The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: Adele Faber

Family life with ADHD: Stash those labels.

Labels — we all use them sometimes, even though most of us know we shouldn’t. Parenting has taught me to use labels intentionally and sparingly. My favorite books caution against labels, both in the positive (“you’re such a good girl”) and the negative (“you’re a troublemaker”).

Labels tell us how we fit in.

The labels we give our children become the language they use to define themselves. Parenting expert Vicki Hoefle writes in Duct Tape Parenting, “your child is answering one question over and over again: ‘In my family I am the child who…'”

ADHD labelsFor those of us with ADHD, the end of that sentence was (or is) often negative. I can trace most of my childhood labels back to my undiagnosed ADHD: oversensitive. Inconsiderate. Selfish. Vain. Ingrate. Argumentative. Rude. Lazy.

Even positive labels, like “smart,” came with baggage. For a girl with ADHD, “smart” often means “you’re too smart for this.” This being missed homework, a bad grade, or a lower-level class. “Smart” also implies potential. It sets expectations for your life and career path.

As a kid, I sometimes took on these labels — “it’s true, only a selfish person would’ve done that” — and sometimes fought against them. I wanted to view myself as a caring, sensitive, quiet person. I never wanted to make people angry. And yet, I felt like the outside world saw me as selfish, aloof, and melodramatic. I didn’t like that person. I barely even recognized her. I longed to show everyone the “real me.”

ADHD inspires labels that belie our true intentions.

As a young, newly married adult, I still suffered with untreated ADHD. I felt desperate — and yet unable — to disprove the labels still haunting my life. In a long-ago conversation argument about household responsibilities, my husband uttered the phrase, “lazy is as lazy does.” I wrote it down, along with many other labels, in an attempt to sort through my feelings. Deep inside, I knew who I was, but I couldn’t show it.

I eventually sought help for my ADHD. (Side note: My husband, who was pre-diagnosis himself, would never say something like that today.)

And, just like that, we can evolve. It’s never too late to shed damaging labels and redefine ourselves. Change begins with a commitment to build each other up rather than tear each other down.

ADHD labels pull quote

Resisting labels while appreciating the little stuff.

These days, we shy away from labels in our home. In their parenting classic How to Talk So Kids Will Listen…and Listen So Kids Will Talk, Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish point out the dangers of even the best-sounding labels: “you can take away ‘good boy’ by calling him ‘bad boy’ the next day.” As a child — and later an adult — with ADHD, I learned to eye each personal victory with suspicion, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

That’s why I refuse to trade my negative labels for positive ones. I get no pleasure from hearing “you’re a hard worker,” “you’re so organized,” or “I can’t imagine you losing your temper.” On the bad days, positive labels only serve to hone my sense of loss and failure.

Instead, our family works day to day, praising and appreciating each other for the specific — the nitty-gritty. Somewhere around age two, our son went through a hitting phase. When he got angry and didn’t hit, I’d tell him, “you were so angry, I know you wanted to hit me, but you didn’t. You went upstairs to calm down instead.” When my husband — often at work very late — is home in the evening, I tell him, “I’m glad you’re here.”

This is especially critical for areas where we struggle. Specific praise and appreciation lets people know we see them. We see them doing their best, and we notice their small victories. When this is what defines us, rather than “unreliable,” “late,” or “hot-headed,” we access our power to do better.

What labels do you find yourself using in your family? What labels did your parents use with you? How do labels affect the way you view yourself and those around you?


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?


Book Review: How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen coverHow to Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk has been called “the ultimate parenting bible,” and rightly so. Nearly everything you need to know about communicating with children — and people in general — lies within its pages.

Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish preach a style of parenting that feels so different, you may just turn over to a blank page in your parenting journey. It requires a complete paradigm shift from “how do I get my kids to do what I want them to do?” to “how do I engage my kids’ cooperation?”

My parenting world also turned upside down when I read Vicki Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting, and both books are indispensable. Where one leaves off, the other begins. How To Talk So Kids Will Listen gives more specific examples and techniques, especially for situations when ignoring problem behavior feels like the wrong idea. Parents will come out of this book with a great toolbox not only for shaping desirable behavior, but for developing strong, lasting relationships with their kids.

In a way, this book feels like Difficult Conversations applied to parenting. It’s far more than that, but How to Talk So Kids Will Listen will teach similar skills: listening, empathizing, problem-solving, and viewing situations from your child’s perspective. As I’ve begun using Faber and Mazlish’s techniques, it’s been easier to apply the core concepts to my social interactions with everyone.

After all, children give us opportunities to practice (and start over) every single day. With each success, my son and I both gain confidence in our ability to communicate and solve problems effectively. We can apply everything we learn in our home to interactions with the world at large.

Let’s face it: ADHD adults struggle with patience, empathy, and communication. This makes parenting a particularly tough challenge. The techniques in How to Talk So Kids Will Listen haven’t just made me a better parent, they’ve made me a better person. As my toddler and I practice on each other, I feel a glimmer of hope that I’ll get better at handling tough situations with grown-ups, too.

Not only that, ADHD households aren’t peaceful by nature. We have to work at it. It’s so easy for both parents and kids to fly off the handle, and once a situation escalates, calming down is incredibly difficult — if not impossible. How to Talk So Kids Will Listen will help you prevent meltdowns (yours or theirs) from happening in the first place.

If you doubt a general parenting book can be applied to ADHD households, simply turn to the testimonials toward the end of the book. You’ll find several parents sharing the tremendous benefit Faber and Mazlish’s methods have had for their ADHD kids.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen‘s biggest weakness is its age. Where Hoefle’s Duct Tape Parenting provides an indictment of the too soft, too involved, ‘helicoptering’ parent of today, Faber and Mazlish criticize an authoritarian style that is far less prevalent now than it was when the book was published in 1980. However, if you keep in mind the pitfalls of both approaches and commit to the principles in this book, you’ll be just fine.

If you’re sick of nagging, yelling, punishing, or just plain feeling drained and frustrated at the end of every day, it’s time for a fresh approach. The road to a more peaceful, cooperative, interdependent family isn’t an easy one, but this time-tested book will show you the way.


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