Quit “Shoulding” On Yourself!

How often do you think that you should be able to accomplish a particular task? Or that you should do….insert activity that might be good for you but that you don’t currently do?

Here are some examples:

I should be able to figure out my monthly expenses, what is wrong with me?

I should go to the gym more, what is wrong with me?

Everyone else remembered to call Sue on her birthday, I should be able to remember something that simple, what is wrong with me?

My mentor coach would call this “shoulding on yourself.” 

The word should, per the Oxford English Dictionary, is “used to indicate obligation, duty, or correctness, typically when criticizing someone’s actions.” In other words, should is a judgment word. To “indicate…correctness” implies that if you don’t do what you should, you are incorrect. In the wrong. Even the definition tells us it’s used typically to criticize.

And for ADHDers, there can be lots of shoulds. And lots of self criticism.

But wait a minute, you say. Aren’t there things we really should do?

Of course there are. We should drive sober. We should pay our taxes. We should call our mothers on Mother’s Day, and dads on Father’s Day.

So when SHOULD we use should? And when is should akin to a four letter word?

The way I look at it is this: I feel that should can be reserved for absolutes. For rules, laws, socially acceptable customs – in other words, situations where there is no judgment involved, because it’s pretty black and white.

But when it’s not a rule, using should kind of makes it a rule. And then if we don’t do something, we’ve broken that rule-and we go down the rabbit hole of shame.

How about, when it’s not a rule, we use “want?” Let’s try it.

I want to be able to figure out my monthly expenses, but I’m not sure how. Maybe I’ll ask someone for help.

I want to go to the gym more, what can I do to get there consistently?

Everyone else remembered to call Sue on her birthday, I want to be able to remember something that simple. What can I do to make this happen?

“Should” makes it a rule, and invites embarrassment and shame. “Want” makes it a desire, and invites action.

So here’s a little assignment: try to notice when you say you should do something. And if you do catch yourself, replace should with “want to,” and see how different that vibe is.

It will probably make you want to stop shoulding all over yourself!

Food For Thought….About Food

Food and eating – a big topic during ADHD coaching sessions.

The questions about eating run the gamut – from looking for information about what foods positively, or negatively, impact ADHD, to addressing supplement use to mitigate ADHD symptoms in place of medication, to impulsivity with eating. There are also issues around food, like ADHD kiddos being unable to sit at the dinner table, or children raiding the snack cabinet at 4am.

Food is a big part of our lives. And having ADHD can add an entire layer of challenges and questions.

Here’s the thing: having grown up with what today would quite possibly be diagnosed as disordered eating, I am well aware of how careful we must be when addressing challenges relating to food. The last thing we want is for our kids-or ourselves-to feel bad or wrong because appetites spike when meds wear off, or because the sensory issues that often accompany ADHD makes the thought of eating eggs akin to torture.

I don’t want to mess this up. So, I called in the experts.

I worked with a very helpful and knowledgeable registered dietitian  (by the way, do you know the difference between a dietitian and a nutritionist? I do now!), to develop a list of questions to gauge dietitians’ general philosophies on food and body image, and their experiences with neurodivergent populations, with specific attention to ADHD and concurrent eating issues.

I am happy to say that the dietitians whom I contacted were very eager to chat with me, to discuss their views on food, diet, body image, ADHD, and sensory challenges, and to use their expertise and experience with neurodivergent folks to aid struggling ADHDers with navigating their eating journeys. These professionals brought a new perspective that was really interesting, and would be so helpful for ADHDers dealing with eating related challenges.

I am including their names and contact information below.

If you are interested in doing your own research to find a registered dietician that can meet your particular needs, including being ADHD informed, or is local to you, I’d be happy to share my question list with you. Just reach out!

Help is out there if you or your child is struggling with food related challenges, including those that are connected to ADHD. I strongly suggest calling in the experts, and getting the professional support you need, and deserve.

Registered Dietitians:

Tracy Colin, MS, RD
My Food, My Choice LLC
https://myfoodmychoicenutrition.com
tracy@myfoodmychoicenutrition.com
848-228-2046

Eliza Hiberlein, RDN
https://www.elizaheberleinrd.com/
ElizaHeberlein@elizaheberleinrd.com
732-978-9137

Andie Schwartz, M.ED, RDN, CLC, CSCS, NCSA-CPT. RYT
ABS Nutrition and Fitness
https://www.absnutritionandfitness.com/
andie@absnutritionandfitness.com
856-292-5355

Stephanie Van’t Zelfden, RDN, CIEC
Nutrition Hungry
https://www.nutritionhungry.com/
stephanie@nutritionhungry.com
856-320-5100

The Pandemic DID Happen. And It’s Still Affecting Your ADHD Kid.

