Bambam has ADHD and takes Concerta to help him control his symptoms. Because of our family situation, we don't spend a lot of holidays together and that might be why I had gotten a bit out of practice in spending days with him. Due to the recent snow, we've been cooped up together on what should have been school days, and now the holiday has started, we're still stuck at home most of the time.
Kirk has all those pituitary issues, including Addison's disease as well now, so he hasn't been the most energetic of parents, and has spent perhaps a little too much time lately sitting around playing online games. I myself have not been terribly engaged with the older children while struggling with the fatigue of pregnancy and looking after a small baby. Little wonder then, that our Bambam has become increasingly focused on his favourite activities: watching telly and playing video games.
It's typical for many (but not all!) ADHD children to prefer these activities. They are clearly boundaried by the frame of the screen and the rules are clear, consistent and patient, while the visual stimulus is fast-paced and interesting. For parents, it's always tempting to allow hours of screen-based activities because it is easier. Kirk and I are also firm believers that there is nothing inherently bad about playing video games, so we don't even feel guilty about it. What drove us to action was the increasingly negative attitude we were seeing from Bambam whenever he was asked to do anything else. One might expect a sullen "I don't want to" when asked to do chores, but we were getting mightily tired of getting a long face and some serious backtalking when ofering food, toys or outings. We ended up with a lot of angry yelling from both sides, which is never good.
We'd tried before, on several occasions to explain to Bambam that we didn't want to stop or limit his screentime so much as make sure he balanced out his day with other activities as well. This turned out to be too vague and left him feeling insecure and acting even more defiant. So last night I made a chart:
Each column contains a type of daily activity: housework, personal hygiene, tidying, playing with others, playing outside, creative activities, playing with toys, and screentime. I laminated it so I can write on it with a whiteboard pen. At the top of each of the first seven colums I write a number to indicate how many activities out of that column he needs to do. Each completed activity gets crossed out. If, at the end of the day, he's done the required amount of 'other' things that means he's had a balanced day with a variety of activities. If we can't cross out the required number, I get to put as many crosses as are missing in the screentime column for the next day, which means he doesn't get to do that particular screen activity the next day. I also get to cross out screentime for bad behaviour.
My goal with this chart was to leave as much as possible control with Bambam. He has to do a certain number of activities from each column, but he always has a free choice which ones to do and when to do them, and can make up more if he wants to. It's not a fixed schedule. On the other hand, it gives him a list of suggestions, so he's not left at a loss as to what exactly we mean when we say: 'don't play on the computer, do something else'.
I've also tried to emphasise that the chart is a template for a varied, fun-filled day, rather than a reward system. He doesn't get rewarded with screentime for doing other activities. The screentime is there as part of a normal day, alongside the other activities.
This morning I came downstairs to find him beating his sister with a pillow. I crossed out 'World of Warcraft' from the screentime column. I then explained to him what the new chart was for. His whole demeanour changed and he's been great all day. Jumping at the chance to clear and set the table in order to cross out another chore. Playing imaginatively all over the house and outside, with or without siblings. They dressed up, played hide-and-seek, built a fort out of cardboard boxes... He's been polite and nice and not the slightest bit defiant or aggressive.He spent barely any time at all watching screens because he's been so proudly doing other things and enjoying praise and attention because of it. I'm so glad I seem to have struck just the right chord for him and our family to have a good time together again.