ADHD and Impulse

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I did something I shouldn’t have tonight; I ate a banana split. Well, not the whole thing – just enough to make me sick. I feel as stuffed as the traditional Thanksgiving turkey. Now, why did I do that? Wouldn’t you think a grown woman would know better? Well, the fact is, I do know better, but I did it anyway. Sometimes ADD is like that – acting first and thinking later.

I remember when my son was very young and there was a family get-together at my sister-in-law’s house. My sister-in-law had just gotten a new refrigerator with an ice dispenser in the door. Although she was childless, she was smart enough to know that all of the kids (mine plus my nieces and nephew) would be curious about the ice dispenser and want to play with it. So, she got all of the kids together in the kitchen, gave each one a cup and told them they were allowed to get their own ice once. After that, they weren’t allowed to play with the refrigerator any more.

Well, the kids got their ice and a drink, and took off to play. About an hour later, my son, who was about 3 or 4, showed up in the kitchen. He planted himself in front of the fridge and stood there, just looking. My brother-in-law noticed (as we all did), and then commented: “He knows he isn’t supposed to touch it, but he can’t help himself. He has to.” Sure enough, a minute or so later, my son made his move.

That comment was an eye opener for me. I was surprised by my brother-in-law’s perception and equally surprised by how right he was – something that’s been proven to me over and over through the years. I think that this is one of those characteristics about Attention Deficit Disorder that parents need to “get” and to remind themselves of often. Let me remind you now: ADDers have a tendency to act first and think later.

There are two reasons that you need to be aware of this: safety and discipline. Safety because remembering your child’s impulsive tendencies may help you anticipate some of their escapades before they have a chance to try them out. (You’re going to have to learn to think way out of the box on this one.) And discipline because I think you should take those tendencies into account before you decide on an appropriate punishment for what they’ve done.

I am not suggesting that you refrain from punishing them altogether, but I do think that many of the times that your child has misbehaved are not in fact instances when they have deliberately done something wrong, but rather times when they have acted on impulse without thought as to it’s consequences.

In those instances, I think that it’s important to talk about what happened, as well as pointing out how a little thought beforehand might have changed things. I also think it’s important that you talk to your child and help him realize that he has these tendencies to act first and think later, and help him learn to recognize these situations and hopefully deal with them in a more thoughtful manner.

Realize, too, that this is an ongoing lesson – not a one-time thing. Our youngest daughter (19) and I had this very conversation about a week ago. She and a friend of hers went to a free concert in downtown Chicago one evening. We live fairly close by, and it’s not unusual for any of us to go to downtown for shopping or entertainment.

After the concert, the girls got lost going home because of all of the construction, detours, and freeway closures. They ended up in a bad area and stopped at a gas station to get gas and directions. While they were there, two young men got into the car with them and refused to leave. After some tense moments, the girls were able to get the young men to leave the car, and they got home safely without further incident.

I talked to my daughter about thinking ahead, and planning for such things as freeway closures and detours. (It’s a given for Chicago in the summer, and we all should have realized that before they left.) We did punish her, but more important was the talk that we had with her. Hopefully, she’s a little more likely now to think first and act later.

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Lacy Estelle

Lacy Estelle is the writer of and the Podcast host for An ADD Woman.

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