Distraction is Not Enough.... diversifying your child's coping skills

In my work with clients, I always talk about coping skills. Coping skills are ways we tolerate distressing situations. They are things we can do to help ourselves feel better. Most people already have some coping skills, healthy or unhealthy. Most coping skills people develop on their own are distraction-based. And, if I am being honest, most therapists talk to clients first about distraction-based skills. “Go read a book,” “Watch a movie” “Listen to music” are top coping skills suggested by therapists. But these skills are more difficult to use at certain times because they tend to require something to use them, like a book, a TV, a tablet or a phone. In addition, distraction is a form of running from a problem- fine in small doses, but unhealthy as the only choice.


I believe therapists need to help kids diversify their coping skills. Specifically, I want kids to have a coping skills or two from each of the following categories: distraction, sensory, expressive, social, cognitive, mindfulness. Some skills hover between categories or are in different categories to different people. Let's go over each, with some examples.


Distraction: As discussed above, distraction helps you NOT think about the distressing situation. Distraction can be electronic or analog, but if it takes you away from the world in which your problem exists, it is a distraction skill. Distraction skills are great for bringing very high distress down. But distraction isn't always an option- and if overused, distraction is avoidance.


Sensory: Everyone has sensory needs. Everyone is distressed by some form of sensory feedback and relaxed by another. I've worked with kids who hated being out in the sun; other clients think sunlight is very relaxing and soothing. Sensory feedback can involve using all five sense or it can focus on just one. Taking a shower, burning a scented candle and getting a hug from mom or dad are all forms of sensory coping. They don't distract the brain with new idea, they replace what is likely a distressing experience for your body with things designed to soothe you. Weighted blankets and brushing are common sensory interventions for people on the autism spectrum.


Expressive: When we are distressed and we distract, we are running away from thinking about our situation. When we are choosing to be expressive with our skills, we take a step back from our distress and think about how we want to share information about our distress with others. As an art therapist, I love expressive coping skills, but you do not have to be an artist to use expressive coping skills. You can write about your distress, you can paint or draw about it. You can build a lego sculpture about it or a MineCraft world about it- if if you are creating something new to tell others what is going on with you, you are using an expressive coping skill. Expressive coping skills may distract from the distress, but they don't distract from the original problem.


Social: A social coping skills is when you reach out for support. I consider reaching out electronically acceptable- many kids have more friends online than they do in person. Whatever a parent thinks about that, it is real and social supports through the power of the web are useful and wonderful, provided parents have taken steps to ensure basic internet safety (you have, right?) Reaching out to a friend to talk or text about distress is a wonderful choice. Everyone should have a friend or family member they can reach out to about their distress.


Cognitive- Cognitive coping is very tied to Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, an evidenced-based therapy for kids (and adults) that is usually effective. For the purposes of this article, I'm going to say that any skill in which a kid modifies their thoughts about a problem is a form of cognitive coping. Kids might choose to classify something that is distressing as “not that big of a problem” and remind themselves of this. Usually cognitive coping needs some work up front to be effective and they may only be useable after another coping skill brings the distress down to a manageable level. But if distress is caught early or if acute distress has been soothed, cognitive coping can be highly effective in helping a kid deal with a problem.


Mindfulness- Like cognitive coping, mindfulness likely needs some work up front to make it useful in moments of distress. Meditation, yoga and other interventions that bring a person into the moment are useful; however, they require practice to do well. I will introduce the idea of mindfulness with book for younger kids, but for teens, I often outsource mindfulness instruction to apps. There are a million mindfulness apps, with different types of mindfulness activities. Most people will find one that works for them.


So, there you have it. Many types of coping skills, each type useful in its own way. But everyone should be able to use many different kinds of coping skills, not just one type. How can you diversify your child's (or your) coping skills? What categories are most useful to your child (or you)?

"I Like It When You _______": Praising your child well.

