GUIDELINES FOR PARENTING ATTENTION DIFFERENT KIDS
by George Lynn, M.A., C.M.H.C.

A child with attention differences literally sees the world differently than other kids. Though each child is unique, special parenting methods should be used to bring out these kids' strengths in intellect and creativity and to compensate for problems with short term memory, oppositional behavior, tics, and obsessive compulsive tendencies.

It is important to remember that Attention Different kids can be remarkably purposeful. Helping them achieve their intrinsic purposes is the best way to motivate them. For this reason it is essential to keep communications open so that you can determine what is currently important to your child in terms of goals wants and dreams. Once these are known, a data base exists for constructing a motivating context for him. Here are some guidelines:

1. Create positive alternative choices based on your child's purposes and encourage him to make a choice.

Example: If you want him to finish a project, say "Would you like 10 minutes or 15 minutes to finish your project?" or;

If you want him to get his homework done, say "When would you like to complete your homework: after school or after dinner so that you can have your friend over?"

2. Use "I" statements, not "you" statements that move him toward positive outcomes.

Do not say: "Don't talk to me in that tone of voice." Say: "I'll be glad to discuss this when respect is shown."

Do not say: "Stop arguing with me." Say: "I'll be glad to discuss this as soon as the arguing stops."

Do not say: "Pay attention." Say: "I'll start again as soon as I know that you are with me."

3. Keep your cool. Know your stress triggers and have another adult available to support you if possible. Attention Different kids react best to "matter-of-fact" communications. When you show anger, they will react quickly, in an oppositional manner. An ugly battle can result.

4. Make consequences specific to the problem and dole them out in small increments. If he refuses to eat dinner with the family, have him get his own dinner one night a week. If time out is required, make it for 3 to 5 minutes at a time, not a half hour or hour. Make consequences follow infractions close to real time. Short term memory problems make delayed consequences useless.

5. Don't get hooked into oppositional arguments. When you notice that you are arguing, state the desired outcome and disengage quickly. Let him have the last word. Allow him to cool off.

6. Keep rewards visible and immediate to desired action.

Example: If you want him to control his behavior on the school bus, use a custom designed form that allows him to accumulate points toward a desired outcome when he behaves. Have him keep score each day. "Bus tickets" (behavior reports) or angry lectures do not work and can make the situation worse.

7. Reward for work completed. Do not punish for incomplete work.

Example: If you want him to leave the house in time to get his bus, provide a jar of tokens by the front door that he gets to add to each time he gets out in time, or;

If you want him to do his school work, set up a chip or point system that he adds to each day for work completed and redeems on weekly basis. Don't be afraid to use monetary rewards. Remember, the best motivators are rewards that help him achieve his purposes.

8. In problem situations use "reminder" language to overcome short term memory problems.

Example: To get him to move out of contact when he is yelling or poking others say "When you can show me that you have control of your body by stopping your swearing and poking and get to your room, we can talk about what you want."

9. Don't push him past his capabilities. Keep homework assignments short. Allow use of keyboard for writing. Encourage use of the computer. Encourage him to write about his feelings. Have him keep a diary or journal.

10. Assist with sequencing and transitions and train him to do it himself. Attention Different kids hate to be surprised or rushed.

Examples: If you want him in bed by 8:30 school nights, remind him at 8:15 "You need to brush your teeth and be in bed in the next 15 minutes so that I can read to you." or;

To help him learn to get his stuff together to get out the door in the morning, teach him a rhyme such as "Two, four, six, eight, get pack, lunch, homework, and wait . . ." Some Attention Different children have a keen ear for music and can carry a tune splendidly, or;

To help him do chores around the house, post a list of required steps on the fridge for him to follow.

11. Get on problems early. He may signal you that he is "heating up to a confrontation" by facial tensing, or acting angry or silly.

12. (Especially for Tourette children) Don't tell him not to have tics. You may be able to redirect some . . . . From pulling out hair, to gentle pulls or self massage. From head banging, to snapping a rubber band on his wrist. Creativity is essential here.

13. Help him work through obsessions and compulsions (OCD) by making it O.K. to talk about them. These tend to get worse when the child is tired. Experiment with creative methods to ease the stress of these "mind tics." One child we know gets extremely bugged by people sitting near him with their elbows pointing at him. The parents' creative solution? Draping their elbows with Kleenex at appropriate times. Medication is available to help with OCD also. Consult your physician.

14. Physical exercise is a great way to let off the pressure that causes tics and hyperactivity. Team sports may be difficult for Attention Different kids so encourage solo exercise such as rope jumping, running for points, bicycling or exercycling.

15. Encourage pretend play, read to them, make up stories. Some Attention Different kids, especially Touretters, may not involve themselves much in pretend play. Helping them enjoy active play imagination can relax them and possibly contribute to long term healing. Bring out their natural, zany, sense of humor.

16. Encourage unstructured creativity and don't force a kid too quickly to define alternatives or implement solutions. A great strength of these kids is creativity, especially on the front end of the creative process; the asking of "what if" types of questions. Encourage mind play.

17. Most important, don't push yourself to be a perfect parent. Give yourself credit; yours is one of the most difficult, stressful, jobs in the world. We are all entitled to our share of mistakes. Take it one day at a time!

Copyright © 1995 by George Lynn, M.A., C.M.H.C. Reprinted with permission from the author.

George Lynn, a mental health therapist who works with kids with the ADD and Tourette Syndrome diagnoses, is the father of two grown daughters and a bright 11-year-old child with Tourette's. He can be reached at PO Box 3363, Kirkland, WA 98083 (206) 454-1787.