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Parenting Children Living with ADHD: Tips for Parents

It is important for parents to know that ADHD is not a byproduct of parenting style. Also, children living with ADHD do not lack intelligence or discipline—they are just challenged by sustaining the focus needed to complete tasks appropriate for their age. Parents may notice the following challenges with their children at home and in school:

  • experiencing difficulty with peer relationships and developing friendships.
  • not finishing homework or making lots of mistakes;
  • never slowing down;
  • being exhausting or demanding;
  • behaving with their “head in the clouds;”
  • displaying extreme physical agitation;
  • not listening or following through with instructions; and/or
  • having low self-esteem.

Joanne JohnsonJoanne Johnson: My Story

I became involved with NAMI Mercer, N.J., after my son was also diagnosed with bipolar disorder around fifth grade. Bipolar disorder is more severe. It is similar to ADHD, but includes behaviors like raging and agitation. He went to a special school while I began teaching a NAMI Basics course and leading support groups to help other kids. NAMI became like my second family. I met my best friends through NAMI and I know that at a moment’s notice, I could call a ton of people for help. It gave my life meaning and a new direction.

The steps we took to begin the journey of recovery for my husband and son were medication, therapy and education.

Read more.

As a parent, there is much you can do to address these issues to ensure that your child leads a happy, productive and fulfilling life.

Supporting Your Child Living with ADHD

Here are some tips and strategies for supporting your child at home.

  1. Maintain a positive attitude. Focus on your child’s successes and victories in overcoming ADHD and less on the challenges or obstacles of the condition. Always have your child’s strengths, goals and interests help drive the services and supports he or she receives to manage the symptoms of ADHD. For example, if your child is always moving, consider engaging him or her in physical activities like yoga, dance class, running, martial arts or similar activities in which the symptoms of ADHD may actually help your child excel. It is helpful to create experiences for your child that build on strengths and bolster self-esteem. Your positive attitude is the best tool in helping your child overcome the challenges of ADHD.

  2. Create and maintain structure. Children living with ADHD are more likely to succeed when they have a regular schedule of tasks each day. They can experience serious problems if their daily structure changes or they are forced to make a big change. Thus, it is important to create and sustain a supportive structure so that your child knows what to expect every day. Some tips for setting a routine include:
    • establish predictable routines for doing homework, socializing, eating meals and sleeping. Set a time and place for each activity your child needs to complete during the day. Try to group the activities that occur in the same place back-to-back;
    • place timers throughout your home. Set a specific amount of time for each activity your child needs to do, including getting ready for school in the morning, completing homework and getting ready for bed;
    • be neat and organized. Make sure everything is organized and has its place. This may include color coding items for your child and using labels to designate specific areas for your child’s belongings. you may also want to hire an organization tutor for your child; and
    • post checklists of household chores and responsibilities throughout the home to ensure expected responsibilities are well communicated and completed.

  3. Communicate rules and expectations. Children living with ADHD do well with clear and simple rules and expectations that they can easily understand and follow. Write down any rules and expectations and post them in a place where your child can easily read them. You may also want to create a chores chart for your child to look at every day. Children living with ADHD also respond well to an organized system of rewards and consequences—consistency is key. It is important to explain the consequences when rules are broken and to praise your child when they are obeyed. Rewards should be immediate experiences and activities with a parent to encourage bonding and connection rather than tangible rewards or treats. Consequences should not punish the child but the behavior (e.g., time out from any reinforcing activities).

  4. Encourage movement and sleep. Children who live with ADHD have energy to burn. Organized sports and other physical activities can help them increase their self-esteem and unleash their energy in healthy and productive ways with other children in their age group. Children living with ADHD who exercise often, sleep better, which can greatly reduce the symptoms of ADHD. Have a nighttime routine that encourages a healthy sleep cycle—this may include reading, avoiding electronics and encouraging self-soothing activities before bed.

  5. Focus on social skills. Children living with ADHD often have difficulty with peer relationships and making friends. They may have trouble with reading social cues, talking too much, interrupting frequently or coming off as inappropriately aggressive. Their emotional immaturity may cause them to stand out among other kids in their age group, contributing to low self-esteem. Model social skills for your child, hire a life coach or work with your child’s therapist to address this important issue. Additional strategies for helping your child learn to socialize appropriately, include:

    • talking to your child about any challenges he or she may be having with peers and working with your child to come up with positive solutions;
    • creating social scenarios with your child and trading roles;
    • inviting a classmate of your child’s over, watching your child closely while they are playing, correcting any negative behavior and reinforcing positive behavior;
    • making clear that you do not tolerate physical violence such as hitting or pushing;
    • allowing time and space for your child to play; and
    • rewarding him or her for good behavior.

  6. Work with your child’s school. Openly communicate with your child’s teacher and other school personnel about their observations of your child in the classroom and your child’s behavior at home. Work together to develop common rewards, reinforcement strategies, positive behavioral interventions and language to be used at home and in the school setting. Effective collaboration and communication between home and school promises to create a sense of structure and consistency for your child. It also promises to improve your child’s school experience.

Helping Your Child with Homework

Homework for children living with ADHD can be challenging since it often requires sustained attention, organization and prioritization and solid writing skills—skills children living with ADHD often lack. There are helpful strategies to make homework easier for your child, including:

  • keep a daily planner to record homework assignments and set deadlines;
  • have a folder to hold completed assignments;
  • establish a daily routine for when homework, studying and reading should be completed
  • offer praise, incentives or rewards for when homework is done well;
  • divide big assignments into smaller tasks;
  • limit distractions like noise or activity while your child is working on homework;
  • work with your child to fix mistakes or errors when appropriate;
  • acknowledge that your child’s best is good enough;
  • set a specific amount of time for homework and then stopping; and
  • hire a tutor to help your child complete assignments.

Taking Care of Yourself

In order to effectively support your child, you need to first take care of your own health and well-being. Here are some action steps you may want to consider:

  • Join a support group. Many family advocacy organizations offer peer support groups for parents who have a child living with ADHD or other mental health conditions. These groups can help you connect with other parents and develop effective coping skills and parenting strategies. Check out the NAMI and CHADD websites to access information on support groups near you.

  • Develop and cultivate your own interests. Take time for your own hobbies and activities by joining an exercise class, book club, spiritual practice or other activity that feeds your interests.

  • Take time to tend to your own relationships outside of your parenting role. Your relationships are not only important in helping you remain happy and healthy, but they also serve as a model for your child.

  • Seek and secure professional help for yourself. Find out what services and supports are available from your community mental health center or primary care physician that can help you develop coping and parenting strategies. Developing such skills will benefit your child as well.

  • Work as a family to support your child. It is important that all members of the family agree on how to respond to any behavioral challenges your child may be facing. Family education and support programs can help your whole family better understand ADHD and how to work together to support your child.

  • Learn the tools of successful behavior management. Parent training classes can help you develop effective strategies to address any challenging behaviors your child may exhibit and to improve your relationship with your child. Parent training classes are available in each state through the Parent Training and Information Center. CHADD and NAMI also offer education programs that provide information and support for parents who have a child living with a mental health condition, including ADHD.

  • Find out if you have ADHD. Since ADHD has a genetic component, many parents discover that they may have ADHD when their child is diagnosed. If you suspect you are living with ADHD, you may want to talk to your doctor and request a comprehensive evaluation.

Visit the Resources section for additional information and references.