The ADHD Homestead

Building a good life with ADHD.

Tag: overreaction

Use a signal for bad ADHD behavior…and don’t forget to laugh.

Sometimes — maybe even most times — we don’t realize we’re making a scene until it’s too late.

Many ADHD adults are plagued by emotional reactivity, impulsive outbursts, and overreactions. Dr. Michele Novotni, author of What does everybody else know that I don’t?: Social skills help for adults with ADHD, describes this behavior as “ready, fire, aim.” We progress so quickly from stimulus to response, we don’t understand the meaning of the phrase think before you speak.

This is a source of anger and embarrassment for our long-suffering spouses, especially in group social settings.

Angry outbursts at home leave our partners feeling hurt and confused. Paradoxically, these outbursts often lead to periods of calm, and we may not understand why our spouse is still hurting. “Your angry thoughts are like a flash flood,” writes Novotni, “rushing through gullies and then quickly drying up again.”

Granted, overreactions can be funny. I’ll never live down the time I placed my hands over my ears and wailed “I’m so confused!” in the middle of a discussion at the office. They can also propel a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

These moments don’t need to be a runaway train. You can install an emergency brake: a signal that communicates hey, you’re doing it again instantly and wordlessly.

Words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive, especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking. Look for a discreet hand sign or gesture. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry. “Instead of criticism and belittlement, try humor,” suggests Gina Pera in Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?

Our outburst signal was born years ago, at the dinner table. I don’t remember what provoked me. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we stared at the line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed until our sides hurt.

Now, when my husband sees me start to tumble into meltdown mode, he makes a tabletop with one hand, looks me in the eye, and lowers his other fist onto it.

Signs are objective, general, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Have you and your partner tried signals to help derail bad behavior? How do you send a message without making things worse?

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Book Review: Duct Tape Parenting

Cover image: Duct Tape Parenting by Vicki Hoefle Do you yearn for less chaos, more connectedness, and a more fulfilling life with your children?

Duct Tape Parenting: A Less Is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible, and Resilient Kids might turn your current parenting philosophy on its head. Or it could reaffirm what you’ve always believed but never translated to reality.

Reading a parenting book may feel like a chore, but it can be a game-changer for ADHD families. Agreeing on a consistent strategy with buy-in from both parents will generate immediate rewards. You’ll also gain a common language to discuss those inevitable parenting challenges. As a bonus, parent educator Vicki Hoefle‘s suggestions for family meetings, road maps, and sharing appreciations will benefit everyone — not just kids.

Duct Tape Parenting‘s central conceit is that kids need autonomy and responsibility. Also, attention of any kind — negative or positive — reinforces their behavior. Our job is not to nag and con children into doing the right thing, it’s to guide them toward self-actualization.

Hoefle’s hands-off approach requires a paradigm shift and a willingness to endure messes and imperfection. It also helps kids develop resiliency and executive function that will set them up for a lifetime of success. Perhaps most important, it takes the pressure off of us to keep the whole family organized.

Duct Tape Parenting will be difficult for ADHD adults. That duct tape in the title? It’s for you. In other words, success with Hoefle’s method relies on impulse control at just the moment when restraint feels most difficult.

Don’t give up, though — it’s worth the effort. Parents with ADHD will love the end result: a family where everyone contributes according to their ability and takes responsibility for their own needs.

Once you step back and let your kids show you what they can do, you’ll be amazed at how capable even young toddlers can be. Divvying up responsibilities and letting your kids take ownership of daily activities saves you a lot of grief trying to keep track of everything on your own.

Teaching kids to be resourceful and independent will also give them a boost in executive functioning skills — a gift that will benefit ADHD kids for the rest of their lives. A parent who coaches, nags, reminds, and bails out an ADHD child robs him of a safe, supportive environment to learn coping and organizing skills. He’ll need to succeed without you eventually — now is the time to let him practice, make mistakes, and build his confidence.

While Hoefle lays out a solid, sensible, high-impact plan for family effectiveness, I found a few key points missing. For one, Hoefle doesn’t thoroughly address behavior management in a  social group. Children are often part of a regular social group with its own expectations and norms. What if my two-year-old spars with a friend’s toddler over a toy and we have differing ideas on how (and when) to intervene?

My weekly playgroup might be open to discussing these issues. One-time events like trips to the playground or birthday parties present a different challenge. At some point I’m willing to let my child lose a friend over poor behavior, but preschool seems too young. I would’ve appreciated advice on how to guide my child’s behavior in a group setting without being overly directorial.

Speaking of age, too many of Hoefle’s anecdotes omit the child’s age. How to implement Hoefle’s ideas at each stage of childhood is largely left up to the reader.

Overall, Duct Tape Parenting is worth a read for exhausted ADHD parents everywhere. Fair warning: Hoefle’s tone can be off-putting. She begins the book by pointing out far more problems than solutions and has a habit of quoting herself at the beginning of chapters. Parents already feeling downtrodden may find themselves feeling more so, and attachment parenting devotees may not make it past Chapter One.

I hope these issues of tone and structure won’t discourage too many parents from finishing the book. It will change the way you view your job as a parent and lead you to a more fulfilling life with your family.

