ADHD and the Role Parents Play

ADHD and the Role Parents Play

 

ADHD and the Role Parents Play

 

Many parents wonder what role they should play in the lives of their child with ADHD. When answering an important question like this one, we like to start with the experts. In my professional readings, I often turn to the literature of Dr. Russell A. Barkley, PhD., a leading expert in the management of ADHD in children. He has a great perspective to start with when searching for insightful, research-based information around the struggles of children with attention problems and the challenges faced by their parents.

In his book, Taking Charge of ADHD: The Complete, Authoritative Guide For Parents, Dr. Barkley describes the role of the parent of a child with ADHD as that of a skilled executive, who acts as a team leader on behalf of the child, treating the child’s teachers, therapists, coaches or physicians as personal advisors. To assume this role fully, parents learn how to take on the headspace of a high-functioning executive, one who uses planning, prioritizing, problem solving and goal-setting skills to get the job done and ensure success for their child. In doing so, these parents (nicknamed “executive parents” by Dr. Barkely) develop their own confidence and fortify their roles as true case managers; ones who are in charge and ones who determine, to a great extent, how the care for their child takes shape.
 

Why Parents Need to Become Executive Parents

 

“Wait a second,” you might think, “Why this is role necessary when many children with learning and behavior problems already have case managers in the school system who consult with teachers, develop IEP goals and carry out recommendations? Isn’t that enough?” Ultimately, we find it is still the parents themselves who tend to be the best case managers of their children’s supports, as they are the ones who know the child best and can best advocate for their needs.

Parents who take on this executive role eventually learn to be proactive and are prepared to lead the way for other people involved in supporting their child over the long haul. Executive Parents understand that even though other individual children may be maturing faster and becoming more independent, children with learning and behavior challenges like Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and Specific Learning Disability (SLD) may struggle more than others their age, needing longer periods of parental support and management. These Executive Parents learn how to act as advocates, working with others to provide the resources that the child needs over time.

The Executive Parent that Dr. Barkley envisions also understands that only they can make their child’s success their number one priority. Of course, school personnel can provide special education services, physicians can provide medical consultations, tutors can provide academic support and coaches can assist with athletics – but in the end, it’s ideal if a parent can coordinate these services in a way that works for their child. That’s not to say that specialized and skilled professionals aren’t valuable, but they cannot replace the wisdom and dedication that parents bring to the table.

It’s important to note that while the image of a highly functioning executive may bring the image of a task master to mind, parents should instead aim to operate as a decision-maker and problem-solver on behalf of their child. The child is still viewed as a complete person, with skills, competencies, feelings and preferences of their own, and above all, the potential to succeed!
 

It’s Okay That You’re Still Learning

 

Learning these “Executive Parent” skills won’t come all at once, and that’s okay. The more you learn to take this role on, the more you will develop your voice, learn how to get the information you need, ask helpful questions, and make your feelings heard. Learning these skills over time will help create more clarity around which choices to make for your child, too. And over time, you can take your place walking alongside them, clearing the way for their best interests and taking your rightful place as their biggest fan.

I know that doing all of this as a parent is difficult. It can be overwhelming to take on this role with your child sometimes, and it can also be hard to understand the systems that your child is having to operate within through school and other activities. I’d love to be a help to you and your child as you navigate this together. If I can be of any help, please don’t hesitate to contact me.

Waiting To Hear What September Brings: Helping Our Pre-Teens and Teens Improve Executive Function During A Pandemic

Waiting To Hear What September Brings: Helping Our Pre-Teens and Teens Improve Executive Function During A Pandemic

One of my favourite things to do during my time as a teacher was to set up schedules for my classroom, plan out lessons and units, and help students stay on track with their learning and with their assignments. As a young mom back then, I thought it would be a good idea to use the same kind of set up at home with my own kids around scheduled feeding, sleep time, and play time. As my own kids grew and my role as a teacher of teens continued, I realized more and more that kids of all kinds thrive from structure, routine and predictability. All of these things help our kids with their executive function.

In school, teachers provide schedules, structures and routines to kids that, over time, become a way of life. The benefits of this kind of structured functioning became clear to me as my students and my own children entered the teenage years. In my roles as a mom and a teacher I was able to witness the advantages of good planning skills in teens firsthand, and the troubles that can arise for kids when organizational skills fall apart.

