Little Person, Few Problem-Solving Skills?

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“I can’t do it,” “I forgot my book,” or “It’s not fair that…!” Problem-solving is difficult for most children, but is particularly difficult for those suffering from ADHD. As parents, we have to remember that our children express frustration in the form of whining out those annoying little phrases because they lack the language facility to clearly express ideas. If ADHD kids could express their ideas with more clarity, they would likely not be classified as ADHD, because their brain function wouldn’t be so scattered that communication of emotion would be such a barrier.

The so-called “normal” person tends to think in linear patterns, e.g., A is to B as B is to A, thus allowing them to follow a logical progression of steps. ADHD sufferers have difficulty processing sequential steps because their brains misfire on many different levels, and these misfires are random, uncontrollable situations for these children (and adult ADHD sufferers, too!). Think about when you taught (or are currently trying to teach) your child the concept of left shoe goes on left foot, right shoe goes on right foot. “Normal” children have difficulty with this concept, so imagine what this sounds and looks like to the ADHD child.

Around the age of three, children begin to understand the concept of left and right, or so it is thought. What is closer to the truth is that it’s quite unlikely that children actually understand the concept of right and left and it is more likely that their “understanding” is really more of a memorization of shape than a true understanding of right and left. For the ADHD child, the struggle comes in when what they see with their eyes is not what ends up on their feet. Enter the crying screaming preschooler who’s frustrated AND one who lacks the communication skills to tell you WHY they’re so upset. The key to helping them resolve this involves fun and teaching problem-solving at the same time!

To refer back to the teaching of left/right shoes, try this: get some colored construction paper and trace your child’s feet, making sure to trace between the toes so that a clear outline of your child’s foot is visible. Next, use another sheet of paper and trace an outline of your child’s favorite shoes. To add some fun, let your little one trace your feet and shoes, as well. Cut the outlines apart so that you are left with a picture (complete with toes!) of each foot and repeat for the shoe outline. Have your child then match up the feet with the shoes using only the papers. To add some variety once the child starts demonstrating the task with some proficiency, ask them to show you on their bodies which foot their outline matches on them, on you, the dog, their sibling(s), grandparents, etc. This exercise accomplishes many things at the same time.

First, it teaches shape, which is a necessary skill for linear thinking. This also introduces the concept of right and left in a non-threatening environment that is more about fun and less about “getting it right.” This exercise can also create connections between the ADHD child and others, which reinforces similarity instead of difference, and ultimately teaches improved interpersonal communication skills. This exercise creates vital connections between what the child’s eyes see and what their brain interprets those images as, ultimately allowing the child to correctly put the correct shoe on the proper foot, which builds confidence and self-esteem! A final benefit to this tool is that you can get creative with it to teach all types of shapes, objects, numbers, and even the alphabet, so the activity will grow and expand to accommodate your child’s knowledge base for years to come. Having this problem-solving skill will assist with keeping them on task at home and school, will help with maintaining developmental targets, and will continue to build self-esteem with every new concept your child masters.

A word of caution here. Don’t punish your child when they initially struggle with the activity, nor should you or others say to them, “That’s wrong.” Instead, try using phrases like, “Are you sure? Let’s look at that again.” Keep trying until the child gets it right, then clap and make a big deal out of the correct identification just like you did (or may be doing) with potty training. The idea is to build links in the brain, not create more barriers, which negative language can cause. Soon your little one will be marching around telling everyone they know that they are a big girl/boy because they can put on their own shoes! As a parent, you may never know which small accomplishment will provide the breakthrough that your child needs to stop complaining and start getting excited about learning.

Something to try with the early elementary aged learner who might be struggling with learning mathematical concepts is to find something tangible that your ADHD child REALLY enjoys and utilizing these objects to create connections between what words their eyes see and what answers they need to write down on paper. Marbles, dinosaurs, princesses, rocks, toothpicks, building blocks, earrings… doesn’t matter the tool, only that the correct one is identified. The concept for you, as the parent, to learn here is that the ADHD child is typically a very visual and tactile learner. When your child says, “I can’t…”, you as the parent need to reinforce your unconditional support by responding, “Yes, you can, and I’ll show you how!”

Utilizing this concept is very easy, as this tool works whether the math problem is a numerical equation or one of those dastardly word problems! Collect as many of the objects needed for the math problem 4 + 3 = ___ For this skill building exercise we’ll use toy cars. Line the cars up across the top of your child’s homework page. (As the parent, you need to remember that linear thought is nearly impossible at this stage, so the cars will act as a visual cue to whatever the math problem might be.) Have your child read the problem out loud in its entirety while you verbally provide reassurance that s/he CAN solve the problem before, during, and after the reading. Next, have your child count out the appropriate number of cars for the largest number (4) and put the cars in the middle of the homework page (or wherever the child prefers the cars be placed, as long as the cars are front and center, because the object here is to give the child a tangible focus for what s/he perceives as intangible, i.e., the math problem). Now have your child count out the next number (3) one car at a time to add to the first 4. When your child reaches the correct answer of seven, s/he should be beaming, because s/he’ll have accomplished something s/he’d originally perceived as impossible, and now should see math as something that s/he is very capable of. As you can see, this method will work for a long time for addition, subtraction, multiplication and division, although you may have to switch your tool to pennies to manage the larger numbers! Remember that creativity is something that nearly EVERY ADHD child has in abundance, so let them change up the teaching items that they want to use as they get older and the problems become more difficult. This method is all about changing your child’s self-concept of can’t to one of CAN!

A final skill I have to offer for the ever aggravating “I forgot…” is to make a general list of daily supplies/tasks for your child, laminate it, and put it in his book bag. Don’t go crazy and have 25 tasks or this skill builder is doomed to fail. Keep it SIMPLE! Remember, the adhd child can usually only keep about 2 – 3 items in their memory at a time, so break the list down into sections that contain the TRULY relevant items specific to your child. Some examples might be: Supplies = books, notes from teacher, homework; Clothing = jacket, socks, shoes; and Food = snack, lunch money, lunch bag. Teach your child to check the list when they finish their homework each evening to make sure what they brought home is what goes back to school the next morning. Also, ask your child’s teacher to either post a similar list in your child’s cubby, or ask them to remind your child to check the list each morning before class starts to encourage your child to be ready to learn by having all of his tools prepared, and giving the child a reminder to check the list again before leaving each day. I cannot stress enough the value that visual and tactile tools will help your child learn in the best way for them and instill confidence that they CAN achieve whatever they are asked to do. Self-confidence and healthy self-esteem will reduce the number of times that you hear, “It’s not fair…” and will encourage your child to engage in tasks that they might not have done otherwise.

While this is only a small sampling of skill builders and problem-solving skills, it is my hope that you have found information that will help your interest in helping an ADHD child grow in a positive direction. If you’d like more information, please join my followers on my blog or send me an email and I’d be happy to address any specific issues you might be experiencing. You might also like to check out this site, as well: http://www.sos-research.com

Until next time,

I Believe In Me

Disclaimer: This information is in no way intended to treat or diagnose ADHD. All individuals suspected of having this disorder should be evaluated by a medical professional. Information contained in these posts are for informational purposes only and should be used at the users own risk. The publisher in no way is responsible for any adverse reactions or conditions that may result from utilizing this information.


write by Aurelia

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