While dealing with various emotional, behavioral and academic problems of children, I have often realized that many a time, parents need more help than the children. Parents are often dealing with innumerable stressors which get aggravated due to the child's condition. They get disturbed when they realize that their child's behavior is not within their control. One such condition is Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and this blog is an attempt to unravel the emotional world of parents of children with ADHD.
11 year old Yash's father had an extremely dejected look on his face. Bracing myself to hear what Yash had done this time, I gently prodded him. In his words; "Yesterday I had gone to pick him up from school. As soon as his friends saw me, they started complaining about how he disturbed them in class. Someone said he hit others, took somebody's pen, etc. As if this was not enough, a parent came up to me and said, ‘if you cannot discipline your child send him to my place. I know how to deal with such kids. All he needs is a daily spanking'. Madam, what do I do? Have I gone wrong somewhere?"
Yash had been showing symptoms of ADHD from a very early age. Formal diagnosis was made at the age of 6. Since then, he was undergoing regular therapy and counseling. Initially his parents had rejected the idea of medication. But as his restlessness grew, the complaints from school increased. He just could not sit and focus in class. Eventually, they did start medication. For the last 5 years, they had not missed a single appointment for counseling or therapy. Both parents were giving more than 100%. In spite of this when they had to hear such complaints and taunts, it was only natural that they would break down. This is not to say that all counseling, medications and therapy had gone down the drain. In fact with medications, he was able to cope much better in the classroom. There were many occasions where he had shown remarkable control. However, there were ups and downs and this particular day was a down.
What one needs to understand is that the child is not behaving in such a manner for fun or excitement. Which child would enjoy being reprimanded or beaten up? The fact that this is a neurological condition where the child does not have control over his actions is often forgotten. I often ask parents if they would scold their child for using the toilet too often when he has an upset stomach. Of course not, because we understand that this cannot be controlled. Similarly, the child needs help to control his impulses, he cannot do it on his own.
Yash's condition was severe as his impulsivity and hyperactivity were extremely high. If he liked something, he could not control his impulses and would pick it up. What everybody saw as theft was actually a very poor impulse control. The consequences of such actions can only be imagined. Guilt, anger, sadness, frustration, just words for us, were the living reality of his parents. Primarily guilt, as they wondered if they had gone wrong somewhere in disciplining or parenting or if they had not taken adequate care in pregnancy. Guilt about hitting or scolding the child. Anger and frustration directed towards their child, towards self and the situation. Sadness and a ‘why me' feeling. Helplessness about not being able to change the situation.
Though I am talking about Yash, these are common emotions that any parent experiences when their child faces any such problem. They often avoid any kind of social situations to save themselves from embarrassment. A child with ADHD looks like any other child, so his condition is not understood by society. All he gets is stares and reprimands. The child may not always get affected by these, but the parents live in a world of misery. In such situations, if the tuning between the spouses is not good, it can only lead to havoc as there is an added blame game being played here.
HOW DOES COUNSELING HELP PARENTS?
- Parental counseling helps parents to identify their emotions and deal with them. After the disorder has been explained to them in detail and all queries answered, parents feel a little relaxed.
- This helps them to have realistic expectations from the child. They can understand their child better as they realize that their child's behavior is more or less predictable.
- The importance of setting short term goals is emphasized. With ADHD, it is all in the here and now.
- The use of appropriate disciplining strategies is discussed. For e.g. reinforcements have to be immediate for these children.
- Dealing with extended family and the society is also discussed as these become crucial especially in the Indian setting. It is always beneficial to be transparent about the condition with the extended family. In this way, co-operation can be elicited so that all adults interacting with the child are on one plane. In some cases, when family members or society are uncooperative, it is essential for parents to take a very firm stand in the interest of the child.
- Support groups for parents also work wonders. The fact that I am not alone and there are many others like me is very heartening for parents. They draw support and strength from each other and also learn how to deal with day to day issues.
As a parent and a professional, I feel that we are often not aware of the trials, tribulations and challenges that other parents face and are quick to judge and label other parents. A parent of a child with ADHD has heard enough advice, taunts and complaints. If we could be a little more sensitive to others, stop giving unsolicited advice, not stare at the child or parent, I guess that by itself would be a major help. And though I have used the example of ADHD to build my case, don't you think this holds true even in general situations?
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