Empathy is your Number One System with Dr. Norrine Russell

Dr. Norrine Russell knows a lot of about systems and processes we use to support complex kids and families. That's why she's a staunch advocate for putting the systems aside and remembering that your number one tool for communicating with your kids is empathy.

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We started our conversation with Dr. Norrine Russell with a plan in mind. We wanted to talk with her about the systems and processes she uses with her clients at Russell Coaching to support frustrated kids and families living with ADHD. She told us she’d be fine with that, but then said, “can I tell you what’s on my mind?”

What was on her mind is something on our minds, too. In our search for process perfection, we risk putting up walls for communication those we’re trying to support. We’re great at systems, too, but time and project management comes with a cost: we risk losing compassion and empathy, hardening ourselves to the things that give us the joy and support to move on.

Thinking Fast and Slow

It’s easy, living with ADHD, to imagine that thinking fast is the solution to distraction. If you think fast, after all, you might just finish a project before you’re distracted by something else. Thinking slowly, on the other hand, gives your mind and body the time and space required to integrate new views, concepts, and experiences.

The act of thinking about thinking is metacognition, and Dr. Russell gives us a series of terrific examples this week as we think through our experience overcoming stress and anxiety in the process of living with ADHD. And while we’re at it, check out this story on CBS Sunday Morning, ‘Helping Students Cope with the Pressure to Succeed’ on our highest achievers and their ability to manufacture stress and anxiety to a damaging point.

About Dr. Norrine Russell

Dr. Norrine Russell began Russell Coaching in 2009. Her passion for providing support to frustrated students and weary parents is fueled by her own experience of raising two complex children who are both neurologically atypical (her children’s diagnoses include autism, mood disorders, ADHD, giftedness, and learning differences). Dr. Russell knows firsthand the exhaustion parents face as they day in and day out seek solutions for their out-of-the-box children. She is committed to supporting the psychological well-being, education, and family life of all her clients.

Dr. Russell has a Ph.D. from Bowling Green State University with a focus on psychology and education. She consults with and trains at both public and private schools across the Tampa Bay area. She has taught psychology and education courses at Sweet Briar College, University of Minnesota-Morris, and a number of other colleges.

Episode Transcript

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Dr. Norrine Russell: So now, people with good metacognition, right then and there would say, "Oh, we need to change our system of parenting. We either need a scheduled for what happens when mom is gone on the weekend, or I need to text every hour and say, ‘Do this,’ or, ‘is the diaper wet?’ Or, ‘We need to send you to a parenting class.’" We didn’t do any of those things. For six months, I left the house, went to work, [Pete 00:00:34], bless his heart, took beautiful care of that kid, but did not initiate any of those tasks of feeding the kid, changing their diaper, maybe figuring out if they would benefit from a walk. Six months, I tell you, we both had no metacognition.

Dr. Norrine Russell: We just did the same thing over and over again, with the same four results, and had the same argument Saturday at 3:00 o’clock. That is terrible metacognition, right? What we should’ve done is stop and go, "Hey, what’s driving this behavior, what am I assuming in this situation, what do I think is going to happen if I do this?" And then you change the way you’re thinking about it, so you can create a different outcome.

Pete Wright: Hello, everybody. And welcome to Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, on True Story FM. I’m Pete Wright, and right over there is Nikki Kinzer.

Nikki Kinzer: Hello everyone. Hello, Pete writes.

Pete Wright: Hi, Nikki.

Nikki Kinzer: Hi.

Pete Wright: How are you?

Nikki Kinzer: I’m doing great. How are you?

Pete Wright: I’m good, I’m good. Every day is another countdown to massive change in our lives around here, and I’m feeling the anxiety about it. But the-

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Pete Wright: … kid going off to college and change in the house, it’s starting to be a little unnerving-

Nikki Kinzer: Has she gone already?

Pete Wright: … to be honest with you. No.

Nikki Kinzer: Oh, But it’s coming. Okay.

Pete Wright: Ugh, God. And you know what? That daddy daughter thing, it’s no joke.

Nikki Kinzer: I can imagine.

Pete Wright: It’s-

Nikki Kinzer: It’s-

Pete Wright: It’s rough.

Nikki Kinzer: Oh, yeah. I’m sure, it is.

Pete Wright: And so, of course, it would be today that we have a guest on the show to talk to us about our relationships with our kids, and things that we think about and the things that are driving our relationships. And in fact, it is a wonderful guests that we have on the show. We’re going to be talking about her work, coaching parents and kids, and how to develop positive and empathetic relationships with our kiddos, and their relationships with their ADHD, or other spectrum neurological makeup.

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: So I’m excited about bringing our guests on the show. Before we do that, head over to takecontroladhd.com, you can get to know us a little bit better.

Nikki Kinzer: Better.

Pete Wright: Better. You can better learn about the [inaudible 00:03:03]. Get to know us a little bit better, you can listen to the show right there on the website or subscribe to the mailing list, and we’ll send you an email each time a new episode is released. Connect with us on Twitter or Facebook, @takecontroladhd. And if the show has ever touched you or helped you make a change in your life for the better, head over to patreon.com/theadhdpodcast. You can join for a few bucks a month, and you’ll get access to a super secret discord member channels, over in our discord server, which are fantastic.

