In the first installment of FOSI’s Ask the Expert series, Good Digital Parenting’s Dr. Elizabeth Milovidov spoke to Elaine Taylor-Klaus about how families can transition between summer and the new school year. Elaine also provides some tips to help ADHD families with their technology use as parents inevitably look towards Back to School.
Elaine Taylor-Klaus is an author, parent educator, and certified coach. She co-created ImpactParents.com and the Sanity School® behavior therapy training program. The author of The Essential Guide to Raising Complex Kids with ADHD, Anxiety and More, she provides training, coaching and support worldwide, empowering parents to guide their children, teens and young adults to become independent and successful.
First, probably the most important thing our kids can do this summer is chill out -- take a rest. No matter what kind of school kids were in -- in person, at home, or hybrid -- last year was unbelievably stressful for everyone. Resetting the nervous system is the priority of the summer. School work will still be there when everyone goes back!
When you do get ready to go back, remember that teachers are likely to be overwhelmed at first. It's great to provide them with information to start the year, but give them a few weeks before you ask for a meeting. One great idea is for your student to write a "Dear Teacher" letter, letting the new teacher know what worked for them in the last year, and what didn't. They might also include what they learned about themselves as a learner during the whole COVID ordeal!
As for classmates and school programs, re-engage gradually and allow for plenty of down time. A lot of our kids have grown accustomed to time alone. Remember, "peopling" can be really exhausting. Start slowly to reconnect, and have some conversations to assess how much your kid wants to do. Try not to let the 'social shoulds' become more important than meeting your child's needs.
Treatment for kids with ADHD starts with parents, even though that sounds counter-intuitive. Start with getting support for yourself as a parent, and it will have a cascading impact on your kids! Parents of kids with ADHD have a tendency to make some choices that are not as helpful as they hope:
1) They often research to a fault, continuously seeking more information but not taking the time to implement what they're learning. No judgment here -- they're worried, and trying to be the best parent they can be. But sometimes, less is more. Choose one or two resources, and lean into them for a while, instead of bouncing around from one resource to another like a pinball. Consider getting information and support from ImpactParents.com (an award-winning website), or information from CHADD.org or Additude magazine.
2) Parents often search for resources for their kids before they do their own work to help their kids be open to and accepting of help. Don't impose strategies or social skills classes or executive function coaching -- unless your child is open or asking for help. Do try to educate them about the challenges they're struggling with (in a positive, strength-based way), and engage them in fun ADHD strategies like watching HowtoADHD on YouTube (engaging and great for students). Slow down to speed up -- focus on collaboration and get buy-in before imposing supports or strategies.
The most important thing to remember when dealing with screens is that this is the world our kids have been born into, and they can't really understand why parents make such a big deal about them. Try not to demonize technology as a horrible thing, like a friend who is a bad influence on them. Instead, remember that technology is your child's access to their friends and social life. It's important to them, and when you don't acknowledge that, it feels to them like you don't care about what's important to them.
Once you learn to take a "matter-of-fact" approach to technology -- treating it as neither good or bad -- then you can address it like you would anything else, with reasonable and appropriate expectations and boundaries. Try to avoid directing and imposing decisions without your child's input; collaborate with them and find out what they think is appropriate. Then, negotiate from there. Even if you're really far apart, giving even a little bit will bring your child into more ownership. Sure, sometimes you need to put parental limits in place, and you might even need to have access to the Internet shut off at a certain time, at first. But the goal is to help your child learn to navigate technology, which includes learning how to turn it off. The earlier you can cultivate their ownership and participation in decisions around technology, the better you'll be able to work together to help them learn to manage it well over time.
A.C.E. = Acknowledgement + Compassion + Explore your Options. Before you engage in any conversation that makes a request of your child, take the time to acknowledge your child's experience. Look at what's happening through your child's eyes with understanding and compassion. If they're in the middle of a game, it makes sense that they'd be disappointed to have to stop, especially to do homework or go to bed! Let them know you appreciate that it's disappointing for them. Feel for them, instead of standing with your hand on your hip (figuratively speaking), expecting them to jump to it without feeling anything about it. It's a bummer for them -- and it happens every day! Start by understanding that. Then, after you've expressed authentic compassion -- and maybe even relate to it a bit -- you can talk about expectations and what needs to happen.
For example, a conversation might go something like this:
"Hey kiddo, it looks like you're having a lot of fun playing tonight. I hate to have to be the bearer of bad news, but it's time to start the process of getting off the computer. I'm sorry sweetie -- I know it's disappointing. I hate it when I have to stop doing something I really love, and I bet that must be how it feels for you, am I close? It stinks. AND... it's going to be time to get off in about twenty minutes. Remember that we went over that -- it takes about twenty minutes from the time you start getting off until the time you actually stop. ( 😉 Add in humor here if that's part of your relationship 😉.) What do you need to be able to start stopping? What's the first step? I know it's hard, but I know you can do it. Is there anything I can do to help you start stopping?"
The most important thing to remember about kids and technology is that all of the decisions and interactions about it are surrounded by conversations. How you have those conversations makes a huge difference for your relationship! So try not to take on everything at one time. In the Impact model at ImpactParents.com, we talk about Taking Aim on one narrow topic at a time, very specifically. That way you and your child are both clear about the area where they are working toward greater independence, and you continue to scaffold the rest. Then, get really curious. What's going on that is making this behavior difficult? Try to identify which executive functions are at play, so that you can begin to problem-solve effectively/ Make sure you bring a positive attitude and appropriate expectations before you put any structure or system in place (like time limits or automatic cut-offs). This brings us back to the importance of communication. Before you try a new system, talk about and develop some agreements about how you'll evaluate it. Look at what is working, and what's not, and then make adjustments as needed to collaboratively support your child in learning to navigate life with technology. It's reasonable to expect that not every system is going to work the first time, so work together and problem-solve instead of taking it personally and punishing them!