Podcast Transcript

Guidance for Uncertain Times: Alone Together: Putting an End to Family Chaos

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Podcast date: May 20, 2020

Learning Objectives 

  1. How to avoid conflicts during the quarantine.
  2. How can parents who are working, teaching, and taking care of the home get their children to contribute to effort.
  3. How to reduce feelings of being overwhelmed.
  4. Ways to reduce tension in the household.


Susan Buningh: Supernus Pharmaceuticals is pleased to sponsor the ADHD 365 podcast. ADHD can be complex, this resource and those you will find at moretoadhd.com are designed to help. Hello and welcome to the ADHD 365 podcast. I'm your host, Susan Buningh and I'm here this morning with Christine Kotik. Welcome, Christine.

Christine Kotik: Hi, Susan. It's good to be here.

Susan Buningh:  Could you tell us a little bit about yourself?

Christine Kotik:  Sure. I am an ADHD coach and a mother of four children who are now almost grown children. I taught at a school here in Columbus, Ohio for students who learn differently. That's where I got my start really becoming involved with ADHD. I run the central Ohio CHADD chapter. I'm real passionate about helping people work through the challenges.

Susan Buningh:  Christine, for many of the families among our listeners, it's challenging to survive self-isolation or sheltering in place together with their families. One or more family members have the ADHD related symptoms of impulsivity, boredom, and hyperactivity, which can make things especially difficult. What can parents do during this time to survive this experience of being alone together and dealing with each other daily?

Christine Kotik:  That's a great question right now. One of the things that I, as I work with the families, I tell them that different times call for different methods. We are definitely in a different time right now and parents need to be ready to do things differently. Some of the things that are really important involve having a plan. Daily plan or a weekly plan, and building in some of that structure you had in your lives when you were going out to work and kids were going to school. It's building in some of that structure.  Taking time for themselves as parents is really important—being able to have some downtime, being able to keep some of the same structures and routines in place, having kids have a bedtime, so that you can unwind at night, have some downtime, and making sure everyone's getting up on time.

It keeps everybody a little happier if people are getting enough sleep, but obviously that's important. Another thing is expecting the unexpected. I feel like when we're at home, you never know what crisis is going to come up, what crazy thing is going to happen, especially with kids at home that are impulsive and bored. Graciously handling that and getting through it.

I guess the last thing I would say is in doing these different methods, it's the idea of asking people for what you need or telling people what you need. Don't assume that others, your spouse or your children, know what your expectations are. Really lay those out, because this is different for everybody. And if people are using those good communication skills of saying, "I need this done by this time," or, "I need this to happen," or, "I need this for myself," that’ll really allay a lot of the problems might crop up.

Susan Buningh:  Let's talk about the children for a minute. What can children contribute to helping the family deal with this isolation and with each other? How can you as a parent get your children to be part of creating a plan?

Christine Kotik:  I'm actually going to start with the last part of that question, which is how can parents get children to help? That, I think, is the real important part in seeing how can they help. Sitting down as a family, whether you have really young kids or really old kids and asking for input as to what needs to happen this week to make this week go well for everybody. What does everybody need here, so that the kids feel heard and that they also have a choice in the matter. Also giving them choices, "Today you need to start your homework and work through your school stuff, but I have a meeting from this time to that time, so do you want me to help you get started before my meeting or after my meeting?" So, giving them those choices can really help kids a lot, be able to adjust to this time.

Also thinking back to that idea of different times calling for different methods, I was talking with a client this week. The student was struggling to get motivated and get started on her schoolwork. It was really hard. We talked about, well, what would help you in the morning to do that? She said she felt like if she had some time to be on her phone before she had to get out of bed and could scroll through, and whatever she was doing on the phone, I forget if she wanted to watch videos or do something, but she wanted a little bit of time. She felt like if she had that in the morning, that that would start the mornings out right. Now, normally most parents in their right mind are not going to want kids on their phones as they're trying to get ready to get out the door, but there's no getting out the door.  It's just getting to the next room to do your homework and do your schoolwork, so the mom agreed to that. She said, "This is not something that's going to continue, but I'll give you 20 minutes after I wake you up and you can kind of do that and then I'll come in and say, 'Okay, it's time to start.'" So listening to her daughter and what her needs were, we'll see how that worked for them, but at least that child had a chance to kind of say what she thought would help her, and Mom was willing to listen and do something that normally she wouldn't do. That's kind of what parents can do to help get kids on board and participating in the family on that time.

