Family Focus

I've read a lot of books, taken parenting courses, met with several therapists and talked to other parents in the trenches about what has and hasn't worked. I have archived some helpful methods all of which have been tired and tested and each with varying degrees of success. Honestly, my kid's attention span is limited and what was once exciting loses its luster requiring new incentives and new approaches. It's a pain, but a seemingly necessary evil. Our kids ultimately come to us pre-wired with unique personalities, challenges and quirks. Our job as parents is to LOVE, teach and train. If nothing else, the relationship must come first; keep that door open to your children always.

Father Forgets
by W. Livingston Larned
"Listen, son: I am saying this as you lie asleep, one little paw crumpled under your cheek and the blond curls stickily wet on your damp forehead. I have stolen in your room alone. Just a few minutes ago, as I sat reading my paper in the library, a stifling wave of remorse swept over me. Guiltily I came to your bedside.
There are the things I was thinking, son: I had been cross to you. I scolded you as you were dressing for school because you gave your face merely a dab with a towel. I took you to task for not cleaning your shoes. I called out angrily when you threw some of your things on the floor.
At breakfast I found fault, too. You spilled things. You gulped down your food. You put your elbows on the table. You spread butter too thick on your bread. And as you started off to play and I made for my train, you turned and waved a hand and called, "Goodbye, Daddy!" and I frowned, and said in reply, "Hold your shoulders back!"
Then it began all over again in the late afternoon. As I came up the road I spied you, down on your knees playing marbles. There were holes in your stockings. I humiliated you before your boyfriends by marching you ahead of me to the house. Stockings were expensive-and if you had to buy them you would be more careful! Imagine that, son, from a father!
Do you remember, later, when I was reading in this library, how you came in timidly, with a sort of hurt look in your eyes? When I glanced up over my paper, impatient at the interruption, you hesitated at the door. "What is it you want?" I snapped.
You said nothing, but ran across in one tempestuous plunge, and threw your arms around my neck and kissed me, and your small arms tightened with an affection that God had set blooming in your heart and which even neglect could not wither. And then you were gone, pattering up the stairs.
Well, son, it was shortly afterward that my paper slipped from my hands and a terrible sickening fear came over me. What has habit been doing to me? The habit of finding fault, of reprimanding - this was my reward to you for being a boy. It was not that I did not love you; it was that I expected too much of youth. I was measuring you by the yardstick of my own years.
And there was so much that was good and fine and true in your character. The little heart of you was as big as the dawn itself over the wide hills. This was shown by your spontaneous impulse to rush in and kiss me good night. Nothing else matters tonight, son. I have come to your bedisde in the darkness, and I have knelt there, ashamed!
It is a feeble atonement; I know you would not understand these things if I told them to you during your waking hours. But tomorrow I will be a real daddy! I will chum with you, and suffer when you suffer, and laugh when you laugh. I will bite my tongue when impatient words come. I will keep saying as if it were a ritual: "He is nothing but a boy - a little boy!"
I am afraid I have visualized you as a man. Yet as I see you now, son, crumpled and weary in your cot, I see that you are still a baby. Yesterday you were in your mother's arms, your head on her shoulder. I have asked too much, too much."

Kids with ADHD often suffer from a very de-bilitating lack of self-esteem. They recognize in themselves that something is different and the heat they get from inability to stay focused, complete tasks, follow-through and generally finding themselves in trouble more-often than not really drives home that there is 'something wrong with them.' ADHD is truly a vicious cycle that feeds itself and feeds the environment around these kids in a threatening and very sad way. Helping to create a positive environment in our homes and distinguishing between disliking the behavior, not them, can help lessen the effects of the cycle.

Less negativity and increased positives and optimism give kids the chance to function at their best because they feel that they are essentially good kids trying to do good. Greater negativity and fighting more battles puts the child in the position that they are always in trouble, therefore they must be a 'bad kid.'

