In today’s episode, I talk to Jessica. She ahs ADHD, her husband ahs ADHD, and one of her two sons also has ADHD. Like many good ADHDers, Jessica has thrown out the rulebook for how things are “supposed to be done”, and is doing what works instead. As a family, they’ve built a foundation of mutual respect, and they address problems head on. They don’t play games, or hold grudges, and it’s clearly working for them.
We talk about ADHD at home, in school, and in sewing class. And Jessica shares stories about her dad’s lack of a filter, her own time in high school, and why little boys and living plants don’t mix.
Let me know what you think at [email protected].
2:12 Mom, Dad, and one of two kids all have ADHD
2:36 Typical things that get doubled up by ADHD
3:05 Understanding and patience
3:28 Disregarding social norms for division of labor
4:40 “We just kind of play to our strengths”
5:06 Consistently inconsistent
5:28 Respect as a foundation
6:35 Respecting the question “Why?”
7:50 Context helps those with ADHD do better
8:08 On pulling rank
9:18 Childhood troubles carrying over to adulthood
10:08 Receptive to a little bit of pushback
10:25 The Grown-Ups Guide to the Teenage Human -Josh Shipp
11:32 Diagnosed at 30, but childhood report cards reflect ADHD
12:20 Her dad is a HOOT!
13:03 All you can ask for from parents
13:24 Be the adult that you needed when you were a kid
13:55 Transitions, Anxiety, and Anger
15:07 Helping her kid with anxiety
16:34 Sewing anxiety (but not discord)
17:35 Spiders in the toilet
19:03 Embracing weaknesses and strengths
20:36 Consequences for last minute work
21:07 The consequence should fit the solution to the problem
22:00 Punishing for extended period of time doesn’t work
22:33 1-2-3 Magic –
24:37 How the non-ADHD kid is affected
27:03 The importance of turning toward each other
28:17 Dad’s ADHD & their relationship
30:08 Everybody needs more self awareness
30:36 People with ADHD as a minority group
31:39 ADHD and school
33:00 When Jessica was in school
34:00 Don’t tell me I can do better, tell me HOW to do better
35:43 Allergies, Medication, and being careful about science
37:30 Home/School communication
38:21 “The hurdles change every time you get the hang of it.”
38:33 On boys and dead plants
39:37 Parenting ADHD requires doing your homework, ironically
40:43 Advocating for our kids through ourselves
41:39 Why parents don’t get last names on the podcast
42:34 Sewing and kids with ADHD
43:09 The role of shame
44:03 Respect, modeling and owning mistake
44:47 If you suck at all those things…
45:10 The power of The Golden Rule
46:12 Ending Essential
I had a blast talking to my friend Dr. Kirsten Milliken. We started off doing an episode for her show, Your ADHD Life, and wrapped up with this episode of ADHD Essentials. Kirsten is a psychologist, a mother (with ADHD) of two boys (one with ADHD, one without), and an ADHD coach! So there was a lot to talk about.
In today’s episode, we discuss about her journey to getting an ADHD diagnosis as an adult, her book PlayDHD, and the importance of learning how to pause when moments get heated. She also indulged me as I told her about a scavenger hunt I created for my boys that was inspired by her work.
There’s a lot in this one. I hope you enjoy it!
Dr. Kirsten Milliken can be found at YourADHDLife.com.
Her book, PlayDHD, can be found here.
And you can contact her here.
Let me now what you think of today’s episode by emailing me at [email protected].
2:06 How Dr. Kirsten became diagnosed with ADHD
4:07 Missing signs of ADHD because you’re too close to them
5:11 The “ah-ha” moment of diagnosis
6:18 Professionals who “get” ADHD tend to have ADHD
6:49 Not all clinicians understand ADHD at a deep enough level
7:45 ADHD is a matter of degree
8:30 Does our distracted culture make it harder to prove ADHD is valid?
8:58 Yes. Unless you have a good metaphor
9:31 ADHD, asthma, and our distracted culture
11:23 Going back to Dr. Kirsten as a parent
11:38 ADHD adds a lot of fun!
12:01 Folks with ADHD can be frustrating for nonADHDers
12:52 Oftentimes strong emotions spread from mm to son, and vice versa
13:15 Wanting things to be better for our kids
14:03 The emotional challenges of ADHD
14:31 The movie “Up” gets Oliver down
14:58 “As a parent, I wanna fix that!”
