Dr. Sarah Bren (00:02):
Ever wonder what psychologists moms talk about when we get together, whether we’re consulting one another about a challenging case or one of our own kids, or just leaning on each other when parenting feels hard Because trust me, even when we do this for a living, it’s still hard. Joining me each week in these special Thursday shows are two of my closest friends, both moms, both psychologists, they’re the people I call when I need a sounding board. These are our unfiltered answers to your parenting questions. We’re letting you in on the conversations the three of us usually have behind closed doors. This is Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions.
Hey everyone, welcome back to the show. Welcome back Rebecca and Emily. So glad you’re here. Today we’re going to answer a question from a listener named Brendan. Brendan writes in, it seems obvious that people with ADD need certain accommodations, but how do you balance that with a child’s desire to not be different and not wanting the extra attention at school? When I was diagnosed, I just didn’t want any of the extra help, and even in law school I refuse the extra time on exams and the bar because I wanted to prove to myself that I didn’t need that. My son hasn’t been diagnosed or anything yet. He’s still really young, but I’m seeing some things that make me wonder if he has it too. Is there anything I can do to support him from an early age so he doesn’t feel like he can’t accept help? That’s a really good question.
Dr. Emily Upshur (01:38):
Dr. Rebecca Hershberg (01:39):
Dr. Sarah (01:41):
Yeah, and I appreciate too you sharing your experience because I think we talk about this a lot when we talk about answering stuff about parenting and kids is we have to take into account our own experiences that always gets infused with anything we’re trying to figure out with our kids. And so this parent recognizing that they themselves struggled with this, with answering this question in their own lives is going to make it so that they’re going to have so much more awareness of what’s their stuff and what’s their kid’s stuff when they’re trying to figure out how to answer this question on behalf of their child. So I think that’s just great and I wanted to point that out.
Dr. Rebecca (02:23):
Yeah, I mean I think that one of the overarching positive things is that I think generationally our kids are growing up in a time that for the most part, obviously with some exceptions, is generally more accepting of differences. And I think a lot of schools do a better job than when we were growing up at talking about how different brains work differently and different kinds of wiring. And so that generally, my hope would be that across the board there’s less stigma that your son would need to face than potentially what you sensed you might face if you owned up to having a difference. And so I think often, at least if you’re me, you think about all the different ways that the world is horrible now, but this is one I think that we’ve actually been moving kind of in the right direction and there’s much more understanding, especially on the part of teachers and educational curriculums at recognizing those differences.
Not as deficits per se, but as differences and that different people learn differently and need different things. And to my mind, that’s the first step in parenting when you think your child might have some of this stuff coming down the pike or even just generally is using that kind of language that embraces differences and that points out how different people do things differently, whether it’s a puzzle or running or look how this person runs compared to that person runs and this person’s tall and this person’s short. And certainly that’s all the language that’s suggested in anti-racism education for young kids. It’s just the first step is pointing out differences, using a tone and an energy that’s really positive and accepting and inclusive as opposed to here’s what’s normal and here’s what’s not normal and therefore bad.
Dr. Emily (04:14):
And I’d say, I think to take that, to add onto that, Rebecca, I think for this person’s question to address this person’s question, I love also being really collaborative with these schools. I think to your point, they’re much more open now, the school setting, the teachers to parent collaboration and even with the child, so I actually have this child now one of my kids, is a very, not wanting to be different, not wanting to accept any help in a different way. And I think it’s really about collaborative problem solving with the teacher, with your kid and really trying to figure out, alright, so this is the thing we’re trying to address, what do you think about how we should do that in the classroom? Or how do you feel most comfortable getting support in that way and sort of doing a little bit of that problem solving as a team approach I think is really important as a way to sort of bridge that and make it less stigmatizing.
Dr. Sarah (05:14):
Yeah, no, I think that that’s a really good point. Once your child gets to that place where perhaps they have had a diagnosis and there are accommodations that are going to be appropriate for them to have in a school setting, how they can be delivered in a way that feels one, not frustrating or embarrassing or overwhelming to that child, but also that have their input because we know when kids are part of the conversation, they’re more likely to engage in the process, the receiving the help and the following the plan. And there’s just generally not no resistance, but less because they have some ownership and agency in the whole creation of the plan. I think too, this piece about, I think there’s how do we support kids who are actively dealing with it because it’s happening and this piece of how do we start from the get go way before we know things like ADHD or anxiety, they’re genetically preloaded a little bit.
