No one really tells you about parenting a child when you are pregnant. You mainly focus on eating right and preparing the nursery. Researching the best mattress; the all-important blackout curtains; baby bottles, sterilisers; birthing plans etc etc and so on! No one really thinks about after the birth. The bit when the parenting comes in. No one thinks about parenting a child with ADHD.
When I was pregnant with the twins I read up on everything; what the baby/babies were looking like each week; what they could sense; how big they were (I remember when they became the size of a kidney bean hence we nicknamed them ‘the beans’!). I loved it. It was all so exciting. And I will be honest, I was not even worried about the birthing bit! I knew they would have to come out one way or another, so I did not see the point in stressing over it. It all went smoothly, slightly earlier than expected, but nothing to be concerned about. Hey Presto! Two perfectly formed, healthy bonnie beans, I mean babies!
Then I arrived home. I remember coming in and sitting down. We put the twins in their beautiful bassinets from Mama’s and Papas, in their beautifully matching blankets and it was all so perfect. But then I thought, what now?? I mean I had read up to the part where I gave birth, but now what?! I had not read that bit! Picking up my pregnancy books and flicked to where I had left off…. but they had abandoned us! I had read to the end and I was up to the glossary and index pages! What now?!
Why did the beans not arrive with an instruction manual? Dishwashers do. Washing machines do. Where were the instructions?? Thankfully, a dear friend, and a mum already, had bought me a fabulous Gina Ford book, A Contented House with Twins, specifically on feeding and changing the twins. (I get commissions for purchases made through links in this post.). It was an extremely strict routine, but it saved my life. Anyone who has had twins will know that unless they sleep at the same time you are well and truly buggered. This book helped me achieve that.
But that is the difference when they are babies. If you get them into a routine, and I highly recommend that you do, they are fairly compliant. I mean you do not think that at the time. You are so exhausted from lack of sleep, especially if it is your first baby, you cannot imagine it ever being harder than this. But, on reflection now, and maybe my brain has blanked some of it out, this is actually the easier part. They are at your command as it were. It is when the full-on personality kicks in that the hard work truly begins… The Parenting Part!
Roll on a few years and suddenly you turn to the ‘parenting’ books. How to sensibly discipline a child, and how to talk so your child will listen. Then you might turn to specific books. I remember my daughter went through a biting phase and my son would love to head-butt. They were only toddlers, not teens I would like to point out! I remember reading an amazing book called Toddler Taming by Christopher Green. Very insightful.
Thing is, I would try all these techniques. They worked perfectly on my son if he had a meltdown, would not listen, or hurt someone. Exactly as the book had described. He was so easy to distract when having a temper tantrum. I could always laugh him out of it (still can to this day much to his annoyance!). My daughter, however, was a different kettle of fish. I was extremely cautious not to judge her just because she was a twin and why wasn’t this working for her? I mean, my brothers and I have vastly different personalities so why shouldn’t a twin?
But I have to say, she was such hard work. I was often left feeling exasperated like I had run out of options. One of my mummy friends would recommend another parenting book that I would immediately rush out, buy, and pour over to find the answers. I would then try their method at the next meltdown and nothing. In fact, it would often make them worse. I would feel like such a useless mum. Friends would tell me to be firmer. Try this, try that. Do this, do that. I would look at my daughter and just feel such pain that I did not know how to comfort her. That I did not understand why she was so angry, stubborn, and inflexible. Why couldn’t I parent her?
One day, however, my gut instinct kicked in. I looked at her and thought, this is not just bad behaviour, this goes to another level. The twins have both been raised the same at the exact same time, so if I am such an inadequate mother why is my son not ‘naughty’ too? I started researching. Not parenting, but her behaviours and found ADHD. It was like someone had described her to a tee. Now I could look up parenting a child with ADHD. Oh boy had I been doing it wrong. Nearly everything you know about traditional child-rearing goes out the window. In fact, some of it has been quite damaging.
First, let us think about behaviours generally seen in children with ADHD so we can then consider how best to parent them.
Hyperactive They can have difficulty playing quietly; they can be fidgety, unable to sit still for any length of time; disorganised and messy; rushing, never taking their time, and consequently making many errors.
Impulsive They may interrupt, A LOT; have trouble taking turns or waiting their turn; sharing; fierce emotional outbursts; do things without thinking, impulsively or without thinking; lack self-control; frequently lose their temper.
Distractable Have great trouble concentrating and focusing; appear not to be listening; unable to follow instructions; need constant reminders to stay on track
It is quite clear why most of the above could be mistaken for naughty behaviour. Many other parents will tell you their child does not listen or needs reminding or does not sit still. This is probably why you thought your child was just naughty and persevered with the traditional parenting rules. But I can bet that you probably sensed it was more than that after a while.
