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THE EARLY YEARS
Now that my son is 21 years old and I am 55 years old, it seems like a lifetime ago when I was struggling with him. You can read my post HERE when I first heard the doctor’s diagnosis of my son having ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder.
Through the years, I have learned what did and didn’t work to disciplining my ADHD child.
If you haven’t heard of Oppositional Defiant Disorder, you can read about this frustrating disorder HERE
If your child is struggling with behavioral issues and you feel like you are grasping at straws, you are in the right place. I want to share my story and give you hope. Be forewarned though: There is no magic answer.
As I struggled with my son’s defiant behavior towards me, I would search endlessly online for help. When I ran across a website created by Mark Hutton, Online Parenting Coach is when I started learning about the minds inside these types of children. It was a small path in the right direction. I bought some of his tapes and listened to them in the car to give me strength. (I am not an affiliate for this program. I am just sharing something that helped me during this rough time in my life. )
BC (Before Children) I was one of the parents I had now come to dread. You know the ones – the parents with the accusing eyes, the smirks on their faces, the nodding of the heads and the whispers. Parents offering up their unfounded advice of how I was parenting all wrong and how their kid never acted like that. Boy, was I eating my crow now.
This is when I started withdrawing from people. Others had no idea what I was going through and I was tired of being judged. I started relying more on my tenacious spirit to raise my child and focused on what was best for him.
About this time, I learned of a life changing quote from Eleanor Roosevelt: “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” This quote is seriously embedded in my brain.
Despite his father’s death at the age of 7, I had never ignored him. I made sure he was loved unconditionally. We weren’t rich, but I made sure we had a safe, clean home, clothes and food in the fridge.
I wanted to do homework with him each night, read books with him and made sure he was active in sports and Boy Scouts. Despite my son’s behavioral conditions, I know I was a great mom.
I resented it very much when teachers, doctors, nurses, weren’t able to help, would finally state: “Well, we don’t know what’s going on inside the home.”
In my opinion, this was a glorified answer when they too, were baffled at the behavior and couldn’t pinpoint the problem either.
SHATTERED DOORS & SHATTERED LIVES
A symptom of ADHD is not being able to control anger. As my son grew up, I noticed since he was a toddler he had a hard time controlling his anger. When I started this blog, I wrote a post HERE about what I was going through at the time with him on how he expressed his anger.
We again started the long road to counseling. We both resented each other for different reasons. BTW – it is completely ok to admit you absolutely hate your child at times. THIS IS NORMAL WHEN PARENTING CHILDREN WITH BEHAVIOR DISORDERS.
These children get a “charge” out of trying to get you going. And for years I fell into the trap without realizing it. This was the start of some very rough years for us. At the time, I truly didn’t know what the future held for us. I was becoming quit scared. I learned about the paths some of these types of kids go down.
A book I read that helped me understand my son’s anger better was The Explosive Child by Ross Greene.
This when I also learned about Conduct Disorder. You can read about this behavioral disorder HERE This is when I started separating myself a little from my son. Again – I knew in my heart I was a good parent and I wasn’t going to let anyone take that away from me.
ADHD PARENTING MYTHS
The comments I would hear from others left me speechless at times. As the years went on, I found myself in shock at what the solutions were on “fixing” his problem.
Here are some examples of statements I heard from others:
- You just need to give him a good spanking.
- You aren’t firm enough with him.
- You let him get his way too much.
- Make him sit in the corner – then he will listen!
- Ground him from his video games and phone. That will straighten him up!
- ADHD is just an excuse. All kids are wound up at that age.
- Medication won’t fix the problem. You have to be more strict. Read my very important post HERE on why I decided to medicate Billy at age 4.
- You don’t have him on a schedule. Kids need structure.
- I can’t stand the sound of his voice. (From a teacher!)
- Make him sit at the table and not let him get done with his homework until he is finished.
I would instantly feel the heat in my face. This had become dangerous territory for me. I felt so judged all the time. Furthermore, I didn’t give unwanted parenting advice when I had witnessed something not to my liking.
P.S. I didn’t feel the need to explain myself to others on what I had and hadn’t tried. Truth is – I had tried all of these suggestions and then some, with little improvement. These types of kids take a special set of parenting skills and I was desperately trying to find out what those were since no one else seemed to have the answer.
As frustrated as I was with my little guy, it broke my heart to see my son not invited to birthday parties or sleepovers. These types of children get on other children’s nerves too. Even though I understood it, it still hurt to see my son left out. I felt like an outcast for many years.
I wished I could say things got better before they go worse, but the opposite was true. Things got drastically worse before they got better. We had a very rough time for many years.
One of the best hospitals in the city told me the best solution was to “put him away in a reformatory home”. And to use a sticker chart. I looked at the doctors in disbelief and asked if they were kidding. They were no help at all.
Yes, my son had issues that needed to be worked out, but that was not the answer in our case.
I searched endlessly for a therapist for him to connect with. Through much trial and error, I finally found one.
This was when it all started to change. Since therapy is expensive and there is one hour time limit, I wanted to get as much bang for my buck as I could. The therapist agreed to let me communicate with him through email and spend the session with my son only.