Pete Wright: You’ll get access to the podcast early release, in your very own Patrion early release member podcast feed, and also you’ll be helping support us on our journey toward our new patron only podcast, of me talking to myself. I think I’m going to call it now, Soliloquy. What do you think about that?

Nikki Kinzer: I can’t say that.

Pete Wright: Well, you will, though-

Nikki Kinzer: Soliloquy.

Pete Wright: … You’ll be able to. It’s a nice one world title. Soliloquy.

Nikki Kinzer: Every week you changed the name.

Pete Wright: Yeah, I know. I know, it’s because as soon as we hit that goal, I’ll have to-

Nikki Kinzer: I know.

Pete Wright: … start changing the name. Until then, new name a week.

Nikki Kinzer: I don’t like this name, because I can’t say it right. And what does it mean?

Pete Wright: Oh, it’s going to be great, though. It means a monologue, like talking to yourself.

Nikki Kinzer: Soliloquy.

Pete Wright: Because that’s the whole point.

Nikki Kinzer: Oh.

Pete Wright: Soliloquy.

Nikki Kinzer: Selil, selililoquy-

Pete Wright: You’re doing great.

Nikki Kinzer: I can’t say it-

Pete Wright: We’re work shopping.

Nikki Kinzer: Oh, no,

Pete Wright: I’m trying to narrow down. Good one word title, so I don’t know, until we hit that goal it might be a new title every week. So, I can’t wait. We have another change coming up because, Nikki and Pete, are two people who learn lessons-

Nikki Kinzer: Like change.

Pete Wright: … and test things-

Nikki Kinzer: Yes.

Pete Wright: … we do change. So one of the things that we noticed, is that we had to change our recording time, from Monday mornings, which was great. It turns out Monday mornings is great for other things too, that are also important, and so we had to move the recording time, the live stream, to afternoons on Monday. And those aren’t as great, we think for other people too, and so we are moving again, starting in September, you’ll start to see notices for the live streams happening at 10:00 AM, on Wednesday mornings.

Nikki Kinzer: Wednesday mornings.

Pete Wright: Wednesday mornings.

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Pete Wright: That’s another big change for the season. So thanks for your flexibility, I think the first livestream that morning, we’ll start the week of 9/6, so it’ll actually 9/8, September 8th, Wednesday, 10:00 AM, US, Pacific Time, we’ll post the usual breakdown of times around the world.

Nikki Kinzer: There’s something else that’s going on, on September 8th.

Pete Wright: What’s that?

Nikki Kinzer: It is a deadline for the GPS enrollment.

Pete Wright: Oh.

Nikki Kinzer: Can I speak to that-

Pete Wright: Please-

Nikki Kinzer: … for a little bit?

Pete Wright: … talk about that-

Nikki Kinzer: Okay. Yes, so GPS is my workshop, that I do. Basically, every six weeks we take, or I do it every six weeks, we take a week off and then it starts up again for the next six weeks. And for this next fall session, the deadline to enroll will be September 8th, and it will begin on September 13th, and if you don’t know much about the GPS system, or workshop, please take a look at my website, at WWW.com, takecontroladhd.com.

Pete Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nikki Kinzer: Right? Do you need to say all that, probably don’t? You can just say-

Pete Wright: you don’t-

Nikki Kinzer: takecontraladhd.com.

Pete Wright: … need to say the, WWW, anymore. Yeah-

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Pete Wright: … that’s kind of-

Nikki Kinzer: Kind of old.

Pete Wright: … that’s classic

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Anyway, but do check it out, check out the page. Basically, what happens is we meet two times a week, on Mondays and Thursdays. On Mondays, we’re planning for the week ahead, or the first three days of the week, on Thursdays, we are looking at that plan, adjusting and looking ahead towards the weekend. Now in this whole process, we’re talking about time management systems and we’re talking about planning and prioritizing, and there’s a lot of support that happens within this group, not only for me, but also from people that are inside the group.

Nikki Kinzer: So it’s a really great way to save space, a safe space for you to do your planning, where you know that other people are having the same challenges that you are, and have that guidance along the way, to ask questions and to get that support too. So it’s been very successful, and I would love to have you join me in the fall. Again, the deadline is September 8th, and we will start on September 13th. One more thing, I just want to remind people, because I don’t talk about this enough, is Study Hall. We have Study Hall every afternoon on Thursdays, and it is from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, Pacific, 4:00 to 8:00, Eastern, and it’s four hours of you, me and whoever wants to join us on Zoom as body doubles.

Nikki Kinzer: And you can come in and join us, any time between those four hours. I run the Pomodoro method, so if you want to follow the 25 minutes of working with the five minutes break, or five minute break, you are welcome to do that. So please check all of those things out on my website.

Pete Wright: And it’s a member benefit too-

Nikki Kinzer: It is.

Pete Wright: … if you become a supporting Patrion member, you’ve already get to join and be a part of that, any Thursday you want.

Nikki Kinzer: That’s right. And that’s-

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Nikki Kinzer: … at the Supreme level. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: Great.

Nikki Kinzer: Absolutely.