These kinds of planning skills are known as executive function skills (meaning the skills you need to execute tasks). What most parents and teachers don’t realize is that the full scope of executive function doesn’t just include planning and organizing, but also includes:

  • Getting started
  • Following through on tasks
  • Goal-directed persistence
  • Performance monitoring
  • Emotional regulation

With the latest research in neuropsychology, we’re discovering that it can take up to 25 years for executive skills to fully develop! In other words, executive skills are dependent on brain development over time. This development happens in the prefrontal cortex – the part of the brain just behind the forehead.

Once I started to learn more about executive skill development in kids and teens, I became particularly concerned about kids who had challenges with executive skills. These are the kids who underachieve because of weak skills in organization and time management, which in turn prevents them from working to their potential or achieving their goals. In many cases these kids have had chronic problems throughout school and may have developed a negative history there. Sometimes these kids have been labelled as lazy, irresponsible and not caring about their own success and achievement. These children are largely misunderstood. For kids with attentional disorders and learning challenges, these skills develop even more slowly and are more sensitive to disruption.
 

Stress and Executive Function Skills: Getting Through School Closure And Online Learning In The Time of A Pandemic

 
At the time of our school closures when typical schedules and routines disappeared, and teacher support for project completion, time management and organizational skills was unavailable, many students with weak or immature executive skills floundered. In fact, many students of all abilities, including high achieving students, struggled without the day-in, day-out support that teachers typically provide through face to face connections and organizational supports in classrooms.

Even more importantly, in times of stress (such as during the current pandemic), everyone’s executive skills are taxed. From a survival point of view, right now is the time when our brains are hard-wired to focus on the immediate needs in our environment and whatever is causing our stress. This in turn decreases the resources that usually get directed to executive skills, leading to reductions in working memory, emotional regulation, sustained attention and goal-related persistence – just to name a few!
 

When Kids Are Stretched And Stressed

 
During the pandemic, many parents are struggling to contain their own worries about jobs, lost income and health conditions related to the COVID-19 virus. When kids begin to understand what their parents are worrying about, they start to worry too. To add to the strain, the familiarity and routine of school as well as the many supports at school that provide security to students have disappeared. This support often includes nutrition breaks, feelings of love and belonging, and connections with teachers and peers who care for them.

Finally, increased expectations that kids manage their school work on their own when daily routines disappeared tended to overload many students and contributed to a significant amount stress and difficulty completing work. This stress can result in reduced mental resources that are normally devoted to executive function, causing significant difficulties for kids in coping emotionally and keeping up with learning at home.
 

How Can I Help As An Executive Skills Coach?

 
Moving forward, as we all wait to hear from our Education Minister regarding school opening plans, we can be thinking about how to best support kids in this upcoming school year, no matter what it brings. The best approach (at any time, but especially at a time like this) is to view executive functioning difficulties as obstacles, rather than character flaws or poor choices. If we approach kids using problem-solving strategies that include a sympathetic ear, trauma-informed practice (relationships matter!) and some open-ended questions and discussions, kids are more likely to work with us, do better and feel better.

Many parents regularly use coaching as an option when teens push back against attempts to teach new skills to help them manage the details of life. Coaching is a process that keeps the pressure and the meltdowns away from parents, preserves family relationships at a time when they matter most, and helps kids develop the skills they need to adapt to new realities with resilience.

Through coaching, kids can become the independent, self-sufficient individuals they want to be (and that their parents want to see), even during a pandemic.

As a coach, I work with kids to support their emotional health and well-being, help them identify their goals, and make daily plans to achieve them. This might include keeping up with assignments, advocating for accommodations at school, improving grades or even getting a job. I work hard to help kids feel autonomous and make important decisions about the goals that they want to work towards. At a time like this, our kids need a helping hand to navigate their way through very unsettling times, all the while keeping their eye on the prize – there is a way through this!

As a consultant, I offer advice and strategies to kids, leaving the final decisions in their hands! In this way, a pre-teen or teen’s success building small goals will build a base for achieving bigger goals over time. I firmly believe that with help, kids can overcome the hardships that have suddenly landed on them and feel proud of themselves for prevailing.

My role in the life of your child and your family in my practice at Alongside You is to offer support to help kids build executive function skills and feel successful, help your kids survive the pandemic and the continued upcoming changes in school life, and to help all of you stay connected and learn to rise above the current schooling challenges due to the pandemic.

If you would like to meet with me for a consultation regarding your child’s progress, please contact us and we will be in touch with you soon. Secure video appointments are a safe, kid-friendly space to meet virtually and shake-off the anxiety, despair and overwhelm and gain some ground as we approach our new normal at school.

Reach out for help, relieve worry and remember that a helping hand is what is most needed for kids at this time in order to feeling better, learn better and do better. I look forward to working with you and your kids!

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