Podcast Transcript

Guidance for Uncertain Times: Tips to Help You Manage and Avoid Family Conflicts

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Podcast date: April 17, 2020

Learning Objectives

  1. How ADHD impacts conflict at home during COVID-19
  2. Strategies for families to decrease conflict
  3. How to managing stress as a parent
  4. Strategies for managing sibling conflict
  5. How to handle teenagers during COVID-19


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Alondra Perez:  Hello, my name is Alondra and you are listening to the All Things ADHD podcast. Today's guest is Dr. Margaret Sibley. Welcome Dr. Sibley. We also call her Maggie. Today, we're going to talk a little bit about family conflict. Maggie, we have a lot of families that are at home because of the COVID-19 crisis, and there might be members that have ADHD, whether that's the parents or the kids, and that can create a lot of conflict.

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  It's probably a combination of the fact that there's more to argue about when people have ADHD and the fact that people with ADHD tend to struggle with things like verbal impulsivity and being emotionally reactive. When you're cooped up at home, you not only have the normal ADHD arguments about getting schoolwork done, about remembering your chores, but now you have folks who might have trouble with getting frustrated really easily, and they're in tighter spaces with more people, and there's just sort of more opportunities for some of those arguments to erupt. Then, once they erupt, it can be harder for people to practice self-control and stay calm and handle things in a mature way when they're struggling with impulsive symptoms or symptoms of inattention like forgetfulness and forgetting maybe what had happened and getting themselves into arguments with other family members.

Alondra Perez:  What are some strategies that parents and families can use to decrease that family conflict?

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  Well, I like to tell parents that one of the first things they can do is just become aware of what the triggers of the arguments are. This takes a little detective work, noticing patterns in your family. When arguments tend to come up, are they coming up at certain times of day? Are they coming up over certain topics? Are there certain situations that sort of make arguments more likely to happen? When family members and parents become more aware of these patterns, they're in a much better situation to try to prevent them from happening before they start. Once you become aware of what some of the triggers are, you can ask yourself, are there strategies that I can do preventatively to stop arguments?

If I know that we often have a difficulty in the morning with the routine and getting up on time and getting teeth brushed and sitting at the kitchen table, can I make it clearer about what time folks need to get up by? Can I set up a daily routine in the morning to make it easier to prevent the arguments?

Even with really good preventative strategies, arguments are still going to come up in families, and so parents need to be equipped with skills to manage arguments once they start. Some of those skills could be communication skills--things like teaching your family members that arguments are okay and they happen. And when they do, we need to practice listening to each other, hearing each other's point of view. With people with ADHD, a lot of times it goes easier if we have a rule that before we're allowed to say our point of view in the argument, we need to repeat back that we've heard what the other person's point of view is.

Learn to use good communication skills—like instead of pointing fingers at people, say how you feel about the situation and how the situation impacts you personally. If you're aware of what the triggers are and work to prevent them, if you use good communication skills, I think the other couple strategies to be aware of are just making sure that as a parent, you have your own strategies to cool down and calm down. If you get emotionally involved in the argument, that you know what works for you for creating kind of a calm mind and being able to shift focus away from the argument, if need be. Then, also make sure that if these negative interactions are happening, that you're offsetting them with just as many positive interactions. So that means going and spending time doing activities that your kids might like at times when everyone's calm, and just getting minutes of positive time in so that they counteract any minutes of negative time that might be inevitable when families are in tight quarters like this.

Alondra Perez:  How do you think parents can manage their own stress levels so that it doesn't create additional stress and additional conflict when they are having those internal feelings that you were talking about?

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  Well, I think that every single person is different. The important thing is people work to become self-aware of what helps them feel calm. For some people, it's using strategies like deep breathing, or walking away when you get upset, or reminding yourself of certain things that help you stay grounded with your goals as a parent. For other people, it's doing things like being able to go exercise, or being able to do something that you enjoy, or watch a show that you like to just kind of get yourself into a calmer space.

It's important for parents to spend the time discovering what are their strategies to help them stay calm and knowing when they might want to use them. I think some other important rules of thumb are, especially at a time like this, like be willing to pick your battles. Everything that is happening right now doesn't need to have an argument or a reaction from a parent. Being a little bit more forgiving of the minor things is going to go a long way with keeping everyone okay with each other.

Also, you may feel like you're overwhelmed right now as a parent, and I know a lot of people are really overwhelmed. They're trying to keep working their job from home. They're trying to see to what extent can I homeschool my kids? Maybe they have even younger kids that they're trying to just get through the basic moments of the day with and juggling all of this. Just being willing to ask for support if you need it, and whether it's from a family member, whether it's just emotional support and connecting with friends and having that social contact, or whether it's trying to get professional support, a lot of people are still doing therapy over telehealth right now. It's important to take care of yourself so that you can be the best parent you can be for your kids.

Alondra Perez:  I think that's really important, especially kind of talking about the overwhelm that's going on, to know there are still resources, whether that's figuring out what works for you or telehealth or something that really works for each individual. What are some things parents or families could do to tackle aggravation between siblings?

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  Well, I think if we step back and ask ourselves, why are siblings getting more upset with each other right now than normal, some of the answers will become clear. Kids are confined to smaller spaces right now. If your kids are sharing a room that might be especially tricky, because now no one's got their own personal space. We have our own moments of personal space throughout our daily routine, whether it's walking from place to place in a school or whether it's just being able to come home and go outside and unwind. If you're not allowed to do all those things right now, maybe thinking about how you can set up your household so that your kids do have designated alone time, that they're allowed to have from each other. Even if your kids share a room, giving your first child an hour in there alone, and then letting the second one go in there alone, you can think about that.