Pete Wright: Great, great, great boost, check it out. And now, let’s meet our guests. Norrine Russell, is here with us. Dr. Russell, has spent her career coaching patients and kids and developing positive youth development and education programs, helping kids and parents thrive. We’re thrilled to have her on the show today, to help us continue our conversation about ADHD and families, today, we’re focusing on the kids. How are you doing Norrine?

Dr. Norrine Russell: I’m doing great, thank you so much for having me. I’m thrilled to be here, You all have a great podcast.

Nikki Kinzer: Uh, thank you.

Pete Wright: Oh, you are so kind. We weren’t even fishing. We weren’t even-

Nikki Kinzer: I know, right?

Pete Wright: … fishing for that. Fantastic.

Dr. Norrine Russell: You don’t have to fish, you deserve it, it’s a great podcast.

Pete Wright: Thank you so much. We’ve got this whole list of questions planned, and before we get started into the real meat of the show, can you tell us a little bit about you and what has led you to this part of your career, to what you were doing, helping kids and families?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Yeah, I have, I think an interesting story. So this is my third career, I started out after graduate school in academia, and absolutely loved teaching. But notice that around me, all of the women who had tenure, were either having mental breakdowns or living lonely lives. And so-

Pete Wright: Super aspirational, right? Yes.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Right.

Pete Wright: I want to be like them.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Exactly. Please, sign me up for that, Like.

Pete Wright: I can have it all, and suffer too? Please sign me up.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Exactly. So while I was in that stage, I did my research as assistant professor, was applied research, taking a look at outcomes of support groups for girls. And so when I decided that I really wanted more life than a tomato garden, and the cats, I ended up moving to New York and moved into nonprofit work full time, which was stage two of my career. And really working in youth development and youth leadership, and understanding gender and education, and taking a look at how education affects girls, how it affects boys, and how we can help kids of all ages and both genders thrive.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And then I had my son, and he’s super complicated, and I retired from full-time CEO at the non-profit, that I had been leading for several years, and found that the clinicians here, where I live, were asking me, "Well, can you work with this student, can you work with this student?" And I said, "I don’t really know what you mean, I’m not a therapist." And turns out that there is just a huge need, and this was 12 years ago, for coaching. And what I love about coaching is the focus on positivity, the focus on skill building, the focus on healthiness, and that has all been consistent with what I’ve done my whole career. So that’s kind of how I got here.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And then both of my kids and my husband, all three have ADHD, and I don’t have ADHD, so I have both the empathy and the exasperation.

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: Yeah. Sounds-

Nikki Kinzer: I understand that.

Pete Wright: … just like our show.

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, I understand that. So one of my questions is, you said all ages, and that was what I was really curious about. Because I coached with college students, but I only do adults and college students, and so I was curious to know the range. So you’ll work with kindergartners up, or what does that look like?

Dr. Norrine Russell: We do work some with elementary students, but at that age, what the parent’s role really is, at that time, is to be a teacher and a manager, when you’re at that stage of parenting. And so we would split our coaching time there 50-50, between teaching-

Nikki Kinzer: I see.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … the students some skills and the parents some skills. Then when we move into middle school, and the parents-

Nikki Kinzer: Oh, yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … really becomes more of a coach, that’s when the focus shifts to primarily working with the student. And what I love about getting them at middle school is this is the time, right? This is the time to learn these skills, to practice these skills, this is the time to mess up. My own sixth grade daughter, in the car this morning was like, We’re pulling into drop off line, okay? We’re pulling into drop off line, and you both know what I do for a living. She’s like, "Oh shoot, I had homework this weekend."

Nikki Kinzer: Of course you did.

Pete Wright: Yeah-

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Pete Wright: … that sounds about right.

Dr. Norrine Russell: So I love getting them at middle school, because that is where we have space and time to practice without huge consequences. When they come in, in high school and college, the mistakes are a little higher. No, nobody’s life was ever made or broken on the basis of high school grades, it really wasn’t.

Nikki Kinzer: Right.

Dr. Norrine Russell: But it’s beautiful when they come at middle school and we can use that time period of development to practice in kind of a low stakes setting.

Nikki Kinzer: Well, I don’t know if I can assume this or not, all I can tell you is from my own experience, that’s when we figured out that my daughter had ADHD, was in middle school because that’s when it starts to, for her anyway, it really started to show up. Because there was more responsibility, there is more organization that needs to happen. And as you probably know, with your own work, it looks different in girls, a lot different, if you have Inattentive ADHD, and it was a really interesting process to go through that. And it feels like in middle school, I can see where that can come up, with all of the different aspects that are deferent than elementary school.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Absolutely 100%. I think what we see, all of us, is the executive functioning demands increase in middle school, and so all of a sudden the game changes, and then you grow that little thing called puberty in there, and that doesn’t necessarily help matters. So I think half of our students are first year middle school, so generally sixth, but sometimes fifth or ninth graders. They’re making that transition, it’s a new game, developmentally, they’re going through some transitions and they need help. They need help figuring out, "What’s going to work for me?" And I love when they come to us at that stage.

Dr. Norrine Russell: I have, my program director of the practice, is all about college students, Nikki. So you can probably relate to that. And I’m like, "Oh my gosh, give me middle schoolers any day, and let me do the prevention and the teaching work." And she’s like, "Oh, I love when they’re full of bad habits, and have [inaudible 00:15:55] the first year." I’m like, "Oh, it just breaks my heart." So.

