Many people think of ADHD as a disorder of attention or lack thereof. This is the traditional view of ADHD. But ADHD is much more complex. It involves issues with executive functioning, a set of cognitive skills, which has far-reaching effects.
In his comprehensive and excellent book Mindful Parenting for ADHD: A Guide to Cultivating Calm, Reducing Stress & Helping Children Thrive, developmental behavioral pediatrician Mark Bertin, MD, likens ADHD to an iceberg.
Above the water, people see poor focus, impulsivity and other noticeable symptoms. However, below the surface are a slew of issues caused by impaired executive function (which Bertin calls “an inefficient, off-task brain manager”).
Understanding the role of executive function in ADHD is critical for parents, so they can find the right tools to address their child’s ADHD. Plus, what may look like deliberate misbehaving may be an issue with ADHD, a symptom that requires a different solution.
And if you’re an adult with ADHD, learning about the underlying issues can help you better understand yourself and find strategies that actually work — versus trying harder, which doesn’t.
It helps to think of executive function as involving six skills. In Mindful Parenting for ADHD, Dr. Bertin models this idea after an outline from ADHD expert Thomas E. Brown. The categories are:
ADHD isn’t an inability to pay attention. ADHD makes it harder to manage your attention. According to Bertin, “It leads to trouble focusing when demands rise, being overly focused when intensely engaged, and difficulty shifting attention.”
For instance, in noisy settings, kids with ADHD can lose the details of a conversation, feel overwhelmed and shut down (or act out). It’s also common for kids with ADHD to be so engrossed in an activity that they won’t register anything you say to them during that time.
This is the “ability to monitor your own physical activity and behavior,” Bertin writes. Delays in this type of executive function can lead to fidgeting, hyperactivity and impulsiveness.
It also can take longer to learn from mistakes, which requires being aware of the details and consequences of your actions. And it can cause motor delays, poor coordination and problems with handwriting.
This includes organizing, planning, prioritizing and managing time. As kids get older, it’s task management (and not attention) that tends to become the most problematic.
Also, “Unlike some ADHD-related difficulties, task management doesn’t respond robustly to medication,” Bertin writes. This means that it’s important to teach your kids strategies for getting organized.
People with ADHD can have poor working memory. “Working memory is the capacity to manage the voluminous information we encounter in the world and integrate it with what we know,” Bertin writes. We need to be able to temporarily hold information for everything from conversations to reading to writing.
This explains why your child may not follow through when you give them a series of requests. They simply lose the details. What can help is to write a list for your child, or give them a shorter list of verbal instructions.
Kids with ADHD tend to be more emotionally reactive. They get upset and frustrated faster than others. But that’s because they may not have the ability to control their emotions and instead react right away.
Individuals with ADHD have difficulty sustaining effort. It isn’t that they don’t value work or aren’t motivated, but they may run out of steam. Some kids with ADHD also may not work as quickly or efficiently.
Trying to push them can backfire. “For many kids with ADHD, external pressure may decrease productivity …Stress decreases cognitive efficiency, making it harder to solve problems and make choices,” Bertin writes. This can include tasks such as leaving the house and taking tests.
Bertin features a list of other signs in Mindful Parenting for ADHD because many ADHD symptoms involve several parts of executive function. For instance, kids with ADHD tend to struggle with maintaining routines, and parents might need to help them manage these routines longer than other kids.
Kids with ADHD also have inconsistent performance. This leads to a common myth: If you just try harder, you’ll do better. However, as Bertin notes, “Their inconsistency is their ADHD. If they could succeed more often, they would.”
Managing time is another issue. For instance, individuals with ADHD may not initially see all the steps that are required for a project, thereby taking a whole lot more time. They may underestimate how long a task will take (“I’ll watch the movie tonight and write my paper before the bus tomorrow”). They may not track their time accurately or prioritize effectively (playing until it’s too late to do homework).
