The Positive Side of ADD

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One of the best writers on the topic of attention deficit disorder is Edward Hallowell. In his books he talks about the positive aspects of ADD and calls for a change in our thinking about the subject. We can call a child who appears distractible by the more positive adjective: curious. A child who appears impulsive we could just as easily call spontaneous. And why not reframe hyperactive as energetic? The language we use reveals our biases: distractible, impulsive, and hyperactive all have negative connotations. They also all imply a positive contrasting word: single-focus, obedient, still. It is clear that this bias comes from school. In many other contexts these attributes would be a liability. There are many situations where the ability to take in multiple inputs simultaneously or to switch between multiple inputs, and the ability to respond quickly and move quickly would be far more advantageous.

One of the most obvious environments in which this is true is the world of business and entrepreneurship. Many of the most successful entrepreneurs of our age report being completely bored with school and diagnose themselves as ADD/ADHD. While they were able to put their “gift of ADD” to good use as adults, they often report a huge loss of self-esteem that resulted from their constant sense of failure and inadequacy in the school system. Some had the resilience to overcome this and redefine success by harnessing the innate power of their natural tendencies. Others accept the judgements passed on them by the system and never achieve their potential.

From What Every Parent Should Know About School

The “Three Rules of School” Don’t Work for Boys

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One of the first things we can do is examine our attitudes toward boys. We all have certain “programs” downloaded into our brains that we’re not even aware of — personal, family, and cultural biases passed down over time. One of these commonly held biases is that “boys are a problem,” or to use William Pollack’s term, “toxic.” There seems to be a pervasive attitude that boy energy is difficult to manage and innately disruptive. Great sympathy is often expressed for teachers with a high ratio of boys to girls. Mothers with many sons are told, “I don’t know how you do it.” We must change our thinking about “boy energy” and see it as something positive to be harnessed and channeled rather than something innately disruptive.

Boys are especially seen as disruptive to institutional decorum, which is a fancy name for the three rules of school: sit still, be quiet, and do what you’re told. If you follow these, not only you will do very well in school, and there’s a good chance you’ll become a teacher. Teachers like these rules; they make perfect sense, and, generally, teachers were students who followed them. When they start teaching and meet students who can’t follow them, they grow very frustrated.

One of the ideas I like to discuss with teachers is the notion of the “perfect classroom.” For many teachers (and parents) the image is one in which students are all quietly working on a task, facing the same way, not talking. The teacher is either instructing at the front of the room, circulating among the students, or sitting quietly at her own desk. All is peaceful and orderly. As any teacher will tell you, these moments do come, and we relish them (and hope that our principal will walk in at just that moment), but most also know this is an ideal picture. We need to revise our picture of the perfect classroom to include the noisy-busy variety.

There are two kinds of noisy classrooms. The first is the noisy/busy classroom, where students are engaged in a variety of activities alone, in pairs, or in groups. In this classroom students are relaxed, attentive, and learning. There is freedom within boundaries. All the students know and respect those boundaries, and lots is happening within them.

The other kind is the out-of-control classroom where the boundaries are unclear or inconsistently imposed. Here, there is a lot of acting out and a lot of stress. Needless to say, there is not a lot of learning going on. Barbara Coloroso talks about three kinds of families: the Brick Wall family, the Jelly Fish family, and the Backbone family. These three categories can be applied to classrooms as well. The out-of-control classroom is the Jelly Fish variety, and the noisy-busy classroom is the Backbone one. Our concepts about institutional decorum and the need to have all students dutifully on task can lead to what Coloroso might call the Brick Wall classroom. Another name for it is the “tight ship” classroom.

The Brick Wall or tight ship classroom is usually based on fear. These kinds of classrooms may “show” very well, and the Brick Wall teacher is often held up as a model for parents and other teachers, but I would argue that this is not a healthy environment. Fear leads to stress, which leads to the release of cortisol, a hormone produced by the adrenal gland and inhibits brain activity, among other things.

Not only are students in such a classroom living in fear, they simply do not learn as well. The three rules of school have been taken to the extreme. It is an environment inhospitable to all children, but especially to boys.

From Raising Boys in a New Kind of World

Drug Use as a Spiritual Practice

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Many of the kids I have worked with over the years who struggle with addiction have what I would call a spiritual temperament. They are often very sensitive kids who are looking for meaning in their lives. This complex inner life is amplified by a strong emotional life. These kids have so much going on inside them. When you add all the things that are going on outside them, it can be too much. Someone said the modern person experiences as much in one day as a medieval peasant experienced in a lifetime. There is just too much going on for some kids to process. Add to this the fact that kids are growing up today in a world where spirituality is seen as some kind of eccentric hobby, or, if it takes the form of organized religion, as a kind of cult where each sect requires you to check your critical consciousness at the door.