What can kids do? I think it's great all the time for families to have some kind of a chore system and keeping that going right now. Maybe it's each week, setting out a list of chores, the kids know if they're off and they're not really working on things, they can automatically start that chore for the day. Maybe it's to empty the dishwasher, maybe it's to dust, maybe it's to run this vacuum, whatever it is that they are able to do, they have something to do during the day. I feel like it's important to get outside for physical activity. That's really huge right now, building that into part of their day to get outside, run around, get some of that energy out.

The last thing that I think about for kids, for them to think about—and I don't know how you, as a parent, you have to maybe have this conversation with them—for kids to realize all of this is hard on parents too. It's not just the student getting adjusted to online schooling. It's a parent getting adjusted to online working, plus helping with the schooling. It's important for parents to give the kids a little bit of room, but it's also important for kids to realize, wow, it is really hard on Mom right now or hard on Dad right now. Maybe I can do this to help out, kind of thing.

Susan Buningh:  Even with more time at home, we're hearing that families are struggling to meet all of the many demands of this time, whether it's working from home, shopping, distance learning, exercise, telehealth, or everyday chores. Do you have any tips for families? How can they feel like they're meeting these many demands rather than feeling overwhelmed?

Christine Kotik:  You would think that being at home should make their way easier. It does in some ways. Having families look at all the things that are going well—what are the positives that are happening, because we get so stuck in all these, I got to do this, I got to do that—but stopping and realizing. For me, it was realizing, wow, I am not running kids to afterschool activities all the time. I love to cook and I can't cook under those circumstances--you never know who's going to be home to eat. So, for me, realizing that, wow, we have the opportunity to make dinner and sit down and relax every night and eat together. The rest of the day may be a crazy mess, but we have that time. Looking for those positive things that are happening—when you start to feel overwhelmed—and recognizing what opportunities and benefits this time was having for us is putting in some structure to your day.

Like I said, getting up, making sure your kids get up, that there's breakfast happening, there's lunch happening, dinner happening and everybody being aware of what that structure is going to be. Setting intention each morning before you get out of bed, of what you want your day to look like. That's not setting your plan--I'm going to do this, this, this, this, and this. But your intention might be—when I get done with my day and I'm sitting down at the end of the night, to read a little bit, or maybe to have a glass of wine, to do whatever it is you're doing at night—I will feel good about today if I have some three things that each of my kids are doing positively. If I have gotten these two tasks at work that have to be done accomplished, and made sure that everybody had three meals, I will feel good about that.

It's finding those things that are really important and valuable to you, so that when you get to the end of the day and you've done those, it feels less stressful than I've got to do all these task, task, task, task, task. Thinking about it that way, setting those intentions for how your day's going to go and then along the way, as you go through, making sure everybody knows those expectations of what they're going to need to do and that sort of thing.

I think that's important, "I'm going to be on a call from this time to this time and you can't bother me here, but here to here I'm open." I've had families that have put stop signs on their doors, so that when they're on that important work call in their office, a child doesn't rush in—a four-year-old who can't read to know what a stop sign looks like and be told when that's up, you can't come in; if it's a green on there, you can. Those kinds of things, it works for high schoolers too and middle schoolers who are doing online learning and have to be in a class, or college students. Put a red on your door if you don't want your mom or dad to come in and say something to you. It's doing things a little differently than we normally would.

Susan Buningh:  All the togetherness is hard for many families right now, because family members are used to being able to engage in their own individual activities and then also spend some time with their family, but not all day, every day. Do you have any advice for families on this?

Christine Kotik:  That's probably one of the hardest ones to do, because depending on what your living situation is, we are all on top of each other trying to deal with all of this. Making an agreement—and this is where what you asked before about how can parents help kids and what can kids do—but making an agreement that after dinner, everyone could scatter and do their own thing for a while, or whatever it is that works for your family. I found that our family, interestingly enough, has been doing some spending time together, but we're kind of apart. I've noticed that after dinner, everyone ends up in the family room and everybody's on their devices. We're all just sitting there together. I would say, normally I would be like, "Get off your phone, get up, no, don't do that!" blah, blah, blah, "We got to talk."

Well, we've been together all day. We don't need that same thing, but that's something that I've let go. But we're all there in the same space, doing our own thing. There's no pressure to be doing the same thing. Making personal time for each person in your family a priority. Sometimes parents get involved and say, "Oh, I just need my time to myself." But then when their child says that, they say, "Oh, we're doing this right now." it's respecting your child's desire to have time apart too, because it's just as hard for them to be living in the space with Mom and Dad all the time. It's finding those creative ways that you can separate out and maybe giving everybody a space that they can go into that's their private space. If you have kids sharing a bedroom, can you make a little cubby hole in a closet that kids can go in and just be able to spend time by themselves?

