And what you should be asking instead
Ia��m a problem solver. So ita��s natural that I would look for answers and reasons behind every problem, every difficulty in life. If you know why a problem has occurred, you are more able (potentially) to find solutions and preventions. Right?
But what do you do when there are no reasons? A�When therea��s no sense to something. No logic. And no one, including you, has the answers a�� to the problem or the solution.
To me, raising a son with ADHD has been one continuous cycle of looking for reasons behind problems, and solutions to those problems.
Where Ia��ve constantly come unstuck (even unravelled. Maybe even unhinged at times) is in asking the killer question, a�?Why?a�?
Why did you do that? Why did you say that? Why are you making loud animal noises? Why did you leave that there? Why did you leave that behind? Why didna��t you do what I told you? Why didna��t you sit still? Why did you call out? Why did you get up and walk around when you were told to sit down and concentrate? Why didna��t you do your homework? Why did you hurt your sister? Why did you deliberately hurt yourself? Why did you disobey me? Why did you disobey your teacher?
Why? Why? WHY? WHY? WHY?
The enormous challenge of being a parent of an ADHD child is that you tie yourself in mental, emotional and physical knots every day, asking this question constantly.
For me, it screamed in my head, every day, for 10 years. Every time my child did something we both knew hea��d been taught not to do, or knew was wrong, I asked him. Every time he didna��t do the right thing, or something hea��d been asked (aka told) to do, I asked him. In fact, I probably asked him why more than I asked him what a�� What do you need? What do you want? What would you like? What do you think? a�� or how a�� How do you feel? How can I help you? How can we fix this? How can I make you feel better?
Others constantly asked it too. Teachers and family members would ask my son the Why question all the time. When they couldna��t get a satisfactory answer from him, theya��d ask me. a�?Why did your sona��? Why doesna��t your sona��? Why wona��t your sona��?
I read every book. I took him to every expert. I attended every course. I searched and researched. Yet I never found the answers. It was painful and frustrating. How can you solve a problem if you cana��t find the answers?
Over time, I blamed myself. I felt inadequate as a mother. I couldna��t understand him. I couldna��t help him. I couldna��t change him. And I couldna��t solve his problems. Yet I considered myself an intelligent, wise, capable person, and a loving and dedicated parent. I should have all the answers. Shouldna��t I?
This is a trap for parents to fall into. A huge, dangerous, bottomless trap.
I would ask myself, a�?Why?a�? just as often as I would ask my son, a�?Why?a�? Yet neither of us had the answers. Invariably, when I asked my son the question, he would just respond with, a�?I dona��t know.a�? ARGH! This is an answer no parent being constantly questioned and judged for their childa��s a�?bada�� behaviour or a�?poora�� performance can do anything with. a�?What do you mean you dona��t know?!a�? (Queue steam from ears and a rising vocal volume.)
But the reality is, ADHD kids often dona��t know why they do (or dona��t do) some of the things theya��re responsible for. And these poor little people constantly have adults seeking these answers where there just arena��t any.
Beyond not having an answer as to why they do something, these kids often seem even unaware that they have actually done something.
Sometimes the answer to a�?Why did you do that?a�? is followed with a response of a�?Did I?a�? or a�?Was I?a�? This is one of the reasons that punishments and negative consequences have little impact on ADHD kids and have zero efficacy in actually modifying or managing behaviour. If you dona��t know why you did something unacceptable or even an awareness that you did it, the likelihood is youa��ll do it again, and any negative consequence or outcome will have no meaning to you at all a�� not because youa��re naughty or malicious or unintelligent a�� but because you simply cana��t make the connection.
The whole law of conditioning assumes you can understand the link between cause and effect; action and result. These kids simply dona��t. And in fact, they cana��t.
I recall one time, around the age of 9, when my son did or said something unacceptable at school. Whatever it was (that I cana��t recall now in the blur of so many such instances), it was serious enough to result in an after-school detention. These detentions always occurred on a Friday and normally involved picking up litter or cleaning a classroom a�� some form of community service. His misdemeanour was a�?committeda�� on a Friday, so the detention was held over until the following week to be served. By the time we got to the date of the detention, I reminded my son that Ia��d be picking him up late, at 4:20, after his detention. He looked at me with innocent surprise and curiosity and said, a�?Oh yeah. Thata��s right. Whata��s that for again. Did I do something wrong?a�? He had no idea, no recollection, and no association of whatever his actions were that had resulted in this penalty. What a total waste of time.
This is where traditional praise and punishment practices totally fail with and for ADD/ADHD children. Ultimately, all that resonates and remains with many of these children is that theya��re a�?bada�� and need to be punished, even when theya��re not even sure why. It can set them up in an ongoing and ever-worsening cycle of poor self-esteem, negative reputation and social isolation.
Ultimately for me, when we finally received the diagnosis that our son had ADHD, I fell to my knees and asked a soul-level rhetorical a�?Why?a�?
Since then, ita��s been a learned response for me to NOT ask a�?Whya�? a�� questioning a child who has no answers and agitate myself by searching for them. Sometimes, there is no reason. There just is. Thata��s what we, as parents of ADD/ADHD children must learn.
I now coach my sona��s teachers (and myself) in looking beyond the unacceptable and unfathomable level of why he does something, and instead try to understand and interpret his intent.
Did he mean to hurt someone or was he actually trying to get their attention / to get them to like him? Was he trying to frustrate his teacher or was he frustrated and overwhelmed within himself? Did he choose to not sit still or was he unable to sit still. Did he choose not to concentrate or was he unable to?
These are better, more informative and more helpful questions. These are the questions that lead us to defining helpful/workable solutions a�� solutions that build capability and self-esteem rather than limiting or destroying them.
And the key is also to share the problem with these children, rather than putting all of the responsibility onto them for things they cana��t control, avoid or change. A responsibility that is too large and unfair for them to bear.
When we share and support, we accept and embrace. Only then can we create solutions and more possibilities for change and growth.
We simply must stop asking a�?Why?a�? Ita��s the unanswerable question.
Instead, leta��s accept, understand, explain, encourage and guide.
We need to start asking better questions: What do you need? How do you feel? How can I help you?