Today is February 29 – Leap Year Day. Since this is a once-every-four-years event, it is natural to look back to four years earlier, and think “what was I doing last Leap Year Day?”

But what we were doing is lost in the significance of what we were about to do. Because two weeks later, our worlds just shut down here in the United States. COVID-19 had come to our shores.

So while I can’t tell you how I spent February 29, 2020, I can tell you that on March 13, 2020, I taught in a classroom for the very last time. We celebrated Pi Day-my colleague and I opting out of serving pie, out of “an abundance of caution.” We left school, with the thought that we’d be back in a few weeks.

Crazy how wrong that was.

But why am I talking about this? Why dwell on what has been the worst collective event that many of us will ever experience? Why not just put it in the past, and move forward into the sunshine?

Because it did happen, even if we want to pretend it didn’t. And the impacts are still being felt among all children today. Even more so for ADHD kids. 

We all know there was substantial learning loss during the pandemic. Online education was something for which teachers weren’t prepared, to which students had difficulty relating (and frequent technological issues), and for which parents had no time-it’s pretty tough to do your job from home, while monitoring whether your kid is actually paying attention to the teacher on the screen. Additionally, many students were tasked with caring for younger siblings while their parents worked in the next room-so getting online wasn’t always possible. It is estimated that academically, students lost the equivalent of 35% of a school year during the pandemic.

However, the learning loss is just a part of this. Let’s talk about the loss in interactions, and the resulting social skills impacted. Not to mention the subsequent mental health challenges children and teens faced. And let’s not forget-people were sick. Very sick. People were dying. Many of our young people were dealing with the loss of loved ones, and the fear that others might be next. 

Familiar routines were upended-and that’s an understatement. Day care centers were closed, grandparents isolated, playdates not allowed. According to The Economist, “The pandemic’s indirect effects on small children could last a lifetime.”¹ Think about it-if a child is 9 now, this hit when they were 5, which is just when kids are learning to be people without their parents telling them how. If a child is 18, they were 14 then, exactly at that middle school point where kids are trying out independence with the safety net of their parents in the background. 

The impact on maturity is seen by teachers daily-and while not unexpected, it is certainly alarming.

And how did ADHD kids fare? In a meta-analysis of 18 studies performed across the globe published by the Journal of Attention Disorders, Emerging research suggests that the Covid-19 pandemic has disproportionately and adversely affected children with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).”² This included decreases in motivation and focus, and increases in social isolation and emotional dysregulation. 

One study published in the Journal of Pediatric Nursing suggests that ADHD kids were less likely to participate in crafts projects and other non-screen activities at home (including homework) than their non-ADHD peers. According to the study, ADHD kids played video games 22.5% more than their neurotypical buddies, and participated in socializing via technology 40.7% less than their peers.³ 

So what does this mean for today? It means that all kids were impacted by the lack of socialization that took place during the pandemic. And all kids are behind, both academically and socially.

And it also means that the effect on ADHD kids was greater. And ADHD kids are already 25% behind in terms of their emotional development. So this puts them in an even more disadvantageous position.

We need to get our heads out of the sand. We need to understand that our ADHD children could be even more than the 2-3 years behind their peers that we already know about. We need to stop thinking about pushing children with ADHD to get to that neurotypical bar, and instead, meet them where they are at.

We need to support our kids. Because we love them. And if that means accepting that our 17 year old may in fact have the maturity of a 13 year old, and we need to be there for them a bit longer, then that’s what we need to do.

We don’t have to live in the past. But we do have to acknowledge its impact on the present. And the future.

¹”The pandemic’s indirect effects on small children could last a lifetime,” The Economist, December 15, 2022.

²Rogers, M., and MacLean, J., “ADHD Symptoms Increased During the Covid-19 Pandemic: A Meta-Analysis.” Journal of Attention Disorders, Vol. 27, Iss. 8, March 6, 2023.

³Kara, O.K., et al, “The long-term impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on children with ADHD in terms of participation,support,and barriers at home.” Journal of Pediatric Nursing, March, 2023.

