A parent recently asked: One day my son follows directions fine – but then the next, it’s like he never learned our rules. Anything to help keep us all more on track – to be more consistent?
What this parent describes is classic in young boy development. Their skills seem to magically show up one day, only to disappear the next. Frustrating when you’re trying to get out the door on time or keep to a consistent bedtime. Parents describe it like a frayed lamp cord or switch. What’s really happening beneath the surface isn’t frayed or broken at all. It’s learning. His frontal cortex is developing and there’s lots of rewiring/pruning of neurons.
While waiting for the wires to tighten up, so to speak, stick to the three-boy-basics. If you follow my posts – you’ll see that I return to these basics time and time again. I know how important these steps are to boy success, so a reminder is always helpful.
The three-boy-basics are helpful for active girls too. Make this your mantra and know that change won’t happen over night – expect inconsistent behavior for a bit – at least until six or seven years old.
(1) Have him always look up into your eyes every time you call his name. If you don’t, you’re accidentally training him to not make eye contact when you speak or use his name. Think ahead to the problems he’ll have when his teacher calls on him if he’s not been conditioned to look up. Make this mandatory and 100% of the time!
(2) Tell him to listen carefully, because you will be asking him to repeat back what you’re about to say. This is to teach sustained attention.
(3) Attach a consequence (which doesn’t have to be immediate). For example, “If you can say what I’ve told you and you follow through… you will get 10 more minutes on my iPad”… “If you repeat back what I’ve asked and go to bed now, then we can have story time – and if not that’s your choice and tomorrow’s another day to try.”
And this is key… always stay calm. That’s essential for these the three-boy-basics to work. If you look upset or get angry (and who doesn’t from time to time…) it will lengthen the time it takes to get him to a better developmental place. The reason? You’re accidentally dumping emotional stress and stimulation into your parenting. Parenting has to be dry, clear, consistent, not charged with emotion. It’s distracting to be in front of people with high emotion. It also gives boys a reason to engage in a fight. They dig their heals just to hold on to their power.
If you find yourself reminding, you’re also delaying his development. He won’t develop his own skills if you do the work. Very young kids need reminders and help… but I see many older teens with parents who can’t step aside and just let consequences happen. They try and try to coach and help their kids (with good intentions) but it always leads to failure in the end – and often a very angry young man.
Parents think all that reminding and helping and nagging will push their kids to the next level and success. It won’t. In fact, it has the opposite effect. Kids tune out, act lazy, get dependent on others to keep them moving along. They lose interest in doing things for themselves. So here’s the take-away. Keep to the three-boy-basics. Stay calm. Don’t engage in high emotion or fights. And never interfere with consequences (failing a grade, not making a team, losing a friend not getting into college) because you will only delay their development.
A parent recently asked, “My son is 18 months old. He resists the structure of Gymboree class and prefers to run and climb. Is this the start of ADHD? Another parent inferred it might be… Should I be concerned?
No parent should have to worry that their child has ADHD at 18 months old. There is no way that a child so young could be diagnosed with this. Running and climbing aren’t signs of ADHD, they are signs of healthy motor drive and exploration. Perhaps classes like Gymboree aren’t for everyone. They are structured. Many boys prefer not to have adults impose program-like activities. They want – and need – free play.
I was fortunate to be trained by top clinicians in the country, and they cautioned not to go looking for ADHD symptoms in very young children – but to wait until 5 or 6, maybe 7 years old. The “symptoms” of ADHD are actually not symptoms, but normal behaviors all children do (especially active young boys). As long as a pediatrician or other experienced child development expert isn’t concerned, then parents need not worry.
Maybe we should be more concerned about gym classes for toddlers? Scheduling play. Being too involved in their movements and explorations. Nothing is generally wrong with that as long as free play is still available. Supervise for safety, but otherwise move back and let normal, healthy development take place.
That’s the way it’s been done for hundreds of thousands of years. It’s only been very very recently (since the late 1980s and 1990s) that adults began organizing children’s play and bringing it indoors. On the surface it seem harmless, but many child specialists question if this interferes with normal development of cognitive and social skills. Interestingly, this movement indoors with less free play coincides with the era of soaring ADHD diagnoses.
Better to offer your kids outdoor, natural environments that allow for safe but free movement. Offer the simplest objects (sand, stones, water, sticks, leaves, jungle gyms and swings, a bucket and pail, a ball) keeping it simple allows kids to invest their mental energy and imagination. Encourage mistakes made along the way. Crying or fighting is natural and the real way that kids learn to get along. Resist the urge to step in and teach or fix conflict. Don’t rob your kids of these real-life opportunities to learn.
In short – young play should be messy and clumsy and exploratory. None of that is ADHD.