Then also plan some shared activities that your kids like, that they both really enjoy, so that those fun moments are clocked into the day, right? For every minute of fun that you can create, you're offsetting a minute of negativity. We can't always prevent all the negativity, but we can do a good job of making sure that that negativity isn't the dominant thing that's going on in the household.

Alondra Perez:  You give them that space, as you're saying, but also bring them in together and have those shared activities. For the older population, the teenagers, what happens when they break rules, and when they're doing things maybe that they shouldn't be doing, especially during this crisis—for example, leaving their house when they're not supposed to, especially during quarantine, hanging out with friends or significant others. How can the parents, family, and siblings handle that?

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  This is a tricky issue, I think, for families right now. Where I'm at in Seattle, if you go outside to the parks, what you see is a lot of teenagers who are in big groups hanging out, even though they're not supposed to. I think parents are worried about keeping their kids safe and keeping their families safe, and at the same time, not all parents feel like they have the leverage to put their foot down and stop their teenagers or older kids from going and doing what they want to do.

I think there are a few rules of thumb that might help a little bit. For one, making sure you set very clear expectations with your kids about what the rules are and not only what they are, but why they are so that we're not just setting rules “because I said so," but that the rules make sense, and they have a rationale.

When you're enforcing a rule that a kid is going to be disappointed with, it's really important to acknowledge that disappointment and to empathize with them that these rules are to keep you safe, and I know that you're getting the short end of the stick here with having to follow them, and that there's something that you're losing out on because you're following this rule, and that you want to make that up to them, whether that's helping them find other ways to replace the fun activity with the friends, by helping them connect digitally and just sort of being there as a supportive person. I think trying to stop rules from being punitive and instead having them be something that we're all having to deal with right now is a better way to present rules to kids. If rules are broken, that you have a very clear consequence that your teenagers know ahead of time is going to be the consequence for breaking the rules and that the punishment should fit the crime, right. So if it's really risky behavior that's going on ,or really dangerous behavior, then you might want to consider something that gets their attention. On the other hand, if it's minor things, then you don't want to be coming down super hard on them, which is only going to create more resentment and more problems.

Alondra Perez:  I think that's important too, to see it as a worldwide problem. You know, we're all going through this and empathize that they want to do these things, but maybe there might be other ways. Talking to people on the phone as a health information specialist, I sometimes see that parents struggle with having that conversation, explaining it to them, and it gets a little bit harder with their teens.  Do you have a tip for parents on approaching their teenagers, because it seems like it gets a little bit hard for them.

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  I think one of the most important things is don't approach them during the argument or when everyone's upset. Set up a time that's a time of day when you expect everyone to be relaxed and calm, and talk about these issues at that time. Make sure you use your listening skills and hear their point of view. If there's something that is super important and a goal of theirs during this time, whether it's feeling upset that they're going to get disconnected from their boyfriend, if it's a teenager, or just feeling like they're going to be left out in some way, asking what you can do within the boundaries of the safety that you're trying to follow to support them, to always use those good listening skills. Then also be willing to explain your point of view and look for also any opportunity that you can to affirm the positive efforts your kids are making, whether it's following a rule, even if they're complaining about it. If they follow a rule, affirm that. Notice the good things that they're doing, notice the moments when they show character during these times, and make sure that you're pointing that out to them so that they do feel appreciated.

Alondra Perez:  Parents are always looking things to help their teens and improve the household and reduce conflict, and I was wondering if medication can help teenagers create less conflict.

Dr. Margaret Sibley:

This is a question I think a lot of families have; whether or not they should be continuing medication during this time. We all know that medication has a pretty helpful effect on things like focusing in school, but there's always a question that people have about, will this help my relationship with family members? What the research says is that there is a small effect of a medication helping with parenting conflict. It's especially helpful when combined with all the strategies we just talked about. Just by itself, it helps a little bit, but if you do it and also employ all these different positive approaches at home, you will see the biggest bang for your buck. The fact that people can practice self-control a little bit more easily when using medication is probably what's underlying that piece, right? Maybe people being less reactive, and maybe also because they're doing better in school, and because they're able to focus more, there's less things to argue about. I think for families that are already familiar with and already have medication as part of their treatment regimen, this could be an additional benefit, but of course it's a bigger picture and something you'd want to talk to your doctor about if this would be a new step for you.

Alondra Perez:  Do you have any other final tips that you think could be very helpful for parents during this time, especially when it comes to conflict?

Dr. Margaret Sibley:

The most important things I'll emphasize that everything we talked about is just like to keep the positivity up in whatever way you can, because it's a lot easier to do positive things than to address negative things. Also to just think about, what can I do to prevent some of these conflicts? Using your detective mind, what is causing this? Why is it happening and what can I do to prevent it ahead of time? Just taking care of yourself so that you keep yourself in the best calm place that you can. It's going to be really challenging right now to do that, but do the best that you can and take it one day at a time, because this is going to end and we are going to get through it, and we're probably all going to learn a lot about our families and how we relate to each other because of this. Hang in there and just try to do a little bit of good every day, and it'll all add up.

Alondra Perez:  These are all really great and important tips and facts for parents to know. We really appreciate you and thank you for talking with us today.

Dr. Margaret Sibley:  Thank you. I appreciate it

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