How To Stop Sending Hidden Negative Messages To Your Kid

Let’s start with the basic premise that you love your kid. Let’s also recognize that if you are raising a kid (or kids!) with ADHD and other challenges, parenting is hard. The frustrations and worries one has as a parent of a neurotypical kid is multiplied by 1000.

As loving parents, we try our best. We not only make sure that our kids have what they physically need, but we also work hard to nourish their self esteem. We praise them. We spend time with them. Some of us even volunteer on teams and in classes, to show them how much we care.

But…somehow, our kiddo still thinks they stink. And still has a completely messy room, and flips out when we ask them to start their homework, or get ready for hockey practice.

Why?? Why are they not getting the message that we are sending, that they are just the greatest?

I am going to quote one of my mentors, and the founder of the Chaos Free Family program (for which I am an affiliate), Mary Smith, and talk about “leaking negativity.” 

When we think about negative reinforcement, we tend to go to punishment, yelling, or even physical consequences. And so if we aren’t employing those tactics, we think we are not engaging in negative reinforcement, right?

Guess again.

There are other more subtle disciplinary tactics many parents employ that are pounding our kids with negative messages that impact your child’s self esteem, and, as you’ve probably seen, aren’t effective in changing your child’s behavior.

Here’s an example of “leaking negativity.” Your child played in their softball game. They had a decent game, although if they had practiced their skills with you between games, as you’d suggested, they might not have missed that ground ball in the second inning. So you tell them how great they played, praise them about all of their highlights-and then, in an effort to help them improve their level of play, you mention that if they’d only practiced more, they could’ve played even better.

“What’s wrong with that?” you say. “I just want to help my kiddo be the best they can be!”

Here’s the issue. Your positive message is followed by “this is what you did wrong.” Your child will come to expect that, so that the impact of the positive message is completely wiped out; in fact, when they hear praise, they are just waiting for the other shoe to drop. No matter how well you tell them that they performed, they will only hear what they did wrong, from you-not their coach, but the person who is supposed to be their biggest supporter.

It’s no wonder they dawdle when it’s time to get ready to go to the ballpark.

It’s important to recognize that many of the ways in which we discipline our kids are negative reinforcers. And that emphasis on negativity can snuff out the ability of the brain to recognize positive reinforcement, causing the reward circuit to weaken, and motivation to decrease.

And your kid’s self esteem to plummet.

So let’s watch out for “leaking negativity.” It’s a sneaky little devil-and our kids deserve to have it removed from their lives.


For more information on leaking negativity, positive reinforcement, and ways to help you have a Chaos Free Family, reach out to me here for a Discovery Call:  https://calendly.com/constellationadhdcoach/30min

ADHD Books That I Love!

As promised, here is a list of some of my favorite ADHD books, just in time for Prime Days on July 11 and 12. Here we go!

Your Brain’s Not BrokenTamara Rosier

If you are only going to buy one book from my recommendations, this would be the one I would say is a must. I have been fortunate enough to attend a few webinars held by Tamara Rosier, so I was excited to read her book-and it did not disappoint! Your Brain’s Not Broken has user-friendly explanations of ADHD brain differences, including examples. Additionally, the strategies presented, which take the emotional dysregulation ADHDers can experience fully into account, are explained so well that they can be put into action quickly and easily.

What I love about this book: I love everything about Your Brain’s Not Broken! First of all, the notion of motivation being determined by emotions is so thought provoking; it makes so much sense, but this is the first time I’m seeing it spelled out so clearly. Also, Rosier’s presentation of different clients, and her own ADHD, makes this book so relatable. I couldn’t put it down! https://amzn.to/3NF0YzH

ADHD 2.0 – Edward M. Hallowell and John J. Ratey

Dr. Hallowell could be called one of the Grand Poobahs of ADHD research, treatment, and writing. ADHD 2.0 is an update to Hallowell’s original book, Driven to Distraction, which was (and still is) the ADHD bible. ADHD 2.0, in addition to explaining the brain science behind ADHD, also discusses different ways to enable ADHDers to thrive (such as exercise and connecting with others).

What I love about this book:  Dr. Hallowell’s approach is strengths based, meaning that rather than focus on what one has difficulty with, ADHDers are encouraged to lean on what they are great at. Dr. Hallowell is such a positive force in ADHD treatment, and that shines through in ADHD 2.0. https://amzn.to/44EculN

how to keep house while drowningKC Davis

This book, and the YouTube and TikTok videos that KC Davis has created, are legendary among ADHDers. Ms. Davis has developed Struggle Care, a very basic plan for keeping your house in some form of order, based on the (very true) concept that having a messy house is not a moral failure, it is simply a functional challenge. how to keep house while drowning has suggestions for housekeeping that take into account ADHD, depression, anxiety, postpartum…basically, life. You can use the 31 day plan that is presented, or just read through and choose what you’d like to work on.