In addition, people with ADHD often have a hard time finishing what they start. Kids may rarely put things away, leaving cabinets open and leaving their toys and clothes all over the house.
ADHD is complex and disruptions in executive functioning affect all areas of a person’s life. But this doesn’t mean that you or your child is doomed. Rather, by learning more about how ADHD really works, you can find specific strategies to address each challenge.
And thankfully there are many tools to pick from. You can start by typing in “strategies for ADHD” in the search bar on Psych Central and checking out Bertin’s valuable book.
A number of students are referred to me exhibiting signs related to behavioural and emotional challenges. More times than not, I will see clients who are moderate to severe in their behaviours. So we’re talking about students who are involved in disruptive behaviours or illicit activities, atypical behaviours, and consistent violators of school policies. To be more specific, these are children who were referred to the multidisciplinary team, for the following issues at school and at home:
- verbally abusive
- fighting with fist and weapons
- uncontrollable sudden outbursts of anger
- constant stealing
- excessive lying
- drugs and alcohol abuse etc.
Generally, I will begin with a Functional Behavioural Assessment (FBA) on the student. This will include a number of observations, interviews with teachers, parents and the student, along with checking reports from other stakeholders. The objective is to get as much information as possible.
Over the years I have come to notice that behavioural or emotional challenges do not always exist in isolation (in this case only in one particular setting), but, sometimes their expressions do.
Some years ago, after graduate school, as I was starting off as a psychologist working with children with emotional and behavioural disorders, at the time I did not realise there was so much more I had to learn. I remember taking the approach that clients will be consistent in their behaviours, regardless of the environment they were placed in. But human beings are not like programmed robots. For instance, if we install software on our laptops, then regardless of where we are in the world, it should work the same. So, if I take my laptop to Europe, Africa, United States or the Caribbean, when the icon for Microsoft Office Word is clicked, the program will open. People should be the same, right? No! This approach will be so wrong.
Behaviour is affected biochemically, but environmental factors (or lack of specific ones) around us, also influences our reactions or expressions.
It is therefore very important, that to reduce or to completely eradicate an unwanted behaviour, we look at things which maybe contributing as fuel to the behaviour. When this is identified, we should manipulate it to modify the behaviour.
Now, the understanding that children are affected by their environment has vital importance on the way they learn as well. For this reason, as an educational psychologist working with teachers and students, I encourage teachers to create an environment with things that acts as positive stimuli. These positive stimuli may include:
- a library,
- adequate space for group work and other social interactions,
- proper lighting and temperature,
- and a reasonably outfitted soundproofed room etc.
What are some additional features you believe can be used to act as positive stimuli to our children learning?
I believe that in spite of all that is going on in the world; in your community, in your home for instance, it is possible for you to live a more meaningful life.
Whatever you choose to do in your life that is positive, can move from just being an idea in your head to becoming a reality.
So, what do you want for yourself? Do you want to become a better father or mother, student, athlete, business person or spiritually minded person for example.
I want you to read through this book and truly find value from the information that is placed within.
I challenge you to be better because I know you can.
Do you want to communicate with your children, have them listen to you or follow instructions easier? Millions of parents and teachers around the world are saying yes to this question. If you say yes too, then this podcast is for you.
We live in a world that is very much modern. There are so much we have available to us that can assist in making us effective. Parenting, in order to be effective today, must also be done using modern or up-to-date strategies. Listen to this podcast and learn some of them.
Remember to subscribe, like, and share this content if you think it was meaningful.
When you’re treating any illness, making mistakes is inevitable. After all, making mistakes is how you learn, grow and get better.
Depression is a difficult illness, which colors how you see and feel about yourself. So, if you find yourself making the “mistakes” below, try not to judge yourself. Rather, view these mistakes as stepping stones, as signposts that lead you in a more helpful direction.
Below are five beliefs or behaviors that are ineffective in managing depression, along with insights into what works.
