Parenting Your Children with ADD

Girl Getting Piggyback RideChildren with ADD require more parenting than other kids. What do I mean by that? More reminders; assistance; structure; patience; behavior strategies; coordination with schools and doctors; and ultimately, innovation. ADHD undermines kid’s ability to regulate their behavior, and despite good intentions, consistency can be hard to achieve. It takes a lot of creativity, perseverance and love to parent a child struggling with this disorder.

Consider when a parent has ADHD as well. It can be overwhelming and exhausting. Just when backing and support are needed most, spouses often disagree about how to parent and often end up blaming each other. Since there are many misconceptions about ADHD, parents often don’t discuss their kid’s struggles with others. They want to protect them from being labeled or treated differently but at the same time, this leads to less support and understanding overall.

On the positive side, families who learn to navigate the challenges can enjoy the humorous and spontaneous aspects of ADHD as well as a sense of closeness amidst the chaos. There are many suggestions to help parents create a positive family experience that will help their kids succeed. I’ve picked a few of my favorites to share here:

  • Listen well: Parents tend to lecture, and kids with ADHD will tune this out even more than other kids. Instead, talk less. Ask questions and show interest, acceptance and empathy. Validate their feelings rather than problem-solving or having a “teaching moment” (which can turn into a told-you-so moment). When kids know you will listen they will continue to share and respect you.
  • Get on the same page as your spouse: Find a time apart from your kids, and each pick one area of concern. Come up with simple rules to address the problem and create rewards and consequences. Work out all the details ahead of time so that you’re not thrown off course when it comes time for implementation. Take turns and work as a team so that you achieve consistency. You’ll feel better as a couple and the kids will thrive on the unified plan.
  • Praise your kids often: Look for the ways your kids shine. Point out the specific, positive things they do. It’s easy to find yourself yelling reminders and corrections. Try to shift the balance so that you’re praising twice as often as correcting.
  • Develop routines for the family: ADHD kids thrive on structure. In addition to individual routines for homework and getting to bed, create family routines such as eating dinner together, spending an hour doing house or yard work on Sunday afternoons, or watching a favorite TV show as a family. It’s a lot easier to have a ritual that the family is accustomed to than to create a new plan each day.
  • Ignore inappropriate behavior: One of the best ways to eliminate poor behavior is to ignore it. However, this should only be done for attention-seeking behavior like interrupting, whining or nagging. Rather than suddenly ignoring them (which could set them off), let your children know your plan in advance. Tell them the behaviors you plan to ignore and share that you’re doing so because you do not support that particular behavior. Be sure to avoid eye contact when you are in the midst of ignoring them. Ignoring is usually effective in eliminating the problem if you stick with it and stay as neutral and non-reactive as possible.

A great way to learn more about parenting a child with ADHD is a 7-week class offered by CHADD (conducted by phone and Web). The Parent-to-Parent program covers an overview of ADHD, behavioral strategies and an overview of educational rights. Look for these courses on their website at: www.CHADD.org. One of their concepts is:

Rules minus a relationship (with your kids) = Rebellion

Rules plus a relationship = Success

When kids feel heard and valued they are easier to parent. By developing trust through praise, listening, structure and consequences, you create a relationship that fosters cooperation and will help your children grow in the long run. Conflicts are inevitable but when there’s a loving relationship for your kids to count on it’s easier to resolve your differences and move on. Good luck with one of the hardest, most rewarding jobs on the planet!