The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Month: July 2015

Prevent your next unfinished home improvement project

Whether it’s large or small — new living room furniture or an addition on your house — nothing beats the rush of a new project taking shape in your head.

I don’t mean to be a buzzkill, but before you jump in, stop and take an inventory of the unfinished projects already surrounding you. Then read on for some tips to make sure your new project doesn’t end up among them.

unfinished projects

Sketch out a road map

Sometimes, the first, best reality check is to sketch your new idea into your existing plans — or create those plans if you don’t have them already.

Our family recently created a set of home improvement road maps. We decided on priority projects and set deadlines for accomplishing specific benchmarks. For example, we’re repainting our dining room, and we set goals for getting rid of old furniture, spackling holes, and picking a color.

A big, overall road map provides hierarchy for our projects: paint the dining room before the living room, replace the basement door before considering a kitchen remodel.

When the excitement of a new project catches you in its grip, sit down and write a road map. Write out all the steps: planning, prep work, execution, and cleanup. Will you need to hire a contractor? What will you need to do before you break ground, literally or figuratively?

Sketch out a rough timeline. Fit it in projects already in your queue and consider other obligations in the months ahead. Will you be traveling? Busy at work? Hosting a holiday dinner? Volunteering at your kids’ school? If this project stresses you out in light of those pre-existing commitments, don’t do it.

If making a concrete plan or road map sounds intimidating, check out David Allen’s Getting Things DoneStephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective Peopleor even Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parentingwhich inspired our family’s road maps.

Consider how it fits in

Our road maps inspired me to abandon a longed-for bathroom rehab project. When we listed our home improvement goals and values, I finally considered the why: what value would a new bathroom add to our family life? How did that stack up against other projects on the list?

Despite previously swearing I wouldn’t remodel our kitchen, which is the size of a small walk-in closet, I ended up choosing it over the bathroom. The kitchen is the heart of family life. I can picture our son doing homework at a breakfast bar while I make dinner, giving us time to talk or to pass the time in amiable silence. A bathroom is, well, just a bathroom.

Left to my own devices, I would’ve started tearing apart the bathroom because it’s more fun. Given a chance to reflect on my values, I instead chose to create a special place for loved ones to gather.

Use road maps to think your project through. Make sure it’ll add significant value to your life, and make sure you can quantify that value. If your best defense is “because it would be nice to have” or “because I really want to” or “because I can’t stand my moldy pink bathroom,” hold off.

Wait a week

As you form a mental picture of the sweet reward — a new bathroom, a deck in the backyard, a playroom in the basement — the excitement will snowball until you feel compelled to begin right now.

Slow down. You’re high on life, and that’s no way to start a major project.

Write down all your ideas, create a Pinterest board, and let it go for at least a week. Hard as it may be to believe, this project isn’t an emergency. Nothing bad is going to happen if you wait until next week — or even next month — to start finishing your basement. Let the initial high fade, then assess whether or not you feel like putting in the (likely tedious) work required.

A waiting period also gives you time to talk the project over with your spouse. Don’t forget this step! Bonus points for doing it in a calm, controlled manner. Don’t push him for immediate answers or make it sound like an emergency. Give her time to get used to the idea and present any concerns.

How about you? Do you or your spouse struggle to look before you leap into projects around the house? How do you convince yourself to slow down?


Top 10 articles for ADHD families

It’s hard to believe, but The ADHD Homestead is almost a year old already! If you’ve just joined us recently and want to catch up, how about starting with these reader favorites?

top 10 adhd articles

For parents

  • The only early childhood activity worth my money
    ADHD families can go crazy (and broke) trying to provide our kids with the perfect schedule of activities. My son has only one structured activity: Music Together. It’s kind of amazing, even for kids with special needs.

music together graphic

For women & girls

Organizing time & stuff

Taking care of yourself

sensory sensitivities and shoes graphic

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The secret to peaceful ADHD parenting: just shut up

The toughest, most persistent challenge in my parenting life might surprise you: it’s shutting my mouth.

If you don’t get what I’m saying, you may have found your own biggest challenge, too.