Any other duct tape ADHD parents out there? Please share your experiences in the comments!

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The power of split-second mindfulness

While writing my cool ADHD mom post last week, I found several pages of tips for us ADHD parents.

However, as I opened tab after tab in my browser, I noticed a gaping hole. Enough with the cleaning and organizing tips. What about those larger-than-life emotions?

Some people go so far as to claim ADHD helps us create a loving, nurturing, exciting home life for our children. No parent needs ADHD to do that. I worry about subjecting my kid to the less romantic side of my ADHD: inconsistency, unpredictability, impatience, and a tendency to lose my temper.

And let’s be honest: nobody knows how to push our buttons like our kids, even if they don’t mean to (most of the time). Even the most put-together, mild-mannered parents will confess to all kinds of temper tantrums in their moments of weakness.

Often we feel our self-control slipping moments before a meltdown, yet we feel powerless to stop it.

I won’t claim to be an expert, but I’ve had my share of emotional outbursts. Reigning them in has been a pet project since I started the sixth grade.

Today I want to share one quick, tiny, simple trick to help get yourself under control.

It’s called mindfulness.

I’ve mentioned mindfulness meditation as a critical brain-training practice before, but don’t assume the benefits start and end with a a five-minute-a-day habit. Even if you never sit down to meditate, you can stop emotional outbursts in their tracks with mindfulness.

Here’s how you do it:

  1. Pause. Use your five senses to identify one thing in the room to focus on. Examples: your computer’s fan sound, the feel of a cool glass of water in your hand, a nice whiff from a jar of coffee beans. I’m most sensitive to sound, so I find something to listen to.
  2. Focus on that sensory input for 15 seconds, or as long as you can manage depending on the crisis. I like to close my eyes.
  3. If you notice your mind wandering to anything else — how angry you are at your kid for using permanent marker on the wall, the laundry you forgot to put in the dryer, a funny text you received from a friend, etc. — don’t give up and don’t judge yourself. Just return your full attention to that sound, smell, or sensation. Try your best to keep your mind empty.
  4. Open your eyes. Lower your voice. Try to deal.

That’s it. Try it now, while you have a moment and the stakes are low. What do you notice? Does it feel a bit like you’re in the eye of a hurricane?

Sometimes, that’s exactly what we need.

Shifting from your brain’s narrative circuitry to a state of mindfulness — a heightened awareness of sensory input from the outside world — forces your brain to change gears. Different brain regions become active and your prefrontal cortex takes a rest. You become more aware of your own inner state, which in turn gives you more control over your thoughts and actions. If you want to learn more about this without getting bogged down in too much science talk, check out David Rock’s Your Brain at Work.

Don’t forget to practice mindfulness with your kids, too! While sitting with my son during a recent emotional meltdown — being two isn’t easy, you know — I started talking to him about the sounds in the room. I took advantage of a short break in his tears to ask him, “can you hear the clock ticking? Tock, tock, tock, tock…” He met my eye and whimpered, “yeah.” I brought his attention to the wind who-whooo-ing outside his window. We sat together in lovely silence, just listening.

Quelling tantrums helps you in the moment, but teaching your kids to be mindful gives them tools to observe and regulate their own emotions later in life.

Next time you feel your self-control checking out, try a few seconds of mindfulness to step away from your mental noise. Then, share your experience in the comments so we can learn from one another.

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“You’re doing it again.” Developing a signal for problem ADHD behavior.

natalie portman ear pull gif

Our outburst signal was born at the dinner table. Maybe my husband made light of a frustrating situation. Maybe I’d had a long day at work. Maybe the salt shaker fell over. It doesn’t matter. What matters is I pounded my fist on the table so hard, several months’ worth of crumbs ejected from the crack where the leaves join together.

A tense silence stretched between us as we both stared at that line of food bits bisecting the otherwise smooth surface.

Then we laughed.

We laughed until our sides hurt. Most importantly, we laughed until our tension and frustration were all but forgotten.

ADHD overreactions can be funny, but they can also escalate a situation from mundane to catastrophic in a split second.

In the moment, words can put an already volatile ADHD’er on the defensive — especially if you’re tempted to say exactly what you’re thinking (e.g., your spouse is acting like a toddler).

“Instead of criticism and belittlement,” suggests Gina Pera, award-winning author of Is It You, Me, or Adult A.D.D.?“try humor.”

If you or a family member struggle frequently with overreactions and sudden outbursts, create a sign. Make sure it’s something you both feel okay about and, ideally, will smirk at even if you’re angry.

Ever since that night at the dinner table, my husband has a signal to let me know I’m overreacting. He looks me in the eye and pointedly lowers his fist onto the palm of his other hand.

Signs help break the moment, make you laugh (or at least crack a smile), and inform you in a non-confrontational way that you’re doing it again. Signs are objective, not situation-specific, and can remind us of a funny moment — even if it’s a dark comedy.

Communication — especially reading moods and social cues — is often a major struggle for adults with ADHD. What coping strategies have you and your partner implemented? Which ones have been successful, and which have flopped? Why do you think that is?

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