I buy, and try to read, so many books; ‘Parenting your child with ADHD’; ‘How to parent a child with ADHD’; ‘Top tips for parenting a child with ADHD’. Normally I buy three books to every one I get to read. Therefore, I have a stack of parenting books waiting to be read in the hope I will discover a magical parenting solution. Thing is, if you spend all your time reading about how to best parent your child with ADHD, you actually miss out on being a parent! Shhh kids I am trying to read how to be the perfect parent! Go play on your electronics so I can become the perfect mother!
I normally try to read whilst waiting in the car at some kids’ club for an hour. That is if I do not have to bring one of my other children with me, in which case, no chance. Reading in bed is difficult, I am usually so tired by that point I read a page and I pass out, pointless. So why am I writing this blog post? Well, I am going to try to summarise how best to help parent your child with ADHD, in the most concise manner possible, so you don’t have to read quite so many books!
Be kind to you
Firstly, do not waste one iota of your energy on blaming yourself. ADHD is a disorder. You did not cause this. It is not poor parenting, nor is it a rubbish home life. So, that is my first tip. There is no cure or magic wand for ADHD but there are ways of making it easier for all of you. Not all of these will work for you or your child. ADHD is a very individual disorder. Two of my three children have ADHD, and I must parent all three of them very differently. That is just how it is!
You may scoff at some of these suggestions, I know I have, they do not all work for me! There is no way for instance, that my kids could use a naughty step or stair. I used to watch those super nanny programs and just laugh. Mine would never have stayed put! Not a chance! Pah! I just try to work with what I can do, in my home life and do the best I can. That is all we can do.
I read something once about an organic lifestyle being great for children with ADHD, cooking this, that and the other, and growing veg and no sugar or colours etc, I sat down exhausted. Instantly I felt like a failure, as I prepared to put a pizza in the oven for tea with chips. Quickly I opened a tin of sweetcorn and cut up some cucumber. Before you call Social Services, my kids do eat well, generally. I do cook for them. But I am human. I get tired. And sometimes I just need to feed them quickly so I can sit down and watch some rubbish tv so I can relax and unwind. Self-preservation.
So, there we have tip number two. Do what works best for you and ensure you look after yourself. This might not be watching rubbish tv, maybe you enjoy exercise, or simply I walk. I love gardening, yes, I am at that age now. It is whatever you need to unwind. So, if that means shoving a pizza in the oven once a week, then do it, and spend any extra time on yourself. Have a bubble bath, and read a non-parenting book. Pour a glass of wine. Whatever works for you. Ok, so those are my two top tips for you. Try to limit your mum/dad guilt and know you are doing your best. Now for the parenting advice/tips for your children with ADHD.
Parenting your child with ADHD
Parenting your child with ADHD is not like traditional parenting. Obviously, this does also depend on the severity of your child’s symptoms and any other comorbid disorders they may have. Children with ADHD have functionally different brains. They are more prone to impulsive behaviour. I read this the other day from a Professor of Psychology, ‘Just as a diabetic child needs insulin and an asthmatic child needs help breathing, a child with ADHD needs their learning environment regulated!’. I mean how true is that?! Basically, we must modify our behaviour and learn to manage the behaviour of our children. Below are a few ways to help this.
Routine and Consistency
You have probably heard this a hundred times before, but the reason is that this one is so important. I have always done the tea, bath, and bed routine (as I am sure millions of others do!). My children are so used to this that it literally is in their DNA now to run the bath as soon as tea is over! This is great, especially when I have done an early tea. 😉
Honestly, whatever it is that is your routine, set in stone what you expect. Depending on the age of your children you could use cards as a visual timetable of what you expect in the morning for example. My kids must get dressed, have breakfast, do their teeth, and pack their bags. Four clear things. No of course they do not do it perfectly every day. They might be tired, ratty, and aiming for a day off school with Covid symptoms (whatever *insert eye roll), but generally, they stick to it. I did use visual cards for my daughter when she was young, for my son I use egg timers. However, my daughter could not use egg timers as the pressure was too much, she was ok with time. My son would not use the visual cards as he would just play snap with them… Different things for different kids see!
