Do you know about the river that lies below the ADHD/ADD swamp? It’s the Anger River and it lurks down below, often unseen, but detected at times by certain actions or behaviors from either child or parents.
How do we detect the Anger River?
- Punishments have increased – (“That’s it. You’re off your video games for the next month.”)
- There is a lot of forgetting and last minute revelations about a test or project the next day. (Think Sunday night at 9:00 p.m.)
- There has been increased parent monitoring of homework. Parents feel like they are the “Homework Police.”
- Teachers will report, “If only he/she paid attention more…”
- There is a general tone of disconnection to school work.
- Control battles are being waged.
To show the Anger River in action, below is a near verbatim talk I had recently with a teen, Charles, who I sensed had the Anger River lurking below the ADD Swamp. By his own admission Charles was unmotivated and had little energy for school. (Charles was in high level classes by the way and there were no indicators of learning disabilities or dyslexia in the assessment I did.)
After the testing I chatted with Charles. “I have a theory, Charles,” I started, “that your brain is kind of like a car battery and that in order to take on the demands of school the battery needs to be pretty charged. Just like a car battery, there are many things that drain it or deplete it of energy.”
Charles looked like I perked his interest slightly. I wasn’t giving him the usual “try harder” or “you need to take your medication” talk, both of which he had heard many times in the past.
“Yeah, like I know your parents are going through a tough time lately and that drains your battery. You also feel like your sister is overly demanding and ruling the house which gets you mad. On top of it you feel loaded up with hours of work and since I tested you I see that you work very slowly and methodically, so that doubles the time you have to put in. Finally, you are angry about getting punished all of the time and feeling like your parents have you on too tight a leash. You feel over-controlled. So with all of that going on you basically say to yourself, ‘screw it I am not doing it.’ Does that sound on the money?”
A pretty tight kid, who was not the most verbally forthcoming, Charles gave me a nonverbal green light with a pretty good nod of his head with a slight smile. He even admitted to lying to his parents at times about school. (“I just tell them I did my homework to get them off by back. I figure I’ll deal with it later when they find out.”)
“So, you see, Charles, it’s like there is this pie chart of different variables draining your battery and increasing the Anger River that lies down there. I bet you are operating at about 15% efficiency. That F.U. River can really do some damage.”
(Keep in mind a try and use humor where I can to get the kid to lighten up and “buy in,” hence the use of the “FU River” with Charles.)
I know. I know. The questions I get all of the time – “So, what do we do about it? How do we fix it?”
I will continue more next week (I need some time), but for now at least 70% of the “fixing” (there is no fixing), is in the understanding.
Only understanding drains the river.
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You have described my 12 year old aughter perfectly …. Homework has become so very slow…. She refuses all help.
Challenging, indeed. To the extent you can, try and reduce the control battles. “You can choose to not do your homework, but as your mom I have to wrote the teacher a note about your choice. You will deal with her tomorrow,” said very calmly and matter of factly.
My prediction is she will choose to do her homework.
Let me know what happens.
How does a parent stand by and watch an intelligent young man make choices not to turn in multiple assignments, causing the grades to drop only because assignments are just not being done (with college just around the bend)? What is the balance that will decrease the family stress, save family relationships, and increase the young man’s understanding of planning, time mangement, and prioritizing? What place does parental monitoring and bargaining hold in guiding the 17 year-old toward independence and self-responsibility (both of which he claims he wants, but when given the space, the parent discovers new ‘half-truths’ and a resurgence of the downward spiral)?