This has always been a major factor in my guy's success, which is in large part due to me as the parent. I have done and recommend doing the following:

1) Lower your expectations. This is key. It is so easy to make the 'little adult assumption' or like Mr. Livingston says above, 'measuring them by the yardstick of my own ears.' I also love that his mantra became: " He is nothing but a boy - a little boy!" All of us are imperfect and essentially irrational (thanks Spock) and quite frankly make really stupid decisions often. Our kids haven't had the experience we have and are going to make more, really stupid decisions. Lower your expectations.

2) Let it go. Choose to let alot of things go that you fight with your child about. There is a line here and you know what it is - when it is a battle you need to fight and when it isn't. If you see a battle ensuing, ask yourself, "Is this a big deal?" Where does this fit-in on the bigger picture? A note on battles, if it is a win or lose battle, the relationship will ALWAYS suffer.

3) Laugh. The last time I went into one of my kid's rooms and it was a disaster, literally, I laughed and asked him if a bomb went off. He laughed a little and then I got down and helped him pick up the pieces and we did it together.

4) It's okay to re-direct, cue and praise. A lot of kids are easily distracted, but it's a for-sure-thing with kids with ADHD. Even when they are looking you in the eye and you think they are hearing what you are saying, they are on another planet in the solar system and your signal is pretty weak. You will have to ask more than once and re-direct when they get off task. When they get going, praise them. There is always the 'precision request technique' and counting to get a rapid response (both techniques are explained in further detail below).

5) Re-phrase requests or find another way of getting things done (including incentives). With my guy, I have found 'I' statements incredibly useful. I constantly tell him what 'I' am doing rather than putting direct pressure on him. "My car is leaving for Super Sports in five minutes and who ever is ready is welcome to come with me" or even more simply, "I'll be happy to take you to Supersports just as soon as your room is clean." You are not telling him to do something, you are still letting him know what you will do.

Another great example is how I have lately been getting my guy to clean his room at night. I am very organized and my house reflects that. None of my kids got an ounce of my organization gene - in fact, they got the complete opposite and rooms in this house are living proof. I told my guy one night that my 'neat bug' goes crazy over super big messes and I just can't handle coming into his room at bedtime to tuck him in if it is a complete disaster. Well, he loves it when I tuck him in at night (which of course I love as well), so every night when he asks me to tuck him in I ask him how the state of his room is. He will almost always quickly pick up his room and shout out the 'all clear' so that I can come down and tuck him in. How awesome is it that I don't have to nag and he does it on his own? It's totally awesome!

And my final example is how this year I have conquered getting his bed made, get dressed, jammies put away, and teeth brushed (which I started referring to as the 1,2,3's - getting dressed and jammies away counts as one). This kid LOVES Aunt Annie's Bunny Gummies. These are his version of Scooby snacks. I have told him that I will happily give him a packet of Bunny Gummies in his lunch if he completes the 1,2,3's and for several weeks I didn't have a morning go by that he didn't accomplish these 'to-do's.' The even greater factor is that now it has become a habit for him and there is no nagging or needling and no bunny gummies - he just does it.

6) Get your hands dirty. Well, not really. I just mean that once in awhile help them out with their chores, cleaning their room, whatever. It's nice to see the boss willing to work alongside the help and kids like to know you aren't just the boss but also a team player and you want them to succeed.
Actively using all of these techniques has increased the positive vibes in our home and most excitingly (is that a word?) it has tremendously increased our relationship. He is so lovey with me right now - something else that is so amazing! He gives me random hugs, tells me he loves me, gives me air hugs from across the room and wants to play. This kids self esteem is at a place I haven't seen it before; really for carefully choosing my battles and joking about the smaller issues to be dealt with rather than coming from a place of frustration and anxiety. This does take time, so don't give up in whatever is that you try.

7) Give them props for effort not the end result. We want these kids to try and in so doing, experience success. Validate them when they do something that was difficult for them, "I know that was hard for you to take the garbage out. Way to go." 