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Pete Wright: Well, it’s so funny too, because at that age, and that’s what we’re sort of moving/ moved through that stage with my own kids, and I just have this experience of, they come in with probably the biggest gap between skill and awareness, and tools to handle it. They have all the confidence that they can take on anything, even as their systems and expectations are so deeply tested. And especially with my son, the bravado, is like, "I got it, man. I got it. Dad, don’t worry about it. I’ve got this, I’ve got this." And yet evidence indicates you don’t got this, right?

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: Just you aren’t showing me. And so I feel like as we’re going back to school, this is a great time for this conversation. And particularly, as we’re getting started talking today, we started thinking about the things that we were going be talking about, and you shared a particular perspective, that just really hit home for both me and, Nikki, I think, about this idea of empathy and connection. Can you talk a little bit about what’s on your mind?

Dr. Norrine Russell: I live in Florida, don’t judge. And the Florida schools, the public schools, went back last week. And so, we have an international coaching practice and about a third of our students are still in Florida, because that’s where we started. So we’ve been working with our students, who started last week or start this week, and already I’m telling you, the parents stress is so high, right? And I think it’s exacerbated by what’s going on with COVID, but it would be the same without COVID. Like, "Did you get the things? Fine, where’s the paper from the teacher?" Like, "Oh my gosh, you already your lunch."

Dr. Norrine Russell: And so we’re already hearing that at our coaching practice, and one of the things that I keep saying to parents and that we’re going to be talking about a lot at our practice, is as hard as this is for us as parents, it is 10 times harder for our children. And I think it’s so important to think about what is it like to experience life as a student with ADHD? One of the guests that you had on, who of course is just the guru in the field, Russell Barkley, he talks about how difficult it is for kids, and how parents have to really become so educated and knowledgeable about ADHD. And when we do intakes at our practice, one of the things that parents will say over and over and over again, and it really is, they feel like they’re the only ones having this experience.

Dr. Norrine Russell: "He’s so smart, he just is so smart, but he won’t do his work. She has so much potential, but she just only cares about TikTok." And I gently, and I ended up over and over again, saying it in the intake, "Try to understand that what you’re saying is you see symptoms of your child’s neurodevelopmental disorder. Those aren’t behaviors, they’re symptoms." And so how do we get inside the ADHD brain and have some empathy for how normal some of this stuff is? And I think once you make that shift, whether it’s through reading something by, Russell Barkley, whether it’s through talking to your own child’s therapist, or medical professional, once you can get inside the ADHD brain, all of a sudden the empathy I think rises up.

Dr. Norrine Russell: But until we get to that point, our ADHD kid can be such a source of frustration, and so angering, really. And to me, I think, that’s one of the biggest benefits of having an outside professional, is that person can help you as a parent understand the ADHD brain and take away some of that conflict, so that you can be connected.

Nikki Kinzer: Absolutely. Well, and I just have to say, what you just said was something that we talked about last week with what my daughter said. So what we did last week is we talked to our own kids about their ADHD, and what would you want other people to know? And one of the things she said is, "Don’t get frustrated so easily, because we are trying. We are trying, our brain works differently, basically, be patient, bear with us." And that’s exactly what you’re saying is that, understand that it’s really hard for them, and that they’re not going to get it the first time, and they’re going to have to do some things differently. What I’m really curious about with coaching is are the parents with you in the coaching-

Dr. Norrine Russell: No.

Nikki Kinzer: In the coaching session, no?

Dr. Norrine Russell: No.

Nikki Kinzer: Okay. So you’re just working with the middle school student or high school student, whoever it is, so do you then talk to the parents later about, "Please learn as much as you can about ADHD, this is what your child is saying or going through." How do you relay what you just said back to the parents?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Sure, sure. So for us, I think that starts at the beginning, it starts in the intake. And we have a set of, sort of, working assumptions that we go through with the parents to make sure we’re all on the same page and operating, really, from the same sheet of music, if you will, as we approach how to help this student. I think, one of the things that differentiates our practice, is we don’t just preach a team approach, we practice and we lead the team. So we get in touch with the school, we get in touch with the psychiatrist, we get in touch with the therapist, we pull all those pieces together. Because you know, our ADHD kiddos are more likely than not to have something else also going on, right?

Nikki Kinzer: Yes.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And so that process of talking with the parent starts at the intake, for us. And then we close each coaching session with the parent coming on for the last five minutes, and the student report’s out. "This is the executive functioning skill we worked on today." Or "These are my three goals for the week and this is how you can support me." So that the student, in some ways, is educating their parents about.

Nikki Kinzer: Right.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And when you teach the parents, don’t use that time as a time to reiterate, "Yeah. But that’s what you said last week." We say, "Take that to our group text or group chat, and talk to us about your frustrations offline." And then we really just try to keep doing psychoeducation with the parents. "That’s what ADHD looks like, that’s what you can expect with ADHD, It’s incredibly frustrating, yes." And we talk about the developmental delay of 30%, we talk about the fact that kids have these spiky developmental profiles, where they’ve got these amazing strengths, they’re so good at certain things, and then they’re a little bit behind and other things.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And normalizing that and helping the parents to realize that, this is just your kid’s neuro genetic makeup and your kid is no better or worse off than the kid next door, then the kid down the street, than the kid in the school at the next neighborhood. This is just who they are, and more you get it the better they’re going to end up doing, because you’re going to be able to advocate and then teach them how to advocate. So it’s a long process, Nikki, I don’t think it’s easy.