I am always encouraging parents to praise their kids. However, I’ve come to realize over the years that this is NOT a skill all parents have naturally.  A few years back, I was encouraging a mother to praise her daughter. I had gone over some lessons in how useful praise is with her, but this mom told me praising her child never worked. Puzzled, I asked her to praise the daughter in session and show me what she did.  Mom said, “Honey, you do such a good job coloring neatly!”  I smiled, as did the child, happy at this praising, until the Mom followed up with “If only you could be as neat at home!” 

Does anyone see the problem with the above praise?  The praise itself is great, but it is quickly followed with a message that stings. Now wonder the child didn’t like being praised.  Would we like it if our boss praised us for completing the TPS reports early, then said “If only you got to work early every day!”  Most of us would HATE that.    

How do you praise well?  First, praise should be specific.  The mother above was very precise in what she liked, i.e. her daughter coloring neatly.  That was excellent!  Second, praise should be said in a way that is understandable to a child.  Simple sentences are best.  Third, you should only praise behaviors you want to keep. If you want your child to put away their drawing, don’t praise them for coloring neatly.  Ask them to clean up, and then praise them for complying with a nice “Good job for listening to instructions!” Lastly, praise is NOT an opportunity to make a request for the future.  Don’t add on a comment about something you wish your child would do better. That just makes your child defensive whenever she is praised.

Good praises include phrases like:

Good job doing _______.

I like it when you _______.

Wow!  You are really good at ________.

Mommy likes it when you do __________!  Thank you!

Thank you for __________.


Go forth and praise your children well!  


Siblings fighting with each other is a story as old as time; however, since the beginning of time sibling fights have driven parents crazy!  How do you reduce sibling conflicts and preserve your own sanity?  It may not be simple, but here is a process to try.   

First, identify the precursors to sibling conflict.  Does arguing always start before dinner?  Does it start a bedtime, when both kids want the same attention from you?  Does it start in the car? 

Second, think about what the arguments are about- not just the words, but the meaning behind the words.  Your child who hits her sister and claims “you love my sister more” may be trying to say she wants more of your time and energy.  The child who fights before dinner might be really saying “I’m hungry and waiting is hard.” 

Third, address the deeper meaning of the behavior.  If your child is competing with a sibling, set aside time to spend with each child, one-on-one.  It does not have to be all day- just 5 minutes of focused parental attention helps.  If your child is always fighting before dinner, put out an “appetizer” (carrot sticks or some other veggie works well) for your kids to eat while they wait.  If you think it is the wait and not hunger, give your child a task like setting the table and praise them lavishly for completing it. 

Last, check to see how your plan is working- is your child arguing less now that you are spending 1:1 time with her?  Is eating the “appetizer” reducing conflicts?  If it doesn’t seem to be working, it may be time for some other theories about why your child is fighting with a sibling.  You can brainstorm with friends or, if you are really stuck, consider talking to a professional who can help you figure out what is going on for your child.  Sometimes it is easier for a professional to talk to your child about these things.

Understanding Your Child's Sensory Needs

Everyone has sensory needs; have you ever had trouble sitting still for something?  Just felt like running?  Got overwhelmed by a loud place or flashing lights?  Everyone has sensory preferences, from smells to noise to light.  Kids have sensory preferences too.  This is most recognized in children on Autism spectrum, but every kids has sensory needs and may, at some point, need help in getting those needs met.  Some are more sensitive to input than others, some are less sensitive.  Either way, when thinking about the behavior of a child, it is important to think about sensory triggers/problems that might be sustaining or causing the problem.

Here’s an example.  A child always has trouble getting off the bus.  When they get off the bus, they run away or hide or become aggressive to others.  Riding a car doesn’t trigger this.  But the bus always sets off the child.  What might be going on?  Maybe the noise on the bus or the sensation of movement on the bus is not comfortable.  Maybe being in a crowd is hard for this child and he or she is expected to get off the bus into a noisy crowd where there is some pushing.  Maybe the child doesn’t like strong sunlight and getting off the bus into the sun is hard (and maybe the car drop-off is covered). 

