Counseling 101: Supporting your ADD/ADHD child.

Picture this: you’re driving your child to his third day of school. The day started off like most other days—you struggled to wake little Johnny, he stumbled aimlessly around his room for what seems like hours before you finally went in there to make sure he didn’t need help finding the kitchen. Miraculously, he made it to the breakfast table where he stood next to his chair and picked all the marshmallows out of his bowl of Lucky Charms. It was only when you were waiting in the carpool line that you realized he had two different shoes on. Oh well, you think to yourself. He was fine last time this happened! This sound familiar to anyone? I think it’s safe to say that 99% of parents have been in this situation with their child. However, when this type of inattentive or hyperactive behavior begins to interfere with a child’s academic, social, and family life, a larger problem may be to blame.

It seems as though every “difficult” kid is being diagnosed with ADD or ADHD these days. According to Healthline Network, the American Psychiatric Association (APA) says that 5% of American children have ADHD while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) puts that number at 11%. That’s an increase of 42% in only eight years. Crazy, right? So what the heck is going on? There are LOTS of theories about the prevalence of ADD/ADHD being on the rise in the U.S. including additives in our foods, air pollution, genetics, and my personal favorite, bad parenting (sarcasm…). I work with children who have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD every day and their parents are some of the most attentive, nurturing, encouraging, and consistent parents that I’ve ever come across. Parenting has little to do with it if we’re talking about true Attention Deficit Disorder. It may, however, have something to do with it if a child doesn’t listen to mom because she never follows through on behavioral consequences. Now, I’ll step off my soapbox and throw some facts about ADD/ADHD at you…

  • ADHD has a male to female incidence ratio of 6:1.
  • Secondary problems of language learning, visual-motor skills, handwriting, and self-control often coexist with ADHD.
  • Symptoms of ADHD typically first appear between the ages of 3 and 5.
  • Boys and girls display very different ADHD symptoms. Boys’ symptoms often include acting out, hyperactivity such as running and hitting, lack of focus, and physical aggression. Girls’ symptoms often appear more internal: being withdrawn, low self-esteem, anxiousness, intellectual impairment and difficulty in the classroom, tendency toward daydreaming, and verbal aggression such as teasing or taunting.
  • In early childhood, kiddos with ADHD often display a difficult temperament and sensitivity to typical stimuli. They also may have had a confused wake/sleep cycle.

Whatever your child’s specific situation may be, if you are concerned about him or her displaying symptoms/behaviors associated with ADHD, get it checked out! Many health care providers are able to diagnose ADHD, but use good judgement. We utilize standardized rating scales and computerized assessments, reports from teachers and other caregivers, a thorough developmental history, and a diagnostic interview with both the parents and the child in order to determine if a child has ADHD. Make sure that whomever evaluates your child obtains all the necessary information needed to make (or not) a diagnosis. In the mean-time, here are the 10 Golden Rules for Parents of Kids with ADD according to Dr. Russell Barkley:

  1. Make the rules specific and clear—post them in writing.
  2. Use rewards that are powerful and meaningful to the child.
  3. Give feedback often… let them know how they’re doing!
  4. Help them anticipate and plan for what’s coming up.
  5. Expect that they will have good days and bad days.
  6. Use positives and praise more than negatives… or punishments.
  7. Keep in mind that we are dealing with a biological problem… NOT a character defect!
  8. “Act—don’t yak!” don’t talk too much, respond with behavior.
  9. Maintain a sense of humor… be patient!
  10. Forgive your child AND yourself… you are all in this together, and trying your best.

The hurried child: Are you willing to swim upstream?

As August moves forward, school settles into a familiar rhythm and the pace of family life quickens. School. Practices. Foreign languages. Clubs. Tutors. Private lessons. Games. Church activities. Homework. And the list goes on…and on…and, well, you get the picture. Our homes ring with the words, “Hurry up, we’ll be late” and we rush our kids from one activity to the next. We zip through the drive-thru and throw processed food at our kids as they attempt to finish homework in the backseat. We sacrifice their nutrition and our own sanity to the rush of one more practice or game or commitment. As parents, we have a choice to make: do we follow along with our hurried culture and sign our children up for yet one more activity (who said peer pressure vanished with high school?!) or, do we swim upstream?

