With rates of ADHD reaching unprecedented numbers and treatment options heavily slanted toward medication, Cindy Goldrich’s new book, 8 Keys To Parenting Children With ADHD, is a welcome resource for any parent coping with an often frustrating condition.
With myriad tips for parents — everything from how to talk to a child with ADHD to how to address the challenge of time schedules — Goldrich has a warm and encouraging tone that embodies exactly what she recommends parents use with their ADHD kids: a calm and steady presence.
Goldrich begins by first educating us about ADHD. She reconceptualizes ADHD not as a deficit of attention, but rather as a deficit of executive function. As planning, organizing, and controlling impulses are often difficult, Goldrich explores the multitude of challenges kids with ADHD face, one of which is emotional self-regulation. These children often have difficulty “regulating, modulating and monitoring their level of anger and expression of raw emotion,” and other traits that complicate treatment, including performance inconsistency and sensitivity to the environment.
It is for these reasons, Goldrich suggests, that we should be careful how we frame ADHD to our children. She offers a list of positive sides of each ADHD trait. A major part of that, Goldrich explains, is to “parent the child you have,” as oppose to acting “out of frustration, or lack of understanding.”
Goldrich also emphasizes the need to create calm. Because of the executive functioning deficits ADHD children experience, it often takes kids with ADHD much more effort to achieve the same things as their peers. To understand their experience, Goldrich suggests we imagine chaos in their brains, and warns that stress and pressure can “shut down the thinking brain.”
As Goldrich tells us, we should “be the change” that we want to see in our kids.
For this, she offers numerous tips, such as “letting go of expectations, reminding yourself that without calm, no learning can take place, and surrounding yourself with photos of your children that make you smile.”
And if calm is the foundation upon which the home is built, Goldrich explains, then connection should be the core. It is through connection that we show our children that we believe in them, often by focusing not on reducing distressing behaviors but on what works. Citing Carol Dweck on developing a growth mindset, Goldrich tells us that effective praise is comprised of three Ns: noticing, naming, and nourishing. Other ways we can build connection are through taking an interest in our children and learning about their interests, goals, and dreams.
With a solid connection, we can then build communication. Here, Goldrich first examines the “defiance dance” and the “power struggle” that many parents find themselves in. She introduces the work of William Glasser, author of Choice Theory, to help show how we can use “caring habits;” avoid “deadly habits;” replace blame, shame, and criticism with tolerance, empathy, and support; and “seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
Then there’s collaboration. Goldrich reminds us that rewards and punishments often backfire. “Offering a reward or threatening a punishment may actually shut down our child’s ability to use her executive function skills to the best of her ability,” she writes. For what does work, Goldrich points to the work of Daniel Pink, author of Drive, and suggests that we use autonomy, mastery, and purpose to help our children feel independent, competent, and connected.
But, here again, Goldrich tell us, we should also “reframe our thinking: kids lack skill, not will.” Instead of engaging in the defiance dance with children, we should employ a “collaborative problem solving approach” to reduce meltdowns, while building mutual trust and connection.
Much of this mutual trust is achieved through being clear and consistent. Kids with ADHD “often respond to strict parenting by becoming more oppositional and obstinate,” Goldrich writes. But, by being clear and consistent, “we are able to help kids build the skills they are lacking and develop the emotional self-regulation they require to be successful in life.”
By maximizing external supports — with clear and consistent implementation of expectations — we help children with ADHD “develop the internal regulation necessary so that they can respond, rather than react to life’s demands.”
And once children are able to self-regulate, we can establish meaningful consequences. Exploring the use of consequences as a motivator, Goldrich explains that potential consequences serve to motivate behavior when a child can anticipate the impact of his actions, when he cares about the outcome, and when he is response-able. Making these consequences effective, however, also depends on our own ability to maintain calm and to retain the loving connection and collaboration we have built with our kids.
Finally, Goldrich writes, we must allow our children to make choices. Kids, she explains, “do well if they can,” and much of them doing well depends on their freedom of choice. We must not always try to prevent failure, she writes. Failure is sometimes vital to development. Instead, we can advocate for our children, requesting additional services through the school system using an array of resources in the book.
Although the process of parenting a child with ADHD is often as frustrating and confusing as the diagnosis itself, Goldrich offers a concise and easy-to-read guide that teaches parents to use warmth and wisdom to bring the best out of our children.
8 Keys To Parenting Children With ADHD
W. W. Norton & Company, October 2015
Paperback, 240 pages