Following on from routine and consistency, I really would recommend a set bedtime routine, whatever that might be for you. I will be honest, after their bath I let them have 30 mins of electronic time. I know all the bad things about electronics at night, but that gives me half an hour to tidy up the bomb site that now is the bathroom, tidy up tea time and feel organized. That works for me. After that, it is their choice to sleep or read. My twins are now 12 (one of which has ADHD) and my son is 9 with ADHD. It is up to them. My daughter is dyslexic, so she is more likely to put an audiobook on. My eldest son will read, and my youngest will try to smuggle his phone into his bed to watch YouTube, the difficulty of having a loft bed!
Sleep does not always come easily to children with ADHD, mine are both on medication (melatonin) which has been a life-changer for them (and me!). It is a very mild dose, but it just enables them to switch off and then they get a great night’s sleep with no groggy after-effects. I know how I feel after a rubbish night’s sleep. For our children with ADHD, lack of sleep can intensify inattention and hyperactivity (due to the adrenaline kicking in to keep them awake), the last thing they need!
Again, following on from sleep. What better way to help them sleep than to let them be active? Our kids need to burn off their energy, plus it increases the happy hormones! By stimulating the brain like this it can really help depression and anxiety (two intricately connected disorders associated with ADHD).
Find something they love. My kids are not into football. They love tennis and badminton, and they are good at them. So, this kills another bird with the proverbial stone. Being good at something raises their self-esteem, something so many children with ADHD have issues with. Another thing I find, my daughter goes to a specialist school. Unfortunately, there are far fewer girls than boys there, so fewer girlie friendship groups to be made. Also, they are not necessarily local to us being such a specialist school. Having a team or club to belong to opens more opportunities for her to make friends. Another win!
My son always needs to go on our trampoline before bed. I know that sounds crazy but it’s what he needs. It is like he just has to ensure he has used up every tiny bit of energy. I always make him do his teeth first, for no real reason, just to ensure they get done and then we have no arguments about doing them. It is almost a reward for cleaning your teeth!
Rules of Behaviour
You are still the parent, and you are still allowed to establish rules for your child with ADHD. Just because your child has ADHD does not mean that you cannot lay out what you consider to be acceptable behaviour. However, children with ADHD do have problems with their executive functioning (planning, impulses, organizing etc) so you will need to be patient with this and give them guidance.
The best way for children with ADHD is to encourage and reward good behaviour (known as positive reinforcement). The opposite of this is removing rewards following bad or inappropriate behaviour or putting a consequence in place. The reward does better for our kids because it is positive and helps boost their self-esteem, making them feel a success. They truly need a lot of praise. They are constantly being told they are not doing things right, so I love this method more. You are reinforcing good behaviour. This is proactive rather than reactive to bad behaviour.
My daughter has a box where she can take a small item of clothing or accessories out once a week if she has had a good week. When she was younger, it had to be a daily reward, but as she got older, she can wait a bit longer. This really motivates her to do well. Really do try to find the positives and praise desirable behaviours as soon as they happen. According to research, we need three positive comments to outweigh one negative one. Think about how many negative comments our children with ADHD get daily.
When you do have to remove a reward or hand out a consequence make sure it is consistent. You cannot reprimand your child one day and let them off the next, they simply will not understand why, and they will not learn or improve. Try not to use the word punishment. Punishment just makes them feel anxious and ashamed. Constant negative feedback can really erode a child’s self-esteem. Do not use something like taking away their sport, club, music or whatever they are good at as a punishment. They truly need this. Electronics or tv are always good ones!
Make sure all rules are clear, print them out and stick them on the fridge if that helps, but make them short and concise. I would say be flexible. Do not write unrealistic things down. Know their limitations or you will be setting them up for failure. If I put a rule down such as, do not interrupt conversations, or do not talk to mummy when she is on the phone, I might as well say go and find the unicorn in the garden. My son is so impulsive, if he must tell me something it has to be right there and then. It is not bad manners; he cannot contain it.
