To therapist my child or not?

I am often approached by desperate and dedicated, but exhausted parents with the request for therapy for their children.

Most of the time it is clear that it is the parents who need therapy and support, not the children.

Parents with children with ADHD are in the line of fire 24/7. Apart from coping with a ‘difficult’ child, they also have to negotiate everyday stress. And even though in some instances it is necessary to send a child with ADHD for therapy, it should not necessarily be the first line of action.

Parents’ expectations of therapist are often unrealistic. They think a good therapist will be able to ‘change’ their child’s improper behaviour within a few sessions and one day magically all the unwanted behaviour will just disappear. The same goes for expectations about meds. ADHD is a constant. There are good days and there are bads.

The breakthrough change has to come from the family itself, and a lot of it has to do with educating yourself as a parent and developing resilience. Parents need to understand the brain mechanics of ADHD and learn how to parent a difficult child.

Another factor is exploring the possibility that one of the parents could also have ADHD. Research shows that if a child presents with ADHD there is a more than 65% chance that one of the parents will have ADHD. Being a parent with ADHD is a game-changer. You need to sort out your own ADHD-ness and understand the effects thereof on your family, before expecting anyone else to change.

I have seen amazing results in families where parents signed up for Behaviour Parent Training and followed a Behaviour Modification Approach with their child, without sending the child for therapy. And remember as soon as you send your child to a therapist – you have created the perception within your child that something is wrong with them…

In the end you are your child’s best therapist. You spend a lot of time with him/her. A therapist will see your child for an hour maybe once a week. And any therapist that works with children will tell you, children as clients are tough customers. It takes a lot of time and patience to ‘break through’ to a child and understand what makes them tick. So unless your child has severe OCD, depression, bi-polar, trauma or other personality related disorders, your first starting point in terms of therapy and training should be with yourselves as parents.

Parents need emotional support. You need skills and coping strategies. If you have different parenting styles – those need to be modified. You need to be taught effective Parent Training techniques and disciplinary methods specifically for the ADHD child. In a nutshell: you have to be prepared for them, with a big goodie bag full of ideas and tricks, otherwise you’ll be run over.

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