A few months ago, I took Sophie to Casey’s to get brownie bites. I was in a hurry, trying to get to one of her brother’s games on time. Then…a disaster hit! There were no brownie bites at the store. I told Soph to choose something else because I didn’t want to be late to the game. She looked around the store. One minute…two minutes…three minutes. She saw everything they had to offer – twice. As the minutes went by, my patience faded. Sophie insisted we go to another Casey’s store. I told her she had ten seconds to make a choice. I started the countdown. Her demands that we go to another store became louder. I continued to count. Her frustration continued to build. Tears came with louder demands. I walked out of the store without buying her anything and as she finally followed me she was literally kicking and screaming.
This chart explains exactly what happened in Casey’s that day. Sophie has ADHD, which leaves her with little to no pause before she reacts. A thought enters her mind and she acts on it or she is triggered and this produces a big emotional response.
Reaction to stimuli occurs instantly and naturally in the brain of a person with ADHD. The best way to curb this instant reaction is to be proactive. In the story above, I could have prompted Sophie before going into the store by saying, “We are in a hurry so if this store doesn’t have brownie bites, let’s think of something else you can choose.” Proactively prompting with a timer is also helpful. I might say, “We are running behind so you will have three minutes to choose something. If you don’t choose something by the time the timer goes off, we will have to leave without a snack.” This only works if it is presented before the child begins to escalate. Waiting to insert an intervention until after escalation has begun, most often, does not work.
Teaching a pause before reacting is also a great intervention. This skill is part of executive functioning. Executive functioning skills include: paying attention, organizing and planning, initiating and focusing on tasks, regulating emotions and self-monitoring.
Smart but Scattered is a great resource with tons of tips to teach your child executive functioning skills. These skills help our kids learn how to pause before reacting.
Sophie continues to struggle with the pause and I continue to attempt to stay far enough ahead of her that I can be proactive. I know that if she is tired, her routine is off or she hasn’t had her medication; there is very little chance that she will have the ability to pause. I also know that her behavior is not personal and if she could control her behavior, she would.
Earlier this month, Soph became upset with me because I would not allow her to shoot off all of her fireworks at once. Instead of yelling, she refused to speak to me (which was nice for a change) and stormed off into the house. Later that night, I came out of the shower to find the heart below on my bed. She processed the situation by herself and took it upon herself to make amends. This is progress. Having the ability to recognize the problem may, one day, lead to her ability to prevent an issue from occurring at all!