Pete Wright: Yeah. I can imagine, because I feel like what you’re talking about, intervening in that gap, especially right now, is incredibly important. Because I even see it in myself and I’ve been doing this show with, Nikki, for 10 years, and I still find myself, I think my ADHD actually exacerbates this, because we get ready to go back to school and I completely perseverate on systems, on whiteboards, on, "Do you have all the skills, are you ready to get back into and practice?" And I am so annoying to everybody because of it, because I am fixating on the symptoms and I don’t even know I doing it most of the time. Maybe it’s a cobbler’s kids have no shoes, I have to be constantly reminded to step out of myself, because it’s so easy to get stuck on the symptom.

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah. Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Norrine Russell: Oh, 100%. And then when you’re focused on symptoms, you’re not focused on connection, right?

Pete Wright: Right.

Dr. Norrine Russell: What’s your back to school ritual, right? How do you end summer as a family, what’s your first day of school routine, what do you-

Pete Wright: Right.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … say to that kid as you drop them off? That’s the same thing you’ve said for seven years, or nine years. When we focus on symptoms, it’s hard to also focus on connection.

Pete Wright: Right. And so, I keep thinking, "At what cost my perseveration, what have I lost by the time they start school that I missed demonstrating the kind of emotional support, because I was so stuck on practical support?"

Nikki Kinzer: Well, and it’s interesting because, Pete, and I, both of our kids are in the same situation, where they’re they’re sophomores, but they haven’t been in high school because their whole freshman high school was on, their whole freshman year was on online. And so they’re going into the new year, into a new school, they’re starting over all over again, even though they really technically aren’t. And that transition, and they both have ADHD, is going to be interesting. And I think having that empathy for them and then connecting with them that morning and the night before, and building, just talking about this makes me think, "Okay, I want to build her confidence. I want her to have a really good time and just enjoy it, don’t worry if you have all your pencils."

Dr. Norrine Russell: Right.

Nikki Kinzer: Whatever it might be, but that connection. So tell us more about that, how can we connect to our tweens and our teens, because that is also not an easy feat?

Dr. Norrine Russell: No, I don’t think it’s easy at all. I spent a lot of time today thinking about this topic, because it’s so fresh in our house, because like you, I get hyper obsessed with routines. I made this poor family of mine sit down the Sunday, before they went back to school, at our breakfast table for three hours, and write out what happens every day after school. Because nobody was going to miss anything on my watch. I mean, it was the [crosstalk 00:27:13]-

Pete Wright: You are the lighthouse keeper-

Dr. Norrine Russell: Oh.

Pete Wright: … right? You watch the water waterfront.

Dr. Norrine Russell: It wasn’t the least bit concerned about, "How do you feel about going into middle school, which friend are you looking forward to seeing, what do you think you might learn about?" No, no. "Just write your after-school routine down, make sure you know it down in a minute, so that daddy and I can pick you up and know what we’re doing." That is terrible parenting, we know that ADHD is a neurological deficit in regulating attention, so whatever has your kid interested in back to school, whatever that is, is it football, is it band, is it science, is it rowing, doesn’t matter, go where they’re interested. Go where the attention is at, at that moment.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Don’t try, necessarily, to put them into a box of, "Whoa, what teacher do you think you’ll like the most, or which friends are you likely to see?" Ask them, and be open to where is their attention at that moment? The other thing that I think is so important about both parenting and working with kids with ADHD, is matching your speed to their speed. So I find myself being a little bit of a chameleon when I’m working with students. If I’ve got kids who are hyperactive and they’re fast processors, and their brain is going a million miles a minute, I really ramp up my drama. I’ll sit up straight, or I’ll get bigger into the camera, I use a lot more hand gestures, I’ll do a lot more inflections with my voice, I’ll go faster, pick up the pace.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And then, I’m also the one at the practice, I tend to take on the kids who have super slow processing and are just incredibly inattentive. You both are probably too young, but when I was little, there was a record player of my parents, where you could turn the speed down, I think-

Pete Wright: Oh, sure.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … the same thing on videos now, it can go at half speed.

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Norrine Russell: I’m like the half speed queen. And so, all of my kiddos who are spacey, inattention ADHD kids, I’m like, "Okay, so we’re going to take a few minutes and we’re going to talk through our usual questions, and you probably remember what they are." But think that kind of matching is empathy and connection building. So whatever is the speed of your inattentive kid, try to match that. We’re adults, we can be flexible, we’ve got lots of skillsets to pull on. And I think that’s really important, is don’t expect your child to always adjust to, yes, there’s lots of times when kids have to adjust to adults and adult rules, but when it comes to the connection piece, go there, be with them, be in the space that they’re at.