- Telling yourself to snap out of it. “When you’re depressed, it’s common to think that there’s no good reason that you’re having trouble getting out of bed, struggling to concentrate, or feeling so low,” said Lee Coleman, Ph.D, a clinical psychologist and author of Depression: A Guide for the Newly Diagnosed.So you might try to motivate yourself by being self-critical or using shame, he said. After all, when you’re depressed, it can feel like you’re swimming in negative, shame-soaked thoughts.While your intentions may be good — you’re trying to motivate yourself to do your best — “the language of criticism, guilt and shame isn’t helpful and usually makes us feel even worse.”If these thoughts arise, Coleman stressed the importance of responding to them and reminding yourself of these key facts. “[D]epression is an illness like any other — one that affects not just your mood, but also your sleep, energy, motivation, and even the way you look at yourself.”
Remind yourself that “nobody ever yelled themselves out of feeling depressed.” Instead, take small steps and stay active, he said. Getting better from any illness takes time.
- Not revealing what’s going on. When you have depression it’s also common to feel embarrassed or ashamed. Depression “can feel like a fundamental flaw with who you are,” said Coleman, assistant director and director of training at the California Institute of Technology’s student counseling center.Consequently, you may cover up how you’re feeling, which might lead others to get frustrated with you or simply become confused about what’s going on, he said.“Remember that others, even the ones who love you the most, aren’t psychic and may still be operating on old information.”When talking about how you’re feeling, you don’t need to divulge the details or even use the word “depression,” he said. What’s more important is letting them know “what you need while you’re working on feeling better” (some people may automatically ask how they can help). For instance, you might need more time to complete a project, he said.
- Underestimating depression. “While many appear to realize that depression has a medical origin, some underestimate exactly how depression impacts their life,” said Deborah Serani, Psy.D, a clinical psychologist and author of the booksLiving with Depression and Depression and Your Child. Some of Serani’s clients don’t realize that depression affects their “personal, social and occupational worlds.” But depression affects all facets of a person’s life.She shared this example: Personally, you might struggle with significant sadness, self-doubt, fatigue, difficulty concentrating and hopelessness. These symptoms might cause you to withdraw from your relationships or become irritable and impatient with others.At work or school, fatigue, self-doubt and an inability to concentrate might lead to incomplete assignments, poor performance and difficulty remembering important information.
When you understand your depression and how it affects your entire life, you’re able to address those symptoms and support yourself with effective techniques.
As Serani said, “Having knowledge about an illness that touches your life empowers you.”
- Getting lax with treatment. When clients start to feel better, they may become “too casual with their treatment plan,” Serani said. This may start with missing medication doses or skipping therapy sessions, she said.Serani often hears clients say: “Why do I have to keep coming for therapy if I feel better? What’s the big deal if I miss a dose of my antidepressant?”However, it is a big deal. Research has shown that if you stick to your treatment plan and view your illness as a priority, you can become symptom-free, Serani said. But if you don’t, it might take you longer to get better, or your symptoms may worsen.To convey the seriousness of depression, Serani sometimes substitutes the word “depression” with other illnesses, such as diabetes, heart disease and cancer.
“Though these are very different illnesses, they all have one thing in common: The need for the patient to respect the seriousness of the illness.”
She further noted: “If you had cancer, would you skip chemotherapy? If you had heart disease, would you cancel your appointment with your cardiologist? As a diabetic, would you ignore your blood sugar levels?”
Make a commitment to your depression treatment for at least a year, which research suggests, Serani said. “For those with moderate or severe depression, treatment will be longer.”
- Not being self-compassionate. Being compassionate to ourselves is important every day, and it’s especially vital when we’re sick or struggling. However, as Coleman said, “Unfortunately, because depression casts a negative light on our thoughts, it’s easy to see compassion as just feeling sorry for yourself, or as giving permission to lie around all day.”On the contrary, genuine self-compassion involves being honest with yourself and responding to your needs. It means acknowledging that you’re currently struggling, accepting that you’ll need time to feel like yourself, and realizing that it’s absolutely OK to lower your expectations of yourself, he said.“It’s not a judgment about yourself as a person, and it’s not giving yourself a blank check to feel bad forever.”If you find it hard to be self-compassionate, think of what you’d say to a loved one who was feeling the same way, Coleman said.