If adults assumed that the kid is intentionally being bad when he runs, hits or hides getting off the bus, they’d likely want to go the “rewards and punishment” route to addressing the behavior.  But if the behavior is due in part or mostly to sensory needs, well, then you can reward and punish to the end of time and it will not work. 

In this case, I’d test some of the theories about sensory needs.   Can the child get off the bus after everyone else has gone in the school?  If he or she does better going in later, then it may be a noise problem or crowding problem. If it is just a noise problem, could the child wear headphones?  Can the child carry an umbrella for sun?  Is the child getting motion sick on the bus and could they use SeaBands or could the school provide a different kind of bus?  With sensory needs, sometimes kids themselves aren’t aware of their needs.  Parents might notice patterns to behavior, as well as exceptions to those patterns.  Exceptions often provide the most information about possible solutions. 

With kids with high sensory needs, you want to work times to get those needs met during the day.  This could be as simple as active breaks at school (many teachers have gone to these already, calling them “brain breaks” and research supports their use in all kids).  Maybe your kids can get those needs met in the classroom with exercise bands around the legs of a chair or getting up and walking around the school a couple of times a day. 

Something as simple as wearing a hood in a noisy space can help as well; at ComicCon this year, the noisiest and most overwhelming event in my year, I was very grateful my costume had a hood I could wear.  It sounds strange, but it helped me! Headphones in the class can help kids who try to avoid noise as well. 

Kids don’t always have choices about places they go and things they do. And children’s ‘fun’ spaces tend to assume kids like NOISE! LIGHT!  CRAZINESS!  Some kids thrive on that.  Others do not.  Classrooms tend to favor kids who like it quiet and calm.  Classrooms don’t provide enough sensory input for kids who seek sensory input.  Parents have to help their child recognize and somewhat control sensory input.  The first step is for parents to consider their child’s sensory style and needs.  Does your child run to or away from noise?  Does your child calm down after exercise or ramp up?   Does your child struggle with certain kinds or lights or noise?  Is there a place your child does better in or struggles more in?  Thinking those issues through allow you to begin to understand your child’s sensory needs and make adjustments to your child’s day to help them do better in school, at home, and with peers.   

Exploding Kittens As Therapy (The Game! Not Actual Kittens)

I hate most therapy games.  This is likely something I should not admit as a therapist, but I’ve said it now: most therapy games are terrible. From FEELINGS Jenga to FEELINGS Candyland to the UnGame- they are simply bad games.  As a gamer, they offend my sensibilities. After one too many rounds of Candyland in my internship, I swore I would never play it again and refuse to own the game.   A good therapy game, in my opinion, has the following characteristics:

  1. Interesting and non-standard.  Jenga out, Exploding Kittens in!  I want something novel the client thinks is awesome.  
  2. A good game even without the therapy component- I have to play most of my therapy games at least 3 times a week.  I better like the game or I will not be as engaged as I should be as a therapist.  
  3. Throw-able.  I have to be able to manipulate the outcome of the game if I want to. I don’t always want to, but sometimes I need to know how a kid responds to losing, so I need to be able to get the child to lose.  
  4. Teachable in less than 5 minutes.  I don’t have all session to teach the rules.
  5. Require thought and strategy on a high level.  I want to see how the child thinks. 
  6. Cause stress or lead to a discussion about stress and coping skills naturally.  Not the forced “I wrote feelings words on every Jenga block” but natural discussion.  

With all that in mind, I present to you the perfect therapy games: Exploding Kittens.  If you have not heard of this wonderful game, go forth and watch this video about how to play now: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kAkRKuv5Rts

This game hits all my criteria perfectly.  It is interesting. The name alone gets most kids intrigued and willing to play.  You can ‘throw’ the game by not playing a defuse for yourself. I can usually win if I want to and can throw the game without the child I’m working with being aware.  It is teachable in less than five minutes-see video above for proof- and I’ve taught it to savvy kids in less than three.