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: I think a lot about that, in terms of helping the kids make decisions too. Because it is both an expression of how fast are they thinking or processing, how many cycles they’re able to process at any given time? And some kids are very, very fast, and some kids take a little more time just because they think sort of fast. And I’ve been trying so hard in my own life to think more slowly, because I think better when I think more slowly. But there is also this sort of meter, that I feel like I have to fill with my kids, in order to get to the point where they’re able to execute on a new practice or a new decision, or some choice they have to make. And until they get to that point, I’m not going to be able to get action.

Pete Wright: For example, I know my daughter, she’ll be able to think through a question and get to about sort of 50% of where I would need to get, and she’ll be ready to pull the plug, do whatever she needs to do, whether it’s go out and learn to drive or apply to college, all those decisions were made roughly at 50% information load. My son needs closer to 80, 90% before he’s comfortable executing a new thing, whatever that new thing is. And I think, for me, what you’re really triggering is that’s also an expression of empathy. Being able to know about my kids, how much they need in order to move to some new chapter, to make a decision, to integrate a new process.

Pete Wright: They need, sometimes, just a lot more guidance and data to support making choices. I think we do too, right as adults?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Yeah.

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Pete Wright: I know, I do.

Dr. Norrine Russell: To me, the empowerment there is, when they know how their brain works, gosh, I kind of like to have almost all the information before I make a decision. To me, when you know, that’s when you become poised to build flexibility.

Pete Wright: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Norrine Russell: When you don’t know what your preference is, when you don’t know how your brain works, it’s really hard to use that metacognition to say, "Oh, I could do this differently." Or, "I could practice doing this differently." And so to me, it’s not that we’re setting up some expectation that, "Oh, well, for your son, we’re just not going to expect him to do anything until he has 90% of the information. And then, what’s he going to do for a job, because he needs to have 90% of the information all the time?" That’s not it at all. That’s not it at all.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: It’s building the metacognition of, "This is how my brain likes to work, this is how my brain prefers to work, this is how I’m wired and these are the skills that I need to learn, so that I’ve got a little rounded brain."

Pete Wright: Totally.

Nikki Kinzer: Metacognition. I’m curious if you wouldn’t mind talking to our audience about what it is, because I don’t think everybody does understand it?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Sure. Yeah. So metacognition is a cognitive skill that, generally, is not well-developed until the mid twenties. And it is really the ability to think about how you’re thinking and become a better thinker. And it’s really the process of reflecting on, "Okay, how did I use my brain in this situation, did that work, what was the outcome, and what do I need to do differently?" So I’ll tell you my best example of having poor metacognition. My husband and I, our first born was our son, and I had started the coaching practice by that time, and so I would see students on the weekends, so I believe. And he would be the parent on duty, is what we call it at my house.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And I would come home several hours later, and I would say, "What did you feed the baby, did you change the baby?" All these normal questions. "Well, no. You didn’t tell me to feed the baby, you didn’t tell me that the baby needed to be changed every two hours." So now people with good metacognition, right then and there would say, "Oh, we need to change our system of parenting. We either need a schedule for what happens when mom is gone on the weekend, or I need to text every hour and say, ‘Do this.’ Or, ‘is the diaper wet?’ Or, ‘We need to send you to a parenting class.’" We didn’t do any of those things. For six months, I left the house, went to work, Pete, bless his heart, took beautiful care of that kid, but did not initiate any of those tasks of feeding the kid, changing their diaper, maybe figuring out if they would benefit from a walk.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Six months, I tell you, we both had no metacognition. We just did the same thing over and over again, with the same poor results, and had the same argument Saturday, at 3:00 o’clock. That is terrible metacognition. What we should’ve done is stop and go, "Okay, what’s driving this behavior, what am I assuming in this situation, what do I think is going to happen if I do this?"

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Norrine Russell: And then you change the way you’re thinking about it, so you can create a different outcome.

Nikki Kinzer: Beautifully explained. And one of the things that I’ll add to that, when you’re learning as a student, when you’re studying, I’ll tell people that, because they’ll say, "I write the notes, I read the chapter, but I don’t remember anything." Or, "I don’t remember my notes, just reading it isn’t enough." And so I’ll tell them, "Put yourself in the situation. So if you’re reading a chapter of something, and you know you’re going to be asked questions, find out what the questions are, so you can be looking for those as you’re reading. But, especially, if you have history, you can easily do this, put yourself in the situation. What would you have done if this was you? Or you lived in this time period, or whatever."

Nikki Kinzer: And trying to get them to really think about what they’re learning and put it in some kind of, how they’re connected to it in some way, will help with retention. And so it is interesting because not only just are you doing the same thing and getting the same results, but it’s also really digging deeper in what you’re learning too, and looking at it in a different way, not just reading it, but really thinking about what you’re reading.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Absolutely, absolutely. Making those connections, and the metacognition piece is where your brain is saying, "Oh, remember your coach, Nikki, said, ‘If you process it this way, you’ll probably do better on the test.’ And when you try that last time, you actually did get the B, instead of the D. So you shouldn’t do that this time." That’s the metacognition piece. And when we turn on that part of our brain to start thinking, "Oh, what did I do last time, did it work, did it get me what I wanted, what would be some other options?" That’s metacognition. And to me, it’s so, so exciting when we start to see our tweens and teens provide glimmers of, "Oh, I’m getting this. Actually, if I don’t sass you every time I asked for the car keys, I might get the car keys."