Many modern day American parents have fallen victim to this underlying system of beliefs: My children deserve to be happy and successful. It is my job to make them happy and successful. If I give my child more “opportunities” (also known as classes, lessons, tutors, etc.) to obtain experience and knowledge they will be more likely to grow up to be happy and successful and I will have done my job. If we (and I definitely include myself here!) as adults recall the most happy, carefree days of our own childhood it is likely that those memories do not involve structured, organized “opportunities”, but rather (gasp!) unstructured free play with friends and/or siblings. Our children today are stressed-out, over-scheduled, and under-played.

Research is overwhelmingly in support of slowing down the pace of our children’s daily lives and of giving them back the chance to get bored, to find something to do on their own and to relish in pretend play. I could name book after book written by prestigious authors who support this notion, but, at the end of the day it comes down to this: Are we, as parents, willing to swim upstream? It is hard work. It can be exhausting. It is not fun or easy to hold to a different set of beliefs from our culture (pesky peer pressure again!). Are we willing to stand our ground and say “no” to countless “opportunities” that present themselves to us time and time again? Are we willing to listen to our kids bickering and fighting as they attempt to plow through their own boredom to find something to do? It is far easier to sit in the bleachers checking your own email as your child runs up and down the basketball court than to stick it out at home on a Saturday morning as your child struggles to find a new mode of entertainment. Remember, we have created this culture of hurriedness for our children and they will have to “detox” and adjust as we slow the pace.

Okay, you are still with me so I will assume you might be willing to swim upstream. How do we do this in a practical way?

  • Just say NO! Limit your children to one or maybe two activities at a time, depending on their age. If it is soccer season and your child really wants to be on the team, go for it! But let that be the activity for that season. I will warn you, and I speak from experience here, this is hard. There will be times when you think you are depriving your child of the chance to be the next Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Julie Andrews before he or she turns 10. You worry that you are not helping your child find his or her “thing.” Hang in there. It gets easier.
  • Unplug on a regular basis. Have technology-free time as a  family: play a board game together, go for a walk, collect items and make a collage or sculpture, take turns asking each other “what if” questions (What if you could jump into a book…which book would you jump into and why?), bake something yummy and share it with a neighbor.
  • Make family dinners a priority. The research here is so strong! Families who eat a meal together on a regular basis have kids who perform better in school and hold up under peer pressure when it comes to big stuff like drugs, alcohol, and sex.
  • Fight the urge to plan every moment. Allow for chunks of time in your child’s day that are not filled with activities and events.
  • Resist the urge to buy every latest and greatest toy or electronic gadget. Provide your child with toys that encourage open-ended play: blocks, blank paper and crayons/paints/markers, play-doh or clay, dress up clothes, boxes of varying sizes that can become anything, etc.
  • Pay attention to your child. Ask your child which activity he or she would most like to engage in right now. Watch for signs of your child being overwhelmed or stressed-out (fatigue, anxiety, irritability, poor sleep habits) and be prepared to scale

Peaceful (School) Mornings…

Did you read the title of this and chuckle to yourself thinking…

  • “Yeah, right. She’s probably writing this from a beach chair in Tahiti.” (I wish!!!)
  • “She should try living in my house. We live in the real world.”
  • “She probably doesn’t even have school-age children.” (I do- 2 of them.   And 2 dogs. And a cat. And a tortoise. And a husband. But I digress…)

Your kiddos have likely been in school for about a month. If mornings in your house are anything but peaceful, hang on!! There is help and there is hope. Let’s reclaim peace- even on school mornings.

I like lists, so I’m going to give you a handy dandy, practical list of tips get your (school) day off to a great start.

  1. Understand that “leave time” and “load time” are two entirely different times. Read that again and really think about it. It differs for each family depending on the age/stage of each child, but typically “load time” is 5-7 minutes earlier than “leave time.” Give this a shot- it’s a game-changer, I promise!
  2. Eliminate morning clothing drama. This applies to uniform and non-uniform wearing children. The night before school, work with your child to lay out everything he/she will need for the next day. This includes all clothing, accessories, special sports/band equipment, shoes, etc. that they will need the next day. A plastic tub at the foot of the bed or in the closet works well for storing all of the morning necessities. And…the golden rule: NO mind-changing the next day!
  3. Think about food. Have your child decide what he/she will eat for breakfast the next day. Set out the dishes, cereal, etc. Have the milk/juice poured in cups in the fridge. Have lunch boxes pre-packed the night before with perishables ready to add from the fridge in the morning.
  4. Get backpacks loaded and ready to go the night before. Check with each child to be sure that all homework is finished and in the proper place in the binder. Check for any notes or forms that need to be signed and returned, locate library books and any “special” items that need to go to school the next day…you know, “special” things like four items that begin with the letter Q and fit into a brown paper lunch bag, the class pet, show and tell items, the science project with jars of growing mold,etc.
  5. Gather everything that will need to go into the car (backpacks, sports equipment/uniforms, gym bags, snacks, cell phone, purse, car keys, work bag, etc.) and put it in a central location (at my house this is usually on top of the kitchen table because a) it is big enough for all of our junk and b) the puppy hasn’t figured out how to pull stuff off the table and eat it…yet!).

