I hear it all the time. “I tell him he must clean up before he can leave, but he doesn’t and then I end up doing it.” “She means to be on time but when she isn’t, I end up taking her anyway and then being late myself.” “He speaks so rudely and then promises next time he will be nicer, so I let it go for now.” “She is so anxious, I don’t want to pile on more expectations.”
Those of you who have worked with me or followed my work know that I am big on making sure we give kids extra chances – that we need to recognize that they may not always DO what they know they should. That there are times when we need to accept less than perfect compliance. After all, we are all works in progress. And when someone has the added challenges that accompany ADHD and/or Executive Function weaknesses, performing up to expectations can be more complex. However, I believe it is vitally important that kids know that their parents CAN and DO set limits and that these limits, for the most part, will be enforced.
Lest you think this is all about setting consequences and restrictions, that is really the easy part. It’s Parental Mindset, I believe, that first needs to be addressed. What is the story you tell yourself when your child does not follow your pre-determined expectation as in the examples I mentioned in the beginning?
- I feel badly for him. He has so little time since things take so long, so I’ll just do the things I can.
- She just never realizes how long things take. She can’t help it.
- He gets so angry but then he realizes he was wrong.
- If I point out that she hasn’t followed through, she will just feel worse about herself.
There are, of course, many reasons why kids may not meet our expectations. The most important question to consider is WHY? In that consideration, ask yourself “Is this a pattern of behavior, or an exception?” “Is he capable of meeting the expectation – is he “Respons-able” – capable of doing what is necessary?” It is so important to really know these answers before choosing how to respond.
For the purpose of this article, let’s assume for a moment that your child IS capable of meeting your expectation (meaning that they have skills, strategies, tools, and supports), and yet for whatever the reason, has not. Aside from your annoyance in the moment of having to either:
- compensate for what they have not completed
- deal with the inconvenience they have created for you
- manage your own frustration with how they have spoken to you
…what is the longer ranging impact of NOT imposing a consequence or restriction to their behavior? I believe you are decreasing their self-image, reducing their resiliency, and lowering the bar of performance they hold themselves to.
One of the greatest challenges facing people with ADHD/ Executive Function weaknesses is their difficulty regulating their emotions – dealing with anger, frustration, and being flexible. By not holding them accountable to reasonable, achievable expectations, we are allowing them to avoid rather than learn how to manage their emotional reactions. We all must learn to do things that we don’t want to do in order to live life successfully. Whether it is dealing with the boredom of mundane tasks (laundry!) or pushing through the challenge of figuring out a new skill (setting up new systems on a smartphone), or learning to pause, breathe, and calm before reacting to others or life’s disappointments or challenges – we each must find the inner strength, confidence, patience, and resolve if we are going to feel and be successful.
It’s not easy watching other’s struggle, nor dealing with other’s frustration or anger. Especially when it is a loved one for whom we feel responsible. That’s where our Parenting Skills come into play.
Need help in Parenting Skills: Calm and Connected: Parenting the Child You Have©
We must know what boundaries and expectations we must set and how to implement and enforce these boundaries and expectations. Sometimes, to help them grow, we must put them in situations where they must fight through their own demons so that they can experience the knowing, that they can succeed. Our job is to give them the skills, tools, strategies, and support – and then leave space for them to operate. By setting expectations and boundaries that are reasonable and achievable, and then holding them accountable while managing our own anxiety, anger, and frustration, we allow for their growth to happen. So much of our children’s self-image and success is based not on their skills, but on their perception of our faith and belief in them. Stay strong, trust your inner voice. And if you have trouble hearing that voice, reach out. Help is here when you are ready.