BY TIM CHAVEZ, SSW
Davis Behavioral Health
Last summer I helped run a skills group for boys with ADHD and similar diagnoses. Before the group started I was warned to keep a close eye on a certain boy that we’ll call Ben. Ben, I was told by several sources, would be especially difficult to manage.
Admittedly, the reports about the 9-year-old were somewhat concerning in part because this was my first group with kids.
On the first day, I watched Ben closely as his eyes darted about the room, focusing on irrelevant stimuli: clock, bookshelf, lightСeverything except the therapist leading the group, and it became apparent that Ben’s symptoms were discernibly worse than his similarly diagnosed peers. Barely five minutes passed before Ben was on the ground doing push-ups in an attempt to relieve his extreme boredom. A staff member helping with the group started to approach Ben to direct him to his chair. I stopped the staff member and waited several minutes before Ben sat back in his chair and immediately crouched behind him and whispered, “Good job buddy! Thanks for sitting in your chair!”
Ben gave me a confused look that was soon replaced with a proud smile. Clearly he wasn’t used to praise and for the remainder of group Ben sat as attentively as he could, watching staff to see if they would notice.
I can’t say that Ben behaved perfectly for the rest of the summer group. But by ignoring Ben’s minor misbehaviors and praising everything he did right, he learned a new way to earn attention and his behavior was much better than anyone had predicted.
Symptoms of ADHD include fidgeting, talking out of turn, and making careless mistakesСbehaviors likely to earn a reprimand from parents and teachers. Unfortunately, frustrated adults can actually reinforce undesired behaviors by constantly giving attention to them; negative attention is attention after all, and every kid craves and needs attention.
A better approach is to shift one’s attention away from the negative by ignoring minor mishaps and praising desired behaviorsСa parenting skill called differential attention.
Doing this reinforces good behaviors, all the while building the child’s self-esteem. This is especially important for the ADHD kid like Ben, who, without proper treatment and supportive adults, can grow up to face a life of educational difficulties, employment problems, substance abuse issues, and strained interpersonal relationships.