Is Dinner Ready?

By Julia Riutzel – As I’m driving home I wonder whether the kitchen will be clean enough to make dinner. Some evenings I come home to a clean kitchen with dinner started and other evenings I come home to one child on the computer, another watching TV and the oldest off somewhere. All families struggle with these issues. The AD/HD family struggles more but there is a more negative impact on the family and individuals. Remember that most of the symptoms of AD/HD are present in the general population as well, but they aren’t extreme enough to significantly or so unremittingly affect daily functioning.

As a life coach and therapist, I help other families set up family structure, establish routines and develop consequences for not following through with responsibilities. As a wife and mother of persons with AD/HD, I get to struggle along with my clients in making this work outside of the professionals’ office. Having seven children, 2 with ADD, 1 with ADHD and 4 who aren’t directly affected, I’m very familiar with the dance that occurs among family members with, and without, this condition. The non-affected do their work, sometimes getting overly involved in trying to force those who are AD/HD to do theirs, or getting angry because they do their work and yet the focus gets put on the AD/HD child. Over the years, my husband and I have learned to assign chores clearly with no overlapping responsibilities between the kids. This cuts down on the in-fighting and helps us know who to hold responsible if something isn’t done or is only partially done (this is more likely in our house).

Ideally, chores are written down when they are assigned with clear instructions having been given and achievable results. Our style has been to work alongside our kids until they know exactly what we mean by “clean your room” and to tailor the expectations to the age and abilities of the child. (Sometimes it is hard to remember that AD/HD kids tend to be developmentally 2 years behind their non-AD/HD peers and this needs to be considered when giving privileges and responsibilities).

I teach families to use a white board or some other visible focus point, e.g., Microsoft office has a household section that includes a chore chart, where the chores can be written out and posted. In our household, because there is a parent (Dad) with ADD, the kids have been taught to draw a line through the chore when finished since this helps Dad remember who was to do what. We use the same method for keeping track of their friends’ names, phone numbers and addresses along with a scheduling calendar with every family members’ activities listed.

As is often the case, these techniques help establish a routine and structure; yet, “life happens,” messing things up. The AD/HD kid gets upset because of a teacher or peer giving them a bad time at school and comes home with a “chip on their shoulder”, doesn’t want to do their chores and blurts out something hurtful or antagonistic to a parent or sibling when they are reminded and storms off. This effectively delays getting chores done and if extreme enough could get them out of it all together. As a parent or grandparent raising this kid, what are the best steps at this point? (I add grandparents here because frequently I see grandparents raising their AD/HD child’s’ children). Generally speaking I suggest these steps in the following order:

  • Take some deep breaths and allow a few minutes to pass.
  • Go to child and let them express their feelings, helping them label them if necessary. Keep it appropriate and non-abusive, e.g., no name-calling.
  • Validate their feelings, e.g., “I hear that you feel… when (fill in the name) doesn’t listen to you and you’d like them to listen better.”
  • Ask the child if they are ready to go do their chore or do they need another 5 minutes. If they say 5 minutes give it to them, then require they do the chore.
  • If child refuses to do the chore, then you go to options for consequences that you have already agreed on, such as someone else doing the chore today and the child doing that person’s chore and their own tomorrow; child loses privileges until chore is done. These consequences will depend on your family and your parenting style.
  • If you consistently have problems with compliance seek outside help before it becomes a learned response for coping with things the child doesn’t want to face.
  • Above all keep in mind that humor and grace can make dealing with AD/HD an easier task. There will be times when you don’t do it “correctly” and there will be times the child doesn’t do it “right”. Take time to get refreshed physically, emotionally and spiritually. When you are in the midst of the problem it can feel overwhelming. I can honestly say that with love and as much consistency as you can manage, you can turn out kids that you can both love and be proud of as young adults.

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