“My kid’s getting in trouble at school because he calls out in class and won’t stay in his seat!” “My kid won’t pay attention and I have to tell her three times before she’ll do what I ask!” “My kid won’t stop and think before he does something!” “My kid is bouncing off the walls!” These are all typical things I hear from parents of children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), approximately 11% of children ages 4-17 years old have been diagnosed with ADHD as of 2014. That’s approximately 6.4 million children! (https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/fastats/adhd.htm) If one of these children is yours, you know raising a kid with ADHD can be a challenge!
While there are many skills children with ADHD can learn to help them manage their inattention, hyperactivity and impulsivity, parents need their own set of skills to help their children succeed. I have found a combination of effective parenting and self-care to work best in creating a healthy, supportive environment for you and your child.
- Provide structure for your child. Have a daily morning, afternoon/evening and bedtime routine, especially on school nights. Kids thrive on structure and consistency and this can help you avoid a potential meltdown and increase positive behaviors in your kid as she knows exactly what is expected of her every day.
- Be clear and concise when giving directions AND give one direction at a time. Oftentimes kids with ADHD struggle to comply with directions that aren’t direct and involve more than one step. For example, saying “Johnny, it’s time for dinner so here’s the plates. And make sure your sister knows it’s dinnertime. Oh, and come help me with this [pointing to a dish of food] after you’re done,” may feel very overwhelming to Johnny and he’s most likely going to forget at least one of the three directions you gave him. Break those three requests down into one task to complete at a time: “Johnny, please set the table.” Johnny finishes setting the table, then ask him to “Please call your sister for dinner.” Johnny gets his sister, then say, “Please help me carry food to the table.” Johnny is much more likely to be successful and you will be much less frustrated if you clearly state what behavior you expect from your child and give one-step directions.
- Praise and reward your child for good behaviors! Most likely your child feels like they get in trouble a lot, usually due to impulsive behaviors. I have heard many kids with ADHD say “I’m a bad kid,” and every time they get in trouble it reinforces this belief they have about themselves, affecting their self-esteem. Make sure you are verbally praising them when they make positive behavior choices. Sometimes behavior reward charts can be that extra motivation a child needs to not give into an impulsive thought and can also help a child visually track their positive behavior successes.
- Be consistent! If you tell your kid “no”, stick to your “no” even if it causes a tantrum. Your kid will soon learn that when mom and dad say “no” they mean “no”, and the tantrums will decrease and eventually go away. On the flip side, if you tell your kid “yes” follow-through with your “yes”. If you tell your kid they will be rewarded for a good day at school with time at the park that afternoon, you need to take your kid to the park. If you don’t, earning whatever reward is offered to her will no longer be motivating if she doesn’t believe she will receive it.
- Regulate your own emotions. It can be tough to stay calm when your kid is out of control, or simply pushing your buttons. But yelling at them isn’t always the best solution and can, in fact, escalate a situation. Know how to calm yourself down, whether that’s taking deep breathes, counting to 10 before responding, or taking some time away from the situation before addressing it. The calmer you stay, the better you’ll feel and the better you’ll handle the situation.
- Create and use your support network. Parenting is probably the toughest job in the world and should not be done alone. Create a network of people around you to support you through the good and the bad times. Don’t be afraid to ask for help, be it in the form of someone who listens to you, gives advice, prays for you, or even watches your kids for an afternoon.
Parenting a child with ADHD can be a huge challenge. Incorporating these basic parenting strategies and making time for your own self-care can make big difference in helping your child succeed in school, at home, in the community, and for the rest of their lives.