As parents, the most important thing you can do for your kids is spend more time with your mouth shut.

If you don’t believe me, give it a try. Spend a week trying not to intervene unless there’s real danger to life, limb, psyche (theirs), or property. Here are just a few reasons why.

Dear mom - ssshh

Let them seize the opportunity

Okay, ADHD parents, let’s be real. It’s tough to watch kids figure stuff out. Watching my toddler try, over and over, to fit a lid onto a container or balance one toy on top of another drives me crazy.

My impatient, irritable ADHD brain is screaming, just grab it and do it for him!

The problem is, kids learn best from making mistakes and figuring things out on their own. When we jump in, we rob them of a learning opportunity. Do it too often and they learn to turn outward, not inward, when they need to solve a problem.

Constant butting in may even sabotage your relationship with your kiddos. “When people are placed in dependent positions,” write Elaine Mazlish and Adele Faber in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk, “along with a small amount of gratitude they usually do experience feelings of helplessness, worthlessness, resentment, frustration, and anger.”

Sit on your hands if you have to, or use them to cover your mouth. Let your kids make mistakes, work at a snail’s pace, and (heaven forbid) do things differently than you might have done.

Foster emotional resilience

ADHD kids and families often struggle with emotions. Consider practicing what parenting expert Janet Lansbury calls “braving the silence.”

Many ADHD’ers seem to fear silence. We stop listening because we’re too eager for our turn to talk. We’re compelled to fill dead air with chatter.

Silence is critical to teaching your kids how to accept and manage their emotions. “Acknowledging our children’s feelings and desires is one of the most powerful ways to validate and bond with them,” Lansbury writes, “Yet all too often, we find it difficult to provide our kids with the crucial next step — the quiet moment they need for our acknowledgements to sink in, to really feel we accept their point of view.”

Think about this as you observe not just yourself, but other parents. How often do you see parents filling the silence, diminishing a child’s feelings, creating a distraction, offering magic advice?

The last thing any ADHD’er needs is more fuel for the fire. It may feel impossible, but practice being quiet. Let your child know you understand and accept their feelings, then back off. You might be amazed at what comes next.

Exit stage left

A few months ago, I noticed my role in a three-act potty drama my son was putting on several times per day. It went like this:

  1. R. clearly needs to use the potty.
  2. I tell him it’s up to him whether he pees or not, but it’s not okay to make everyone around him uncomfortable. He chooses not to use the potty. I escort him to his room (loud protestations ensue).
  3. R. uses the potty (in his room) and cheerfully calls for me. “I used the potty, Mommy!”

I assumed he’d learn that adhering to this simple social convention = participation in the group. When this scene began playing on repeat every day, it was time to reassess.

I decided to leave R. alone about the potty. To be clear, I knew he had the skills because he’d been using the potty successfully for several months. This was a power struggle, a way he could gain absolute control over my behavior and the sequence of events listed above.

The result? Tension around potty time dissipated and accidents never increased. Surprised? Consider these words from Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting:

The job of every parent is to adequately represent to their children what they can expect from the outside world if they behave in certain ways. Offering a full-time audience is not an adequate response to nonsense, cheap drama, or other such behaviors…We’re trying so hard to stop the chaos that we, in fact, set a stage for the behavior to continue!

Hoefle’s calls us to ask ourselves, “what would the world do?”

What would the world do? I like that. Usually, the answer is: not very much.

How do you feel about your level of engagement with your kids? Do you struggle to keep quiet, or do you feel you need to intervene more often than most?


What you need to know about ADHD, impulsivity, and self-harm

We’ve all made jokes about our ADHD. A little gallows humor can keep us from getting too down on ourselves.

But be careful. Impulsivity, time-blindness, and low self-esteem can create the perfect storm — and a potentially life-threatening situation.

ADHD suicide risk

ADHD has a dark side, and several studies suggest it increases suicide risk as much as five-fold.

Relentless emotional volatility and feelings of failure can lead to a lot of negative self-talk: “I’m such a screw-up,” “my family is embarrassed by me,” “I’m a burden,” “I’ll never accomplish anything meaningful,” “my hopes and dreams are worthless because I’ll never come close to any of it,” “everyone would be better off without me.”