'Precision Request' for Improved Compliance / Start Behavior
I recently learned the art of the ‘precision request’ to get your kiddos moving when you are asking something of them (also referred to in 1-2-3 Magic as 'start behavior'). I don't get it - I really don't - but labeling my request as a 'precision request' to Preston not only gets his attention but also gets him moving. I have to play a stellar poker face when I whip this tool out and it actually works (kids sense parental victory and kick against it when they know what is going down). The way this works is that you have a chat with your kiddo and mention that when you ask something of them, you will only ask twice, third strike they are out to time-out. The format is that on request number one you use the word 'please.' Keeping mind in the proactive ways to improve compliance (two posts ago), you use a clear directive such as, “Preston, please set the table.” *Note, don't leave wiggle room and throw the word 'can' or something similar in there. This makes it 'optional.' Clear directive.

The second request removes the word please and becomes more directive. “Preston, I need you to set the table for dinner.” If there is non-compliance within five seconds of the second request, they go to time-out. Now, honestly, do you think your child with ADHD is going to hear the please in the first request and think, “Ooh! There is precision request number one!” When I first tried this out on Preston he didn't hear the difference in the requests either so I started labeling them, "Okay Preston, precision request number one. Please set the table for dinner." Just adding that label made the difference between compliance and non-compliance. I have been shocked that with labeling request one and two and waiting the five seconds in between each, actually gets him to do what I am asking and for the most part without a bunch of fuss! Sometimes he gripes and I'll offer him a choice: “You are welcome to set the table or do the dishes; which do you prefer?” All I can say is WOW! And WOO HOO!

Employ and Enjoy.

The Magic Formula ~ The Thank You - Please Rule
A gal in my neighborhood who is social worker mentioned that her kids lost out on friend time if their kids couldn't treat one another nicely. She said, "It's easy to be nice to friends. You have to work harder to be nice to your siblings. " She also said that you tend to treat your spouse the way you treated your siblings. As sad as that is, it does tend to turn into that and worse as time goes on in a marriage.

Back to the 'Magic Formula.' I dabble in numerous books on parenting, relationships, communication, ADHD. Today, I was reading 'The Potentially Sane Mother's Guide to Raising Children," by Tamara Fackrell and I love the idea of the 'Magic Formula.' It is simply this: The Thank You - Please Rule. It means that before you can ask anything from anyone, you thank them first (show gratitude). For instance, 'Thanks for being such a fun brother. Could you please help me get a game down from the closet?' or 'Thanks for being such a nice Mommy. Can you please help me change?' I love, 'Thanks for always making such good dinners. Can you please get me some more?' I love this because it gives an opportunity for everybody to show gratitude and to actually think about it a little as well.

My husband and I were talking about working on re-framing requests and statements as well to reflect a more positive undertone; this is a great start. Tamara Fackrell mentions in her studies of psychology that it takes 'ten compliments to combat the effects of one negative statement.' (Fackrell, 156) I have heard of both 5:1 and 3:1 ratios for positives to negatives. I guess any way you spin it, it takes quite a bit more positives to undo the negative. This is tricky when you become really concious of it. For my little Preston who tends to be in trouble a lot, I have to thank him or praise him for shutting the door quietly or congratulate him on his matching socks. But, it can be done. 'Thanks for turning the light off.' 'Thanks for flushing the toilet.' 'Good job washing your hands.' 'Thanks for being so organized.' 'I love the outfit you picked out today.' And then we need to bring up in them how they feel about what they've done. 'How does that make you feel?' Or, 'I bet that makes you feel so good inside.' This helps them feel the accomplishment from within themselves and creates the desire to achieve the feeling more often as opposed to being 'so proud of' them.

Tonight for family night, we will introduce the 'Magic Formula' and also do a quick exercise (also suggested in Fackrell's book) which is have each person in the family take a turn standing in the center of the circle. Then each person gets to tell something that they really love or appreciate about the person standing in the center. This gives everyone a chance to feel appreciated and loved. Right now, having more peace in the home and appreciation and tolerance for one another is my biggest goal. Do it!