Pete Wright: [crosstalk 00:37:36]-

Dr. Norrine Russell: [crosstalk 00:37:36]-

Pete Wright: Are you here right now, I know you said you were in Florida? I think this is so important, because everything I’m hearing is again, an effort not to address a symptom, that the whole idea of metacognition, thinking about thinking, thinking about how we process is a step back so that we don’t just, again, back to me, perseverate on the practicals, perseverate on what we see rather than why and how, and what it means to us to exist in that space.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Right.

Nikki Kinzer: So I have a question about connection though, because I’m going to go back to the teen connection, and tween, because it starts there. So as they become teenagers, they become more dependent on what their friends think and what their friends are doing, and a lot less than what mom and dad think. Now, I’m curious for all of those parents out there and myself, who have had the door not slammed, but certainly shut when I want to talk about their day, or how they’re doing, or I can tell something’s wrong, "I’m fine, I’m fine." How do you continue that connection when they’re not opening up?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Right. So one of the things that I think is such a great strategy, is a strategy called Stay Listen, and really doesn’t always involve talking. Go find your teen, if they’ll open the door, and hang out in their space. Go lay on the bed while they’re doing their homework, sit at the dining room table, if that’s where you ask them to do homework, don’t talk, just stay there and listen. I sometimes tell parents, "Think of yourself as the puppy. Just being around, be cute, be lovable, don’t ask questions, questions seem like demands." We all know that, right? And especially in at that time, maybe where they’re getting home from school, or they’re stressed out about homework, or the meds are wearing off, or they’re getting hangry.

Dr. Norrine Russell: I think the whole idea of Stay Listen, and just being around deepens that connection, where then when they are explosive, or they want to shut themselves off, they can draw on some of that ability to be quiet together, to be connected together without always having to verbalize it. Like, "Hey, can I come and lay down with you while you go to bed, I’ve had a long day?" Or, "Hey, can I come sit in the chair in your bedroom, while you work on things, I’ve got some work emails I want to respond to?" But just being in the same space, without everything having to be verbal. I think the other thing, and I think parents have done a really good job of adapting to technology with this, is using their text. How do you-

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … text to connect? We all know that they might not text us back, but it’s a great time to use humor, it’s a great time for funny videos, so capitalize on the fact that they live and breathe with their phones. And then I think, to me, the other piece of this, with our ADHD sons and daughters, is I think it’s so important to be their biggest champion and cheerleader. We all know that they’re going to be delayed in some areas, so find the places where they do have some kind of super power. So for my son, math is hard for him, doesn’t have a math brain, I don’t know if it’s related to the ADHD, it certainly has gotten worse with puberty and ADHD, and he beats himself up a lot about it.

Dr. Norrine Russell: And I say, "You know what, here’s the thing, buddy. Your life is not going to be dictated by your ability to do math. What your life is going to be dictated by, are the things that you are already amazingly good at. And that is love and kindness for people, and helping others. And so, yeah. We’re going to get through math, and you’re not going to win any math awards, but you know what? You are going to be someone who changes the world because of the way you care about other people, and because of your leadership skills." And I think-

Nikki Kinzer: Wow, that makes me feel so good.

Pete Wright: I know, right?

Nikki Kinzer: I love that.

Dr. Norrine Russell: I’m not a believer in ADHD as a superpower. I don’t think-

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … ADHD super power, but I think people with ADHD have strengths and gifts and talents, just like the kid next door, who maybe wears glasses, just like the kid down the block who has diabetes, we’re human beings, we’re whole full human beings. And so being conscious of what are your children’s skills, what does your teenager do well and remarking on that, and not in like a good boy, good girl way, but in a respect. "Earthen, I have so much respect for the way that every night when I come home, you run out to the car to see what can you carry in for me?" I’ll say to him, "There’s no other 13 year old, who’s coming out to the car to help his mom carry in her laptop bag. That’s why you’re going to change the world, because of that heart."

Dr. Norrine Russell: And we all, as parents, we know that, and we see those strengths. And so it’s just a question, I think, of verbalizing them to deepen that connection, so that your teenager feels seen and respected, and it builds the love that they have for themselves because they feel loved.

Nikki Kinzer: I love your second tip about using the texting, I never thought of that, but that’s such a great idea, to send them a video sometime or just a little note, or something like that, I absolutely love that. The one thing I would add to what you just said, and this happens a lot with my kids, when they do want to talk, I drop everything and I listen.

Pete Wright: Those might be fleeting moments-

Nikki Kinzer: They are.

Pete Wright: … so take advantage.

Nikki Kinzer: Yeah, especially with my son. If he sits down on that stool, or he comes into my room and sits on that corner chair, I know he wants to talk, I’m listening, for sure.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Nikki, I think that verb, we cannot write that large enough.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Listen, listen. Close your mouth and listen, ask questions, nod, use your non-verbals.

Nikki Kinzer: Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Dr. Norrine Russell: "Wow. I don’t know what I would have done in that situation." "I think I could have been overwhelmed with some feelings at that time." "Tell me about what happened next." Don’t start-

Nikki Kinzer: So what you’re saying-

Dr. Norrine Russell: … talking.

