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Disciplining a Child With ADHD?

So, unless this is your first day on the Internet, you’ve doubtless heard the story of the ADHD boy in Kentucky who was handcuffed by a Sheriff’s Deputy because he was acting out.

No self-discipline, unlike the Deputy. And just to prove justice is blind, the Deputy also handcuffed a 9 year old girl with ADHD.

By the way, I checked. The Deputy’s name is not Barney Fife. (Actually, did Barney kinda look like he had ADHD? Impulsive, Over-reacting, Forgetful, Impulsive, Motor-mouthing. Or is it just me?)

Where was I?

Oh, right. So, everyone is outraged about the officer’s actions. And rightly so.

But as someone who has lived with ADHD his whole life, but didn’t find out until I was older… (I was going to say until I grew up and matured, but I haven’t done that yet.)… I feel sorry for the officer.

A little.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – It’s Complicated

ADHD is a spectrum disorder.

Unlike, say, being pregnant; which you either are, or are not.

People with ADHD span a range of symptoms, each of varying intensity. And now and then, one of the ADHD traits can be a boon.

‘Blurting out’ and being ‘overly talkative’ are great for a comedian like me. At least, when I’m doing comedy. It’s a problem at funerals.

Where was I?

Oh, right, so I have some sympathy for the Sheriff’s Deputy.

When he deals with adults, even ones who suffer from ADHD, he can order them to do things, and if they don’t follow his instructions he can cuff, taser, beat, or shoot them.

Which is why I could never be a cop.

I’d be wailing on people all the time, because I hate when people lie to my face, and let’s face it, people lie all the time to cops.

Heck, I’ve seen articles listing fake excuses you can give a cop to get out of a ticket. Next to a member of Congress or the Senate, no one deals with more liars than a police officer.

Where was I?

Oh, right. So I understand how frustrating it is to deal with a child who isADHD, misunderstood, frustrating, lonely struggling with ADHD. They can be crazy making.

My first job after University was running demonstrations at a public Science center. Doing shows with static electricity, liquid nitrogen, lasers… Perfect ADHD job.

During the school year, anywhere from 10 to 30 school classes would arrive for the day.

And there was one school where it seemed every child qualified as having ADHD.

This was decades ago and the term wasn’t around. And I’m sure they weren’t all ADHD. The rate is actually 5 to 7 % of kids. And about 4% of adults.

Every staff member knew about this school. And desperately tried to avoid having to do a class for them.

It was madness. Imagine trying to explain how laser beams can be used to measure the distance to the moon to 30 Orcs from Lord of the Rings.

You couldn’t get 3 words out before being interrupted by irrelevant questions about some piece of apparatus hanging in the corner of the room.

Exhausting For All Concerned

Now, I’m not naturally a patient person. I don’t know many others with ADD who are.

I’ll drive to the bank to use the ATM, and if the lineup is more than one person, I’ll leave and come back later.

So the long and short of this is… I have a bit of sympathy for the Sheriff. And clearly it’s not just him. According to the reports I’m seeing, this happens all the time in schools.

The problem is that it doesn’t really help.

Being handcuffed at age 8 doesn’t soothe a child. Or anyone. Except perhaps the characters from 50 Shades of Gray. Or is it Grey?

Handcuffing the child means they stop racing around.

The problem is, their mind is still racing. At 300 miles per hour. Which is about 500 kilometers an hour. (I’m deliberately letting my mind wander here so you get a sense of what it’s like to have ADHD.

The thundering stampede of thoughts that doesn’t stop, it’s 24/-7.)

Where was I?

Right, handcuffing ADHD kids.

There are a whole bunch of better solutions.

Making eye-contact and listening and letting them vent.

Getting them to do something physical.

Giving them a special assignment. (We are awesome when we’re busy and engaged.)

Let the child stand or pace at the back of the room to burn off energy.

There’s a ton of other ideas on our website and in our videos.