For ADHD adults and teens, these thoughts feel like more than a blip, a dark mood that will lift tomorrow.

Time-blindness means we can’t (not just dont — often, we truly can’t) see outside the moment. This moment of weakness becomes all there is. The good times, or even the days when we can see and acknowledge our strengths in spite of it all, don’t feel real. Our perceptions of ourselves lock in on right now, and right now feels like past, present, and future all rolled into one.

It’s at this moment that ADHD-fueled impulsivity — the part of us that fails to consider the longl-term consequences of our actions — crosses from childish and annoying to tragic and potentially fatal.

What to do when it becomes too much

If you’re feeling out of control and frightened, ask for help. Reach out to a friend, go hang out in a public place, take a break. If all else fails, get yourself to the emergency room. As a teenager, I escorted a friend to our local ER’s crisis intervention center and learned firsthand what a lifesaver it can be — even in the middle of the night.

Whatever you do, don’t let yourself believe your problems aren’t real, that it’s “just ADHD,” not a “real” mental health issue. Comorbid disorders are common, and ADHD’s impulsivity and impaired perception of time and consequences can fuel risky behavior.

Unsurprisingly, women and girls with ADHD suffer from high rates of self-harming behavior. Many slip through the cracks and remain undiagnosed until their teens or even adulthood. Girls tend to internalize their struggles more than boys, and ADHD symptoms can manifest differently.

Parents beware: as children mature into their teens and early adulthood, hyperactive ADHD symptoms may fade, but don’t let that fool you. Just because you can’t see symptoms on the outside doesn’t mean your kids don’t need you. In fact, they may need you now more than ever.

Have your or your child had an experience with self-harming behavior? How did you cope, and what would you recommend for someone in a similar situation?


How to stick to your list — even at Target

Some stores can make us spend more than we wanted to, every single time. For me, it’s Target.

We all know we should go to these stores with a list — and stick to it.

The problem is, that’s easier said than done. Big-box stores entice us to forget our lists and get everything we need (and more) in one convenient place.

Our ADHD doesn’t necessarily make us slaves to the retail gods. You can (and should!) practice faithfulness to a list. Here’s how.

shopping list

photo credit: ~lzee~bleu~ on Flickr

Decide not to decide

One of my favorite takeaways from Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before is her commandment to “decide not to decide.” Tell yourself before you even leave the house: today, I’m only going to buy what’s on my list.

When you begin justifying extra items in your cart, stop that internal dialogue in its tracks. You already decided, remember? Free yourself from the debate over “is this an okay exception to my list?” Decide not to decide.

Take a picture

It’s easy to say “decide not to decide,” until I’m pushing my cart past the indoor/outdoor area rugs and thinking, “oh right! I’ve been thinking for years that we really need one of those for the porch. I should just get it now while I’m thinking of it…”

Oh, the temptations! The thrill of seeing something desirable and purchasing it. The satisfaction of achieving something that’s (allegedly) been on the list for a long time.

Don’t wear out your willpower by resisting it completely. Take a picture. Use an app like Evernote or Pinterest to keep track of things you’d like to buy someday.

By taking a photo, you convince your brain you’ve acted upon your desire — and you have. You’ve taken steps to remember it later, and maybe even buy it after you work it into your plans and/or okay the purchase with your spouse.

Define winning as sticking to your list, not actually buying anything

You may feel especially tempted after a defeat. For example: not finding one of the key items on your list, or realizing the shirt you wanted isn’t available in your size.

It’s natural to want to recoup those psychic losses by buying something else (like that area rug you’ve been wanting). You don’t want to feel like you made a trip to the store in vain.

Keep reminding yourself that today, success means sticking to your list, not walking out with a bunch of stuff. If you walk in with three items on your list and only find one that meets your needs, it’s okay to buy just one thing. Make sure to pause and give yourself credit for making a good choice.

Eat and drink before you go

Malls and large stores make my eyes and mouth feel dry, which leads me straight to the drink section. Rather than buying a Coke or a Gatorade, I now bring a refillable water bottle.