Nikki Kinzer: Yes. What you’re saying is don’t try to fix it either-

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Nikki Kinzer: … right? You’re saying, Ask the questions and don’t try to fix it, because that’s such a good reminder because, yes. I mean, immediately that’s what we want to do, is make our children’s problems go away, make it feel better somehow. But I love that, to just ask questions by-

Dr. Norrine Russell: My husband, I think, I don’t know if this is ADHD, it feels a little ADHD in the moment, he wants to then tell the kids the story about how that happened to him.

Nikki Kinzer: Oh, right. Yeah. Yeah.

Pete Wright: It’s just dad.

Dr. Norrine Russell: [crosstalk 00:45:13]-

Pete Wright: I know that.

Dr. Norrine Russell: … Right. It could be like a man thing, I don’t know what it is.

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: But, [crosstalk 00:45:20].

Pete Wright: Yeah, I know. I don’t want to be too gendered on this show very often, but you just hit me in the sweet spot. That’s just a dad thing, I’m called out for that all the time. When I was a boy, I mean-

Dr. Norrine Russell: Yeah.

Pete Wright: … I’m as tropey as they come, so yeah-

Dr. Norrine Russell: No, I know-

Pete Wright: … I get it.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Sadly, we don’t want to make any gender generalizations, but go take your stories to cocktail hour, or the water cooler, but when your teenager is talking, be quiet.

Pete Wright: Did you guys see the story this weekend, do you watch CBS Sunday Morning ever? Do you ever see this?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Occasionally

Pete Wright: Occasionally, okay. So they did a story on CBS Sunday Morning, I posted in the show notes, and it was all about, the premise of it was this sort of affluent high school kids, kids in affluent areas, that are just straight up destroying themselves with academic pressure and performance pressure, and get into college pressure. And the whole premise of the show, they do poke at the, there’s a dad saying, "I know what you’re thinking, well off family [inaudible 00:46:25]. Oh, you have it so hard because you have a lot of money." But that really wasn’t the issue, the issue was that these kids are putting in so much pressure on one another.

Pete Wright: It all stems from this sort of performative competitive pressure on one another, that is not driven exclusively by their parents. And it’s driven by their peer groups and they’re in tears, and their suicide rates are going up, and they’re killing themselves over this sort of pressure, and I’m, I’m listening to the story and I’m thinking, "I feel like we tried not to do that." And I’ve always approached academics the same way you’re talking to your son, I’ve used it like language. Yeah, I study a lot of French, but I’m not anywhere near fluent, and I was still able to go over there and live there for a time, and I was able to order in restaurants and nobody threw rocks at me for being non fluent.

Pete Wright: I could get by, you can make that same conversation with just about everything that you don’t necessarily love, that you have to learn how to do. Do enough to get by and excel at the things you really love. And so, I feel like this is not just a lesson for kids, it’s a lesson for all of us, that we’re inside, we’re killing ourselves to perform. We just don’t have to.

Dr. Norrine Russell: This is a good wrapping up point. That’s what I love about coaching, so coaching is strengths-based and build skills. So instead of saying, "You are the sum total of all of your scores in this." Or "Let’s figure out where you don’t measure up yet." Let’s come back to, what are your strings, how can you use those strengths, how can you leverage those strengths?

Pete Wright: Yeah.

Dr. Norrine Russell: Our coaches, in the [inaudible 00:48:15] planning, notebooks that we use, keep a list of what are the student’s strengths and what are their executive functioning strengths, specifically, but also what are their personality strengths, what are their value strengths? so that we can constantly be saying, "You already have this, you are great in this way, you are enough. You’re not a 2, 3, 4, 5 on an AP exam, you’re really not." And that, I think, is maybe the most important message for our kids with ADHD, because they get so much negative feedback. And so to say, "You are enough, and this is what I love about you, and this is what makes you amazing, and this is your gift to the world."

Nikki Kinzer: Love it. Thank you so much for being here.

Pete Wright: Absolutely. Thank you so much, Norrine. Where do you want people to learn more about you?

Dr. Norrine Russell: Sure. I would love for people to learn more about us. We are on the web, at WWW.russelcoaching, Russell has two Ss, and two Ls, so russellcoaching.com. You can find us on Facebook at Russell Coaching and Consulting, and you can call our office at (212) 716-1161. And for your listeners, we are going to offer 20% off, the first three months of coaching, if we are a good fit for their student and they’d like for us to work with them, your listeners can receive 20% off their first three months of coaching fees.

Nikki Kinzer: Oh, that’s-

Pete Wright: A generous offer.

Nikki Kinzer: … a very generous.

Pete Wright: Thank you so much.

Nikki Kinzer: Yes. Oh, great.

Pete Wright: Thank you so much, we really appreciate that. And we appreciate all of you for downloading and listening to this show, we appreciate your time and your attention. Don’t forget, if you have something to contribute about this conversation, we’re heading over to the show talk channel in the Discord server, and you can join us right there by becoming a supporting member at the deluxe level. On behalf of Nikki Kinzer and Dr. Naurrine Russell, I’m Pete Wright, and we’ll see you right back here next week, on Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast.

Through Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast, Nikki Kinzer and Pete Wright strive to help listeners with support, life management strategies, and time and technology tips, dedicated to anyone looking to take control of their lives in the face ADHD.