As part of our Special Needs Survival series, I am going to be honing in on one of my son’s diagnoses: ADHD. Ezra was diagnosed almost 2 1/2 years ago now. We have undergone hours upon hours of behavioral therapy, and I want to share THE BEST tips we have learned along the way. Today, I’m going to share about the FOUR RULES we have for Ezra.
How to set your behavioral rules:
- Be short and sweet. Children with ADHD struggle with focus. Avoid “verbal flooding.” The less you give them to focus on, the better.
- Repetition is huge. Scaffolding and verbal prompts to HELP them remember and focus on their rules is key. Pick phrases that are short enough you can repeat in a split second to bring your child quickly back to a place of positive behavior. Then repeat them, ad nauseum.
- Be specific enough so that expectations are clear, but general enough that everything is covered. 10 rules is too many. Five rules might even be too many. That is why we have focused in on FOUR things we can do to help our child succeed. Every negative behavior that we deal with (other than lying, which we haven’t really encountered too much) is covered by our three rules.
Our FOUR Rules
Rule #1: Be Kind.
This covers both kind speech and kind actions. We use this rule to cover mouthing off, arguing, sharing, and aggressive behaviors.
Rule #2: Use Words. (From your mouth!) (In English!)
This rule covers how Ezra deals with frustration, as well as communicating his feelings, wants, and needs. If he wants us to do something for him, he has to use his words. If he wants attention, he has to use his words. If he’s upset at something, he has to use his words. If he’s explosively angry, he can tell us by using his words. This helps us work with him to not grunt, yell, or scream. It also helps us remind him to not bash or hit when he wants attention. It helps him with boundaries – so when he piles on my lap WHILE THE COMPUTER IS ON IT because he wants a hug, I set him down and say, “Use your words if you want something.”
(We had to add the “from your mouth” part, because he was trying to get around the rules by saying things in his head. And now that he speaks “1,000 languages,” we have also had to add in the “in English” caveat, because we just don’t know what no-ne-ne-no-no really means.)
Rule #3: Follow Instructions.
This covers obedience. This covers activities of daily living (getting dressed, brushing teeth, etc). This covers responding to authorities outside of the home (such as teacher or childcare workers).
Rule #4: Always Try
We added this rule most recently. Children with ADHD have very low frustration tolerance. Thus, when trying new things, they get very easily overwhelmed and may even have an outburst, or give up completely. Ezra has a perfectionistic streak where if he doesn’t think he will succeed at something, he might not even try. This newest rule is our way of telling him, “It’s okay if you can’t do it well, or can’t do it at all. But it’s not okay to not try.”
This also has helped us in adding new food to his diet. We are constantly putting new foods in front of him with the rule, “Always try.” He doesn’t have to eat all of it. He doesn’t have to like it. But he has to try.
More tips for using rules
- Repeat, repeat, repeat. Once you have your rules narrowed down, EVERY TIME you correct a negative behavior, use the rule to tie it all together.
- Display. If you have a reader, write them down and tape them to the wall. If you don’t have a reader, make a visual rule list with pictures to go along with each rule. This gives them a visual reminder of the rule as well as verbal reminders.
- Prompt him on the rules before outings or before being left at school or other childcare. We normally repeat the rules at dropoff everywhere we go, especially the YMCA where childcare workers and peers are more in flux. Example: “Ezra, make sure to be kind, use your words, follow instructions, and always try. If you get upset, use your words and tell a teacher, or find a quiet corner to help you calm down.”
That’s really how we handle much of the behavior problems with face related to ADHD within the home. It isn’t an overnight fix-all solution. But it will aid you as the parent in being consistent in dealing with your child.