Every parent knows the feeling when we want or need our kid to do something and that simple request blows up into an all-out battle of the wills. Your child refuses to do what you’ve asked and you’re feeling more and more angry as the battle goes on. There are no winners in a power struggle. Even if you can finally convince them to comply, you’ve lost time and energy in the process. Because kids with ADHD have difficulty feeling motivated by what other people want them to do, it’s important for parents to learn how to use external motivation to gain cooperation.
Use these steps to avoid power struggles and calm chaos at home
1. Define Your Expectations
Think about typical situations that cause conflict or difficulty in your home and make a list of specific concerns. Pick only one concern to start with and think about what it would look like if your child completed the task without difficulty. Write down the behaviors you want to see.
2. Schedule Time to Talk
Find a time without distractions to sit down with your child to discuss your concerns. Start the meeting by saying “I need your help to solve a problem, let’s take 5 minutes to see if we can figure this out together. Here’s the problem, we need to get you to school on time every day. How do you think we can do this?”
*It’s important to keep your focus on what you want to see (that list you wrote in step 1) rather than what is wrong. This will help to engage your child in the process rather than provoking another battle of the wills.
3. Listen to all Ideas
Encourage your child to come up with ideas for how to solve the problem. Write everyone's ideas down on paper even if you don’t think they will work.
4. Discuss Rewards
Talk with your child to figure out what rewards will help her to stay motivated to follow the plan. Allow her to negotiate with you on how many completed tasks it will take to earn the reward.
5. Take a Break
Take a break to think about all of the ideas and the rewards. Encourage your child to write down any additional ideas she comes up with during the break time but let her know that you need time to think about it.
6. Schedule time to talk about the final plan
After you've had time to think about all the ideas for how to solve the problem, schedule another meeting to share your thoughts and finish the negotiations for tasks and rewards. Ask your child to help you come up with a simple way to keep track of daily progress and designate a trial time period to test the plan. At my house, we meet weekly and revise the plan as needed. Sometimes my child wants to earn a different reward, other times I want to increase her level of responsibility by adding another task to the list. Each time we negotiate the tasks and rewards together until we both can agree to the plan.
Remember to start small. Tasks should be easily attainable at first to engage your child's cooperation with the process. Once everyone gets the hang of it, add one additional task at a time.