ADHD series part IV-Preventive Teaching and intrinsic motivation
Children are motivated extrinsically most of the time by rewards, prizes, allowance etc. These motivations are fleeting, short lived and superficial. I often here two questions from parents “How do we help our child have REAL change?” and “How do we get this behavior to stick more than a few days?”
These are difficult questions to answer because behavior modification and psychology are truly “soft sciences”, and the scientific method does not apply.
Simply put, 2 + 2 does not always equal 4. It becomes even more unpredictable and complicated as ADHD and other mental health concerns are added to the equation.
Each child is different just as each parent/child relationship is different. This makes predicting behavior, impulses and relationships feel impossible. Yet, through secure attachment and Preventive Teaching parents can increase and help create long lasting positive behavior change in their children.
Wrapping your mind around secure attachment
One of the highlights of my life and favorite jobs as a dad, is rocking my infant children to sleep. In full-disclosure, I fall asleep way before they ever do. They lay on my chest, put their tiny heads under my chin and we connect physically and emotionally as we listen to each others hearts beat and feel our subtle differences in breathing rhythms. In that moment, we feel and experience attachment.
Secure attachment is a strong indicator of positive and pro-social behavior. But what is it and how does it work?
Secure attachment is found in children who feel safe and secure with their parents. When securely attached children are separated from their parents or caregivers they show physical signs of distress. When these children are reunited with their parents they exhibit joy, laughter and calmness.
Feelings of security are developed when a child is able to depend on adult care givers for love and care as well as trust in their ability to meet primary physical and emotional needs.
When scared or frightened, securely attached children will seek comfort from their parents. These children know their parents will come back and provide comfort and reassurance, in turn they become comfortable seeking out their parents when they feel distress.
Why attachment matters
Research has found that secure attachments established early in life can lead to stronger self-esteem, improved self-reliance, and stronger relationships.
Securely attached children tend to be more independent, perform better in school, have successful social friendships, and are less likely to develop depression and anxiety.
Granted infant attachment styles are much different than adult attachments, but research suggests that early childhood secure attachments have a significant impact on their mental health and long-term committed relationships as an adult.
Research suggests that securely attached children tend to have a strong self-esteem and self-worth. These traits lead to the ability as an adult to discuss self-doubt, insecurity and sensitivities with a spouse or loved one. Sharing vulnerability through self-disclosure leads to trust and belief that someone else has your best interests in mind. Adults who value self-worth and trust tend to have healthier, happier and longer lasting relationships. .
Securing attachments is a life long process
What happens to children who do not form secure attachments?
Research suggests that young children who fail to form secure attachments early in life may struggle with school and job performance, impulsive behavior and may find close relationships difficult to comprehend and understand.
Children diagnosed with oppositional-defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD) or post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) frequently display attachment problems, possibly due to early abuse, neglect or trauma. The need for physical attention and affection is real. Think about this.
Humans have an emotional need to experience physical touch. This might include holding hands, hugging, kissing, and intimacy. As infants, we are held for most of our waking hours. As toddlers and young children we begin to wrestle, tease, and play with family pets to create physical contact.
We then grow even older and join activities such as dance, ballet, cheer leading, team sports which also meet the need of physical contact. .
We outgrow these activities and seek out long-term romantic relationships. Soon after, we have our own children. We hold them, feed them, rock them and feel closely attached to them through physical touching, holding, hugging, nursing and rocking them to sleep.
The cycle is repeated but does not end.
Older parents are eager to become grandparents because of the innate need to hold, care for, and protect loved ones through physical touch and attention. Physical contact makes us feel needed, we feel important, and more importantly we feel happy.
Physical touch elicits the release of oxytosin, dopamine and norepinephrine which are the pleasurable, happy and calming chemicals in our brain.
Virginia Satir, a well-known family therapist stated “We need four hugs a day for survival. We need eight hugs a day for maintenance. We need twelve hugs a day for growth.”
I’m not sure why or how she identified these numbers, but when thinking back on the life long physical attachment needs, it makes sense. Recently after a very difficult family session, a mother suggested that her son give her a hug. Without any reluctance he walked over, put his arms around her and would not let go.
After what seemed like an eternity, the mother and son separated for a moment, and then re-embraced and shared another long hug as the miraculous healing power of physical touch took over.
Bound by Preventive Teaching
My professional opinion is that we are always in a state of contribution. We are ALWAYS contributing to the solution or the problem. I doubt we’re ever really playing the “Switzerland card” and “staying neutral”. On the smallest of relationship scales, we are creeping towards or away from people.
It’s easy to get caught up in the chaos that is being a parent. Last week, in a family session the family took turns writing down each other’s jobs and responsibilities. (this is a great exercise if spouses/parents are feeling under appreciated) The mothers list kept going, and going, and going. To all the Mothers out there, YOU really are the best. Society would fall apart and mankind would literally cease to exist without you.
Several moms have shared that snuggling with their children is one of their favorite things as they feel re-energized, comforted and loved.
Other mother’s particularly those with ADHD children feel drained, ignored, and want to be left alone. Hugging and cuddling just becomes one more way of giving a piece of themselves away. There is innate wisdom in this statement, because in the act of giving and receiving a hug energy shifts and energy can be given and received.
This is normal and not a reason to feel guilt or shame!
It’s easy to feel like you need space, especially if you are frustrated with the very knucklehead that is trying to sit on your lap, hold your hand, or use you as target practice.
Physical affection and hugging is still a necessity. Through the skill of Preventive Teaching we can start and end most days with a hug, a sign of love and compassion and reassurance.
Each morning find a time to give your child a 10 second hug. Teach them the night before that this will be happening. Practice with them. they will laugh at first and may even try to pull away. That’s okay, laughter is good for both of you.
If your children are uncomfortable at first, a side hug (standing next to them with one arm around their shoulder) is a good place to start. The end goal should be a hug where your hearts and chests are pressed together.
Your children will start their day knowing that they are loved, feeling reassured that home is a safe place, and that however difficult school may be, they are confident in knowing that someone at home loves them. Each day after school a hug solidifies and grounds the child back in the home. At night, a hug is shared and a reminder of the love and compassion you have for one another before bed.
This may take practice, and regardless of how “good or bad” the day may have gone, ending the day with a hug is equally important. This shows your children that your love for them is truly unconditional and you begin sending the message of-
“I love you-NO MATTER what you said or did to each other during the day, I love you and am here for you.”
This daily message creates trust and therefore secure attachment.
Tying it all together
Giving a hug is definitely a powerful way of soothing a child with ADHD. Research shows that hugging is extremely effective at healing sickness, disease, loneliness, depression, anxiety and stress.
In the future, researchers say Oxytocin could be used to fight other age-related health issues by improving bone health and even being used as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
Children with ADHD need positive secure relationships where they can experience learning through example, comfort, care and physical affection. Preventive teaching will cover the learning through example piece and physical touch will cover the comfort and care aspects of Secure Attachment.
For those parents who need a little extra motivation, researchers also suggest that hugging often may make you look younger because the release of Oxytocin has anti-inflammatory benefits, which fight aging. Experts also claim that in the near future an Oxytocin based supplement may be used to improve bone health and as an alternative to hormone replacement therapy.
Make yourself look younger, go give your child a hug ☺