Keys to Effectively Parenting ADHD
If I can impart one thing from years of working with families with a child or children with ADHD, and from parenting my own, it is this: throw away everything you thought you knew about parenting because ADHD is a different animal altogether. If you are nodding your head, you may even take literally my reference to animals, because sometimes it feels like you are the keeper of a zoo that is out of control. If that resonates, keep it in mind as you continue to read. If you are like many other families, who cannot understand why getting stricter, setting more rules and consequences for breaking them, and refusing to “give in” when you’ve put your foot down results in more push back rather than compliance, than this article is for you as well.
In my parenting ADHD webinar, I discuss the different parenting styles identified by Diana Baumrind in the 1960’s and described in this article, “A psychologist shares the 4 styles of parenting—and the type that researchers say is the most successful”. The conclusion was that parents who used an authoritative style had the best outcome for their children overall. The authoritative parent is nurturing and responsive, while setting clear rules and expectations. This parent allows natural consequences to occur and focuses on helping the child to reason and problem solve.
Many of us grew up with the more common authoritarian style, which I also like to call “my way or the highway”. Although they sound similar, authoritative, and authoritarian styles are quite different. The authoritarian parent places a strong a focus on rules and punishments for not following rules. This style has little consideration for a child’s developmental stage, cognitive abilities and unique social or emotional needs, resulting in many children who struggle to follow the rules. This is especially true of children with ADHD.
Think again about the zoo. If you are tasked with caring for the animals, you would handle the lions differently than you would the tortoises. You wouldn’t expect all animals to act like the ones that are easier and require less attention. In the same vein, children with ADHD respond to different types of parenting than their neurotypical peers. Simply because one style of parenting worked on you, or works on your other kids, does not mean that it is the best choice for ADHD parenting. Take a moment to consider your parenting style. The four types identified by Baumrind and confirmed by multiple studies since are: authoritarian, permissive, disengaged, or authoritative. Consider also how you were parented, and how that informs your own parenting. Now, keep reading to discover the keys to parenting ADHD.
Here are my five keys to effectively parenting ADHD.
- Self-control. Parents must learn to first keep their own emotions in control, especially when triggered. Kids are always watching. We cannot expect them to “calm down” or “make good choices” when we cannot model the same. This does not mean that you must be a paragon of calm all the time. Life happens. There are three important times that you can model calm in a way that will help your child learn what self-control looks like. The first is when something happens to you that is frustrating, annoying, infuriating or triggering any of those high intensity emotions while you child is watching your reaction. The second is when something happens to your child that causes big emotions. The last, and most difficult, is when your child lashes out at you physically or verbally.
In each of these examples, the number one best thing to do is to model how to stay calm, stay connected, and work hard to co-regulate. Some ways to do this is to name the feeling (frustration, anger, etc) then talk through it out loud when you are experiencing a challenging situation. The idea is not to pretend that nothing happened, but to acknowledge the situation, and demonstrate how to remain calm when faced with a big emotion. When your child is the one having the hard time, first empathize with their feelings without calling out their behavior. Let them know that their feelings are valid. If aggressive, destructive or otherwise dangerous behavior is about to occur, calmly but firmly let them know that they cannot hit/throw/break things, etc. and focus on maintaining the safety of everyone. Remaining in control for your child is one of the best things you can do as a parent. Stay connected and present if possible. Deepen your breath in an effort for your child to catch on to your breathing pattern of calm.
Much like children who have a hard time maintaining control, I have heard from parents who regretfully yell or say hurtful things, impulsively dole out punishments, or show physical manifestations of anger. They know it wasn’t the best “choice”, but they couldn’t help themselves. Read that again if you still believe that your child has a choice in his or her actions. If you, as the parent of an emotional child, struggle with self-control, you cannot reliably expect your child to learn how to control him or herself better. With the kindest intentions, I ask that you seek help for yourself through counseling and mindfulness techniques, so that you are able to be present and calm when your child needs you.
- Mindset. Child psychologist Ross W. Greene (www.livesinthebalance.org) says that “Children do well if they can”. When you can adopt this mindset, or lens change as Dr. Greene calls it, you will be able to see your child’s challenges in a different light. Approaching a child who is “having a hard time, not giving you a hard time” with compassion and empathy feels much different than approaching the child with disappointment and frustration. Acknowledging that things may look different from what you had envisioned may produce a feeling of disappointment in you – but know that you did not fail as a parent. Your child has lacking skills that have led them down a different path. Dr. Stuart Shanker said, “See a child differently, and you see a different child”. Recognize that there will be moments of sadness and grief and allow that to occur. When you tell your child “I love you no matter what”, say it sincerely and don’t follow it up with “but I don’t like your behavior”. The behavior is communicating the difficulty they are having. If you are reading blogs about parenting ADHD and reaching out for help, then you are likely open to this new mindset. Show and tell your child. Do it today.
- Partnership. This means collaboration with your spouse or significant other if your child has two parents or partners in his or her life. Parenting ADHD kids can be lonely when you try to go it alone. It also means that your child is a partner in the parenting relationship. It is one of the principles of authoritative parenting, which emphasizes solving problems together and open communication. A child must feel safe and connected to “do well when they can”. The parents are the most important people in a child’s life. When we emphasize unconditional love, we release children from the burden of trying to behave out of fear. The trust among parent and child grows and with it, communication and a deeper attachment.
- Presence and consistency. Be available, set consistent and firm boundaries, and create routines that are predictable and simple to follow. Know that even with clear boundaries and expectations, your child will sometimes fail to meet them. Handle it in the same way each time, by solving the problem that is getting in the way of meeting the expectation, rather than punishing the child for not being able to meet an expectation. Rely on your upgraded mindset, that children do well when they can, not when they want to. Families who are struggling with parenting ADHD kids can often see immediate changes and progress simply by setting up bedtime routines, morning routines, homework routines, and chore routines – all with the input of the kiddo.
- Support. The support of parent(s) first and the team of other adults that you have created, even in the face of major resistance, will see you through to the other side. Enlist extended family, teachers, coaches, other trusted adults to have your child’s back no matter what. Parenting ADHD requires a group effort of physical and moral support. I created an online community just for this purpose – join my Facebook group.
When you decide that you are going to parent a child with ADHD differently, your child will be understandably skeptical. I always say that the best predictors of tomorrow’s actions are the actions of today. Don’t keep it a secret! Approach your son or daughter with different language. Allow them time to process and trust the new ways – and expect “testing” in the meantime. I usually suggest saying something like “I notice that we are having a hard time with communicating. I/we want to do better so we are going to approach things in a different way. We don’t like yelling and taking privileges away and we know that you don’t like being on the receiving end of that. If we work together to figure out why some of these things are a challenge, then maybe we can solve the problem so it won’t happen again.”
Keep the five keys for parenting ADHD at the top of your mind, and if you need more help, I offer one on one parent coaching. Complete my questionnaire to schedule a free 30-minute phone consultation with me.