The school year is back upon us, and parents of kids with ADHD probably could use some support and tips. So here are some suggestions:
1. Manage your expectations.
Children with ADHD have a legitimate neurological condition that impairs planning, organization, impulse control, focus, and attention. ADHD cannot be cured, but it can be managed with teaching strategies, accommodations, practicing difficult skills, and, sometimes, medication.
Sometimes parents think that their children should be able to follow through on cleaning their room, finish a whole worksheet without being distracted, remember their notebooks, and keep their hands to themselves when reminded. However, these expectations may be unrealistic without interventions and accommodations.
2. Provide accommodations even at home.
An accommodation is basically a way to assist a child so that he or she can ultimately be successful. At school, that may be anything from the child sitting in the front row away from his friends to a sticker chart to a one-on-one aide.
Eventually, some accommodations are reduced as the child learns how to attend, focus, organize, control impulses, and plan on his or her own. However, sometimes a child learns how to create his or her own accommodations to continue to use into adulthood. Calendars, alarms, digital prompters and Post-it notes are all examples of commonly used accommodations that kids with ADHD can continue to use into adulthood.
Sometimes, necessary accommodations are hard on the parents, leading to the below.
3. Recruit help.
In cases where a child needs constant one-on-one assistance or frequent redirections, I often recommend recruiting help. What parent is able to cook dinner, attend to siblings, and live any sort of life if constant redirections and behavioral interventions are necessary for one (or more) of the children?
For about an hour a day, recruit a paid or unpaid mother’s helper to help the child organize and stay on task. Discuss with the helper all of the accommodations and interventions that you do with your child. This helper will then be responsible for instilling accommodations and consequences or rewards when necessary. This type of one-on-one redirection and behavioral intervention is sort of like daily therapy for the child, only cheaper and more effective since it is in a real-world naturalistic environment.
4. Work closely with your child’s therapist.
Make sure parental involvement is part of the treatment plan. Your child’s therapist can assist you in creating reasonable and appropriate accommodations for home, which will gradually give your child more independence when realistically called for. The therapist can also help you navigate behavioral expectations, incentives, and consequences which are both realistic and hold the child accountable for growth.
5. Practice self-awareness and self-soothing.
Parents with ADHD kids often have “anger triggers” when they deal with their ADHD child. Commonly, I hear parents say their “trigger” thoughts (or the instantaneous thoughts that fuel anger) are “He should be able to do this,” “He’s not going to be successful,” and “I must have failed as a parent.”
Pay attention to the thoughts you tell yourself that make you even more angry, and replace them with something more realistic such as, “He is doing what he can and I am doing what I can.” Then, in the moment, practice self-soothing, such as deep breaths or tensing up individual muscles, one at a time.
6. Prioritize sleep, exercise and nutrition.
Your child does best when he exercises, sleeps adequately, and stays away from sugar. So too will you be your calmest, most emotionally resiliant, and most patient when you have taken care of yourself.
7. Validate yourself frequently.
Remind yourself that it makes sense to feel the way you feel. It is okay and understandable to feel exhausted, angry, alone, afraid, and powerless. It is hard work to attempt to teach and manage a child with ADHD. In some moments, teaching and managing is not even possible. It makes sense that some days you just want to shut the door of your room and stay in bed and cry.
Validate your behaviors. It makes sense that you lose your patience sometimes. It makes sense that you make mistakes sometimes, and don’t have all the answers and solutions all the time. You can feel and do all of that and still be doing an amazing job.
8. Seek support.
Seek support in your marriage (if you are married), and seek support in your close relationship(s). When you need support, take a deep breath and tell someone how you are feeling. And then tell them what you need: Listen, hug me, hold my hand, give me an afternoon to nap.
There are also support groups for parents who have children with ADHD. There is something powerfully rejuvenating about hearing other people truly understand your struggles and knowingly rejoice with you in your triumphs.