Knowing how ADHD symptoms affect your child is essential. You might think that your child is being stubborn or behaving a certain way on purpose, but these actions may be symptoms of ADHD.
Kapalka suggests parents also educate themselves about ADHD’s causes and child development. (You can refer to books on ADHD or talk to a therapist who specializes in ADHD.)
The other important part is educating yourself about attention and learning when your child is at his or her peak of productivity. Consider the following scenario, Palladino says: Your child won’t finish his homework, so you firmly tell him that he’s grounded if he doesn’t “buckle down right now.” Instead, though, he has a meltdown. The problem? His arousal level was too high. “Deep down, he was scared to put something on the paper, because he anticipated it wasn’t going to be good enough — too sloppy, poor spelling, not as polished as his siblings’ or his classmates’ work,” she says. The heightened arousal caused him to feel overwhelmed, so he needed less adrenaline to focus on his task.
Knowing when your child can concentrate best helps you “chunk assignments into manageable steps, suggest breaks to decrease tension, alternate interesting and boring tasks, and keep his adrenaline-based brain chemicals pumping with a steady stream of just the right amount of stimulation,” Palladino says.
(In Palladino’s book on attention called Find Your Focus Zone, she includes a long chapter called “Teaching Kids to Pay Attention,” which may be helpful to parents raising kids with ADHD.)
13. Help your child adjust to change.
Children with ADHD have a difficult time with “set-shifting,” a brain function that involves adjusting to change or switching cognitive processes, especially if they’re hyper-focused on an activity, Palladino says.
She emphasizes the importance of giving your child—no matter how busy you are—the “time and information he needs to mentally adjust for big changes—such as vacations, guests or a new babysitter—and small changes—such as stopping one activity to begin the next, especially when what’s next is getting ready for bed.”
For instance, when you get back from vacation, the night before, review your child’s routine with him or her, she says.
14. Focus on your child’s strengths.
Instead of harping on what your child can’t do, hone in on what they can, Palladino recommends. Keep reminding yourself about your child’s “resourcefulness, creativity and individuality. The same self-determination and intractability that drives you nuts today will empower your child tomorrow. Picture him as a tireless entrepreneur, attorney, or doing any work he feels passionate about.”
It’s best for parents to try to strike a balance. “Don’t deny his special needs, and don’t define him by them, either,” she says.
15. Cut yourself some slack.
Raising a child with a disorder whose symptoms include impulsivity, defiance and “limited self-control is one of the most challenging tasks any person will ever attempt,” Kapalka says.
So acknowledge that you’re working hard, and “Do not feel like a failure. You did not cause your child to behave this way, but you can make a difference,” he says.
16. Celebrate being a parent and being with your child.
Parenting kids with ADHD can feel like a frustrating—and sometimes unfeasible—task. But “Don’t let ADHD rob you of the joy of being a parent,” Palladino says.
When parents are at their wits’ end, they can do a few things to help. For instance, she suggests a parent “cradle your arms and remember what it felt like when your child was born.”
If you’re “correcting your child too much, turn your ring or put your wristwatch on your other hand, and don’t put it back the right way until you’ve thought of and said something positive or caught your child being good,” she says.
She also recommends the following self-talk:
“I am thankful to be a parent. The responsibility is great but the rewards are greater.”
“I teach my child and my child teaches me.”
“I am thankful for my children — their gifts and talents and their love.”
George Kapalka, Ph.D.
Lucy Jo Palladino, Ph.D.
Photo by John Morgan, available under a Creative Commons attribution license.