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Sep 14, 2023
It’s often said that there’s nothing that can fully prepare you for becoming a parent. Although we may never know precisely who said that quote originally, I strongly suspect that they had at least one kid with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder).
Having once been one of the 6.1 million kids and teens with ADHD, I know firsthand how difficult it is to grow up with ADHD. However, now that I’m able to reflect on the whole experience as an adult, I’ve realized just how hard the experience was for my parents, too. The constant cycle of seeing your child run into problems, expending energy to try and help, and seeing your efforts fall flat can coalesce and snowball into a terrible burden for any parent. Even so, believe me when I say that those efforts eventually pay off when paired with a little guidance, empathy, and patience. The good news? Since you're actively researching ways to provide more effective ADHD parenting support for your child, you're off to a pretty great start!
Through this read, I'm going to synthesize what my parents and I learned along the way with the goal of helping you better understand what additional steps you can take to help your child unlock their full potential. As we do, remember that even amazing parents are bound to make mistakes along this journey (mine certainly did), so be gentle with yourself as you find what works for you and your family.
Here are the specific areas that we’ll be tackling.
Let's dive right in!
Let’s face it - it’s easy to get frustrated and overwhelmed navigating your child's ADHD. I know for a fact that I gave my own parents many sleepless nights due to my ADHD troubles, but what provided them much needed relief was understanding that the challenges they were seeing in me had nothing to do with willpower or personal choice. The ADHD brain is unique, particularly in the way its reward system operates, meaning that there is a neurological foundation at the root of your child’s difficulty with things like motivation, attention, organization, and impulse control. To view these challenges as a matter of willpower is to neglect the entire reality of why your child is struggling in the first place. This is an essential point to understand when navigating your child’s challenges as it provides you the ability to truly empathize with their challenges. In doing so, you can more easily approach problems from a place of love and support.
For parents who have multiple children, this advice is even more important as siblings often find themselves on the frontline of these challenges (just ask my younger sister.) In addition to feeling frustrated by the consequences of impulsive or hyperactive behavior, they my also feel overshadowed by the attention their ADHD sibling get and even resent the disruption it may have on daily routines. This is where empathy goes a long way. By helping your other kids understand what's actually happening in the brain of their ADHD sibling, you can teach them how to approach the inevitable challenges with grace. On the flip side, if a family can’t empathize with the root cause of those behaviors, they’re more likely to cause unintentional emotional harm to their child by ingraining the belief that there's something "wrong" with them. In the long-run, this can greatly shift the family dynamic for the worst, creating tensions where there should be support and resentment where there should be love. In other words, not good!
While parenting a child with ADHD poses its fair share of challenges, it can also be deeply rewarding. Children with ADHD usually possess an array of remarkable qualities that can blossom into incredible strengths with the right nurturing. Enhanced empathy, creativity, energy, and enthusiasm are just a few of the many positive qualities you can expect to see in your child and especially so when they’re ADHD is properly supported. With time, patience, and the right approach, you’ll soon realize that these are the superpowers that have been desperately waiting to be unlocked. By understanding and embracing the full spectrum of ADHD – both its challenges and its gifts – parents can pave the way to a brighter future for their child. When all is said and done, what could be a better reward for your efforts than witnessing your child discover for themself what they’re truly capable of?
So now that we’ve covered the full spectrum of what it means to raise a child with ADHD, let’s look at the top parents tips for ADHD including, tools and strategies that can help you actively support their treatment journey. Remember that these tips don't come with a one-size-fits-all tag. Every child is unique, and everyone’s ADHD presents differently. Remember to tailor these strategies to best fit your child's needs and approach barriers with empathy and understanding.
By the age of 12, children with ADHD hear up to 20,000 more corrective messages than their peers. Ensuring that your child knows that they aren't alone or inherently 'bad' because of their ADHD is absolutely critical. Constant correction can erode self-esteem and create a negative self-perception, both of which can have serious impacts on their mental health in the present and future. That being said, it is true that navigating the more disruptive aspects of someone else’s ADHD is hard. Even so, there’s no need to use language that goes beyond the purpose of enforcing your existing boundaries and expectations. Making comparisons to your child’s peers or siblings or making statements about your kid’s character (i.e you’re lazy, disrespectful, annoying, etc.) is not only ineffective, but actively harmful. Instead, stay solution oriented and focus on how you can help them do better next time. And when those efforts pay off down the road (because they totally will), be sure to celebrate their successes, big or small, and remind them that everyone, ADHD-brained or not, has their unique strengths and challenges.
ADHD is deeply intertwined with Executive Function - i.e, the set of cognitive skills responsible for tasks like organizing, planning, and prioritizing, and starting tasks. Furthermore, most of the ADHD symptoms that prove to be problematic in school or at home stem from deficits in these Executive Function areas. Luckily, Executive Function skills can be taught. By gaining an understanding of which Executive Function skills your child struggles with most, you can identify the areas that could benefit from targeted tools, strategies, and resources. If supporting those challenge areas proves to be too tall a task, there are also many professionals who specialize in 1:1 Executive Function coaching (our company Beyond BookSmart being one of them.) Too often, people wrongly assume that medication is the end-all-be-all in effective ADHD treatment when the truth is that pills don’t teach skills. Executive Function coaching helps kids and teens reprogram bad habits and strengthen healthier ones that can provide benefits well into adulthood.