I knew my child was not a ‘bad’ child, I knew something was not quite right for her to make her behave like that. That is why I was glad, yes glad, when she got diagnosed because I was not going mad, I did know my child. You do not want the label just to get a label. The ‘label’ is the diagnosis, from a professional to help be the best parent to your child. To understand what they need from us as parents. To understand my role in helping them.
Below I have listed some things I have now learnt. They may or may not work for you, I am simply sharing what I have learnt.
Things I wish I had known sooner
1 Firstly, I think it is so important that you remember your child is not doing this to you deliberately. They do not want to ignore and embarrass you. My favourite book at the moment is, ‘The Explosive Child’. A child will do well if they can. I know it’s hard. Believe me, I really do. But try to remember this when they are at their worst. They are not deliberately making your life this hard. It is as frustrating to them as it is to you. Once this is in your head, it makes it far easier to be a little more patient.
I cannot tell you the number of times I have felt totally disrespected. I have never sworn at my parents or done half the things my kids have to me. At first, I thought that was because I was a shite parent and had not instilled it in them. Now I realise it’s not, although believe me I still get many days when I think I am a shite parent! Also remember, our children do not have the skills essential for attention and behaviour. They cannot help this.
2 Children with ADHD often have incredibly low self-esteem, which I know my daughter has. They always feel like they are letting you down, not good enough, ‘thick’ as my daughter would say. My daughter constantly says, not joking, 30-50 x a day, ‘love you’, needing me to immediately respond back with ‘I love you’. It breaks my heart that she must ask this so often. Am I letting her down, does she not feel loved? I just persevere and tell her constantly how amazing she is, how clever, and how proud I am of her. I literally saturate her in positives. Whatever it takes. Point out all their positives as often as you can
3 Talk about ADHD do not pretend it is not there. Seriously, let them know they have it and it’s fine! There is nothing wrong with it, there is nothing to be ashamed of, they just have to approach things a different way, as do you. I talk openly to my daughter and her siblings, do not make it into a bad thing just something we can always talk about.
4 Read up on ADHD. Learn how it is going to impact your child. Every child is so different, try to note things that are applicable to them. For instance, my daughter hates timers, but my son works well with one. Learn what works for your child. There are so many books out there, sometimes you can feel swamped. Join an online forum and ask for book recommendations. I have a private FB group for parents, see below. I also love doing the free courses with ADDvance. Once you understand ADHD more you will feel better knowing how to best help. Even if you pick up one or two tips that are applicable to your child it is worth it.
5 Do set boundaries. Having ADHD does not mean they get away with everything! They still must have rules. I would totally not sweat the small stuff. Obviously, that’s rubbish when you have siblings. My daughters’ twin does not always get why she gets away with stuff and he does not. Just take time to explain to them. They will get it. This does not mean they get away with things that are important to you. For instance, I hate swearing. My daughter seems to love it when angry. When in her red mist, I ignore it, but any other time I come crashing down on it! Decide which behaviours are deal breakers for you and your family. Make sure you are consistent with this. Allowing it one day and not the next is really confusing for any child.
6 Try to work with your school. I truly hope you can. My daughters’ first school just did not ‘get it’ and it was painful how they treated her and me. However, I do know there are some amazing schools out there and if you support each other it will really help.
7 Children with ADHD work far better with positive reinforcement rather than punishment. Set a goal, make it achievable. To say to a child with ADHD that if they behave all day, they will get blah blah is too long. You are setting them up for a fail. Break down the day into chunks. Even if they are rewarded for a chunk with a star and so many stars lead to something special, they will be far more likely to try. If you are good on this car journey; if we go around the supermarket calmly, we can go to the park. Privileges and praise are much better than toys or food/sweets.
Obviously, there will be times when there will be a consequence for certain actions. I have had to learn when my daughter is being naughty like any child as opposed to it being linked to ADHD! Pick your consequences in advance so they know. Taking an electronic device away than no park is probably more effective! Always put in place the consequence immediately. Do not say next Thursday your phone will be taken off you, they will not understand come Thursday what they did!
8 Routine. You have probably heard this a thousand times, but this really does help. When a child with ADHD knows what is coming next, they are less likely to fight it. Routine helps all kids so it’s not difficult to implement in a household. Having certain meals on certain nights can be fun too. My kids know Saturday night is takeaway night and Wednesday night is snack tea night!
It is funny because my kids from such an early age took turns in running the bath straight after tea. It just became a thing.
One particularly cold and dark night recently, they came in from school tired, so I decided to do an early tea. At 4 o’clock. Straight after my son went upstairs, ran the bath and they were all in bed by five-thirty! Ha! I did not like to correct them 😉.
Having a visual calendar for them to see is great too. I have one on my fridge. It shows club nights, breakfast club days and anything coming up. I also clearly cross out days so they can read them easily.