Also, your brain can’t make good choices when your blood sugar is low. Being well fed before going to the store — any store, not just a food store — will set you up for success.

Stay aware of the game

Big chain stores are very intentional about where they place things in the store. It’s all engineered to trick us into buying something we never knew we needed.

Challenging though it may be, it feels good to be your own person. It’s satisfying to spot a trap and refuse to step into it. Best yet, self-mastery begets more self-mastery. The more in control you feel, the easier it becomes to control your behavior.

Be wise about exceptions

Despite what I just said, sometimes exceptions are okay. If you legitimately forgot to put something important on your list, don’t leave it behind and return home to a house with no toilet paper. I maintain running lists for a few different stores, and I’ll buy things from other lists if I see a good deal.

Do you struggle to stick to a list and control your spending? What strategies have you tried? What works best for you?


The power of right now

right now

“Wait,” my friend said, “did I just hear you say you sweep the floor every day?”

Never mind that I sweep the floor every day because I won’t devote the time or energy to doing it right. Sweeping every day enables me to do a spectacularly half-assed job and still keep a pretty clean house.

What I should have told her, though, is I sweep the floor every day right now.

When it comes to ADHD, we can append right now to pretty much anything we call  habit or routine.

I’m emptying my email inbox regularly…right now.

I’m eating well and cutting back on mindless snacking…right now.

I’m really struggling…right now.

And there’s the key. Sometimes I find it demoralizing, the knowledge that nothing is permanent, ever. The knowledge that a bad ADHD day (or week, or month) can roll back all the progress, all the good habits I’ve made over the course of months or years.

It’s all so fragile.

But if the good feels fragile, we should remember that the bad is fragile, too. No mood, no collosal screw-up, no period of total disorganization lasts forever. We can — and do — dig ourselves out eventually. Even if it’s just by forgetting what we were so upset about in the first place.

Or finding something shiny, fun, and new to get excited about.

This can feel like a character flaw. Often, it is a character flaw.

But we can draw strength from it, too. We can smile at a new day, even though yesterday was a train wreck. We can try again with a new personal organization system, even though the last three didn’t work for us.

Unfortunately, our time-blind minds can’t often see beyond the horizon. Right now feels too much like forever. When right now feels good, that’s okay. It’s great.

When right now feels overwhelming and hopeless, we can’t imagine it ever getting better.

Write yourself a note. Remind yourself that right now is just that: right now. It’s not tomorrow. It’s not even later today.

If you’re having a good day, use this as inspiration to keep up the good work. Don’t let complacency sneak in. Don’t let yourself believe you’ve finally gotten your act together “for good this time.”

If you’re struggling, write yourself another note. Reinforce the idea of right now — relentlessly. Even if you can’t see outside the moment — right now — keep reminding yourself you’ll come out the other side eventually. Probably sooner than you think.

And then — watch out.

How are you feeling right now? What has helped you most when you needed a balanced perspective?


Toys in the ADHD home: why everyone’s happier with less

Chances are, if you have children, you’ve watched toys slowly take over your home. Many parents say, “we have too many toys,” but defend this choice in the same breath.

But stop and think for a moment: how does your child behave when he’s surrounded by a hoard of toys? Content? Calm? Focused? More likely to share?

A huge toy collection does more harm than good. Too many toys create distraction, stifle imagination, and leave kids wanting more, more, more.


Fewer toys = more attention

Have you ever felt your attention and focus bounce around when you try to focus in a cluttered, messy space? When R. was just a baby, I noticed he’d get more fussy and riled up if his entire toy collection lay scattered across the floor. I can totally relate because I react the same way.

An uncluttered environment begets an uncluttered mind. For ADHD families especially, reducing excess stimulation and distraction will create a more peaceful home.

Play isn’t their only job, and entertainment isn’t yours

My kid loves to play, and he does it often, but there are also days when he doesn’t touch his toys. We only do two organized activities — Music Together and an informal weekly playgroup — so it’s not like he’s out of the house nonstop.

He’s only two, but R. helps me a lot. He accompanies me on all my errands, helps change and wash the linens every week, and has recently begun setting the table before dinner.