What I love about this book:  Throughout how to keep house while drowning, one feels like you are sitting and schmoozing with a friend who is telling you that it’s all going to be okay, and that you’re being too hard on yourself. It’s a comforting little booklet. https://amzn.to/46EJfAY

Smart But ScatteredPeg Dawson and Richard Guare

Smart But Scattered is a great book for parents who are looking for practical advice on how to help their ADHD child work with their challenged executive functions. There is a terrific explanation of what the executive functions are, with examples. A section on general strategies to employ when dealing with your child follows. Finally, there are suggestions (with implementation plans) and examples relating to a variety of issues that any ADHD parent will recognize.

What I love about this book: The approach that is presented in Smart But Scattered towards working with your ADHD child is on point. Dawson and Guare tell parents to “modify tasks to match your child’s capacity to exert effort,” and “begin by changing things outside the child before…strategies that require the child to change.” In other words, work with your child, not against them. Doesn’t sound terribly profound…but it is. https://amzn.to/3O4zUuR

All Dogs Have ADHD – Kathy Hoopmann

All Dogs Have ADHD is a picture book full of dogs doing, well, dog things. But what makes this book special is that the pictures tell the story of ADHD. So, a dog jumping into a lake is “diving straight into a situation without thinking about the consequences.” You get the idea. This book is great for kids who have ADHD, and also those who don’t, but spend time around ADHDers. The photographs are beautiful, and the pups are adorable.

What I love about this book: Parents often want to sugarcoat for their kids. All Dogs Have ADHD doesn’t do that-while the book does end on a very positive note, the positives and negatives are given equal time. Also…dogs. Need I say more?? (PS-there is a companion book, All Cats Are On The Autism Spectrum) https://amzn.to/46RhntE

I could go on and on..but I’ll save some of my faves for another post down the road. Happy Reading!!

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate, and have an affiliate relationship with Amazon.

Must Have Products for ADHDers!

With Prime Day just around the corner (July 11 and 12), I thought I’d share my favorite products and books for ADHDers! This week – all the things.

Mr. Pen Highlighters

Why highlighters for ADHDers? Several reasons. First, it might be a way to fidget/let out energy. Second, color makes everything more fun, which in turn can give us that dopamine boost we crave. Using highlighters as a study tool to sort text, or when going through your to-do list and calendar, can help to keep you focused. https://amzn.to/435x2m2

Textured Tactile Adhesive Sensory Strips

These strips are about the size of a band-aid, and can stick to the underside of a desk, a phone case-wherever you want. They are very soothing to rub, and can satisfy that fidget urge when you are stuck on a Zoom call and you can’t get up and pace around. https://amzn.to/3r8JGDm

The Time Timer

ADHDers struggle with “time blindness,” which means that telling your child “be ready in 15 minutes” is bound to end in frustration for both of you. Enter the Time Timer, which shows time passing-the smaller the red slice, the less time is left. Get the 60 minute version, to have more flexibility. The Time Timer comes in many different colors-I just happen to like this tie dye model.  https://amzn.to/3XuD12x

Mr. Pen Dry Erase Pocket Sleeves

I learned about these when I was teaching. These pocket sleeves are great for morning/evening routines, checklists, chore lists – anything that requires the same steps each time. Make the list, pop it into the pocket, and use a dry erase marker to check off items. No need to rewrite the list!  https://amzn.to/3CStJng

Post-it Notes!

I use Post-It notes for so many things. One use that I have found to be super helpful is to jot down anything that pops into my head, and stick it to the counter, desk, sink…wherever I am. I can add it to my calendar or Todoist app later on, but using Post-Its for those sneaky little things that you remember in the middle of the action keeps you from then forgetting they exist. Perfect for the ADHD working memory challenge!  https://amzn.to/3pt7f9p

hOmelabs Sunrise Clock

Getting your ADHD kiddo out of bed in the morning can be a real challenge. Research has shown that the use of sunrise alarm clocks, also known as dawn simulation clocks, can improve sleep quality, as well as make waking up a more natural process. This particular clock also has the ability to have nature sounds play during the “sunrise,” and has a simulated sunset as well. The colored lights are always fun for the kiddos!  https://amzn.to/3rbmGUp

Uppower Essential Oil Diffuser

Radha Lavender Essential Oil

Speaking of sleeping, I swear by this diffuser and lavender essential oil. All it takes is one deep inhale and I am halfway to Slumber Town. Lavender is known to be calming, so breathing it in during the night keeps me soothed, and asleep. The diffuser has different color settings, so it can double as a night light; it also can be set on intermittent or full blast.  https://amzn.to/3pw5wQO  https://amzn.to/435x2m2

Next week…the best of ADHD books and movies. Happy Shopping!