9 Diet. Goes without saying that try to avoid sugary food. I know that is hard; I am just saying try. Try to encourage as much fresh fruit and veg as possible. It is also important to ensure I child with ADHD eats regularly. I would say a snack every three hours as opposed to missing meals and overeating rubbish; it really makes a difference. I give my kids a multivitamin every day and I have just started Omega 3 tablets. They are supposed to be good for our kids, I will try anything.
10 Sleep. Essential for everyone. I know how inattentive I feel after a bad night’s sleep so I can only imagine what it is like for our kids. Mine have always had a great bedtime routine and are in bed by 8:30, with no electronics, on school nights. I am a bit less strict at weekends. However, regardless of this my two with ADHD find it so difficult to switch off. I feel for them because I suffer from insomnia and I know how horrible it feels to just lie there wanting to sleep but unable to ‘drop off’.
Obvious things to do to help are; a calm bedtime routine, the same every night; decreased electronic time; some exercise in the day to make them physically tired; my daughter does like to sleep with white noise or calm music, just something in the background. I must confess though, for me, or rather her, melatonin, prescribed by her paediatrician is the only thing that has really helped her. Lavender was not quite cutting it.
11 Friends. This can be so hard for our children with ADHD. I know my daughter found it hard when she was younger. She always came across so bossy. Every game had to be played her way. I could see her friends getting bored or frustrated by all of her rules! She much preferred adults or younger children (that could not answer back preferably). Adults are far more predictable as a rule, they find this safer than kids their own age. However, friends are vital. Try to help them make and keep friends. Playdates, especially at the park are great. I would say a couple of hours at most when they are younger. I would also suggest just one friend at a time, three’s a crowd and they will not like this.
My daughter attends a specialist school for SEMH (Social, Emotional Mental Health). There are very few girls there and she gets on better with the boys generally. Luckily, she has stayed in touch with a few friends from her old mainstream school, and I have really encouraged this. Thankfully, they are lovely girls and never mention the fact that she no longer goes to school with them. I would say make sure your child has friends in a few places. Enrol them in a club or sport they enjoy. Even visiting relatives, cousins etc. Keep them socially interacting and learning how to do so.
12 One of the most important things I learnt about my daughter is that she cannot self-regulate her emotions. Literally cannot. In the beginning, when I thought she was being naughty I would try to make her sit on the ‘naughty step’ for time out. It never worked, she refused point-blank. Then I would follow another book and take her to her bedroom and close the door (insert ashamed face). This made the volcano inside her worse.
See what I did not realise is that for her to calm down, she needed me to do that for her. To hug her, to bring her back down from this heightened state. That, however, went against everything I had read in traditional parenting books. Hug a child that had been naughty? Whatever next! But she was not being naughty, she was crying out for help, and I was shutting the door on her.
Do not get me wrong. Sometimes it is so hard to hug a child that has behaved badly, has just hurt their siblings, broken stuff and sworn at you. The last thing you feel like doing is hugging them. But I am asking you to. I swear this is all they want. They need you to help them calm down, they are a raging little fire that cannot stop burning. Take a big, deep breath and try it.
13 Try to limit electronics. I know, I know. We all need them to give us some respite. However, if you do not get them off it, they will probably sit on some form of electronic all day. I can tell when my son without ADHD has been on his games too long, he gets really moody. Most of his games seem to be quite aggressive and I can see a real difference in him. I know it is especially hard now with COVID-19 and places shut and only mixing with your bubble, I am just saying do your best.
14 Exercise. Again, this can be hard currently. Mine love trampoline parks but I am not a fan of them right now, personal choice. We have some great parks near us, but they were roped off for a while. My kids also love tennis and thankfully that is now back on. Finding something they enjoy is so important. Always good when it becomes a regular thing too. They then know what days they have clubs, also marked on the visual calendar should they forget.
15 Cuddles. Just being tactile is great, cuddles are better. Some kids like a simple squeeze around the shoulders. Maybe they have done peer massage in school? It’s very grounding. Children with ADHD can like weighted blankets etc. Mine never had these, but my daughter loves her weighted lavender, heated (!) neck blanket, CLICK HERE to see! She often heats that up and puts it around her shoulders at bedtime. It is like a cuddle or an arm around her shoulder. I am a real cuddler and so are my kids. I know not everyone is but just think about a squeeze now and then or something weighted?
As I write this, I can think of so many things to write and I will probably think of many more long after I have posted it! ADHD is a journey that I am constantly learning about. I go off in different directions daily. But I have learnt so many things that are essential for my kids. I hope some of these will help you. Each child is different, and ADHD is exceptionally individual, but there are some things that are similar. Keep going. If you are reading this till the end, it shows how much you care. You are trying to learn how better to parent your child with ADHD and for that I commend you.