“Your tone would probably be caring and supportive, not blaming or attacking. That same tone may not come as naturally when you talk to yourself during depression, but it’s absolutely worth remembering and trying to draw from, even if it takes a little effort.”
Again, depression is a serious and difficult illness. But remember that you’re not alone, Serani said. “Depression can often leave a person feeling hopeless and isolated, but there are many out there who know your struggle and can support you along the way.”
She suggested connecting with a “health professional, a mood disorder organization, support group or a compassionate friend who understands you.”
1) Love your students (even when they’re not so loveable!)
Enjoying and growing with your students is one of the most important ways to combat burnout. Unfortunately when you’re stressed, it can feel almost impossible to see the kids as the beautiful people that they are. It’s really helped me to build times into our daily schedule which force me to step back and remember what’s important.
For example, in our class meetings, I set a timer for one minute and the entire class greeted one another by name, usually with a handshake of some sort. That’s all the time to takes for every student to smile up at me, shake my hand, and say, “Good morning, Mrs. Watson!” This act alone sets the tone for the day and reminds me that I’m dealing with kids who have feelings, too.
I also had my students give a ‘fist bump or handshake’ when they left the classroom each afternoon. This personal acknowledgement gave me another chance to connect with each child and really calmed me down at the end of the day when I was feeling stressed. Sometimes I also had ‘tickets out the door’—the kids wrote one thing they learned that day and handed me their paper (the ‘ticket’) at dismissal. Having a written record that YES, this day was worth getting out of bed for because I did actually get through to the kids, was enough to help me keep going sometimes when feeling discouraged.
You can have lunch or snack with your kids as a reward every now and then—an unstructured time to just sit and talk about what’s going on in their lives really endears them to you (and vice versa).
Look for little ways like this to accomplish the goal of seeing students as individual people with unique needs, feelings, and experiences. Sometimes the school system trains us to think of kids as machines that can be pushed to the limit every minute of the day and perform at 100% of their ability regardless of outside factors, and we have to intentionally do things to remind ourselves that this is not the case.
When kids feel cared for and respected, they will work harder for you and follow your rules, making the day less stressful and more productive for everyone. It’s worth taking the time and energy to connect with your kids, because the payoffs are ten fold!
2) Focus on your big picture vision
It’s easy to get caught up in the little things that are so frustrating about being a teacher: repeating directions over and over, dealing with the same behavior problem from the same kid every single day, completing meaningless paperwork, grading a million papers…and if you focus on the small things that drive you crazy, you WILL get burned out.
There is a reason you became a teacher—was it to make a difference in a child’s life? To express your creativity? To immerse yourself in a subject you love and inspire students to do the same?
Reconnect with that part of you.
Write out your personal mission statement and post it somewhere in the room where you (and maybe only you) will see it throughout the day.
Create goals that you know you can meet and celebrate your success when you reach them.
Don’t major in the minors or allow yourself to become discouraged by distractions. The extent of your work and your impact goes far beyond what you see from day to day. Seeds are being planted, and lives are being changed, whether you see the results immediately or not.
3) Create a strong support system
I am blessed to have had at least one person in each school I’ve worked in that I considered a true friend—not just a colleague or associate, but a person that I could call at 2 a.m. with a flat tire and know that she would pick me up. When I was single, I hung out with someone from my job almost every single day, whether it was for something fun like shopping at the mall or hanging out on the beach, or something practical, like running errands together or keeping an eye on her kids while she cooked dinner for us (a good trade, I might add.) Knowing that I had someone I can go to with any problem, personal or professional, was the main thing that got me through the day sometimes—that thought of, whew, in an hour I can go next door and just vent!