Whether or not they will materialize is not necessarily guaranteed and has other factors that can contribute to that. But if you are a person who has ADHD and had it since childhood, it’s possible there’s a greater chance that your child could then have it. If you’ve struggled with anxiety, especially if you’ve had it ever since you were a little kid, there’s a greater chance your child is going to experience, have a higher rate of experiencing an anxiety disorder That’s not to scare parents or create a bias in seeing something that may not be there just because they have it, but you can sort of know, okay, I’ve got these vulnerabilities in my life, these differences in the way that I show up in the world, how can I become more aware of them in myself so that I can think about what’s helped me, what help I didn’t get that I wish I had had, and use that to kind of inform some of the ways that we parent.
Dr. Rebecca (07:26):
Absolutely. I mean, I think I talk all the time both with parents as well as with teachers about how it’s not an even playing field and knowing your genetic history is really important when it’s possible, it’s not always possible, but when you have an understanding of your child’s genetics loading genetic loadings, again, so long as you recognize it’s a delicate instrument and not a blunt instrument, it doesn’t mean anything is written in stone, but it can empower you to make different choices. So let’s say a child whose parents both have anxiety disorders, I might recommend intervening earlier then I might if I saw the exact same behaviors and presentation and a child whose parents didn’t have an anxiety disorder because again, if you look at the numbers and rates and likelihood, there’s just different reasons to intervene. And so I think the tone of this listener’s question I think is a really healthy one because it seems like they’re saying, I know this might be coming down the pike for my child. What can I do proactively to help them assuming they do need to cope with this and not necessarily a tone of panic or a tone of this is definitely happening and how do I stop it? It’s just sort of accepting that this may be their child’s path and hoping that they can kind of make their child’s path perhaps a little bit easier than theirs was. And that’s a really goal that we all have for our kids.
Dr. Emily (08:59):
I say this a lot when I’m helping parents with these things. It’s really helpful in my mind to say I’m the type of person who needs to run around before I sit down and do a lot of work. I’m the type of person who listens better if I get my wiggles out or I’m the type of person who likes to do a really self-soothing, deep breathing before a big test. If you just put in front of it, I’m the type of person who we don’t judge that it’s, I figured out how to address my thing. And I think if we could frame it that way for kids and even as parents, that really is a helpful tool in figuring out how to accept our differences and then figure out ways that they can be best modulated within our current lifestyles.
Dr. Rebecca (09:53):
What I love about that is that by saying I’m the type of person who, the implication is that there are many types of people like that. It’s not like I’m the only person in the world who, you know like, it’s I am part of a community of people who… I have to share. We had the most beautiful experience last night. I took my seven year old who definitely has some of this stuff to a restaurant and my husband and my other son were meeting us there and we walked in and it was really loud. We sat down and he just looked overwhelmed and he said, I don’t know that I want to stay. It’s really loud. And I said, I know. And then the server came over to take our orders and I said, well, just give us a second because I don’t know that my son wants to say he’s feeling a little bit overwhelmed, like I said, in a very normalizing way. And the server looked at him and was like, I completely get that. I’m that kind of person too. When I walk into a place that’s too loud, here’s what I do. I close my eyes and I take a deep breath and if I can hear my breath, then I know I’m okay. And my son did it, and then my son was like, that didn’t really work. Which is great. I love that it’s real life and not a movie, but it was still the most beautiful connectedness and you’re not alone in this and there are people like you unquote everywhere, which again is just such to this person’s question in a sense.
Dr. Emily (11:14):
Yeah. Oh god. And I also think that gives radical acceptance. I’m the type of person who also imbues confidence. There’s nothing wrong with me. I’m just the type of person who does this. It doesn’t create a stigma around that. It almost creates a confidence around that, which is sort of the other piece that I like about that.
