Help for ADHD: The Divide and Conquer Routine

Help for ADHD: The Divide and Conquer Routine

Help for ADHD: The Divide and Conquer Routine

Before they had kids, most couples dreamed of what they hoped their family life would be like. They imagined pleasant scenes of family togetherness, warmth and joy.

Then, along came ADHD. These visions of interpersonal heaven did not materialize often, and when they did, they were frequently marred by anticipatory anxiety and angry explosions. The reality was the opposite of the adage “the more the merrier.” When ADHD is involved, it seems, the more people who get together in one place at one time, the greater the chances for aggravation, noise, and conflict.

It’s hard to be honest about this limitation. For example, Mom says to Dad, “Wouldn’t it be fun if we took the kids to Disney World?” The correct answer might be, “No, it would not be fun. The kids would fight on the plane, in the rental car, and in the hotel room. When we’d have to decide what to do, no one would be able to agree. Sit-down meals would be a chore, and our ADHD son would want to buy everything he saw. The whole experience would make him overly excited and lead to more tantrums.”

That's the bad news. Here’s the good news: the Divide and Conquer Routine. Positive interactions between family members are possible, just usually not when the whole family is together. With the Divide and Conquer Routine, we take advantage of a useful and proven fact about ADHD kids: they are much more manageable in one-on-one situations. So we recommend that the group be split up as much as possible. Although it’s a bit sad, this strategy is a tremendous help when it comes to encouraging upbeat and enjoyable interactions.

There are many possible applications of the Divide and Conquer Routine. Imagine a family of four goes in to a fast food hamburger place. If they have no ADHD children, they can sit at the same table and probably enjoy themselves reasonably well. Now, imagine that they have one ADHD child and one non-ADHD child. After getting their food, they split up. One parent takes one child to one table, while the other parent takes the other child to another table, preferably out of sight of the first one. Both parents and children will enjoy their meals.

Here’s another example. Let’s imagine that a couple with an ADHD son and an ADHD/LD daughter, in a moment of insane perversity, determine to take the kids to Disney World. They can still use the Divide and Conquer method to ease their burden. On the ride to the airport, one child sits in the front and one in the back. On the plane, mom and daughter sit in seats 23 E and F, while dad and son sit in seats 17 A and B. In the motel room, both kids use sleeping bags. One child sleeps on the floor on one side of the king size bed and the other child sleeps on the floor on the other side of the bed. While at the park, mom takes one youngster for the morning and dad takes the other. The family meets for lunch, but sits at adjacent tables. Then parents and kids switch partners for the afternoon.

Sound a bit weird? Maybe it is—and yes, it is a little sad too—but it works. Divide and Conquer certainly does not mean you have to give up all whole-family activities. That's impossible anyway. However, it will give your family members more opportunities to sincerely enjoy one another. I guarantee it.

October 5, 2018
Bunny Cochran
October 11, 2018 at 11:59 AM
What about parents with an only child who is ADHD?
Becky Grandey
October 30, 2019 at 12:29 PM
This is brilliant! We use this strategy for our 3.5 year old twins. We split them up, mostly so that they get some undivided attention, but also so that we get a little mental break. I don't think of it as sad....maybe unusual looking to the outsider, but what kid doesn't want undivided positive interaction time with their parent? And what parent doesn't want to enjoy a meal without having to play referee and just savor a sweet individual conversation?
Ger Duffy
October 31, 2019 at 2:19 PM
What about oarents with two ADHDchildren and two ADD children, and none of them get on?
JoAnn Eshelman
November 2, 2019 at 7:58 PM
Divide and Conquer works perhaps if there are two parents. What about a single parent with two kids, one with ADHD and the other with anxiety and ADHD-like focus problems but not formally diagnosed?
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