Susan Buningh:  These are wonderful tips. We know that there are some families that are experiencing more conflict during this time. Do you have any tips to help them de-escalate situations that result in anger and frustration?

Christine Kotik:  It is a hard time, because like we just said, we are living right on top of each other. One of the things that I tell both adults, kids and children is to not participate in that ladder of anger. For parents and for kids, it's checking yourself and saying, “Are we climbing this ladder? What do we need to do? How can I not participate in climbing that ladder?” For parents, that means being the adult, to checking your own, if you have ADHD, checking your own ADHD emotional control and not get on that ladder with your child. I work with kids, actually draw a picture of a ladder and say, "When you're up there, how do you recognize you've climbed it? How soon are you up three rungs? Are you up five rungs? How can you recognize sooner that you're just going up that ladder and then what can you do to stop it?"

How do you stop it? Deep breathing. It seems like a go to for those things, but being able to calm yourself, feel that your face is hot, your body's tight, and your voice is tight, and you're angry. Deep breath, let your body relax. It sounds silly, but let your tongue drop in your mouth. It helps to be relaxing. For parents, sometimes it's validating what kids are feeling like, "You should not be so mad about that. You bubbled up." Well, no! Kids are mad and then you might be mad about something. Kids are mad. Say, "I understand you're really angry right now. Let's have this conversation in a few minutes, in an hour, whatever, when you're less angry and we can figure out a solution together." It's validating that anger. It's validate, because sometimes with kids, the anger, it's not really about the situation. It's just that they're so frustrated that they're bored and boom, now they're angry.

Being able to validate that, not get angry at your child for being angry. Working together with your child, check into what's really the problem. When you calm down and can have that conversation, you may find that it is, it's the boredom, "I'm just so bored, so everything makes me angry right now." "Oh gosh! That's really hard when you're bored, I get that. What are some things that we could find to do that would fill in that boredom time for you? What are some things?" it's looking at that, finding things collaboratively. Again, enrolling your child in the process. What can they do to help figure these things out? What will work for them? Another piece is some forgiveness on all sides during this time. There's going to be conflict and families. There's just going to be conflict of families that maybe were doing great before.

It's recognizing that this is crazy times. Everybody's struggling to deal with it. Emotions come out in different ways. They come out of being angry. They came out being sassy. They come out and maybe being disrespectful, but it's recognizing that for what it is and then being forgiving. Being forgiving to your child if they're angry and say something or do something that normally they wouldn't do, or maybe they would do it normally, but it's really noticeable right now. Forgiveness there. It's forgiveness on the child's part to the parent. If the parent loses their cool—because that happens too in these situations. Then it's forgiveness of ourselves. Helping your child, because a lot of times when kids get really angry and frustrated and they react like that, they feel a big sense of remorse afterwards.

They might not say it. They might not tell you, but most kids don't want to explode like that. They don't want that. They just can't help it, so helping them see that it's okay to forgive themselves for that in this time and for you to forgive yourself if you get caught in the ladder or you get caught and maybe you're the first rung of the ladder, because nobody, forgive yourself for that and figure out what to do differently next time. I feel like all of this, going back all the way to the beginning, a lot of this piece that helps folks while they're in this staying at home, learning at home, schooling at home, working at home, all of that, it's communication. I feel like maybe that's the key word, is being able to communicate in a healthy way and communicating with our kids. That's an opportunity that we don't always get.

Our kids are running around. They're going places. They're doing things. We're running them here. We're dropping them off, or picking them up, or going to the next spot. We're not doing that now. We're at home with them. That opportunity to communicate and maybe even improve those channels by asking them what might help them. Asking them, what can they do to help this situation? Gosh, mom is stumped. I don't know how to fix this. What can we do as a family to make this better? All of those things. Imagine if that all happens now, if we start doing all of this at home, imagine how much better things can be than when we're out of all of this, because we've built some of those skills during this time at home.

Susan Buningh:  Thank you. Those are very important points to remember and that ladder analogy is just brilliant. Thank you so much for that.

Christine Kotik:  Oh, you're welcome. It's been great being here.

Susan Buningh:  When you think of ADHD, a picture that may often come to mind is the kid who can't sit still or pay attention in school. No one likely pictured the child sheltering in place at home with family during a pandemic. In addition to the great podcast tips you just learned about, you can visit moretoadhd.com, brought to you by Supernus Pharmaceuticals. Here, you'll find information, videos, and resources that offer additional information and support for managing ADHD at home. Stay safe and healthy. Thank you for listening to another episode of ADHD 365. Stay up to date on the latest ADHD information by connecting to CHADD's social media page at chadd.org/social.