Parenting a child with ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) can be challenging. Your child’s behavior, lack of focus on tasks, and struggle to follow your family’s daily flow feel overwhelming and draining. What more can you implement in your home to ease the frustration and set your child up for success in his everyday life?
Medication can make a significant impact on your child’s ability to focus and manage his behavior. Educate yourself and talk with your pediatrician about what drugs are available. Finding the right option might take some trial and error before finding what works best for your child.
There are also educational supports you can work into an IEP with your child’s team that will help your child manage in the classroom. The practical tips for parenting a child with ADHD offered here can help you and your child succeed together at home with less frustration between you and more freedom to explore and follow his unique path.
Practical Tips for Parenting a Child with ADHD
Consider dietary changes.
Many doctors with experience in treating kids with ADHD suggest increasing lean protein and reducing heavily processed foods. Another suggestion is to closely monitor and limit the intake of sugar in your child’s diet.
Quit the comparisons.
Give your child room to craft his path. Don’t compare his development to that of other children, even children in your home. Offer yourself some grace by no longer comparing yourself to other parents. Your responsibility is to support your child in the unique ways that he needs you to help him. Let go of the need to be like other parents.
Create a structured routine for your home. Easily distractible kids need the predictability of a reliable schedule. Teach your child how to follow it by giving visual cues and reminders. You can use a social story or a checklist for the day’s events to help. Regular bedtimes and healthy sleep habits are also imperative to set him up for successfully following the routine.
Take a beat.
You can encourage your child to learn how to pause before she speaks or acts — a helpful life tool for the whole family to employ. Working on it together will support your child with ADHD by not “othering” her. Developing a script that says, “Stop. Take a breath. Let’s think this through,” can be a critical tool in learning how to pause.
Support your child to “stick with it” when activities, hobbies, or extracurriculars no longer feel exciting or easy by encouraging a time-frame in which she considers how to stay engaged. Impulsivity in decision-making is typical of kids with ADHD, so teaching a thoughtful approach to big choices is necessary.
Limit screen time.
In today’s culture, monitoring and limiting screen time feels like an almost impossible task. But a child with ADHD needs time to dream, engage in creative play, and be physically involved – outdoors as much as you can manage. If outdoor recreation is not feasible, provide hands-on activities like art, building toys, 3-D puzzles, and so on.
It might take a bit of investigating but find an activity that captures your child’s interests. Provide opportunities to explore those interests. Remember, a child with ADHD does have the ability to focus – and your odds of honing that focus will go up if the activity is engaging and captivating.
You can make the activities work double for building a stronger connection with your child if you also participate in the hobby or event. Another trick is to create family activities related to, or inclusive of, the child’s interest. For example, you can take a family a hike through the state forest that includes a fossil hunt for your budding archeologist.
Let it go.
Some things are just not worth hanging on to – whether it’s expectations of behavior that your child cannot do yet or small tasks you’d like to accomplish in your day but cannot seem to do. Focus on what you can achieve and enjoy that.
Define what you need to feel successful in your home and parenting and let the rest of it go. Those definitions are different for everyone, and this is another way to practice the art of not comparing yourself or your child to others.
Emphasize the positives.
Your child’s brain works in unique, creative, and beautiful ways. Sometimes, it’s easy to focus on what he cannot seem to do. If you can concentrate on his originality, creativity, and energy for life as positive traits, you can reframe the way you see him and your home life together.
Even when a behavior that drives you crazy, if you are looking at it from a filter of his imagination, you can embrace him as he is. And that’s a basic need of every human.
Talk about the brain.
At a young age, talk to your child about how her brain is wired. Identify her brain differences by name and tell her what you see as strengths and unique skills. Particularly if your child has a diagnosis, she will hear plenty of other folks talking to her and about her in less than supportive or kind ways. The label of ADHD can feel harsh and clinical if you aren’t countering the conversation positively.
Your job as her advocate and supporter is to help her appreciate who she is and what she offers the world. Her brain differences make her unique, and she needs that message from you as early and as often as you can speak it.
Make a plan.
Many kids with ADHD have a difficult time transitioning from one activity to the next. Identify the hard parts of your day and create a plan for how to solve them. If your child is old enough, ask him what he thinks are the most challenging parts of the day and what will make those things easier for him.
For example, if your child struggles to get out the door on time for soccer and repeatedly leaves his cleats behind when you do get out the door, create a new plan. Use your home’s intelligent technology to set reminders in ten-minute increments. Try keeping the cleats on a hook by the door to grab on the way out. Keep a checklist by the cleats to remind you both of all you need to bring with you to soccer.
Find your village.
You need connection and a safe place to be encouraged on this journey. Frequently, parents work so hard to provide what the kids require that they forget about their own needs. That’s a recipe for burn-out, frustration, and continued struggle. Your network should be an uplifting group that reminds you to take care of yourself and offers relationships with other parents who “get it.”
The Goal for Parenting a Child with ADHD
The goal of parenting a child with ADHD is to teach your child how to manage his brain differences and see them as a set of traits, not disorders. This long list might feel overwhelming to take in all at once. Why don’t you try instead to take it in small doses? Implement one tip at a time and practice them until you feel successful.
When we are patient with ourselves and our child to keep reframing ADHD as an opportunity for uniqueness and creativity, we model skills to set him up for successfully managing his life and maximizing his abilities.