Tips for Improving Overall Compliance ~
From the The TOUGH Kid Parent Book
After our last visit to the psychologist (where I was feeling totally exasperated and confused and hopeless) and I expressed my frustration, he had the thought that one major breakdown in what I was doing was that I was giving Preston twelve chances. In that time I get worked up, Preston gets worked up and then we both become explosive. The Dr. gave me a print out from a book called “The TOUGH Kid Parent Book” (56) in which it lists out proactive ways to improve compliance. They have actually been incredibly helpful and surprisingly they do get Preston to work and be more compliant. Enjoy and employ!

  1. Say “Start” instead of “Stop.” Tell your child to start an appropriate behavior such as “Please start your homework” and make fewer stop demands, such as “Don’t argue with me!” Decide what you want to see and build on that! Encourage an appropriate substitute.  
  2. Use a clear directive, not a question. Asking, “Would you stop teasing? or “Will you take out the trash?” reduces compliance. When you won’t allow a choice, take care not to offer one.  General statements, such as “Its bedtime,” should be changed to direct requests. Good examples: “Please hang up your coat,” or “You need to brush your teeth now.”
  3. Make eye contact. Look directly at your child as you give an instruction. Say you child’s name. When your eyes meet, contact has been made, and the chance for compliance increases.
  4. Shorten the distance. Move close to your child. Asking while an arm’s length away works better than directing from across the room.
  5. Use a soft, but firm, voice. If shouting at your children tells them you really mean it, you are training them to not listen until you raise your voice. (This was like a lightning bolt because so often I ask myself, “Why in the world won’t this kid listen until I’m yelling. And so I do yell to get his attention which only reinforces him to listen at that point. Dang, so simple yet just didn’t occur to me). CAUTION: Yelling moves you further along the coercive behavior chain.
  6. Build behavior momentum! Give your child a few fun or easy directions before asking for the big one. Compliance momentum may carry them through!
  7. Give descriptive directions. When the request is definite, the child is more likely to succeed. Some directions are confusing or ambiguous. Your child may truly not understand your expectations when you say, “Clean your room.” Make your standards clear.
  8. Demand the possible! Be certain the request is something your child is able to accomplish. You may want to divide a large job into “baby steps” so that it does not seem impossible to your child. Plan for success! (I’ve also read that at times if you are present and help the first time or use a timer to make it a game, they are more ready to work. I have to do this with Preston and picking up our apples every summer).
  9. Time: Wait five seconds. Allow your child a bit of time to comply after making a request. During this short interval, just wait. Do not converse with the child, do not argue or respond to excuses. (1-2-3 Magic anyone?) Simply wait the five seconds (I find this an excellent time to breathe and bridge if I’m becoming agitated). This brief, watchful pause may prompt your child to action.
  10. Only Twice! Tell your child what you require only two times. Force yourself to simply wait the five seconds between and after each request. DO NOT NAG! Avoid interrupting the child with further instructions. It is surprising how often parents will unintentionally distract their own children from following through.
  11. Remain calm. (Ha!) An emotional response from the parent will actually reduce compliance. Exercise self-control. Remember to “breathe easy.”
  12. Reinforce compliance! Recognize your child’s efforts! It is too easy to request a behavior from a child, then ignore the positive result. If you want more cooperation, genuinely reinforce it.

No Talk / No Emotion or In Other Words, Put a Sock in It!
Had a lovely discussion with the psychologist this week regarding behavior modification and my need to do some 'tweaking.' So, the discussion included immediate rewards and immediate consequences. He knew well the cycle I have lapsed into which is giving Preston twelve chances at something (which means that I'm nagging about something twelve plus times). This gives both Preston and I the opportunity to reach an agitated state which equals two people having melt-downs. This means I go back to steadfastly applying 1-2-3 Magic and after two warnings he goes to his bedroom to take eight (minutes). I did this later that day and he went to a time-out and read a book calmly while in there - no kicking and screaming, banging on the door or yacking.

