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Five Steps Parents Of Children With ADHD Can Take To Improve Their Parenting

Parents of Children with ADHD

We are in the middle of our summer parenting workshops at Kids Empowered 4 Life. During these workshops, I speak briefly about a topic in ADHD parenting – behavior challenges, screen time, executive functioning, etc – then I coach families through their specific struggles with that topic or anything else. If you missed this summer’s sessions, don’t worry! I will bring them back in the fall. In the meantime, I will provide you with five parenting tips that you can start using today.

  1. Have reasonable expectations. You know your child better than anyone. When you start comparing yours to their cousins or friends of the same age, you may get ideas of things your child “should” do but is not. This, predictably, leads to a cycle of frustration and disappointment and does not teach your child anything. Parents of children with ADHD can instead pay attention to the executive functioning and social skills the child currently has, and work on strategies to increase these skills. You can then gradually raise expectations. There is no straightforward timeline for child development. Remember the rule of thumb that a child with ADHD may lag 30% behind their peers in some executive functioning skills. Also keep in mind that just because your child has done a task on their own or successfully before, does not mean that they are capable of doing it reliably 100% of the time.

  2. Avoid power struggles. One way to do this is to avoid introducing bribes or threats. It seems tempting at the moment as a way to get immediate compliance, but in the long run this dynamic leads to a tug of war where everything becomes a this-for-that transaction. If your child truly cannot meet your expectation, you can lower it or drop it temporarily. I know this is difficult for parents of children with ADHD to do, because you feel like your child just “won”. Take a deep breath here and keep reading for the next steps to take when you drop or lower an expectation.

  3. Emphasize empathy. Being empathetic models healthy responses to other people. If your child is struggling, you can help them feel understood by acknowledging it and using empathetic language, like “the must be hard!” When you take a step back and notice that your child is having a hard time, you can respond empathetically and mean it. If you are dropping an expectation or lowering it, you may say something like “I see how hard it is for you to clean up the entire playroom by yourself. Let’s leave it alone for now and try again later” or “Let’s do it together for 5 minutes and see how much progress we can make”. Insisting harder will lock you into a power struggle, whereas collaborating and listening shows understanding. We can also work on increasing empathy by talking about other people’s feelings. This helps kids understand how their behavior can affect others. However, we want to avoid saying things like “it hurts my feelings when you don’t clean up the playroom”. Instead, we might mention that it makes it hard for a sibling to do their puzzle, or for mom to vacuum. Children with ADHD may have difficulty taking the perspective of someone else, so allow opportunities for them to see other people struggling and to respond with empathy.

  4. Talk with, not to, them. Avoid lengthy lectures with nonstarter questions like “why did you do that?” The longer you speak, the fewer words kids will hear. Children with ADHD often do not know why they did something and when they respond “I don’t know” they mean it – and now you’ve hit a conversational brick wall. Instead, open a discussion with language like “I noticed you had difficulty with (fill in the blank)” and wait for a response. You can probe further with questions like “which part” and “when” – anything but the dreaded “why”. Once you have listened to your child, you can respond collaboratively with a statement such as “Let’s figure out some ways to do things differently next time”.

  5. Use more declarative and less demanding language. This might sound like “I wonder if you’d like to shower before or after we read a book” (instead of “time to shower”) or “your shoes are by the door” (instead of “put your shoes on”). This works especially well when you feel like every word out of your mouth is an instruction or a correction. That is an exhausting way to parent! Children with ADHD often perceive any directive as a criticism and may respond with negativity. Offering choices is another way to practice low-demand parenting, but too many choices can be overwhelming for some children. Keep the options short and clear and use phrases like “I wonder” instead of “do you want this or that”. This subtle change in language can have a big impact on reducing power struggles and keeping the peace.

  6. (BONUS) Give yourself a break. I have had so many parents express that they are just completely overwhelmed by what they feel are their own shortcomings in parenting. Remember the quote from Maya Angelou: I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better. We all are doing the best that we can at any given time.

Parenting children with ADHD is not easy! If you’d like to attend the next series of workshops, please email us at kidsempowered4life@gmail.com. For more information on parent coaching, fill out an inquiry form.