The game requires thought and strategy; most kids pretty quickly figure out that more cards in their hand are better and build up a large-ish hand.  They might figure what cards work best in combination- a see the future might need to be followed up by a shuffle or a skip. They will quickly come up with ideas for how to win- but the game can be tricky and their ideas may not work.  The game is fundamentally unfair at times- I might get 3 exploding kittens in a row my first three draws- and thus can really frustrate kids who rely on fairness for everything.  If you have kid who struggles with HATING unfairness and needing to learn flexible thinking, I’ve paired the book My Day Is Ruined: A Story Teaching Flexible Thinking by Bryan Smith with the game to help kids practice the skill of flexible thinking. 

The Exploding Kitten cards can also be used as a chance to talk about what makes the client “explode” with anger.  The defuse cards have some things you can suggest as ways for client to calm down.  Kitten Therapy is a defuse card, as is Kitten Yoga and Belly Rubs (which I turn into a discussion about if physical contact when client is upset is helpful or not).  You can even get clients to practice some of the skills on the defuse cards or make a list of the ones that would help them.  Obviously the defuse cards are about cats, but you can always find a human-equivalent for cards like “Chasing a Laser Pointer” (distraction with a fun thing?  Movie?)

The game is also very funny and has jokes on most of the cards.  I find that my shy clients warm up quickly when looking at the funny cards.  Some of the cards can spur natural discussion, such as a card from the expansion “The Shark that Wounds With Words Instead of Teeth.”  I always ask kids to tell me about a time they were bullied or other were mean to them. It is great natural chance to explore how mean words affect kids. 

Exploding Kittens has become a standard in my therapy toolkit.  I love it and the kids I work with do to.  Just be careful when ordering- there is a NSFW version that is NOT kid friendly.  If you haven’t played Exploding Kittens, give it a try- it is both fun and useful. 

2 Guidelines for Keeping Kids Safe on the Internet

When I was a young kid, my family had one of the first computers on the block.  Eventually, we had TWO desktops, one upstairs and one downstairs and home internet.  It was high tech for the early 90’s.  Today, every home has computers, tablets and cell phones more powerful that that old Dell we thought was so cool.  Kids have their choice of devices to watch YouTube on.  Kids are on Facebook and Snap and Instragram all the time. Tech changes often, so parents (and me!) often feel behind the trends.  What’s Kic?  Who’s Slenderman? What is DeviantArt? What does THX mean?  

Parents are often shocked that their young kids know how to use technology of all sorts and do so very easily.  I learn things about my own technological devices from kids all the time.  A client taught me how to use my thumbprint to unlock my iPhone. It can be useful to have a tech-savvy kid around. Of course, it can also be scary to parents who hear about the dark side of the internet and imagine their child being exploited online. 

I have two technology guidelines for families that I encourage everyone to adopt.  First is parents decide the when, where and how of technology usage.  That means parents can decide that phones go off and to the living room to charge every night before 8.  That may mean parents say their kids can’t go on a computer in their room or that you have to wait to be 13 until you use Facebook (this is Facebook’s rule, but I think it might be the most broken rule on the internet).  But kids need to know parents set the rules about their technology and how, where and when they can use it. Obviously older kids who show good judgment can and should be rewarded with more freedom. 

The second guideline is that parents are allowed and encouraged to check up on what their child is doing online.  Parents should have their kid’s passwords to Facebook, Instagram, their phone and anything else the child uses.  Of course, if your kid is generally responsible and tells you about his or her life regularly, you don’t have to use that power.  In fact, if your kid is generally responsible, please don’t.  Let your lack of intrusiveness be a reward. 

On the other hand, if your kid is having a hard time and you are worried, you should do a spot check to be sure your child is safe.  Don’t go back and read every email/text/FB post/chat from the last 5 year, but check for obvious signs of struggles.  Then offer support to your child based on what you learned.  Don’t punish because of it- that will just push your kid further into hiding on the internet (and he or she can do that better than you’d expect).  Think of it as equivalent to your mom finding your angsty poetry when you were a teen.  Teen me was mad at my mom for reading that poetry, but also secretly grateful because after reading it and freaking out, she helped me and supported me in coping with my angsty feelings.