Dr. Sarah (11:35):
Yeah, God, that server is like, what an attuned server. Amazing.
Dr. Rebecca (11:41):
We ended up staying, but of course leaving earlier and we had two cars, as I said, we were coming separately, so me and this son left earlier so he could go home and go to bed. And I’m like, to my husband, I’m like, you weren’t here for this, but please give him a very large tip. I love it when I say that we love him.
Dr. Sarah (11:59):
That is, but that’s really meaningful. Obviously there’s a difference. And kids know this difference. There’s a difference when your parent is saying something that’s helping you to feel seen and understood and validated. That’s very important, critical and it feels very good. But when a total stranger can come and do that too, that’s a whole nother level of the world is safe.
Dr. Rebecca (12:26):
He also had a Scottish brogue. I was like, it sounds better when he talks about taking feedback.
Dr. Emily (12:33):
I love that. I think that reminds me. I also think, Sarah, that it’s really helpful also when it comes from another kid.
I was just had an anecdote of going to a well visit with one of my kids and a kid walking in had just had a shot and said to the kid, I figured out a strategy, curl your toes when you’re getting the shot, giving out tips on the way in and was like, let’s see if it works. I think that my kid would never have done that if even the doctor or myself had said it to them. That kid gave it a try because another child gave them a tip. And I think that that’s the type of person who doesn’t love shots. So this is what I do and I have to go in and get my shot.
Dr. Sarah (13:21):
And I think that says a lot too of it’s not always, it’s pretty universal for kids to share that fear of shots. So they may all be able to commiserate together and obviously got to be a pretty aware and articulate kid to be able to name that for another kid. But I think sometimes with things like a D H D or another, I have some kids that I work with who a lot of them have O C D and they feel like they’re the only kid they know who has O C D. That’s not actually true. And we’ve done a lot of work in helping them to recognize that people don’t wear things like O C D on their their sleeve necessarily. So you might not know that other kids in your class or your grade are dealing with it. But I think it speaks to this other piece, especially for slightly older kids who do have an actual diagnosis at this point, is for us to create opportunities for them to have access to peer support, whether it’s group therapy or just some type of group resource that allows them to see they’re not the only kid that’s dealing with this because it’s hard when you don’t know that you’re not the only person that’s going through it.
And so then for example, if you’re the only kid in your class who’s getting offered some type of accommodation for a test or getting out to do OT or whatever, has some special tools in the classroom to help them regulate, it can be hard for kids to tolerate that and then that prevents them from wanting to use the accommodations. And so what do you feel like are some of the ways that we can help support a kid who feels like they’re the only kid in the class who’s got these supports to, we can do this stuff at home, but in the moment when they’re the only one who appears to be needing these supports, how do we help at that level?
Dr. Rebecca (15:31):
One of the analogies I often use because A D H D or O C D are kind of these hidden disabilities or characteristics. And so I often try to compare it to a physical disability or difference. And I talk about if a child had a broken leg, and I don’t say had a broken leg forever, it’s not necessarily a child who has a disorder whereby they’re forever in a wheelchair, but just at this moment in time, let’s say this child has a broken leg. And if the child kept saying to themselves like, no, I am going to walk up the stairs. I am going to walk up the stairs. I’m not going to use the wheelchair, I’m not going to use the elevator. What would happen and what would that be effective for that person? How might other people respond? And they’re often able to see that their peers or other adults would say to that person like, oh my gosh, please use the elevator.
Use a wheelchair. You’re going to hurt your leg more. They’re really able to come up with compassionate language and giving and generous language when it’s physical. And so then that can help say, I wonder if people knew that your brain is kind of going through something right now or has some differences that require extra support. I wonder if that’s actually how everybody would feel if they understood it. And that often, not always, but often is kind of a metaphor or an analogy that can help. That can help because I think kids assume immediately, well, everyone would make fun of me if they actually knew or everyone, people would think I was doing it on purpose or that I was just doing it. I had a kid who needed to chew gum for a sensory thing. They think I’m just doing it to get the gum. It’s like, well, but what if again, would you think that the person in the cast was just lazy and didn’t want to walk up the stairs? It’s like, no. You would see the, and they’re able to see that generosity of spirit and then trust more in perhaps some of the good intentions of their classmates.