If you wish you had friends like that in your school, give it time. Because teachers spend so much time isolated in their own classrooms, there aren’t many opportunities to get to know one another, and it can take awhile to get close to your colleagues. Be open to opportunities, and don’t write anyone off–I’ve often bonded with people that I would have never imagined myself growing close to! Even finding just one wise person you trust and can share ideas with might be all you need.
When time goes by and you feel like you still aren’t making connections with anyone in your current teaching position, you could also consider moving to another grade level or even school where there are teachers that have similar personalities (and ideally, life situations) as you. Having a strong support system is just that critical, and it’s sometimes worth the move!
When a student needs a break and you have a trusted colleague, you can send the child to him or her to work for awhile, no questions asked. When you miss a meeting, you have someone to take notes for you. When you’re rearranging your classroom or revamping your behavior plan, you have someone to bounce ideas off. If you have even a single co-worker that you can count on for that, it’s going to make a big difference in your energy level and enthusiasm at work.
Even if you don’t have true friends at work—or if you prefer to keep your personal and professional lives separate—it is important to have people you trust and can go to when you’re stressed at school. Your spouse, friends, and family do NOT understand what it is like to be a teacher unless they have been educators themselves—what we go through on a daily basis in completely beyond the realm of imagination for the general public. You need to talk to another teacher who understands the pressure you’re under, so seek people out in teacher Facebook groups, message board forums, Twitter chats, and so on. Join one of my book clubs or The 40 Hour Teacher Workweek Club. There are fantastic teachers out there who want to offer support and friendship!
4) Focus on flexibility and express your creativity
For me, one of the best aspects of being a teacher is the ability to be creative and let my classroom and daily routines reflect my personality and interests. Before you complain that YOU don’t have that kind of flexibility, let me assure you, I taught in Florida where third graders were automatically retained if they didn’t pass the state standardized test, so I was under a tremendous amount of pressure. We had to have our schedules posted and were supposed to adhere to them at all times. Our lesson plans had to be planned as a grade level team and followed precisely.
And even with these types of restraints, I still maintained a sense of freedom in my classroom. Sure, I needed to teach a specific standard on this day between 11:15 a.m. and 11:45 a.m., but I could teach it any way I wanted—with apps, individual dry erase boards, games, manipulatives, group activities, music, and so on.
I’d start the lesson I had planned, gauge the kids’ interest, and then adjust accordingly. I don’t know of any teachers, other than those who have scripted lessons, who are not allowed that sort of freedom, in reality if not on paper. Don’t lose sight of how awesome it is to choose many of the activities you do each day!
You probably have more control over your classroom than you realize. If your head hurts, you can have the kids can do more independent work; if you’re feeling energetic, you can teach using a game; if you want to sit down for awhile, you can call the kids to the carpet and teach while relaxing in a rocking chair. We have a tremendous amount of flexibility that we CANNOT overlook.
Think about how many people sit behind a desk nine hours a day, every day, doing the work other people assign to them. Hardly anyone gets to change tasks to suit their moods and still be productive—we do, because teaching is as much an art as it is a science, and there are a limitless number of ways to teach effectively.
Yes, there are many limits and restraints on teachers that threaten to suck all the joy out of our profession. But when you focus on what you DO have control over and all the ways that you CAN be flexible and express your creativity, you return to that original passion you had for teaching.
You took this job because you wanted to do awesome things with kids every day. So do that! Stay focused on your vision rather than the restraints that create burnout.
Go into your classroom and focus on what’s meaningful. Use the flexibility and opportunities to be creative that you’re given. Surround yourself with awesome teachers and a strong support network so you don’t feel isolated. Return to your big picture vision as a teacher, and enjoy your students. You can do this, and remember–it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be worth it! Next Sunday, I’ll share four more keys to avoiding burnout right here in this post.