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Adjust the Energy You Give to Your Child

by Judith Champion

One thing is true, whether a child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or not, children need attention from their parents. Our attention comforts and teaches. It is the most important thing in their young lives.

Another truth is children want to succeed; they want to be good. They want to please us and be praised. Praise, positive reinforcement is the attention they need. Positive Reinforcement is the most valuable commodity in a parent-child relationship.

Young children don’t measure the value of attention based on whether it is positive or negative. They are too emotionally and intellectually immature to be able to do that. They measure the value of the attention they are receiving based on the energy associated with that attention. Think about it. Young children can’t discriminate between good and bad. They can, however, tell the difference between high and low energy levels. When you think attention, think energy!

Parents typically use a much higher volume voice and energy output when reprimanding a child, then when praising a child.

When your child does something wrong, it is easy to yell while waving your hands, shaking your head and pacing around the room in frustration. Perhaps you only raise your voice; it is still a high energy output.

When your child is behaving appropriately in a particular situation, the behavior may not even elicit a response from you. If it does, you may say, “Good job, son” and continue with what you were doing.

If you were measuring the energy between these two events, which event would you say had more energy, the negative or the positive? Clearly, the frustrating, negative event wins.

Young children feel the difference in these levels of energy. Remember, they want attention, they want energy. Soon they link inappropriate behavior with a bigger response (more energy) from you. Children with ADHD are in search of stimulation. Yelling, arguing, continuous negotiation, expressions of frustration, whatever you call the negative energy that you and your child exchange, it is a negative stimulating response.

Research has shown that a positive response modifies behavior more quickly than a negative response. Positive response teaches. Negative response may immediately stop the behavior; but it does not teach. It is difficult for any child to listen when being yelled at, especially a child with ADHD. In addition, the negative reactive response may create fear in a small child and, if continued, will eventually erode the parent/child bond.

Adjust the energy of the responses you give to your child. Bring down the volume and energy of your negative responses. Ignore the little things and respond to the big things in a calm manner. Work at it. Catch yourself before you shout. Step back and take a deep breath and then move forward. If you find that you just cannot calm down, tell your child you need a minute and walk away.

Don’t forget about the behavior; don’t ignore it even though that may be easier. Come back to your child to talk about the inappropriate behavior. Discuss it in a calm measured manner.

Bring up the volume and energy of your positive responses. Pay more attention to your child’s good behavior. Praise your child in a big, energy filled way. This will probably be a pattern change for you. Don’t expect it to be easy; it won’t be. But you can do it.

Eventually, your child will recognize that he gets more energy/attention from you for exhibiting good behavior than when he exhibits bad behavior. It makes sense, doesn’t it?

It is important to recognize that your reaction is a part of your child’s behavior. It’s a dance that the two of you are doing together. Change your dance steps and your child will be forced to change his.

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