Although structured environments have a reputation for not being ADHD-friendly, kids with ADHD can actually thrive in these environments when the expectations are crystal clear. After all, how can we expect a child with ADHD to automatically know every aspect of what’s expected of them in every context? Furthermore, after a few negative experiences, the uncertainty about what is and is not acceptable can exacerbate their anxiety. So instead of assuming your ADHD kiddo is a mind reader, clearly communicate what is expected in terms of behavior, chores, and homework. By removing ambiguity, children with ADHD can focus on meeting the expectations rather than trying to figure out what they are in the first place. If you find that they still struggle to meet those expectations, try introducing tools like visual aids, checklists, and routine charts to help make it easier for them to keep. Once you’ve identified which tools they’re willing to use, ensure that they’re easily accessible to maximize their chance of working. The more they get used, the more likely they are to become ingrained habits.
Open dialogue helps your child understand their strengths and challenges while reinforcing that you’re there to support them. This starts by having regular discussions about their ADHD experience and what they’re struggling with most. Set aside a specific time each week to check in with your child about their feelings, experiences, and any challenges they faced. By doing so, you’re able to show them that you’re on their side while also identifying new challenge areas you might not know about. Keeping an open line of communication can also prevent misunderstandings, reduce conflict, and allow you the parent to become a better advocate for your kid.
If you find that your child isn’t meeting the expectations that you’ve set together, it’s natural for parents to resort to discipline. However, there are ways of discipling a kid with ADHD that are effective and productive, and others that are not. For example, if your child keeps leaving their bedroom messy despite having agreed to weekly cleaning, it’s probably not going to be helpful to ground them in that messy room for a week. Instead, a better approach would be to use an instructive discipline method - i.e. one that teaches them a practical lesson or skill that address the challenge area. For the example of the chronically unkempt bedroom, consider setting a timer for 1-2 hours and making them sit down with you and learn how to efficiently organize their room. By doing so, you’ll be showing them how to better approach a skill deficit area instead of overtly punishing them for that particular challenge. After all, punishments that are harsh or neglect the realities of ADHD symptoms can further damage their already fragile self-esteem. Remember to also praise good behavior and use reward systems for those times when they’re able to step up to the expectations that have been set. (Note: if you’re worried about instructive discipline enabling bad habits, consider making it clear that this is the one and only time you will be patient and that the next the punishment won’t be so fun!)
Nurturing social skills is essential for children with ADHD as they may struggle with forming and maintaining friendships due to poor impulse control. Addressing these social challenges through activities like arranged play dates or role-playing can significantly enhance their social experiences, leading to increased self-confidence and resilience.
Fostering a deep parent-child bond extends beyond managing ADHD. Regularly dedicating time to engage in shared activities strengthens this bond, emphasizing love and support, and reminding them they are more than their diagnosis. If you can find the areas of mutual enjoyment and invest time into those areas, you can offset much of the inevitable friction that will happen around the morning boring stuff like schools and chores.
f your child has been diagnosed with ADHD, they may be entitled to specific accommodations at school to support their learning. Securing and leveraging the provisions of a 504 Plan or an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) can provide critical guard rails to their learning experience that are also protected by law. Extra time on tests, custom seating arrangements, and additional class notes are just a few of the many benefits your child could gain with one of these plans. Every school is different, so if you haven’t already, schedule a time to talk with a guidance counselor or administrator at your child’s school about accommodations.
Medication can play a pivotal role in ADHD treatment by addressing the neurological imbalances at the route of ADHD symptoms. These medications work by enhancing key neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine in the brain, thereby improving attention, memory, and impulse control. However, while beneficial, these medications aren't a fix all solution and should be paired with other interventions under the guidance and supervision of a specialized medical professional.
Support groups can be a validating and therapeutic way to help your journey in raising a child with ADHD. Whether it’s in-person or online, sharing experiences with other parents can provide new insights, strategies, and, most importantly, the understanding that you're not alone.
Education is empowerment. Consider enrolling in a program or workshop that provides ADHD-centric parenting strategies. We actually offer our own in-house coaching program that matches parents with a coach that can help you better understand how to best support your child.
More often than not, ADHD is genetic - meaning many parents might not realize that they have ADHD until their child gets diagnosed. This is an essential step to take if you suspect you might have ADHD yourself as the only thing more difficult than parenting a child with ADHD is doing it when you have untreated ADHD yourself. Getting yourself assessed can not only open doors to understanding both yourself and your child better, but to living a more fulfilling life overall.
Never hesitate to seek professional guidance. Therapists, counselors, and specialists can offer tailored advice and strategies to make your parenting journey smoother. We also offer Executive Function coaching programs for elementary, middle, and high schoolers as well as college students and adults - all of which can be a game changer for supporting ADHD (in fact over 50% of our client community has ADHD!)
As I reflect on my own experience with ADHD, I know that I truly have no one in this world to thank for my success in life more than my parents. Hopefully, you find the information and tips here useful as you navigate your own complex yet rewarding journey of parenting a child with ADHD. And who knows? Maybe it will be your child writing a blog post in 10 years thanking you for all you did to help them succeed!
One of the best ways to feel empowered in living with ADHD is by educating yourself. Now that you’ve learned some ADHD basics, here’s a linked list of resources that can help you get more information and perspectives on ADHD and Executive Functioning.
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Sean Potts is the Marketing Specialist at Beyond BookSmart and a recent graduate of Ithaca College’s Integrated Marketing Communications program. As a former coaching client and intern at BBS, Sean has spent the better part of the last ten years witnessing firsthand the positive impact Beyond BookSmart's mission has on transforming students’ lives.
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