So that is it: two guidelines, lots of protection.  My other piece of advice is the same as the advice for planting a tree: the best time to institute tech guidelines is when your child is very little. The next best time, is, of course, today.  If you haven’t had tech guidelines in the family and kids have had unrestricted access to tech, it is never too late.  Start now in setting your kids up to be safe on the internet. 

Whose Problem Is It?: Parents, kids and motivation to change

When a family comes to me saying their child has a behavior problem, my first thought is always this question: Whose problem is this?  As someone who identifies as a child therapist, families often bring their child to me with the expectation that I will “fix the problems” they present with by changing their child’s behaviors.  But is the problem their child’s problem?  If a kid is throwing a tantrum something awful or hitting his mother or fighting with his siblings, arguing with peers every day, is the child motivated to change his behaviors?  Maybe, maybe not. 

Some kids know what they are doing isn’t OK and don’t like doing it.  If Ryan comes into my office and says “I hate that I get so mad," Ryan want to change.  He likely feels guilty, sad and depressed about his behavior problems.  Ryan will need skills to overcome anger and a boost to his self-esteem with cheerleading and support.  He want to change- he just needs help to do it. 

Some kids may not care about what they are doing and don’t have any motivation to stop.  If Sarah throws tantrums, hits her brother and constantly argues with her friends and nothing her anyone has said has changed anything, she might be feeling apathetic about the change people want her to make.  To her, making the effort to change just isn’t worth it.  Kids like Sarah need skills, support and caring from me and their parents but they also need motivation to change.  Motivation might be a meaningful consequence from their parents or school, such as loss of recess if they fight with peers or lost computer time with they have a tantrum. Maybe motivation is a reward. They need help with skills BUT as much as that, they need the motivation to use the skills.

The last category of kids like doing whatever their behavior is because it ACTIVELY GETS RESULTS.  It is functional for them. Maybe every time Larry throws a tantrum, his parents give him candy to make it stop.  Larry likes candy.  Why not throw a tantrum and get some?  This can be subtle as well.  Maybe Jenny doesn't like going to recess- it is too noisy, cold/hot, she doesn’t have anyone to play with- whatever the reason, she doesn't want to go. So before recess, she hits a peer and her teacher says "No recess for you!" Do you think that kids’ teacher will get results from withholding recess?  No way.  She gets more hitting because Jenny wants to avoid recess. Many teachers-and parents-set consequences assuming that kids like certain things and dislike others.  That is not always the case and if a consequence isn't working, it pays to investigate.  

The solution for a Jenny is consequences that are meaningful.  Maybe she values lunch time with her friends. She might not stop hitting if she loses recess-but maybe if lunch was what was being taken away.....

The fact is, unless your child wants to change, they won’t.  The good news for parents of kids under 18 is that you have a lot of leverage and usually have the ability to make the behavior problem your child’s problem as much as it is yours. If you need help leveraging that power, I can help you find the way. 

It isn’t easy. But nothing that is worth it is. 

And the Greatest Parenting Virtue is.......

If there was one single skill I wish every parent I worked with possessed, it would be consistency.  You being predictable and consistent in your responses to your child helps your child learn new things, feel safe at home, and connect with other adults across their lifespan.

Sadly, consistency is also the HARDEST thing for parents to do some days.  When your child is throwing a tantrum in the grocery store, the last thing you want to think is “I need to be consistent with denying my child a candy bar.” Because if you stay consistent, your child will likely continue to scream for some time.  Who wants that? 

But consider the other choice: giving in and giving your child that candy bar.  What did your child just learn?  For one thing, they learned screaming in grocery store=candy bar.  Huh.   I wonder what they will do next time they want candy.  For another thing, they learned mom or dad can be pushed around to do what they want.  And all it costs them is a sore throat. And they learned that Mom or Dad is not able to follow through with statements and promises, such as “No, you may not have a candy bar.” That does not help kids feel safe! To your kid, you are their greatest protector, their shield from the world. If you can’t follow through on a candy bar, will you be able to follow through when you promise them safety, love and care?  You child might wonder. 