I don’t make him do any of this. I invite him to participate, give him a spare cleaning rag, let him have a turn with the duster. When I noticed him acting out while I was making dinner, I started handing him napkins. “We need one of these on each placemat,” I told him. He ran back into the kitchen for more. I handed him forks. When he returned again, I gave him a glass: “this one goes on Daddy’s placemat.”

Our kids learn their role in the family from us. When they try to insert themselves into a situation, do we shoo them away to their toys or do we find a way to include them? Do they view themselves as a nuisance or as a person who helps get jobs done around the house? Do they view themselves as competent or incompetent?

If your kids are busy participating in the household, they won’t need as many toys to occupy their time. I’m not saying we shouldn’t have fun with our children or let them play. I never demand R. put down a toy to do a job for me. But we also need to teach them the skills they’ll need for a successful, independent life. We need to teach them what it means to be valuable part of a family unit.

Engage imagination, not insatiability

In one study, researchers removed all the toys from a kindergarten classroom. The kids got bored at first, but soon invented games using only their surroundings and their imaginations.

Simply put, your kids’ brains will work harder when they’re not overwhelmed by toys and games. This is a good thing.

Not only that, reducing material possessions will lessen your child’s focus on them. He’ll direct his attention elsewhere instead of cultivating the insatiability toy companies (and advertisers) are hoping for. ADHD’ers know a thing or two about insatiability, anyway, so we especially need to be on guard.

In case I’ve given you the wrong idea, I’m not saying kids should live a bleak, austere existence and be put to work as soon as they can walk. I’m all for fun, educational toys and plenty of time to do their own thing.

However, we need to be honest with ourselves about why we’re filling our homes with all these toys. And then we need to learn how to let (most of) them go. Our kids will be happier for it.

Do your kids have too many toys? Too few? How do you make decisions about how many and what kind of toys to allow in your home?


Book Review: Better Than Before

betterthanbefore_gretchenrubinI read a lot of books in the self-help realm. My favorites are concise, informative, practical, and well-researched.

Gretchen Rubin‘s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of Our Everyday Liveswhile well-researched, didn’t pack the punch I was hoping for. I’ve heard it described as a “self-help memoir,” and that sounds about right.  Readers really get to know the author in the context of her social and family relationships.

Some may find this makes a book about forming good habits — an intimidating topic for us ADHD’ers — more approachable. For my part, the personal references and stories felt cumbersome and distracting. While a book like Kelly McGonigal’s The Willpower Instinct inspires the reader with non-stop, super-useful facts about the science of willpower, Better Than Before takes a meandering route. We read transcripts of personal conversations between the author and her associates, follow Rubin’s own personal habit journey, and learn about her research process.

This left me less inspired to take specific action, but more mindful of how I think about — and talk myself out of — my habits.

Most useful to ADHD’ers will be the chapters on self-knowledge. It helps to learn how to use your natural tendencies to your advantage when forming new habits. I also appreciated the attitude reflected in the title. We’re not striving for perfection, and we can be guaranteed we’ll never find it, but we can learn to define success (for today) as “better than before.”

Accepting the idea of small steps and working with, not against, your brain will make habit formation feel less intimidating for ADHD adults.

At the same time, I struggled to keep track of Rubin’s Tendencies and Strategies. Actionable information tended to get lost in the ruminations and personal anecdotes. ADHD readers may have trouble pulling out the key points. Rubin offers plenty of tips for the easiest-to-handle Tendencies, including her own rare Upholder nature, but doesn’t offer much advice for those with habit-averse natures. Her take on Rebels seems to be this: either you’ll form the habit or you won’t. Likewise, she often points out potential pitfalls for a given Tendency, but comes up short on workarounds.

Better Than Before isn’t exactly dense, though, and I was able to read it quickly. Even if it doesn’t give you a magic bullet for habit-forming success, it may help get you in the right frame of mind.

For those ADHD’ers who don’t love to read, I wouldn’t pad your reading list with this one. You’ll be better off choosing a book that’s more to the point and better-organized to get the most bang for your buck.


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