Solution before a diagnosis
Child therapy is not always at the forefront of parent’s minds. Recently, parents of young Jack, age nine and a half came in to talk to me about their child’s increased “belligerence toward completing his homework.” As they noted, Jack “will do anything to finagle getting out of doing his homework. “ They stated that while attempting to do his homework he is always “losing his focus, constantly wanting to talk and fidgeting excessively,” instead of doing what he is supposed to be doing.
Needless to say if Jack had been taken to a physician first, Jack would have likely been diagnosed with ADHD and put on some kind of medication.
I took a very different approach with the parents, one that may be thought of as somewhat unorthodox. The approach involves having the parents speak to Jack in a very straightforward way about taking a different posture toward his homework.
The approach involved the parents talking to Jack utilizing a script close to the following:
“Jack, we’ve been arguing about homework far too long and it is going to stop. We are not going to argue with you anymore. Here’s how it’s going to work. You can choose to do your homework or choose not to your homework. If you choose to do your homework then good things follow. You can have down time and do the activities that you like to do, which up to this point.
If you choose not to do your homework and this is what it means. For the night, it is going to be very boring around the house. You will have not earned screen time. It’s going to be very quiet night. At bedtime we will tuck you in at bedtime and say good night. The next day we will write a note to your teacher explaining that you chose not to do your homework and that she will have to deal with you.”
About a month later Jack came in with his parents. Keeping in mind that I had still not met Jack until this follow-up session, I asked Jack how it went.
Jack stated, “Great. Mostly, I choose to do my homework after dinner. I haven’t missed a night and we haven’t argued about homework.”
Jack’s parents agreed fully. They said the tone of their house was very different since the battling over homework was removed. There were no punishments, timeouts, or threats. Jack was not put on medication for his “ADHD,” as they were very close to doing.
Moral of the story: It’s Jack’s choice. One way or the other Jack can choose well or Jack can choose poorly. If Jack chooses well, then nice things follow- life is good (at least for the night). If Jack chooses poorly, he has to deal with it. It will be an uncomfortable discussion that he has with his teacher the next day when he explains why he chose not to do his homework. (There are very few children who would like to have that conversation.)