Disclosure: I am an Amazon associate, and have an affiliate relationship with Amazon.

Try These Ideas To Work On Your Child’s Executive Functions This Summer!

Over the last few weeks, I’ve heard from lots of parents who, upon reaching the end of the school year, want to see a different experience for their child-and for themselves-next year.

And chances are, they would like to see their child improve their executive functions.

The executive functions-there are several, although different researchers have different ideas on how many-are the parts of the brain that allow intentions to turn into actions. They can be divided into the “thinking functions,” such as time management and organization, and the “doing functions,” including task initiation and emotional control.

In ADHDers, the executive functions are impaired (although not necessarily all of them, or to the same degree). Additionally, research has shown that ADHD kiddos can be 2-3 years behind their neurotypical peers developmentally, which translates into a lag in the development of the executive functions.

Simply put, when it comes to the executive functions, your ADHD child struggles.

And not only does your kid feel that they are behind, or panic not knowing where or how to start their assignment, they also have to deal with the many-and I mean many-negative messages they get from teachers, coaches, other kids, siblings, and relatives, about their inability to just DO THE THING.

As a parent, I’ll raise my hand here, and say that I, too, said things like “You’re so much smarter than this,” or “Why do I have to tell you a million times??”

It can be downright upsetting.

But, there are ways to both help strengthen those pesky executive functions, and/or to accustom your child to various strategies that can support his weaker skills. And you don’t have to wait for homework or book reports! Here are a few:

1 – Assign chores.  Being given household jobs is a great way for your child  to feel that you trust them to be responsible, and that they are contributing to the upkeep of your home. However, for our ADHD friends, chores should be structured in a particular way. 

  • Saying “clean your room” really isn’t specific enough. Break the chore down to smaller tasks, and depending on your child’s age, consider giving them responsibility for some of the subtasks first, rather than the whole thing. 
  • Also, how often do you think this should take place? It is better to have small daily tasks than one large weekly job.
  • Set a time of day to accomplish these tasks, with an alarm (not you) announcing the time. This should take place BEFORE fun activities that are tough to pull away from.
  • Use this time to do a chore or two yourself. This is called “body doubling,” and seeing you also working can keep your child on track. 
  • Finally, profusely thank your child for helping with the household responsibilities. Consider rewards (small things, like a trip to the ice cream parlor, or a slurpee)-we all get paid for our jobs, why shouldn’t your child??

2 – Work together to plan a trip or outing. Deciding on a place to go, and then working together to identify, prioritize, and execute different tasks is a great way to not only practice using executive function skills, but to enable you and your child to see where the gaps are, and what kind of support might be helpful. For example, if one of the tasks is to map out the trip on Google Maps, and your child has forgotten to do it, setting a reminder might help-and might stick in your child’s brain as a way to remember tasks.

3 – Keep a family calendar. Time blindness is very common for ADHDers (kids and adults). Putting events and responsibilities on a calendar makes it easier for your ADHD kiddo to see time. It will also help with transitions, as the events of the day are readily available.

4 – Allow for unstructured time – WITHOUT electronics. When your child has free time to play ball, read, draw, run around the woods-whatever they like to do-they are flexing their executive function muscles. Putting together Legos takes attention, organization, working memory, and emotional control. Pretending requires flexibility, attention, and non-verbal working memory. And the best thing about play is that, for the most part, you are not involved. They are strengthening their EF skills, and having fun, all on their own.

5 – Play board games. Family board game nights are so much fun! And without even realizing it, your child will be getting executive function training. Following directions, waiting their turn, developing a game plan-all of these involve the executive functions. And it’s such a wonderful way to spend time together.

This is just a sampling of activities that will help your child to put their executive functions to work, and learn what kind of support is helpful, all at a low pressure time of year. Give one or two a try!