My anger simmered after a few week. Then, the therapist started getting me to see things through my son’s eyes.
This therapist made a great effort to connect with my son. He saw that Billy was a good kid and had a good heart. Since my son connected with this therapist, and with me not in the room, my son started to open up to him.
And then, something magical happened: The therapist then started getting my son to see life through his mother’s eyes.
FRESHMAN YEAR OF COLLEGE
The morning Billy left for college was a tough one. I didn’t know it at the time, but as much as he had professed hating my house and living at home, he was afraid to leave.
A week earlier, I was frustrated with him not doing the dishes as I had asked (repeatedly!) that I took a drastic measure. I was tired of getting frustrated, giving in and doing the dishes.
I brought in a huge garbage can and threw out all of our dishes! If he wasn’t going to wash the dishes, then he could eat off paper plates. He was embarrassed when his friends came over, but oh well. This was a consequence of his actions.
This was not easy, but it was a turning point. Over the next several years, my son started to turn the corner.
However, it wasn’t until after his first year of college that I our relationship took a huge turning point for the better.
He was struggling and didn’t want to tell me. Having participated in the partying scene too much, he had to have his stomach pumped one night. Again, he didn’t tell me and wouldn’t let the hospital call me.
Shortly after this incident is what he called me to tell me college wasn’t working for him and he wanted to come home. And that he was sorry.
DO’S OF ADHD PARENTING
After much trial and error, here are some of the tips that I found helpful parenting my ADHD/ODD child:
- Stand your ground. If you encounter a teacher that doesn’t believe in ADHD, you can read my post HERE on how I handled that situation and what the outcome was.
- You must have an extreme amount of patience. Your patience will be tested like no other. Walk away when you need to.
- You need to realize that ADHD “success” is different. You can read my post HERE on how I had to learn to adjust my thinking on this topic and quit comparing my child’s successes to those of others.
- Develop a tough skin. No doubt – you will hear others’ opinions and you need to let it roll off your back.
- Educate yourself. There is so much more information now on ADHD/ODD than there was 21 years ago. Know your rights in schools for an accommodation plan or IEP plan if needed.
- Helicopter Parenting. Homework was a major stressor in our house. I made it worse by hovering over him constantly at night and as the night went on, tensions came to a head.
- Find a positive support system. Find a doctor, therapist, counselor that will listen to you.
- Use “The Poker Face”. When I learned this technique from Mark Hutton, it went against what I believed in and how I had been raised. However, when I started using this technique is when his behavior started to get better. I use this technique in my daily life when needed and it works!
- Pick Your Battles. I can’t stress this one enough! Is is REALLY important that Johnny or Sally eat all of their dinner versus improving on their meltdown skills, etc? Ask yourself what the bigger picture is.
DON’TS OF ADHD PARENTING
These are the things I tried that backfired and didn’t work for me:
- Being too strict. I fell back on how I was raised and clamped down. When I did this, is when things got worse.
- Taking away all objects at one time. This caused intense anger and meltdowns.
- Having “All or Nothing” Thinking. Each day is different for them. Some days it is hard for them to hold it together all day and that is why they explode.
- Using Excessive Physical Punishment. Again, I tried this many times, only to have it backfire on me. This increased the intensity of his emotions and meltdowns.
- Expecting your ADHD child to be like other children. I admit I became envious of the stories of other children’s accomplishments from their parents. Of course I would have loved for Billy to earn scholarships, get straight A’s and be on the honor roll. It took me several years to realize these types of children are several years behind cognitively. However, it doesn’t mean they don’t have other great qualities other “normal” kids don’t have. As parents of ADHD/ODD parents, we need to recognize and celebrate these accomplishments! These are where our kids shine!
THEN AND NOW AND TURNING IT AROUND
After some incredibly hard years, here are some texts that I had saved from my son in the last two years. Please do not think that I am bragging.
I am sharing our story to give you hope that things can get better. A few years ago, I was in a place where I never, ever thought I would hear some of these words by my child. Such as:
- “You are incredible and absolutely amazing never forget that.”
- “Thank you for pbj.”
- “You know for a single mom you’ve done pretty damn well.
- “Might not be able to spend the night and I’m not driving like that on New Years.”
- “You’re the best mom anyone can ask for.”
- “You’ve done a great job at parenting.”
This past Christmas, something happened that I never dreamed of. My son surprised me with diamond earrings and told me how sorry he was for all he had put me through.
This was the best Christmas present ever.
What is Billy up to now? He is working full time and giving thought to an electrician apprenticeship. He is doing the dishes. He is doing his own laundry and buying his own food. His is figuring out his own life.
Are you going through a challenging time with your child now? I hope this post, and my blog, provides some hope for you and allows you connect with others and not feel so alone.
Listen to your inner gut. Do what is best for you and your child – and no one else.
I encourage you to take The 5 Minute Parenting Challenge the next time you feel yourself getting frustrated. Sign up to receive your FREE challenge that you can post anywhere to stay grounded in the heat of the moment!