15:17 Uncomfortable emotions mean you care
15:49 The challenge of being less emotionally reactive
16:04 Naming our emotions helps us control them
16:27 They’re not trying to upset us
16:56 “This is” vs. “You are”
17:45 Brendan and Kirsten’s first meeting
18:28 Usibng play to help kids manage ADHD
19:18 The link between ADHD and play
20:01 What the doc means by play
21:03 Using play to help kids clean their room
23:00 Kirsten inspires Brendan’s scavenger hunt
23:53 The clues built the skills
25:05 Addressing social emotional needs with the hunt
26:41 You can use play to teach lids things
27:02 There’s a reason kids with ADHD can be class clowns.
27:16 “Just a doctor”
28:01 Coaching is the best model for treating ADHD
28:15 Coaching vs. Therapy
28:44 Therapy is about “fixing” yourself
29:19 Coaching is about where you want to go
30:41 Your ADHD Life
32:36 If you understand, you can help
32:47 Ending Essential
34:13 Managing the pause
35:58 Finding the pause after the reaction
37:41 Modeling the pause
It was an honor to talk about ADHD with Cameron Gott. He’s been coaching people affected by ADHD for over 15 years, and is one of the people I most wanted to get on the pod. So, when he told me he liked the show, I jumped at the chance to get him on. I’m glad I did.
We talk about his new book, Curious Accountability (co written with Casey Moore), as well as the trials of bringing unmedicated kids to Walmart, the importance and challenge of reflection, and what it was like for both of us growing up with ADHD. The conversation was excellent. I learned a great deal from it.
Cameron’s book is phenomenal. I highly recommend it.
Without geeking out about the whole thing, I really enjoyed the concept of presence in relation to Curious Accountability, and the way the three conversations discussed in the book help provide out an effective communication frame that can be used to talk to our kids about the challenges they face. Done right, it can limit the amount of intense confrontation and emotionality that so often derail those conversations.
Cameron Gott can be found at www.CameronGott.com.
The first chapter of Curious Accountability can be found at:
As usual, I can be found at www.ADHDessentials.com.
Please let me know what you thought of today’s episode by emailing me at [email protected].
3:10 Cameron’s first experience working with kids with ADHD.
4:31 Certain environments invite certain behaviors
5:50 Teaching trip plans
6:14 Mine the learning and apply forward
7:15 Putting accountability in a positive light
8:11 What accountability means to most people… And what gets lost in it
9:08 What Curious Accountability is about.
9:29 Pausing, Pivoting, and ADHD
9:47 Light the Rocket and Go!
11:14 Fitting reflections into the day
11:59 Don’t get us started on recess!
13:15 Just enough structure to be successful
14:17 Using structure outside of the plan/schedule
15:43 ¾ of the battle of ADHD
16:06 Presence and Curious Accountability
17:30 Curiosity and assuming good
19:13 How Cameron’s ADHD shows up
19:35 Trading Volume and Speed for Mastery
20:05 The student side of the pressure to get 100% right away
21:28 Bringing accountability out in the open in our relationships
21:57 Keep an eye on the bigger picture
22:19 The 3 Conversations of Curious Accountability
23:56 The Big Carrot in the Sky
24:21 Conversation 1
24:37 Conversation 2
24:27 Conversation 3
24:57 Where the failure in the system happens
25:14 The ADHD Experience (Not being able to do what’s on the plan)
25:25 Sometimes the plan has to fail so you know what to address
25:45 How curiosity plays in
26:13 Mirror Neurons and Modeling
27:33 The Value of pairing accountability with curiosity
28:29 You need a safe place to share what’s going on…
29:20 …but it has to come from the top down
29:42 Radical transparency: Apply it at home!
30:11 The power of assumption
30:33 Curiosity is a muscle to build
31:11 Tone of voice matters
31:42 What would have helped when Cameron was in high school
32:43 Timing matters when asking questions
33:17 Prefrontal Cortex shutdown (is a good name for a band)
34:29 Ending Essential
34:59 The book is Phenomenal
35:51 Extra Bonus Ending Essential
Games and play are a great way to help kids develop skills, learn to manage their emotions, and develop resilience. Disguised as fun, they can force kids to face down challenges, and struggle through adversity. It’s a topic my friend Dr. Kristen Milliken, of Your ADHD Life, writes about in her book, PlayDHD.
