011: The Magic Parenting Phrase for ADHD

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

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I'm so excited to share the magic parenting phrase for kids with ADHD (and autism) and how to implement this strategy successfully with your child! This one phrase is so, very helpful. Truly, I cannot emphasize enough how “magical” asking your child this one question can be. So, sit back and get ready to get your mind right. Enjoy!


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I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

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About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

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Share your thoughts.

  • Hello Penny,

    My name is Ally and I live in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia.

    My husband and I have twin boys (13 on Saturday) both with HFA, ADHD, Auditory Processing Issues, Dyslexia, Praxis Issues, Anxiety, Anger Issues and Sensory Processing Disorder. We have a daughter (8 yrs old). She is very bright, but has Sensory Processing Issues too. We have been told by professionals that she is borderline ADHD, has ASD traits, but because she is so bright academically professionals and teachers don't hear what I say about her. I too have been given all sorts of titles like ADHD, Bipolar 2, Dyspraxia, Sensory Processing Issues. I think that I have HFA too, but no one believes me. So you can imagine our life is pretty stressful and full on.

    My boys are going into high school next year. Do you have practical strategies to help ADHD and HFA boys cope with everyday life in high school? I am very worried about them and my ability to support them. I need parenting strategies to stay clam, be patient, help them with homework, to be organized, so that the transition to high school can be as smooth as possible and so that I can be the best help I can be for them.

    Thank you for listening and I look forward to your advice.

    Kind Regards,

  • Hi Penny,
    I'm somewhat new to the podcast and have listened to a handful of episodes so far. The episode about the magic phrase was very interesting to me as I've sometimes used it without knowing what I was doing. The big question that i have though is what to do when the only response we get from our ADHD child is the very thing we've told them they can't do/have/go to/etc. For example, the other weekend we were at Target, and our almost 7 year old with severe ADHD was have a great day and was being super awesome while we were shopping. Then he saw the bath bombs. This kid loves bath bombs. So we buy them in bulk and keep them at the house. He knows this, but never the less became fixated on the bath bombs he was seeing then and there. We reminded him gently that we have a bag full of them at home and we didn't need to spend extra money on more of them. He then turned into tantrum mode (I've listened to the podcast on tantrums vs meltdowns as well) but when we were gentle but firm in our no, the tantrum didn't escalate, but he did get what we call a sticky thought, and became obsessive over getting the bath bomb. I did end up asking him how I could help him, to which he promptly and calmly responded, you can buy me this (holding up the bath bomb that he refused to put down). I reminded him we weren't buying more bath bombs and let it go as we continued to shop, but as it was a sticky thought he then proceeded to keep telling me over and over that the only way we could help him, the only way to make him happy, the only way he would believe we loved him, the only way we were allowed to leave the store, was to buy him the bath bomb. When it was time to check out, his dad took the bath bomb from him and they put it back, and he then escalated into a full meltdown, similar to the one you described in the episode about tantrums versus meltdowns. This is a common occurrence though in our house, and so I am wondering how best to handle these situations where the only answer/solution to our question of how can I help you, is that he will only be helped by giving him the very thing he can't have and we obviously can't give him.

    Thank you and I look forward to any thoughts/advice you can provide!

    • Hi Shana!

      These situations are so tough. The goal is to collaborate and compromise, as Ross Greene teaches in “Raising Human Beings.” When he answered that you can help him by buying the bath bomb, your response should be something like: “I'm sorry, Buddy, but that doesn't work for Daddy and me. We already spent lots of money buying a big box of bath bombs and you have to use these first. When those are all used up, do you want to help me pick the next scent we get for you? I want you to be able to enjoy bath bombs, and use scents you like, but they are expensive and we have to be very careful about how much of our money we spend on bath bombs.” Then redirect: “We need some _____. Will you help me pick it out?”

      At 7 years old, he doesn't yet have the self-awareness and self-regulation to work through situations like this as simply as how can I help you? You can preface it: “I see you're having a really hard time right now. How can I help you with that?” That makes the question much more direct and narrows appropriate answers. I would recommend working on The Incredible 5-Point Scale with him to start building awareness and skills to regulate some.

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