A few final tips and tricks to restore peace to your rushed mornings:

  • Stay off all electronics in the morning (parents too!)
  • Plan to arrive 5-10 minutes early and use the extra time to play a game of I Spy, listen to a favorite song, ask Siri some goofy question, etc. This sure beats shoving the kiddos out of car and telling them to run to beat the tardy bell!

Remember that you are very likely dealing with “morning people” and “night owls” living in the same house. Be sensitive to personal preferences in the morning…and please don’t try to talk to me before I’ve even poured my first cup of coffee!

The Hurried Child: Are YOU Willing to Swim Upstream?

As September moves forward, school settles into a familiar rhythm and the pace of family life quickens. School. Practices. Foreign languages. Clubs. Tutors. Private lessons. Games. Church activities. Homework. And the list goes on…and on…and, well, you get the picture. Our homes ring with the words, “Hurry up, we’ll be late” and we rush our kids from one activity to the next. We zip through the drive-thru and throw processed food at our kids as they attempt to finish homework in the backseat. We sacrifice their nutrition and our own sanity to the rush of one more practice or game or commitment. As parents, we have a choice to make: do we follow along with our hurried culture and sign our children up for yet one more activity (who said peer pressure vanished with high school?!) or, do we swim upstream?

Many modern day American parents have fallen victim to this underlying system of beliefs: My children deserve to be happy and successful. It is my job to make them happy and successful. If I give my child more “opportunities” (also known as classes, lessons, tutors, etc.) to obtain experience and knowledge they will be more likely to grow up to be happy and successful and I will have done my job. If we (and I definitely include myself here!) as adults recall the most happy, carefree days of our own childhood it is likely that those memories do not involve structured, organized “opportunities”, but rather (gasp!) unstructured free play with friends and/or siblings. Our children today are stressed-out, over-scheduled, and under-played.

Research is overwhelmingly in support of slowing down the pace of our children’s daily lives and of giving them back the chance to get bored, to find something to do on their own and to relish in pretend play. I could name book after book written by prestigious authors who support this notion, but, at the end of the day it comes down to this: Are we, as parents, willing to swim upstream? It is hard work. It can be exhausting. It is not fun or easy to hold to a different set of beliefs from our culture (pesky peer pressure again!). Are we willing to stand our ground and say “no” to countless “opportunities” that present themselves to us time and time again? Are we willing to listen to our kids bickering and fighting as they attempt to plow through their own boredom to find something to do? It is far easier to sit in the bleachers checking your own email as your child runs up and down the basketball court than to stick it out at home on a Saturday morning as your child struggles to find a new mode of entertainment. Remember, we have created this culture of hurriedness for our children and they will have to “detox” and adjust as we slow the pace.

Okay, you are still with me so I will assume you might be willing to swim upstream. How do we do this in a practical way?

  • Just say NO! Limit your children to one or maybe two activities at a time, depending on their age. If it is soccer season and your child really wants to be on the team, go for it! But let that be the activity for that season. I will warn you, and I speak from experience here, this is hard. There will be times when you think you are depriving your child of the chance to be the next Tiger Woods or Michael Jordan or Julie Andrews before he or she turns 10. You worry that you are not helping your child find his or her “thing.” Hang in there. It gets easier.
  • Unplug on a regular basis. Have technology-free time as a  family: play a board game together, go for a walk, collect items and make a collage or sculpture, take turns asking each other “what if” questions (What if you could jump into a book…which book would you jump into and why?), bake something yummy and share it with a neighbor.
  • Make family dinners a priority. The research here is so strong! Families who eat a meal together on a regular basis have kids who perform better in school and hold up under peer pressure when it comes to big stuff like drugs, alcohol, and sex.
  • Fight the urge to plan every moment. Allow for chunks of time in your child’s day that are not filled with activities and events.
  • Resist the urge to buy every latest and greatest toy or electronic gadget. Provide your child with toys that encourage open-ended play: blocks, blank paper and crayons/paints/markers, play-doh or clay, dress up clothes, boxes of varying sizes that can become anything, etc.
  • Pay attention to your child. Ask your child which activity he or she would most like to engage in right now. Watch for signs of your child being overwhelmed or stressed-out (fatigue, anxiety, irritability, poor sleep habits) and be prepared to scale back. You are doing your child and your family a favor.