With Kristen’s book in mind, I recently ran a scavenger hunt for my twin boys. In this case, it was the kind where they started with one clue, which led to another, and then another, and so on, until they got to the treasure at the end – a small box containing Legos, a magic eight ball, gummies, and a book.
It was a fun thing to develop, and it was clear that it made my boys feel valued and loved. My thinking as developed it, as well as the methodology for setting things up is below.
Notes on Goals:
My main reason for doing it was to give them a fun experience, and a good memory. However, as I set it up, I had some sub goals that I also wanted to address:
Riddles are Fun!
I wanted to challenge their problem solving skills, but not so much that things became so frustrating that it wasn’t fun. To do this, I set up each scavenger hunt clue as a riddles written in the first person.
For example, during backyard movie nights we roast marshmallows and make s’mores at the fire pit in our backyard. The clue for that location read, “I warm those watching outside and make movie nights sweeter.”
Map Reading is a Useful Skill
My boys are in upper elementary school, at the age where they can handle reading maps, but don’t get much opportunity to do so. I want them exposed to that skill, so I made four out of the twelve clues in the hunt maps. Three of the maps they got at the location they had to use it, and one they had to figure out the location from the map and then use the map to determine where in the location to look for the next clue. The maps ranged from a satellite photo with an “X” on it, to a minimalist sketch of local streets. They navigated each of them, but I did have to teach them how to hold maps to better orient themselves as they used them. One I intentionally labeled and drew so that, if you were orienting it correctly, the words would be upside down.
Self advocating, and talking to strangers is a skill kids have to develop. To that end, I placed some of the clues in locations where this could be practiced. I went to our town library, a breakfast joint we frequent, and our local Y, and asked people at each location to hold the clues for my guys. Luckily, they all agreed. The clues had already been made.
Note – the breakfast joint was busy when I got there, so rather than just ask them to hold the clue, I ordered muffins for the boys, and an egg sandwich for myself. I then asked them to put the clue in the bag, paid for it all, and told them we’d be back to pick it all up when the boys got to that clue. When the boys got there, I sent them in by themselves to get the food, while ran an errand at the bank. Independence!
Code Breaking Works Your Brain Muscles
Logic and problem solving is also a worthwhile and fun challenge. To that end, I wrote two clues in a simple cypher (A=Z, B=Y, etc…) In order to get the clues, the boys had to break the code and then translate the riddle. I did this for the first clue, and the one at the Y. The reason being that both were inside, so I didn’t have to risk the paper getting wet. I also included a pencil in the envelope with the Y’s riddle in it so the boys could more easily decipher the code.
Good Memories Foster Healthy Emotions
I mentioned that my main motivation for this activity was to give the boys a fun memory. Closely related to that was a desire to help them remember past good times. The boys have been on a bit of a negative kick lately, and I wanted to remind them that we’ve done some pretty cools tuff just in our regular travels around town. To that end, I tied many of the clues to places we frequently have fun in, have been fun in the past, or are tied to our common travels. I revealed this about 1/2 of the way through the hunt, to help them solve one of the riddles. Suddenly our travels from one clue to the next became filled with their stories and recollections of the things we had done at the various places we had visited during the day. It made me feel really good to hear them talk about their memories of playing at playgrounds they had outgrown, the times we had gone out to breakfast with their grandparents and how much they enjoyed exploring and climbing on a the big rock when we took walks at the local pond.
Ideas on Personalization:
While some of these goals may make sense to you, you may very likely have other things in mind. Perhaps you want to focus more on helping your kids manage challenging situations, in that case make your clues harder to figure out, put them in places that are difficult to get to, use multiple challenging codes, or do some combination of each. Just be mindful that the hunt is supposed to be fun. I would advise against building in so much challenge that the frustration outweighs the fun.
In my case, I set things up to break more toward the fun side with an eye toward setting up another one in the spring that will be more challenging. That way the fun from this one will help carry them through the next one, despite things being a bit harder. That paid off, because the weather was cold and rainy on the day we did our hunt, which made the difficult aspects all the more frustrating for them.