I realized by my own wisdom how important that I ditch talking and lecturing and simply consequence or actually follow through with the '3' count. This is of equal importance with my step-son who I lecture about everything and it NEVER sinks in. I'm sure on some cellular level he is absorbing what he is being told to be accessed at some point in the future when he takes his magic pill like Bradley Cooper in Limitless, but for now it is a total waste of brainpower, energy and my amazing display of vocabulary. So, back to NO TALK, NO EMOTION. For my sanity, and for my kids' sanity. I pulled out my seventh grade journal the other night and was impressed by the fact that I too hated being told what to do, how to do it and that my parents were ruining my life with their stupid rules. Crazy eh? Who'd of thought? I do remember kicking against them at times but always knowing that they were right and there was wisdom in what they were doing. I just hated it. Hated how smart they were. Especially my dad. He rarely got worked up - he just left me notes with consequences on them if I didn't clean up my act. That was a good reminder for me that my step-son is going to hate our discipline and rules, but it is supposed to be that way.

And on that note, I found a fabulous quote from an article I found on One mom would say to her child when the child said they hated her was: "Well, I love you enough for the both of us." And that was it. And with these kids that are so verbally nasty (and not everyone will understand that; there were SO MANY comments about how unacceptable it is that a child ever say such harsh things - they obviously don't have a child with ODD!), that's kind of all you can do. It's bait for these kids and they are gators in the water hoping you will jump in and fight them. As Jim Fay would say, "You can't argue with the ridiculous." We all love our kids. The other nugget of wisdom for today is that you will feed the problem (the child's behavior) with overly harsh or inconsistent discipline. Immediate, manageable consequences consistently.

Here's a toast to more good days than bad ones. And to us parents to keep our cool. Employ and enjoy.

The Bunny Bowl ~ Reward Incentive for Making Better Choices
One big issue right now is Preston's uncanny ability to snake candy from his friends. Whether they give it to him willingly or he barters for it I am not sure. Everyday he leaves a trail of candy wrappers around the house and it does indeed affect his behavior. He was off his rocker yesterday afternoon with energy, talking in weird voices and doing anything that might keep the attention fixed on him. I knew he had had candy and sure enough at the end of the day I emptied his pockets and he had enjoyed the fruits (artificially colored, Starburst and Laffy Taffy fruits) of his pilfering labors. I knew that he was being nuts for a reason. I ask and he always lies. That is driving me batty as well.

I had a conversation with a friend and she praised him for his resourcefulness. This is 'Re-Framing' thought number one. The upside to Preston's trading or cojouling his friends for candy is that he creates what he wants. This can be an awesome trait if pointed in the right direction. She suggested that rather than badgering him and scolding him for his naughty behavior, have a chat with him that would look something like, "Wow buddy! When you want something I can see that you find a way to get it. And right now I see that you really want candy. What if you commit to not getting candy from friends at school and you get to pick something from the bunny bowl? I know it is hard for you to pass up on candy. I want to support you and help you make good choices. How does that sound?"

I had this conversation in part the other day and he liked the idea. My friend also suggested that he be able to see it; kids need something tangible to make it real and keep it in his mind. If there is any question or doubt to the reward options, he will choose the moment and the candy. So, I grabbed two boxes of Gummy Bunnies, some Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, some snack bag sized oragnic oreo cookies, and made several cards with the following options:

~ You Choose Dinner
~ Trip to Coldstone
~ Gretel Sleeps in Your Room
~ 15 minutes on the Wii
~ One dollar
~ Rent a Redbox
~ One Kneader's Cookie (They do a buy one get one free night every weekend so I grab a few and freeze them for the week).

This method of re-framing fits in line with choosing battles and finding compromises that I mentioned in my last post. The other key point is that my badgering and scolding isn't helping him make better choices so time to try a new tactic. Hopefully, this will help him learn some delayed gratification skills and in the big picture re-train his current habit of begging and snagging the naughty stuff. And if none of the above happen, he isn't feeling beat because I'm always on his case and he is eating 'Mom-Approved' candy that won't make him nuts. The other component is that he skips out on the bunny bowl if he makes a naughty candy choice. I'm trying to think of a small consequence for this course of action as well - thoughts anybody?

I can totally imagine him with a sack tied to a stick on his shoulder outside the school doors with a sign saying, "Starving. Can only eat candy. Mom only serves healthy stuff. Please help."

