waited too long to follow directions, then that is a good lesson.
- Be consistent. Kids want to know where the line is. They may not say they want boundaries or to be punished, but they know they do. If you sometimes say “no” and sometimes “yes” or follow through sometimes and other times don’t, the child may not trust or be able to predict what you will do. When the child knows that if he does not pick up the toys he cannot watch TV, it’s less for you to say or remind him.
- Find something that the child is interested in. This may change as the child ages. If he or she likes Legos, dolls, or playing chess, use that as a reward. When the child comes up with something to work toward, he or she is taking ownership of it and you will find out more of what his or her interests are.
- You and your spouse should be on the same page. This helps with consistency in parenting.
Let’s say there is progress with the child’s behavior but he or she still has difficulty staying still, focusing, and controlling temper, or has issues with sleep or self-control. This can indicate that the child may not be able to have self-control on his or her own.
Medication can help calm the brain so it can process better, but it is not the end-all, be-all. If a child needs medication, he or she will still need to follow the rules or face consequences, and the parents will still need to be consistent.
If your child does need medication, make sure you and your spouse are both on board, adhere to the above suggestions for healthier parenting, and remember to allow your child to rise to his or her abilities. Even with medication, he/she can still learn, grow, and mature.
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