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Resilience

Last night was not my best parenting moment. After a long week, topped by an even longer weekend, we offered for friends to stay over with their children for dinner. The boys were torturing the girls, who were crying and running to us for support; water was spilled ALL over the table; and the dog was in the middle, chasing and being chased. My dearest daughter, who deserves an Oscar for tears-on-command, looked at me soulfully and asked for help cleaning up her spill. And I couldn’t. I wiped her tears and told her to get it done herself. I didn’t yell, I scream, or lose my cool. But I just couldn’t do it. Resilience is our ability to bounce back from what we perceive as adversity, as hits to our self-image and esteem. Some people believe we are born with this ability to bounce back; that it’s innate, and can’t be taught. Others believe that it can be taught: that there are skills that help build reliance. One of these skills is emotional regulation. We’ve found that among youth who report high reliance, believe they can adapt in stressful and risky situations. A significant predictor of resilience in adolescents is emotional regulation. Teaching emotional regulation, and bolstering that skills, can help prevent risky and irrational behaviors.  And can help us deal better with screaming crying children and flying pizza and puppies. We feel better when we are in control; we are able to think and respond, instead of react on a whim. Our resilience, and our emotional regulation helps keeps us in control. And when we are in control we are better parents. And our kids learn how to respond to stress. And their brothers and sisters.

Exercise and Your Child

Remembering back to one hot spring day years ago, as siblings often do, my first and third son were just at each other; screaming, yelling, possibly trying to pull the other one’s hair out. And I had had enough. The lawn was a mess. It was a beautiful day. I screamed for everyone to go outside and start pulling up every weed that I could see. And three hours later, we had a beautiful lawn and garden. More importantly, my son’s behavior was impeccable for days. He was polite. He sat when appropriate. He was kind. He got along better with everyone. This lasted for about three days. Then everything went back to normal. Sigh. What is it about sweaty and sustained activities that changes these children? There is a plethora of scholarly articles that talk about how various parts of the brain are “rewired” temporarily through exercise. There are probably even more anecdotal stories you will hear about how this person’s life changed when they began to, say, play soccer. While there’s a lot of neurochemistry involved, here’s a simple analogy to understand how learning works with kids, especially those who have ADHD. Imagine you ride a bicycle through dry dirt which is hard and packed solid.  Regardless of how often you ride the same path, you probably won’t make a significant dent.  Now, try riding the same path after it has rained. The ground is wet and muddy. The more you ride in that same path, the deeper the trench you make with your tires. Even when it dries, that trench will still be there for a bit.  After a while, sure, it dries out and you have to start again. But riding over that same area, again and again, over years, creates a deep groove in the ground, and that’s the path your bicycle will naturally want to follow. This is how children learn. And the more they exercise, the more they are able to pick up on appropriate social cues and provide appropriate responses.  By being rewarded, even by the simple fact of feeling good because they aren’t being yelled at, the more likely they are to do that behavior again. These kids need a little more help to understand how they should behave. Exercise helps them read the social cues being thrown out all around them. The more they exercise, the more they are able to read the social cues. The more they practice that behavior, the more reinforced that behavior is. In the long run, children who regularly exercise will not only develop a love for it, but will have the tools to help them relieve and cope with stress.  Ultimately, it is a wonderful way to help them learn how to be able to learn.

The Effect of ADHD on Siblings

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is commonly diagnosed in childhood. It not only affects the children afflicted, but their family, especially their siblings. The constant noise and chaos associated with ADHD is often overwhelming for other children in the family. Here are some tips to help siblings: 1. Carve out alone time with each sibling. It’s hard enough to watch the child with ADHD get all the attention all the time. Even if it’s negative. And by the end of the day the parents are exhausted. Even so, carve out an hour a week for “Mommy – Johnny time”. Do something just the two of you. Even if it’s sitting in Starbucks for hot chocolate. Let this be time to reconnect and find out how they are doing. 2. Keep your expectations within normal limits. This might be hard, because you spend a lot of time working with the child with ADHD, you may not have the energy or patience with their sibling. But remember, they are allowed to say “no”, just like every other kid. And they won’t do everything you ask when you ask. They aren’t supposed to. That’s normal, and it’s ok. 3. Remember to be fair. If the rule in the house is “make your bed”, don’t give the siblings a pass. They have to follow the rules too. This can be hard, because they are being affected by everything that’s going on around the house. But they need to grow up to be happy healthy people as well. A little responsibility never hurt anyone. 4. Talk to them. In a calm moment, ask them how they are doing. Not just how they feel about their math class, but about being the sibling to a child with ADHD. Normalize the experience for them. Help them to know that they aren’t alone. Help them to know that they are part of a family going through this adventure. 5. Educate them about empathy. Siblings can often be the best friends and cruelest peers. Teach them to use their powers for good. Sometimes your brother may take your candy, but it’s not the last piece in the world. Patience and respect can go a long way, even when the other child seems not to have either. The calmer you are, the calmer the entire house will be. And the happier everyone is. It’s hard to be the parent. It’s hard to be the brother or sister, even when there isn’t another “label”. ADHD can affect a whole family. The constant noise and chaos associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is often overwhelming for the children afflicted, and their siblings as well. It’s important to remind our kids that everyone has strengths and weaknesses. It’s up to us as parents to help all of our children to live with the strengths and weaknesses of others and help them to grow up to be healthy, and happy individuals.
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