If you know you struggle with being consistent, you need to figure out what it will take for you to be consistent.  If you are consistent in one way, but your co-parent isn’t consistent or has very different standards for your child, that is also an issue that you need to work on with your co-parent.  Consistency is a virtue that can be learned and practiced, but it takes having a plan and the mental resources to follow through, every day.

The first step is being really honest with your self about when it is hard to be consistent.  Are there any common denominators to when you struggle with consistency?  Maybe it is hardest to be consistent in public, because you don’t want to be embarrassed. Maybe it is hardest at night, when you are tired.  If you figure out where it is hardest, you will be able to make plans for how to remain consistent at those times.  Sometimes thinking through how you want to respond is enough to help you respond in that way.  Sometimes you might need more of a push or support from your co-parent or a friend. 

As a therapist, a large part of my job when working with parents is helping them find ways to be consistent with their kids. I know it is hard! But I believe you can do it and I am committed to help you find your way to being consistent.  Once you can do that, many other skills I teach will fall into place. 

Social Stories: Why and How To Use Them

I love social stories and find them extremely useful for kids with autism, behavior problems or ADHD.  They are a great tool for parents as well.  This post will cover the hows and whys of writing and using a social story. 

What is a social story?  A social story is a story about something a child is going to be experiencing in the future, often with pictures.  The story prepares the child for the event by telling the child what is going to happen and in what order.

For instance, a story about going to the dentist will explain to the child that he or she is going to see a person to help them keep their teeth clean. Then the story will walk the child through the steps: checking in at the office, waiting in the waiting room, sitting in the dentist chair, ex-rays, cleaning and getting a balloon at the end.

In the story, you can reference specific things that might be hard for your child.  For instance, of your child is bothered by noise, you can explain what parts of the dentist visit will be noisy.  Or maybe you will explain that it feels funny to have someone clean your teeth for you, but that it will not hurt.  Social stories are a chance to explain what is going to happen so your child is less surprised and better able to handle those things when they happen. 

For younger kids (under the age of 10), I illustrate the story. If I can, I use pictures of the people and places the child will encounter.  So I might find or take a picture of the dentist’s office or the dentist to let the child know what to expect.  If I can’t do that, I use clip art to illustrate different steps. 

Parents can also use social stories to “front-load” expectations.  Front-load is a fancy term for setting out expectations ahead of events.  For instance, “You have to sit still in the dentist’s chair and let the dentist look in your mouth” is a great way to help your child know what he or she must do at the dentist.  You can also tie rewards to good behavior in the story “When you let the dentist look at your teeth, everyone is proud of you!  The dentist will give you a balloon for doing so well” (if you know your dentist hands out balloons). 

Putting together all the elements of the story we just talked about, here is what a social story for going to the dentist might look like (minus pictures).

You are going to the dentist on Tuesday.

The dentist helps your teeth stay clean and healthy.

When you go to the dentist, Mom will tell the dentist that you are ready to have your teeth cleaned.

You might have to wait in the lobby for the dentist to be ready for you.

When they are ready, a dental hygienist, a person who helps the dentist, will take us to a small room in the back.  Mom will stay with you. 

The dental hygienist will have you sit in a big chair. She will use a special machine to take pictures of your teeth.

This does not hurt at all, although she will have you bite down on something that feels funny.

Then the dental hygienist will clean your teeth.  She will use different tools to do this. Some of them will be noisy.  You can wear earplugs if you want. 

You have to sit still and let your teeth get cleaned.  It is important!

The dentist will come in then.  She will look at your teeth and show you the pictures they took earlier. 

If you let the hygienist clean your teeth and let the dentist look at your teeth, everyone will be proud of you!  The dentist will give you a balloon after she sees your clean teeth.