These spiritual kids find themselves adrift in a culture where the commonly accepted yardstick of value is a material one. Value and importance are given to things that are expensive, current and popular – the code word for this is “cool.” There is a cool version of everything; there is a cool way to act in any given situation. Our lives are spent trying to figure out what this is – a constantly moving target – and keep up with the latest thing. Steve Jobs called it, “The next big thing.” He became a billionaire by capitalizing on the rule of cool and being there to provide the masses with the next big thing. He once said, “People don’t know what they want until you show it to them.” When Steve Jobs died, his picture was everywhere. Like a modern-day Gandhi, he was the dead messiah who had delivered us all from our mundane existences and given us a tablet not made of stone. Steve Jobs embodied in one person our three greatest gods: fame, fortune and technology. For the spiritual kid, this is not enough. The soul is not fed by these gods.

This vacuum of meaning creates stress and depression. Kids feel a pain they can’t name, a hollowness they don’t know how to fill. In a culture that has accepted the use of chemicals to alter mood, it is only natural that they would turn to alcohol and marijuana to “manage” their pain. It is referred to as self-medication.

From What Every Parent Should Know About School

Some Kids Are Touchers

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Seven-year-old Connor is a toucher. He does not really believe he has seen something until he touches it. His hands are just as important to his understanding of the world as his eyes. He finds great pleasure in touching and being touched. Ever since he entered school, there has been a daily effort to get him to stop touching other people, objects in the classroom, and his own body. What does this daily effort teach a child, and what will the long-term effects be? He learns that there is something wrong with him, and that touch is a bad thing. Whenever the topic is raised, his face takes on a guilty expression. He has been shamed many times about his natural desires. While children do need to learn about socially acceptable behaviour, they should not be shamed out of their intrinsic way of relating to the world. I practice sensory processing exercises with Connor whenever he comes to see me. I squeeze his hands, flap his arms, give him bear hugs, or squeeze his feet. He finds great pleasure in this, but more importantly, he feels affirmed and accepted. The child must be led gently to a compromise between what he or she wants and what the world expects. For some children, this process takes longer than it does for others.

Some kids have a stronger tactile need than others, or perhaps it would be more accurate to say they hold on to this need longer than others. We have a low tolerance for the child who does not develop in sync with his peer group. We immediately see it as a problem to be solved. This is a by-product of our education system, which segregates children by age. All five year olds are put together in a room and are expected to behave more or less the same way. The sad truth is that eventually they will, but this does not mean it is natural. Those who are ahead of their peer group may slow down or become frustrated; those who are behind their peer group may feel compelled to let go of “childish” behaviours they may not be ready to let go of. They may feel sad at having to do so and inadequate for finding it hard. They might also feel inadequate about not being able to do some of the cognitive tasks the other kids can do. It is interesting to note that we often equate “immature” behaviour with lower intelligence. Connor’s behaviour would be judged the most immature in the class, yet his psycho-educational assessment shows that he is the most intelligent. Connor’s cognitive development is progressing at a rapid rate, but he simply refuses to let some of the pleasurable behaviours of childhood go. I admire his tenacity and his integrity. He refuses to give up what he values. He refuses to give in to arbitrary norms of behaviour. This is a very positive trait that should be affirmed and accommodated.

From Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys

Mom and Dad Can Play Too

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We can learn so much about boys by looking at the games they play. This is where their true selves find expression, where their deepest needs are met. Play is not an imposed activity; it is a chosen activity. This makes it a form a self-expression. Whether it’s rough and tumble play, fantasy play or video games, play provides a reliable window into our boys’ hearts and minds.

One of the most powerful ways we can connect with our children is to play with them. This does not mean organizing and controlling the play. It means enjoying the play on an equal footing with the child. Play, at its best, is democratic. When we give ourselves over to play, we relinquish all roles and power structures. We become children ourselves, and our children see us in a new and positive light. Many fathers feel unprepared to interact with their children because their own fathers did not spend much time with them. I tell them all they have to do is lie down on the floor — the kids will take it from there. They know what to do! Many mothers fall into the responsible authority figure role. They feel as though they are always being “the heavy.” The solution is the same: get down on the floor and play.

From Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys

Our Mother is Our First Experience of Nature

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For boys, the experience of the mother’s body in the womb and at the breast has a bearing on our relationship to the natural environment. We use the metaphor of mother earth for good reason. The earth sustains us in the same way a mother’s body sustains her child both in the womb and beyond birth. Most children growing up in the past several decades have not had the degree of attachment to mother that previous generations did, nor do they have the same degree of exposure to nature. This must have implications for child development. Is our growing disregard for mother earth the result of less contact with mother and less contact with the earth? The great evolutionary biologist Edward O. Wilson coined the term biophilia – love of life, or a desire to connect to other life forms. Does this love begin at the breast? Is the mother’s body the matrix that establishes this love? Whether it’s the desire to hold a baby, hug a child, plant a garden, stroke a pet, or even to travel to other planets, we all seek connection with other life forms. If our first attachment is blocked, interrupted, or conflicted, will this affect a child’s later development and their relationship to the natural world? Our growing disconnection from the earth, our apparent indifference to it, may be connected to our disconnection from our mother’s bodies as well as our own bodies. One way to improve or protect emotional health may be through reconnection to mother earth. If author Richard Louv’s thesis is correct, we are suffering from “nature deficit disorder” and the solution is to reconnect with our first and most important mother – the earth.

From Raising Emotionally Healthy Boys