The point I want to get to, despite my own ADHD, is that while we can be frustrating to teach, or to parent, or to work with, and especially to work for, using a physical restraint is rarely, if ever, helpful.

Same with physical punishment.

In Grade 6, long before I was making a living with comedy, I was always Rick Green, growing up with ADHD, ADHD child, sad and misunderstoodcracking jokes. (One of the symptoms on the ADHD checklist for kids should be, ‘Class Clown.’)

When I went too far, the teacher, a scary guy at the best of times marched me to the front of the class, made me hold out my hand, and then he smacked it hard with a yardstick.

I can still feel the burn, the pain, and the tears I couldn’t stop from streaming down my face.

I didn’t want him, or anyone, to see me cry. But, like so many things I tried to do in school, I was marginally successful. You could say I earned a C- for ‘sucking it up and taking it like a man.’

But I’d earn an A+ for being a confused, shy, struggling, unhappy kid with ADHD.

We’re Giving It Our All, And This Is All We’ve Got

I’m not saying my teacher was wrong for hitting a child half his height and 1/8 of his weight. I shouldn’t have to say it. It was wrong.

Because for one thing, it didn’t work. I went back to making jokes the next day. Did I mention our issue about working memory?

The thing people don’t get when they tell an ADHD kid to sit still, be quiet, stop talking, pay attention, or… and this is the worst… try harder… is that we are trying. We are giving it all we have got.

We don’t want to be handcuffed or beaten with a ruler.

We don’t want to be sent home early from a birthday party because we couldn’t keep our hands to ourselves.

We don’t want to interrupt the teacher and have all the other kids annoyed at us.

We don’t want to see that look in our parent’s eyes as they read over yet another report card full of, ‘Could do better… Needs to pay attention more… Smart, but fails to finish…”

We are simply doing the best we can.

There’s Hope! Trust Me!

Yes, we can get better at listening, focusing, prioritizing, finishing what we start. The brain can change.

We can work with people who cover our weak spots. (God Bless my accountant.) We talk about this in our videos on Mindfulness, Coaching, and so many other aspects of ADHD.

We can improve.

In fact, with the right interventions and accommodations—lifestyle changes, more exercise, better diet, the right ADHD medication, certified ADHD coaching, and a dozen other strategies and tricks—we can survive school and get out into the world where we can flourish.

Because when we find what we love…

…then there are no handcuffs strong enough to restrain us.



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  1. mcfarlane August 12, 2015 at 11:47 am

    Rick Green got hit for making classmates laugh? I once had a class that made fun of my ten year old Toyota Tercel. It was great. We start the class by making fun of the car, then I would teach the math lesson, then they the students would do the pencil and paper work and for the last five minutes we would go back to laughing about the car. Every one finished their work and got good marks.
    Here what a teacher should do if he or she can’t stand kids making a few jokes during class.
    Students can make funny remarks in class and contribute too. I always found it strange how the straight A students got away with more remarks than the student who struggled.
    In the above article Rick Green has given a few good tips for teaching students who have ADHD. My tip is, learn more about ADHD. Teachers and Parents should be demanding that teacher take seminars about teaching students who have ADHD. These ADHD seminars would be much more meaningful and useful than the very popular seminars Working with Stain Glass and How To Be Ready For Retirement.
    If teachers can’t find a seminar on ADHD, read a book on this subject. Many books on ADHD can be ordered from this website.
    Learning more about ADHD has made my teaching career more fulfilling..
    All students are our future.
    Wayne (laughing with students) McFarlane

  2. madconcertpianist September 3, 2015 at 3:56 pm

    I’m curious about one small fact: “‘Blurting out’ and being ‘overly talkative’ “,
    as You say – Has that ever been mistaken for talking to yourself?

  3. krissocialvillage October 19, 2015 at 9:12 am

    The patience is very tough for a parent with a child unwilling to seek help. How to you create willingness? Often it is when the consequences are unbearable for the young man or lady. We keep on trying to break through the rebellion. Sometimes there is a glimmer of hope…then it fades.

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