More Artificial Reinforcers
"Unfortunately for us parents, natural reinforcers are frequently insufficient motivation for a child to complete an artificial task. Your son, for example, may be a natural slob - a clean room means nothing to him. Or your little girl may be attention deficit and learning disabled, and homework provides no satisfaction - but much frustration - for her. In these cases you must use artificial reinforcers. For smaller children the best ideas are often relatively small things that can be dished out frequently and in little pieces. With older kids, larger rewards that take longer to earn become more feasible." (1-2-3 Magic, 122) - I'll add that kids with ADHD need small things that can be dished out frequently. I've noticed with Preston that rewards need to be fairly immediate otherwise it isn't worth it to him. It is also good to do things for kids just 'because you are you and I love you.' That is some wonderful advice our therapist gave me.

I've established chores that Preston is able to earn tickets for:
~Make his bed in the morning
~"Feed" the laundry basket or drawers - I've tried to make putting his clothes away a game in that the laundry basket and drawers are mouths that need to be fed. Amazingly enough, this has helped him put clothes away.
~Brush teeth in the morning and at night
~Bringing his lunch box home
~Completing homework
~Cleaning room
~A good deed
~Anything above and beyond
~And sometimes just because I love you
In 1-2-3 Magic, Phelan came up with a much larger and better list than I did of artificial reinforcers along with my thoughts on how many tickets it takes to earn the reinforcer (given he can usually earn about eight tickets a day with what he is expected to do):

A trip for ice cream - 40 tickets
A trip to Kneaders for a cookie - 32 tickets
A small toy - 40 tickets
Renting a special game - 24 tickets
Renting a special movie - 16 tickets
Watching a movie on a school night - 8 tickets
Cash - $.15/ticket
Staying up past bedtime - He struggles getting to sleep so this one may not be an option for him
A grab-bag surprise - 16 tickets
Outing with a parent - 24 tickets
Shopping trip - 80 tickets
Sleepover with Mimi and Baba - 64 tickets
Extra game time with parent - 8 tickets
A "No Chore" Voucher - 24 tickets
Campout in backyard - or even a campout in the house - 64 tickets
Snack of choice - 8 tickets
Breakfast in bed - 32 tickets
Comic book or magazine - 16 tickets
Friend over for dinner - 40 tickets
Choice of three reinforcers - 104 tickets
Sleeping with dog or cat - 16 tickets
Items for a collection - 16 tickets
Helping make and eat cookies - 8 tickets
Using power tool with supervision - 24 tickets
Walk dog with parent - 8 tickets
15 Minutes extra TV time - 8 tickets
15 Minutes extra video game on weekends - 24 tickets
$5 Extra Allowance money - 56 tickets

I'm going to post this in his room and keep a copy on hand for myself and I know it will only work if I follow through on giving him his tickets at the end of each day and follow through quickly when he 'cashes' them in. Boo-yah!


  1. Thank you so so very much. This is going to help tons. My 5 year old has shown signs of ADHD since 2 and was diagnosed at 5. He was also diagnosed at 3 with ODD. I've been struggling for years and trying to cope. Recently we put him on Adderol and Kapvay. I didn't want to medicated but had run out of options. We have struggled finding a reward system that works and love love your idea of the tickets. So much easier than money or having to change it based on what we are doing that week. My 3 year old is now showing signs of ODD and I want to nip them in the butt before they get bad. We too are reading 1-2-3 Magic and seeing a behavioral counselor every 2 weeks along with a psychologist every month. Luckily he is showing signs of improvement before he starts Kindergartin. I can't wait to follow your blog! So happy I found you!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! If there is one piece of advice at this early onset I could give you is that it would be to prepare for the long-haul. I know that doesn't sound very encouraging but I find myself constantly changing things to fit the particular 'mood' or 'place' he is in that day - even down to the minute. Our psychologist told me that the goal with these kiddos is to have more good days than bad ones because there isn't a cure. Some kids grow out of it but who's to say which kids do? Oi! It is SO nice though to have support or even someone to vent to that knows what you are going through so please feel free to shoot me an email anytime! And please bounce things around that have worked for you! So glad the meds are helping!! We'll be in touch!


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