When your child has ADHD, there may be a lot of frustration. Your child might get frustrated with having to complete homework that bores them. They might get frustrated with so many thoughts ping-ponging in their brains. They might get frustrated that they have such a hard time focusing — and have to deal with many other challenges triggered by ADHD.
And you might get frustrated with everything from their taking forever to get ready in the morning to not following your rules. As a result, you might apply more pressure, thinking this will motivate your child.
But it only backfires.
Inevitably, all this frustration peaks, leading to stressed-out kids and stressed-out parents. According to Cindy Goldrich in her book 8 Keys to Parenting Children with ADHD, “Stress and pressure can shut down the thinking brain — the prefrontal cortex that houses executive function skills.” And kids with ADHD, she writes, may be already up to 30 percent delayed in these skills.
So the more stress and pressure kids with ADHD experience, the less able they are to concentrate, pay attention and manage their emotions, she writes. For instance, they might want to work faster, but their ADHD prevents them from doing so.
This is why creating calm is so critical.
“Without calm, no learning can take place and no problems can be solved,” explains Goldrich, Ed.M., ACAC, a certified ADHD coach, mental health counselor and parent training specialist.
In 8 Keys to Parenting Children with ADHD, she shares four ways parents can create calm both within themselves and within their children. Creating calm is one of the keys to parenting kids with ADHD.
The other seven include: getting educated about how ADHD actually influences behavior, academics and social skills; strengthening your connection with your child; cultivating good communication; teaching collaboration; being clear and consistent; establishing meaningful consequences; and handling your child’s choices.
Below you’ll find Goldrich’s four calming strategies, along with other related insights from her wise, information-packed book.
Focus on yourself.
First, Goldrich points out that it’s important to model self-control and self-regulation yourself. She suggests several strategies, which may be helpful for most people in calming down.
For instance, you can take several slow, deep breaths, or count to 10 slowly in your mind. Try lowering your voice. “When speaking softly, it is a lot more difficult to express extreme emotion,” writes Goldrich, founder of PTSCoaching.
Politely tell your child that you need to take a break to compose yourself. Let them know that this isn’t about avoiding or rejecting them. Instead it’s about helping you respond appropriately.
Ultimately, Goldrich reminds, we’re in charge of our own reactions. The key is to find and use the calming strategies that work for you.
Parent your child.
That is, let go of your expectations about what your child should be doing and when. As Goldrich writes, “he may just need more time than his peers to show his true potential.” Tempering your expectations helps you gain a good perspective when you’re reacting and responding to your child, she says.
Express your feelings without blaming, shaming or criticizing your child.
According to Goldrich, pay attention to the language you’re using when correcting or encouraging your child. Try to be empathetic and supportive. Of course, this isn’t always easy. You are human, after all. But again, “If you want your home to feel calm, it must start with you.” So work on adjusting your own behavior and learning to cope with stress and anxiety.
Teach your kids to be calm.
Start by teaching your child how their brain works. According to Goldrich, “A short, simple lesson can help them understand, value, and take ownership of their actions.” For instance, you can explain to your child that their executive skills are located at the front of their brain, “the thinking brain.” These areas help your child get started, focus, remember things, plan and organize, manage their emotions and monitor how they’re working.
Goldrich also includes this script parents can use:
You are the Chief Executive Officer of your brain. Think of each of the areas as a manager that is on your staff. It is your responsibility to train each part of your brain to function at its best. If one of your “managers” is struggling, I can help you learn tips, tools, and strategies to help you strengthen these skills and train the manager.
The back part of your brain has your amygdala. This is the part of your brain that manages emotions. When you are feeling extra stress, anxiety, or pressure, this emotional brain takes over and it is very difficult for your thinking brain to function at its best. Solving problems, learning, and performing become very difficult.
Help your child brainstorm different ways they can calm down. This might include journaling about their thoughts and feelings; keeping a soothing blanket or cloth; flipping through magazines; spending quiet time in their room (“just like a turtle learns to go into his shell when scared or threatened”); and helping them learn emotion words, such as “I feel sad”or “I feel anxious.” If your child is younger, to help them identify emotions, print out emoji pictures with different expressions.
Help your child recognize the thoughts, physical sensations and situations that signal they’re getting upset. You can even have a signal or code word for your child when they’re in public to let them know their emotions are escalating. Have a plan so they can remove themselves from the situation. Use empathetic words. Offer a hug. As Goldrich writes, “solving the problem is sometimes secondary to the empathy he may need in the moment.”
Goldrich also suggests parents create a “Calm Kit.” Keep this kit anywhere your child might need it – from their room to the car. Involve your child in creating the kit, which might include stickers, crayons, bubbles, Play-Doh, small toys and a laminated card with other ideas (such as playing “I Spy”).
ADHD has many challenges, which are frustrating for both kids and parents. Creating calm is a smart and valuable strategy. And that calm starts with you.