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Katherine Ellison Headshot

Drop the Rope

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For three years after my 9-year-old son was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, I figured he was the problem. After all, I was getting constant calls from his teachers, complaining that he was misbehaving or hadn't done his homework, or had lost another field trip permission form. At home, he'd routinely melt down, taking out his frustrations by picking fights with his younger brother and me.

Like so many other parents, I'd read dozens of guidebooks. Many contained wise advice, and most suggested complicated routines and discipline plans. All made the common assumption that parenting guides tend to make: that the reader, unlike most mortals, has exceptional self-control and organizational skills. And none of them helped much at all.

I reached the point of considering boarding school for him, or maybe going AWOL for me.
Then, after a particularly awful fight while driving him on the freeway, I decided to take a closer look at what was going wrong, and how I might try to fix it. By then, I knew that I shared my son's diagnosis of ADHD. This is a surprisingly common predicament for parents, given the strongly hereditary nature of the disorder. But what many parents -- including myself, until then -- fail to realize is how much that double whammy can aggravate your problems.

By forcing myself to be more honest than I'd ever previously dared, I realized how I was contributing to the arguments with my son. As one therapist put it, "He's provocative, and you're reactive." I focused in on that reactivity by admitting it, talking about it, getting help for my own clinical-grade distraction and practicing techniques to help me manage my emotions, such as meditation and neurofeedback, biofeedback for the brain.

Along the way, I got some simple advice from my wise niece: when you find yourself in a tug of war, she said, drop the rope. I tried this during the very next argument with my son. When he started to huff and puff over some imagined slight, I smiled kindly and put my arm around him.

This isn't a technique you'll find in many parenting guides, but it de-escalated our conflict right away. And things have been getting better ever since.

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