Happy Swimming, Moms and Dads!

Beyond the Usual Brown Bag Lunch

It seems like every time the TV transitions to a commercial, we are stuck watching the latest ad for where to find the best back to school deals on school supplies, trendy clothes, or sports physicals.  If we manage to escape the ads about these deals, there is no doubt we will be bombarded with the newest kid-friendly snack boasting its “kid-tasted, mother approved” status or newly added flavors.  So, as we prepare to head back to school in just a few short weeks… or maybe days for some of you… how do we prioritize and navigate this complicated question: What should I feed my children for lunch this year?

For some kids, a lunch provided by the school is not an option or is not acceptable.  So, many parents and caregivers worry about what to make or pack children for lunch. To prevent last minute panic or a return to the “same old thing,” I recommend having a repertoire of eight to ten lunches that work for your child. This can prevent boredom, promote variety, make shopping easier, and reduce the stress sometimes associated with packing a healthful lunch.

These tips can help make filling your child’s lunch box less stressful:

  • On a Saturday or Sunday when you have some minutes to spare, make several containers or baggies of items to include in your child’s lunches for the week (for example: baby cut carrots, grapes, dry cereal, dried fruit).
  • Organize your storage container drawer and have a staging area set up with everything you need in one place, including: at least two lunch boxes or brown bags per child, plastic baggies, storage containers in all sizes, spoons and forks, napkins, straws, thermos or water bottle, and a marker.
  • Buy 8-fl-oz bottles of water or fill several water bottles, and keep the refrigerator stocked for the week. In the summer months, you may choose to freeze these so the ice is melted into cold water by lunchtime.
  • Know what to pack
    • It’s OK if your child likes to have a conventional lunch that includes a sandwich, fruit, vegetables, snack item, and a drink.
    • If your kid prefers to “pick” and does better with yogurt or cheese, for example, make sure you balance the meal so that it contains protein, fruit and/or vegetables, some carbohydrate, and fat.
  • Involve your child in packing the lunch, as much as possible. Older children can often prepare and pack their own lunch with adult supervision.
  • If you are planning to pack dinner leftovers for lunch, pack the storage container as you are cleaning up for dinner. This saves time!

Here are a few fun menu ideas:

  • Unconventional sandwiches: hummus and whole-wheat pita bread; falafel; low fat cheese wedges and whole grain crackers; sunflower butter or almond butter on gluten-free toast; whole grain wrap filled with vegetables and cheese or nitrate-free deli meats.
  • Conventional alternatives to sandwiches: dinner leftovers (meat/chicken/fish/pork with sweet potatoes or a healthy side such as quinoa or tabouleh, vegetables); leftover pizza on whole grain crust with spinach and other bite-size veggies; soup or stew.
  • Unconventional alternatives to sandwiches: whole grain and low sugar cereal from home in storage container (just add milk); scrambled eggs or hardboiled eggs; Greek yogurt with low-sugar granola; homemade quiche; bean based chili with chicken; ¼ to ½ cup of nuts (if allowed at your child’s school); homemade protein smoothies (frozen the night before to defrost by lunch time); bean salad.
  • Fruits: apple, pear, banana, grapes, berries, oranges, grapefruit sections, cherries, pineapple chunks, melon, pomegranate, guava, papaya, tangerines, clementine, fruit salad.
  • Vegetables to eat raw, steamed, or with dip such as hummus or guacamole: cucumber slices, celery, carrots, green beans, snow peas, blanched broccoli, asparagus or cauliflower, grape tomatoes, beets, corn, salad.
  • Snacks: 100% all fruit leather, ¼ cup sunflower seeds, baked sweet potato chips, multigrain crackers, homemade granola bar, whole grain graham crackers, unsweetened applesauce, multigrain chips or tortilla, unsweetened dried fruit, nuts (if allowed at your child’s school), plain Greek yogurt with 1 tsp local honey, banana chips, dried peas.