Read the story at least 3-5 times before the event for kids ages 3-7.  For kids 8-10, 1-2 readings usually suffice unless the child is on the spectrum (if the child is on the spectrum, consider increasing to 3-5 times for older kids, to 5-10 times for younger kids.)  Kids will let you know when they understand what will happen by telling you they understand or telling others about what they are going to be doing.  Some might like the comfort of reading the story again and again though, so be prepared to read the story as often as your child needs it.  

When expectations are understood and events explained, kids tend to behave better.  The world becomes more understandable and the hidden rules adults understand are made explicit. Kids thrive on clarity and understanding.

If social stories are too hard for you to write or you feel uncomfortable writing them, children’s books that explain things that will happen to your child can be great for this as well.  The Bernstein Bears have many books that explain things like the dentist and doctor.  They can be great shortcuts to social stories.  

Tricks for ADHD Survival

Confession time: I have ADHD.  Always have.  Always will.  I’ve lived with it for so long, I have developed my own weird ways to manage it- plus my highly engaging, enjoyable job makes ADHD less of an issue.  Many members of my family have ADHD as well.  All of us are competent professionals with degrees.  One of the most enduring (and annoying) ADHD myths is that ADHD makes one stupid, or, at the very least, makes academic success impossible.  This is so very, very not true! 

If you want to manage ADHD well, you have to get creative.  I’m going to start a recurring feature on this blog: ADHD tips and tricks.  Every time I learn one from a fellow therapist, think of something I do that helps my ADHD, or find something that really works for a child I know, I’ll write it here.  Starting now, here are five tricks I use at least once a week that you could modify to use with your child or children with ADHD.  

1.    Standing desk!  Seriously, being able to move my body while I work makes me so much happier and more focused.  At work, I just raised my adjustable desk to max height.  I’m short so that worked. And heck, for kids, all you need is an adult-size desk that is adjustable.  Adjust it so the child’s elbows are parallel to the work surface.    

2.    Drawing during meetings/lectures.  I go to tons of training as part of my job.  I carry a sketchbook and sketch during every training I attend.  It helps me to focus.  At one training I went to, the people sitting at my table were amazed to realize that I had been retaining the information better than most of them while I was drawing.  Research supports the idea that drawing during class helps kids retain information.  I’ve written “able to draw during lectures” into the accommodation part of an IEP for my clients if schools seemed unwilling to allow it.  

3.    Interspersing the interesting work with the not-so-interesting.  I can’t sit and document for an hour straight- but if I document for 10 minutes, then make a phone call, then walk to someone else’s office to ask a question, then come back to paperwork, I focus better-and get more done.  With kids, I try to “chunk” sessions, with part of the session being more active work (painting at an easel, maybe throwing a ball around while talking) then a less active drawing or sculpture activity. Kids focus better on what I am saying if they can be active and have variety in what we are doing.  With homework, try working in breaks!  They are motivating and, counter-intuitively, they help things get done faster. 

4.    Music while working.  Music allows that part of the ADHD brain that gets distracted to get distracted just enough to allow for focus. I’m not sure WHY this works, but it works for me and many people I know who have ADHD. 

5.    Physical activity multiple times a day. Your kid with ADHD needs to start his or her day with activity and take regular active breaks during the day.  I bike commute, or, if I am not able to do that, I ride my exercise bike or go on a walk or run every morning.  Can your child walk or ride a bike to school?  Can they get up earlier and be active at home before they leave for school?  At school, is your child missing recess due to behavior problems?  If so, they might not be getting enough physical activity breaks in their day.  Can you talk to the teacher about alternative consequences? Or maybe the teacher would let your child work on his or her classwork standing in the back (see first tip) or sitting on a yoga ball.  Both can get some of those ‘wiggles’ out. 

I’ll keep adding tips as I think of them.  I hope this helps a few people modify their life or their kid’s life.  Academic success is very possible with ADHD but you do need to come up with creative ways to accommodate you or your child’s ADHD.   Keep working on it and don't be afraid to ask for help if you need it!  Success is possible.