Dr. Emily (17:36):
I agree. I think building what we call reflective functioning or imagining what the other person is thinking and feeling is exactly that. I use a lot of analogies around, if so-and-so had to leave for extra reading help. Do you think worse of them, do you think they’re terrible? And often kids are much more generous than we would anticipate. They’re often like, no, they’re my friend. I play with them at Reese. It’s not a big deal. And so I think, again, back full circle, back to Rebecca, your point, noting differences and taking stigma away from them and helping imagine what the other person is thinking and feeling is a really helpful way to open up willingness to try new things, including services or help supports or accommodations.
Dr. Sarah (18:32):
That makes so much sense. I keep going back to this idea of as parents, what we model, not just what we say in modeling, talking about differences, but what we model. I mean in this example, the parent has the same thing that the child has, so you get this rich opportunity to model coping with this thing in vivo all the time. In full disclosure, I am a parent with a D H D and my kids are curious about when, I don’t know if either of my kids will have it, but it’s totally possible they will. It definitely runs in my family, but I recently started taking medication for it, and my kids see me take it and they want to know why. And I sort of start to explain, my brain works a little differently than other people’s brains. And so this helps me to focus better and to remember what I’m trying to do. And that’s kind of it. It’s not a, well, I have this condition and so I have to take this medication sick.
We have these little opportunities, these little tiny moments to just sort of drop breadcrumbs along the way to viewing this as a non-issue, a difference in how our brains work. Something that I consider it a superpower, and I talk about it a lot of times in that language. And I take this medicine, my brain works a little differently. It helps me to focus better, but my brain works in a way that allows me to do all kinds of other things that’s kind of special. And so I think that that is also a big thing, is framing all of whatever the difference is as a strength in some ways or as just a neutral thing too.
Dr. Emily (20:24):
And what I hear you saying is also modeling by talking about your process, you might say, oh, I’m going to put my keys right here in this bowl by the door because I always forget if I take them inside the house. You’re narrating a little bit the modeling of how you do accommodations for your own self, and I think that maybe you can apply that to an academic setting. You can apply that to a home setting. There’s a lot of ways that you can narrate your own process as a parent that helps. That’s sort of like that inside to Rebecca’s point, that sort of inside secret things that nobody knows that you have this system that you’ve had to do because it really, really helps you. And by sharing that process with your kids, that can be really illustrative.
Dr. Rebecca (21:08):
And you can do it even if you’re taking a blood pressure medication. Again, it’s about how we think about these things. Why are you taking this blood pressure medication? It’s not, oh, because I have this condition and I’m unhealthy. Well, here’s something about my body that’s different than some people’s bodies, and so I need to take this medicine or I need to watch a little bit more what I eat. Certainly this is language around food allergies. It’s just this idea of we can drop the breadcrumbs, as you said, around differences and different people’s bodies and brains being different, even about a range of different things. So that that’s just the framework that they see the world in. They’re not going to see someone take a pill at some point and be like, oh, I wonder what’s wrong with them. They’re going to see someone take a pill and be like, oh, I wonder what’s different about that.
Dr. Sarah (21:56):
And one other thing that made me think of is a lot of times we all do this, we have shorthand for things, right? Oh, well, I take this medicine, I have a D H D, or I take this medicine, I have O C D or I take this medicine, I have high blood pressure. Kids don’t know what those labels mean. And so instead of using the reason why we do something as in the shorthand actually explaining the process that accommodation or that medication or that whatever intervention it is we’re engaging in allows us to change. So I’m not saying I take medicine because I have a D H D, I’m saying I have medicine because my brain works a little different and sometimes it’s hard for me to know what to focus on and this helps me. Or I take this medication because sometimes my brain has a hard time filtering out what’s a worry and what’s a thought I can just let go of. So we’re naming the process that the medication or the intervention helps us accomplish rather than I’m taking this because of this thing that doesn’t really mean anything. And for little kids, I think that’s especially helpful because that’s going to sort of prime them for thinking about things in terms of process rather than just a sort of meaningless shorthand that we then use to make quicker judgements.