Notes on Execution:
Rain, Resilience, and Good Cheer
As I mentioned, the weather report for the day we were going to do the hunt was foreboding. Rain. But, as they say, the show must go on. And honestly, I thought the rain might make the experience better for my boys. They’d, of course, like it more if it were a nice sunny day, but enduring a chilly, rainy day in November makes you feel like you’ve earned it when you get to the treasure at the end of the hunt. And that, my friends, is how resilience is built. They stepped up to the challenge like champs, and were in good spirits the whole way, even after one of them fell into a creek while looking under a bridge for the final clue.
Adjusting on the Fly
The weather meant I had to adjust my plans a bit. So, I laminated every clue that wasn’t written in code, and made sure the code clues were inside so they would stay dry and could be easily written on as they were cracked. I also moved an early clue that was based in our house to later on in the hunt so that we’d have a reason to go home to a take a break if the wet and cold were getting to be too much. (As it turned out, hunger was a bigger deal than the weather, and we took a quick break to eat a snack and drink some milk. I guess the muffins weren’t good enough.)
X Marks the Spot
The final clue was a map that led to the treasure. At first, I had planned to place the treasure at home, but then I decided it would be more fun for them to find it “in the wild”. Luckily, we have a pond nearby that has a good-sized drainage pipe that never fills with water no matter how hard it rains. Even better, it’s under a walking path, and not particularly obvious. Dry, and a bit hard to notice – I made that the endgame. Luckily, the treasure box was well hidden enough that no one ran off with it before the boys found it. (Or maybe the rainy weather just worked to our advantage.)
Staying in the Background:
I was with my boys for most of the hunt. Largely because I wanted to make sure none of the clues were missed because they have been found and moved by someone else. I also kept a cheat sheet in the car just in case. Thankfully, none of that proved necessary.
However, I made it a point to stay in the background. I stayed in the car at some spots, and wandered a good distance away at others. I wanted the boys to feel like they were doing this on their own, and I didn’t want to accidently look over at where a clue was, and give away its location. (Though I admit to doing a little hot/cold hinting for a couple of clues that they just couldn’t seem to find.)
For the next scavenger hunt, I’m going to make the clues a bit more challenging. My boys solved the ones I used this time relatively easily. I also plan to use more that one code system, this time with random symbols to replace the letters, rather than the simple cypher I used this time. One of my guys, in particular, proved to be a whiz at cracking the code I used. And I plan to put more clues in the woods, with descriptive text to help them find it. I think this might add a bit more magic and mystery to the experience. Additionally, I think I may have to provide more specific location clues in some cases. (At one playground, I had taped the clue under a slide. I thought it was obvious, but it still took them almost fifteen minutes to find it, and even when they did, it was only because I ended up giving them hints.) Also, because of all the traffic we hit (a nearby highway was shut down due to an accident), the boys asked that the next one involve less driving and more walking. So I’ll factor that in as well.
Overall, it was a fun experience, and it was great to follow along behind the boys as they tracked down the clues and then told me where to go next. I’m excited to do it again.
Obviously, mixing fun into your interactions with your kids can go a long way toward making things more interesting. And the added dopamine boost that comes with fun and play is even more beneficial for those with ADHD. Scavenger hunts are just one approach. How do you add fun to the daily lives of your kids? Have you used it to teach them? Do you use it help them get things done?
For more on ADHD and parenting, check out the ADHD Essentials podcast.
For more on Play and ADHD, check out Kristen Milliken’s book PlayDHD.
Brendan works with individuals, families and institutions who are affected by ADHD. Many of his clients are in a period of transition either at work, school, or in their relationships. Through careful questioning, education, skill building and trouble-shooting, Brendan helps them rebalance the influence ADHD has on them.
The better we understand ADHD and the way it impacts our lives, the more effectively we can manage it. ADHD is driven by a lack of skills, but those skills can be taught and developed. ADHD might still win sometimes, but if we commit to making steady progress, getting 10% better day-to- day and week-to- week, we’ll come out ahead in the long run.
Brendan Mahan, M.Ed., MS., is an internationally recognized ADHD/Executive Function expert, and an engaging, sought-after speaker. He is the producer and host of the “ADHD Essentials” podcast.
Brendan helps individuals, families, schools, and businesses manage the challenges of ADHD. His approach blends education, collaborative problem-solving, and accountability, with compassion, humor, and a focus on strengths and growth.
Contact him at [email protected].