ADHD: How to get you child to do anything

The other day my youngest daughter got up to stand on her already high chair to get something on the table during dinner. I grabbed her to hold her steady, because I got scared she might fall.

And I said in a demanding voice that she should sit down.

This made her hurt and angry and she fled to the sofa at the other end of the room. From where she refused to join the dinner. She did want the attention of her older sister though, This made it difficult for the older girl to stay seated and for dinner to proceed.

After a couple of attempts to get her to come back to the table, I realized that we I was stuck in a very familiar situation with our youngest daughter. Make specific demands and she will fight you until she falls asleep far too late. She’s headstrong like that.

And I remembered what we do, when we easily dissolve those situations and move on from them.

  1. We stop making specific demands on her.
  2. We acknowledge that she feels hurt.
  3. We don’t nurse her or make it attractive to stay hurt. In practice we almost ignore her.
  4. We make it attractive for her to join us again.

So I did just that. Did not tell her to come over (she knew by now). In fact, did not tell her to do anything. I didn’t even invite her over to the table anymore. As this might at this point be interpreted af further demands.

Instead I decided to see if I could make it so attractive that she couldn’t stay away.

Every evening during dinner we do a round of “What were the best things that happened today?” The girls start off by telling us three things that happened during the day, that they are happy to remember and have been a part of.

So I started that round with the older sister. And I got really into her story, head close to her so she spoke softly. And I asked extra questions to have her tell me about the cave that she had built in the kindergarden play room, and about how she played there with her friends. She was beaming form the story and the attention.

While the story was going on the smaller sister called from the sofa to hear what we were talking about. And I told her in an excited voice that I was listening to the older sisters story about the best things of the day.

Then she proceeded to tell me (still from the couch) that she didn’t like that I have grabbed her while standing on the chair. I agreed that she didn’t like that (acknowledging her emotions), and went back to the older sisters story.

Next thing I know, the younger sister slides onto her chair and asks for her food.

Without mentioning the incident that she just came out of, I gave her the food and asked her about all the best things that happened in her day.

She told us her stories about the bicycle she had been riding and the games she had played. And I gave her the same kind of attention that I had given the older sister.

It was impossible to tell that she has just been in the sofa, hurt and angry with me and my ways. We were just back to normal. Present. Happy. Content.

And I was just so happy on the inside that I am able to change my tactic along the way. This way I get to spend so much quality time with the girls.

What is wrong with scolding/setting clear limits/demanding?

Imagine being scolded as an adult.

Think about the emotions that would start in you. Think about how that would change the relation to the person that scolds you. F*** that person!

We all hate being scolded. And while it may increase the likelyhood of you doing what they want you to do, very likely it ruins your relationship with them. Maybe even for good.

All the scolding and and the threats are the wrong way to go about helping your kids adjust their behaviors.

Scolding will produce only one thing with 100% reliability: Negative inner dialogue in the child.

I find that among my clients negative inner dialogue is one of the most life destroying factors. You can have a great life that you can’t appreciate because you tear yourself and every achivement down in your own mind.

And negative inner dialogue stays with you the rest of your life, unless you manage to transform that internal dialogue to a constructive and supportive inner dialogue. And you don’t “just” do that unless you work with a highly skilled coach.

Most people never get rid of their negative inner dialogue because they don’t know that it’s even possible. Most often my clients are surprised that it’s possible, and that it’s possible for THEM, and even more so that they just did it.

So if you want to avoid creating a lot of negative inner dialogue in your child, then now is a good time to change your strategy.

And if your child is already going down the path of negative inner dialogue, then now is a perfect time to show them that you have a better strategy that works, so they can start adopting the new one. (If they are in a hole, use the ADHD Power Mind series to help them transform from the inside out.)

Why I did it this way

Years back I read a story of  the Hungarian psychologist and chess player László Polgár who wanted to show that he could make chess masters out of all his three girls. He accomplished this incredible feat by not only making playing so attractive that the girls had to beg to be part of the game, but once they were playing and being taught by him, he gave them his full attention and made the game and the learning process as enjoyable as possible.

We need to make good behavior attractive, and if we are to find an internal motivation – instead of some type of external motivation system (candy, ipad time, etc.) – then your presence and being given your full attention will be the most powerful motivator any child can have.

What we need to do instead is to attempt to produce interest, curiosity, longing for presence and attention in the child. It has become our go-to strategy to dissolving minor conflicts that arise from the parent wanting to do one thing and the child not wanting to do it.

Make it fun.

Examples include:

Getting outside:

Child: “I don’t want to go outside today. AT ALL!”

(Me almost: “You have to. Uh. Because it’s healthy and because I say so….”)

Me: “Who wants to go outside and play in the mud pool on the other side of the road?”

Two children: “Meeee!”

Inevitably these situations turn out much better than if the child had just accepted. This particular day we ended up playing in the mud for more than an hour and I returned with two happy, tired and soaked girls. And I used the experience to entertain about stories from when I worked in nature conservation in Australia. Much more fun than if I had brought a cup of tea and my smartphone with me.

Going to bed:

Child: “I don’t want to go to bed. I want to PLAY OUTSIDE!”

My wife: “I’ll be going upstairs and I can’t wait to see if that story, we started reading yesterday will be as fun today as it was yesterday. Do you want to go first up the stairs?”

Child: “Yeah!”

This is how you do it

There are a couple of elements that goes into creating a situation, where the child will follow your lead.

  1. Be the adult in the room. When we get irritated, frustrated, angry (all versions of anger), we don’t act like adults. We are emotionally highjacked by parts of our personality that think that anger will resolve situations to our advantage. It doesn’t, because we are not 4 years old anymore.
  2. Remember the Positive Intention. You stay being the adult in the room when you keep in mind that the child has a positive intention with his behavior.  (Get the Transformational Toolbox to understand the Positive Intention better!)
  3. Stay in this situation. If you “go to the museum” that holds all the other times that this has happened, you are not being present with the current situation. Going to the museum has already happened if you think or say aloud “Oh no, not again!”. Then you just spent a split second letting your mind rile you up by visiting all the previous similar situations where the child did something that irritated you or frustrated you.
  4. Take a look at the situation from the outside perspective. Your mind holds the ability to see things from the “helicopter” perspective or the observer perspective. Go there. This is where you can look at the situation and be a little more objective and where your emotions are not involved in the decision making process.
  5. Bring in your “Fun Mom” or “Creative Dad”. Put these other parts of you to work trying to figure out ways to give the child a way out of the situation that leads to something that the child will love.
  6. Do it with them. Your kids wants to have a great time with you more than anything. Unless of course if they are already teenagers. Then try it out, but you may have to apply other tactics. If you want the kid to go outside, go outside and play. Leave your phone inside or set an alarm and put it in your pocket if you need the timer to get back inside. (I forgot the other day in the mudpool, so we had laaaate dinner.”
  7. When you do succeed celebrate in your mind and with your partner. Cheer yourself so that you remember what you just did. Make that a part of the new museum that you attend when the kid acts out.
  8. As the child becomes older, share the experience with them, so that they learn to reflect on conflict and learn to see their behavior from the outside too.

And remember.

It’s way easier to include than to train you child.

If you found inspiration in this article to do things differently in your family, please share the article on Facebook or Twitter – or directly with the person that you are thinking about.

Have a great day,


PS: Also – find more insights and tools in the Free Transformational Toolbox for parents.