I am not debating the ‘to medicate or not to medicate your child/children’, that is a personal choice. I do, but purely to get her through school days, I see no benefit myself, it has worn off by the time she gets home! But what I will say is, try not to emphasise the importance. What I mean is, do not make your child feel like they are only doing ok because they are on meds. Let them know they are doing amazing. Do not say things like, you are bad today, did you forget to take your meds? They will start to believe they do not have control over their behaviour, their meds do. I read somewhere that a mum likened meds to wearing glasses to improve eyesight. I like that. Does not mean they cannot see, just improves their sight!
Limit your ‘No’s’!
As parents, we say No so often. Obviously, it is necessary sometimes to avoid danger or inappropriate behaviour. But, try and become aware of how many times you say no, and maybe how many times you could have said yes! The first time my son asked me to go outside, after his bath, to go on the trampoline before bed, I said no. It did not feel right to me. He would get cold after the bath; he had only recently had his dinner. It was bedtime! But then I thought, he needs it and who is it hurting? No one.
We walk home from school via a brook. He has this urge to go in it with his shoes on. Wellies will not do. He has this need to do it. Obviously, I say no, and it goes on and on. I can see he almost needs to do it. We have now reached a compromise. On the way home from school on a Friday he can walk in the brook with his shoes on. I have explained he cannot do it every day as I cannot get his shoes dry in time and he accepts this. But on Friday, it’s like the little pressure cooker inside him that needs to do this action is released, and he is so happy. At the end of the day, it’s just a wet pair of shoes and a happy little boy!
Give your child an abundance of love and try to build their self-confidence. I cannot imagine how hard it is for them. Read the blog post I just finished on what it feels like to have ADHD. Quotes from people who were kind enough to share their thoughts with me. I was shocked (click HERE to read the article). It was literally heartbreaking to read about their daily struggle. Always remember, our children do not want to be difficult, they do not want to keep doing things that are going to get them told off. They simply cannot help it.
Be your child’s emotional regulator. This can be so hard when they have had a particularly bad meltdown. They may have said cruel and vicious things to you. They may have broken something. Your stress level may be about to pour out of your ears. And then they look at you and you know the only thing that will help them is a hug from you. And that can be so tough. I know when I first had to do this it felt so wrong. I did not know my daughter had ADHD at the time. It felt like it went against all the parenting books by hugging a child who had just done so much wrong! But they are children with ADHD, and they need YOU to calm them. You are their thermostat.
So, remember, they do not mean any of what they said and did. My daughter feels terrible remorse after she has calmed down. This in turn knocks her self-esteem, again! She now feels no one can like or love her. It is a spiral of destruction. Show them that they will always have your unconditional love.
To summarise I would say parenting a child with ADHD is a real mixture of compassion and consistency. Rounded up with patience and a whole lotta love! Try to maintain a positive attitude, I know this is so hard at times. Just know you are THE best resource your child could have to help them meet their challenges. ADHD is a disorder; they cannot help it. Fire against fire just builds a bigger fire. If you can stay calm and focused this will so help your child to do the same.
You are their best role model. If you do find yourself at a breaking point, try to take a break from them. Again, I know this is hard. I am a single parent and when I felt like I was going to break I would go to the toilet (the only lockable door in the house) and sit for a minute and breath.
Support is vital. You always feel so much better when you talk to someone who truly ‘gets it’. One of the main reasons I have set up this blog and Facebook support group. It feels better knowing that other people understand and are going through something similar. Sometimes someone can suggest something totally out of the blue that not even the best parenting books could have suggested, and it might help you. It is a learning journey for all of us with a child with ADHD. I hope we can all stay connected and stay on this journey together and make it a happy one.
This Post Has 2 Comments
This blog brilliantly sums up, the ‘one size doesnt fit all’ category, because as you say ADHD is complex & has a wide spectrum of behaviour and characteristics, although obviously centrally related.
Consistency is definity the best parenting method, as hard as that can be sometimes.
Grandpa to the truly magical Delilah (9) 🥰
Love this post. It so hits the mark. I am a single parent with a 7 year old, with ADHD and ODD. She has so much love to give, but I totally agree routine is best. Thank you for your tips, and helping and supporting all of us xx