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Are you looking for help for your child’s behavior issues?

Question and Answers on speech bubblesMy Facebook fans often ask: How can I find someone like you but near me?

Start networking. It takes time. Ask your pediatrician, other parents, trusted teachers and day-care folks, and see if any names of good professionals pop up. You want to find someone who identifies themselves as a “behavioral” and/or “developmental” oriented therapist (preferably a Ph.D. or Psy.D. doctoral level psychologist). Make sure they aren’t all about quickly diagnosing problems and then moving your child onto medications.

Specifically, the professionals you want to meet with should work with parents and child(ren) in the office at same time. That’s makes a difference. The professional should be someone you also feel comfortable with. You should walk away from a first meeting with some tips and strategies. If not, thank them for their help and keep looking.

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Do you have a “Safety Rule”?

Question and Answers on speech bubblesOne parent asked: I have a 4.5 year old boy who has an issue with running in parking lots. It’s a game now. At first I chased him, I now have an infant and can’t run after him. This is scary and frustrating and I know I’m mishandling the situation. But I can’t let him run! I’ve tried bringing objects to entice him but they rarely work. I’ve tried not chasing him and being stern. Haha. Any suggestions to correct this after a year of this game!? 

Answer: Game of Chase isn’t for Parking Lots

As the mother of a five year old recently told me, running in parking lots is a dangerous habit many young boys need to break. Start with a 100% refusal to chase them. That’s what makes it rewarding and a game to them. The problem is they need a new habit – built on a simple phrase called “Safety Rules”.

Before you get out of the car or before you enter a parking lot … and always before you approach a street corner do this:

  1. Pause while holding their hand firmly.
  2. Get eye contact (you may have to kneel).
  3. Set the Safety Rule firmly – “You stay by my side or else you will have to hold my hand when we cross. And if you don’t listen, we go home and you lose something special, agreed?”
  4. Make them repeat it before you take a step.
  5. If they listen and follow the Safety Rule, give them lots of praise. If not, sorry to tell you that you’ll need to go back and try it again, and again if needed, until they comply.

Many years back I worked with disadvantaged inner city boys who were always bolting off. Often, I’d have to go up and down the stairs of our clinic repeating and practicing safety rules until they realized there would be no playtime until they complied. “I have all day,” I told them with a measured calm voice. “It’s your choice… We’re both missing out.”

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What boys really need – and it is not labels!

A mom reported recently to me that her son’s teacher is pushing for an ADHD diagnosis. While this mom is taking the school’s comments seriously, she and her husband are also seeing the bigger picture. She told me, “He is only seven – and a happy, smart, loving boy… and I think we just all need to put our heads together to figure out how to best motivate him but in a positive way.”

This is the right approach… not rushing into using labels for early struggles, or worse, starting a seven year old on a possible life-long course of medications he may not need.

Nationally, more and more boys are being diagnosed with ADHD  – and in my opinion – it often has nothing to do with a true disorder.  It’s more about improper teaching methods and sedentary classroom approaches and misunderstanding how boys think and learn.

Schools don’t lookmoving in classroom at themselves. Instead, they too often focus on blaming boys (and their brains) for tuning out in class. Schools rush to use psychological tests. Worse, they casually hand out behavior rating scales designed to find ADHD. They put time and energy into highly subjective diagnoses – rather than doing what we know works to spark the developing minds of young boys and men.

What boys need to learn is simple. Moving while thinking, promoting hands-on activities, healthy competition, and spending less time sitting and prepping for standardized tests.

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Big, Scary Thoughts

Thinking student sitting at deskA parent of a gifted five-year old wonders why her son often sounds unhappy and fears growing up.

Many smart youngsters can become easily overwhelmed by their brain’s capacity to think too big. Imagine you are only five and you’re thinking about the meaning of life, growing up and having to find a job, wondering what it would be like to be alone! Very young children have no real-life experience to put any of these big, scary thoughts into perspective.

I recommend not spending lots of time talking about these big thoughts with very young kids. That only reinforces them to feel worse. If your child isn’t sharing these uncharacteristic big (negative) thoughts away from you, that may be a sign that you are fueling those concerns accidentally.

Better to acknowledge big, scary thoughts fast, then put them in their place!

First explain that thoughts are in our control: “I know you have very strong feelings and worries. Sometimes your feelings get too big – but they are only feelings and they can change. We can make them smaller or turn them into happier thoughts if we want to…”

Then show your child how to control them: “Let’s move, let’s go outside, let’s do something real like play, run, wrestle, and that’s how we stop those feelings. We don’t have to think of them right now – but if later you still feel them – we can talk about them. We can find good ways (like drawing or singing or making a play about them) to make sure they don’t seem too big or stay around too long.”


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The ADHD Excuse


ADHD symbol design isolated on white backgroundA parent I know is questioning if her second grader has ADHD. Maybe he does, maybe he doesn’t. There are many things that mimic the symptoms. It takes time to make an accurate diagnosis and well-trained professionals should always be consulted. Meanwhile, her son has picked up on the ADHD terminology. He’s saying he can’t focus on homework because his “brain is distracted.” When he gets caught doing something he shouldn’t – like swearing at his brother – he says he’s “being impulsive.” Are his problems due to an attention deficit? Perhaps. But he’s also complaining that sorting his laundry is way too hard. And the Legos that cover his bedroom floor can’t be organized, because, well – it’s “just too hard.” This boy is smart and I think he’s found a convenient get-out-of-jail-free card … an excuse he can call up whenever the going gets tough. Whether this boy has ADHD or not, excuse-making is a slippery slope. In time, he might start believing these limitations.


If you’re investigating a diagnosis of ADHD, or your child/teen currently has this diagnosis, here’s how to avoid ADHD excuses.


  1. ADHD should never be framed as a serious disability. Tell kids that ADHD is a brain style. It doesn’t completely define who they are or limit what they can do. In fact, this brain style can have great advantages (such as athletic skill, creative thinking, and healthy risk taking). ADHD also lends itself to a mind-set that we adults strive for – living more in-the-moment and being more mindful. Yet, there are potential downsides. There are struggles keeping on task, especially when there isn’t something novel or very interesting to focus on. Patience is a serious challenge. Delayed gratification can be hard too. And, not all risks taken are positive.


  1. Emphasize that what matters is how ADHD fits (of fights against) the demands that different environments place on people.


  1. Remind your child that any problems with ADHD (high motor activity, sustaining focus, and being impulsive) can be worked on with or without medications. Most important, remind them that ADHD symptoms tend to decrease (or drop away) as kids grow – as development of the frontal cortex catches up in teenage years.


  1. Remind your child that their brain always has the capacity to learn and change. Pushing oneself to improve, develop better work habits, and maintain healthy life routines – like getting enough sleep, exercise, and eating right – will help control ADHD symptoms. Watch over-exposure to screens too… those have been correlated to higher ADHD symptoms.


  1. Finally, and most important, push back on any ADHD excuse-making. ADHD should never be a reason to avoid trying new things or giving up.


Please contact Dr. Rao about reproducing any material found on these pages.