Hopefully these tips will help you prepare for the upcoming days of your students’ eating needs. If you would like more individual coaching on this topic or your child has specific needs such as food allergies or food sensitivities, please call us at 713-365-9015 to set up an individual nutrition consultation with Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and Licensed Professional Counselor, Danielle Mitchell.

*Some ideas from this article are adapted from material included at http://www.nutrition411.com. For other helpful nutrition resources, visit the Toddler and Kid Center tab on their website.

Updating the Parent Toolbox

As each school year begins, our children embark on a new journey filled with excitement, challenges, successes and mistakes. There will be days when children come home from school devastated by a fight with friends, a low test grade, or an unpleasant classmate. When these things happen, parents often desire to shield their children from these hurtful experiences.

Often, our natural reaction is to pull out the “fix-it” toolbox, in an attempt to protect our children by navigating the situation ourselves or running to their rescue before they experience any pain. Well… I hate to break it to you, but it is time to update the toolbox. We must throw the old “fixing” tools in the recycle bin and replace them with the new and improved “preparing kids for life” tools.

This tool box includes the skills needed to raise kids who can work to resolve their own problems, make mistakes, cry sometimes, learn valuable lessons, and head into life prepared and competent.

The tools:

  • When your child comes home from school with a problem… EMPATHIZE. Do not jump in and try to save them or give advice. Simply listen and show understanding. Say something like, “It sounds like it was a hard day at school today” or, “I can tell you are really worried about this.” The message is that you hear, feel, and understand their pain. You can experience the situation from their point of view. This does not indicate that you agree with everything they believe or do, but that you acknowledge what they are saying and validate their feelings.
  • Ask questions that imply they are capable of solving the problem. “Do you have any ideas of how you would like to handle this situation?” “What do you think you will do first?” Affirm that you are available to listen or help brainstorm possible solutions. Do not tell them what to do. Engage in thoughtful discussion rather than attempt to control.
  • Allow children to make mistakes. Step back and let them make the decisions regarding how they would like to handle the specific problem. This may not be the decision you would make or recommend, but let them find out in their own way and make mistakes along the way. Watch them experiment safely and learn from the experience.
  • Evaluate decisions and outcomes together. Spend time discussing choices, mistakes, and behaviors. Was it a success? Did it result in a different outcome? How did the other person react? Discuss lessons learned and provide the opportunity to brainstorm new solutions or choices if needed.

Keep in mind that your mission is to raise children who will someday effectively manage their own lives. You are your children’s teacher. Replacing the old “fix- it” tools with these will help develop independent, well-rounded, socially competent young children who can face life’s problems with confidence and handle situations with resilience.

Author Jill Early has spent several years in the classroom environment helping children and parents build lifelong tools for success academically and in life. For more information or support fine-tuning your toolbox, please contact Jill at 713-365-9015 or jearly@heritagebehavioral.com.

A back to school thought from Jules: The Man Who Thinks He Can

If you think you are beaten, you are
If you think you dare not, you don’t.
If you’d like to win but think you can’t,
it’s almost certain you won’t.
Life’s battles don’t always go
to the stronger or faster man,
But sooner or later, the man who wins
is the man who thinks he can.

– Walter D. Wintle

Thanks to Coach Edd Burleson, this inspirational poem, painted in large purple and gold letters, lived on the locker room doors of our small Central Texas school gymnasium. I saw it every day for 12 years. Under the strong leadership of several wise administrators and numerous compassionate and gifted teachers, that small town school has a long history of athletic, academic, and artistic successes.

More importantly, I left that educational environment with a strong sense of who I am; passionate about pursuing whatever might lie ahead, confident that I could try anything (at least once), and a desire for lifelong learning. PLEASE HEAR ME— without parents and educators instilling (and sometimes insisting on) strong values, this would not have happened.

As another school year begins, we want to encourage you to be involved in setting your children, and the children around you, up for success. This month, Jill offers insights on adjusting the parent tool box, using her expertise as a former classroom teacher. Additionally, Samantha shares some helpful tools for maintaining healthy communication within your family during this often chaotic season, and Patrick discusses very practical guidance regarding concussion safety for our student-athletes.

Our Best to You and Yours,

Jules