Dr. Emily (23:24):
Or also moves it out of a deficit model. If you say you’re taking your focus medicine, then you’re taking medicine that helps you focus. You’re not saying, I’m taking my attention deficit medicine. It’s a very different feel.
Dr. Sarah (23:40):
Totally. And then I think there’s also, there’s other things this person said in this question from their experience where they’re like, they refused extra time because they wanted to prove to themselves they didn’t need it. And I think that’s another thing that perhaps we could understand it as a byproduct of all this earlier stuff, we’re talking about not being there. If I think of getting accommodations or getting help or taking a medicine as a sign that I’m sort of cheating or getting a quick win or not showing up to my full potential or a sign that I’m kind of like, whatever, fill in the blank, it probably is worth examining. And I’m saying this is probably as a parent, less the kid, I don’t think the kid’s going to have as much conscious awareness of that process. It’s probably just going to look like resistance and they might not be having those conscious thoughts.
But as a parent, if you’re noticing that there’s probably a good chance that there’s some internalized shame around needing help and to kind of maybe unpack that a little bit so that we’re not infusing any of these other pieces with shame for our kids inadvertently. And I’m not saying that we’re going to shame our kids. I’m thinking we might model for our kids inadvertently our own shame around needing help. So that would be something to be mindful of if I’m offered help, am I quick to say I don’t need help. I could do this all by myself, or am I going to model for model in front of my kid? Sometimes I need help too, and that’s hard for me to accept, but I know sometimes it’s worth it in the long run. So a little bit of self-reflection on what we hold in terms of our maybe conscious or unconscious beliefs around our own need for help and accommodations and things like that.
Dr. Rebecca (25:38):
Sarah, that’s so interesting and I totally agree. I think the other angle that’s possibly interesting here, I also noticed the part in the listener’s question that almost had this competitive edge to it. He felt like he didn’t, he was going to show people that he didn’t need these things, is that actually sometimes people with A D H D need a task, particularly a challenging task to feel competitive in order to stay aroused and engaged enough to do it and to do it well. And so it’s possible that by saying, I don’t need help, I’m going to show you people or whatever else we’re implying or inferring I should say, that was a compensatory strategy for being able to get the work done more effectively. And so when our kids potentially with A D H D use that kind of language, well, I don’t need the help or I don’t need this to perhaps frame that for them as a really awesome strength they have, it’s so great the way that you can turn this in some ways into a challenge and kind of look at other people and it’s almost like a race. And that’s really helpful in terms of the energy gives you, and I wonder if there’s a way to somehow maintain that energy and also accept that your brain works a little bit differently and could benefit, so you’re kind of able to hold both at the same time.
Dr. Emily (26:53):
Yeah, I think that’s a really good point. And I do think there is some research that shows that people with ADHD really can have very good executive functioning or good approach or their brains can really work equal to, or if not superior to others in some ways when they are challenged with those novelty or there is that sort of pressure that’s created. And I like the idea of preserving your sense of self by creating this challenge and being able to be successful at it. There’s something really reinforcing about that. But I like on the other hand, reflecting that there might be another way to try this too.
Dr. Sarah (27:32):
Yeah. Well this is great. Thank you guys so much for sharing your wisdom and insight, and I really hope this helps answer this question for this person. So thank you again for writing in and always feel free to write us questions for us to answer and we’ll do our best.
(27:48):Thank you so much for listening. As you can hear, parenting is not one size fits all. It’s nuanced and it’s complicated. So I really hope that this series where we’re answering your questions really helps you to cut through some of the noise and find out what works best for you and your unique child. If you have a burning parenting question, something you’re struggling to navigate or a topic you really want us to shed light on or share research about, we want to know, go to drsarahbren.com/question to send in anything that you want, Rebecca, Emily, and me to answer in this new series Securely Attached: Beyond the Sessions. That’s drsarahbren.com/question. And check back for a brand new securely attached next Tuesday. And until then, don’t be a stranger.
✨We want to hear from you! Go to https://drsarahbren.com/question to send us a question or a topic you want to hear us answer on Securely Attached – Beyond the Sessions! ✨