If you have an ADHD child with emotional dysregulation issues, you’ve been here before: your child comes out of their bedroom, down the stairs to the living room where you’re quietly enjoying a peaceful Saturday morning. They want more screen time, and the answer is no. They beg and plead, they tell you how you’re ruining their life, and eventually, they go into a full-blown meltdown. Doors are slammed, venomous barbs traded by all parties, and a scene fit for Hollywood unfolds.
Unfortunately for parents, the conversation your child had with you started before you were even in the room. They’ve already created the narrative: “mom/dad is going to tell me no, and it’s going to be unfair.” This means they aren’t starting the conversation with you at a 0 or 1 on a scale of 1-10. Before they ever open their bedroom door, they’re already at a 6 or 7; they are already on the precipice of a meltdown. Your child is approaching the interaction with certainty that they are on a different team than you are. They are trying to get to yes, and you are trying to get to no. This flawed assumption, based on a story that your child created in their head, is typically a source of what feels like a rapid descent into a meltdown.
This story exists because ADHD children place a high value on transparency and understanding, and when they don’t have it, they fill in the blanks with negativity. From their perspective, they are trying to get you to say yes, but you are ready to tell them no.
In order to combat this, you can shift the way you approach these conversations (thereby shifting the way your child approaches them), by making sure your child knows that you and they are on the same team. This approach helps your child feel involved in the process and, makes them feel like they have an ally (you). It will also help your child understand why the answer sometimes is no. ADHD children have an easier time accepting a situation they don’t like when they feel like they fully understand it.
Try approaching these tough conversations from the perspective of getting to yes. Include your child in your thought process, and work with them, not against them, to come up with a solution that works for everyone.
Here’s how it works:
Step 1: Acknowledge the request, and ask questions about the request so you are able to better understand what’s at stake to your child.
- What is it exactly you want to do?
- Why is this important to you?
- How will you feel if you do get to do it vs How will you feel if you don’t get to do it?
- Can you rate for me on a scale of 1-10 how important this is to you?
Step 2: Lay out the challenges before you in your effort to get to yes, and ask for their acknowledgment that these challenges are legitimate things preventing you from saying yes.
- I understand you want more screen time, and I want you to have more screen time as well because I can see how important it is to you, and how meaningful that time would be for you. It’s tough for me to get to yes on this because you have a lot of homework, because your bedtime is in two hours, and because the last time we gave you more screen time, it made you grumpier than usual when it was time to put the screen away.
- Do you understand why these things are preventing me from being able to say yes?
Step 3: Ask for help and allow your child to be an active participant in the process.
- I have a solution for the grumpiness issue, but I think it’s a lot more likely we can get to yes if you can help me try to figure out some viable solutions to your bedtime and your homework, because I’m stumped.
- Here are a few of my ideas and why I don’t think they’re going to work quite as well as we need them to.
- Do you think you could help me come up with some solutions? Because I’d really love for you to be able to have more screen time.
By including your child in the process, you are creating three pivotal results: they learn to self-advocate by discussing what they want, and the ways in which they might get there, they understand the process you’re going through, and the things preventing you from saying yes to their request, and they believe that the two of you are on the same team.
Rather than simply telling your son or daughter no, try working with them to get to yes.
ADHD Coach and Life Coach, Executive Skills Coach