Parenting Children With ADHD, Part 1

Parenting Children With ADHD

5 Keys for Success

We all had ideas about the type of parent we would be when the time came. We also had ideas about how our children would be. It is natural to dream and fantasize. Often, when reality does not line up with our dreams, we judge our own parenting skills as the source for this. Stop!

Your child is who he or she is, and I know that you love them 100% just that way. Any frustration or challenges, especially with a diagnosis like ADHD, exist because of lagging skills, not because your child desires to manipulate you or “misbehave”.

Children naturally want to do well. The child psychologist, Ross W. Greene, author of The Explosive Child, says “Behaviorally challenging kids are challenging because they’re lacking the skills to not be challenging”. I could not agree more, and I often refer frustrated parents to the writings and videos of Dr. Greene.

We parents often experience some grief upon a diagnosis like ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Autism, Anxiety or others. It was not what we imagined for our children. These diagnoses do not define human beings, though. They simply identify differences, which opens the door to helping find solutions for any challenging or frustrating issues that keep your child from achieving their full potential.

That’s what it’s all about, right?

Let’s take a moment and talk about parenting styles.

Remember when you child was around two years old, and they discovered that favorite toddler word, “no”? As the awareness of their environment and body and brain increased, you suddenly had a little rebel who resisted everything adults wanted him or her to do. This developmental shift is mostly cute and fairly short-lived in neurotypical children. They begin to learn about rules and authority, and most naturally desire to follow those rules that parents and teachers set.

The usual parenting style for pre-school through 5th grade tends to be authoritative. You set and enforce the rules. You want your child to be a rule-follower and obedient to authority. I dislike the word “obedient” but if the alternative is oppositional or rebellious, it definitely benefits everyone for your young child to be more of the former. To achieve this, you will want to provide clear expectations and consequences, and consistent follow-through. Most kids can handle this power dynamic and do not resist. Some kids with ADHD, on the other hand, continue to resist parental control and may explode into tantrums well into their pre-teens. They will need a different approach to parenting. More on this later.

As children become pre-teens, they begin to desire more autonomy. Power struggles may occur once again, and suddenly it feels like you have a junior lawyer on your hands, negotiating every aspect of your imposed authority. (“Not fair!” now replaces “no!”) Parents who don’t want their 30-year old children still living with them will respond appropriately, and we will naturally begin to move toward an Authoritative-Democratic style by the time they are teens.

In this style, parents:

  • Solicit input from their teens and listen to what they have to say
  • Are willing to give teens a shot at solving the problem before suggesting a solution
  • Use a collaborative approach to problem solving
  • Use communication techniques that convey respect
  • Share ideas and observations without being judgemental
  • Are willing and able to impose reasonable consequences

Parents who remain in the full authoritarian style as their children grow and desire more independence are likely to experience power struggles. If all goes smoothly, we loosen the reins and transition to a more collaborative approach, and we successfully raise young adults who can think for themselves, solve complex problems, and make good choices.

What if all does not go smoothly? What if your child continues to have major tantrums that are sometimes overly aggressive or even violent? What if he can’t seem to “get it” no matter how many times you set an expectation? What if you don’t trust her to follow through, or solve problems, or make good choices?

Your role as you navigate parenting while your child learns to strengthen his or her executive functioning skills is to provide support just to the point that your child needs it. This will take a mix of intuition, luck, and trial and error. Initially, you may be functioning as your child’s higher brain, providing the much needed “voice of reason” in nearly every situation. If you do not address the lagging executive functioning skills, you may find yourself providing more and more help over time, as opposed to being able to back off.

Through my experience as an ADHD coach, and in my parenting successes and failures with my own children, I have compiled the five keys for parenting a child with ADHD.

The Five Keys For Parenting Children With ADHD

  1. Self-control. I am talking about parenting with self-control, modeling self-control, and openly discussing when self-control is a challenge. We parents often want to be seen as infallible, yet I know many adults for whom self-control is a constant struggle. The more we can learn it ourselves, demonstrate it, and support it in our children, they better off everyone will be. Take some time to learn how to get control of your own brain and emotions. Is it deep breaths? Taking a walk? Journaling? Think about healthy strategies such as these versus unhealthy habits, which may include punching a pillow, walking away and suppressing feelings of anger, scrolling social media to distract yourself, or using drugs or alcohol to escape. Children who witness their parents handling tough situations with a clear mind and healthy coping skills are likely to follow suit.
  2. Parenting Mindset. Do you need to be right all the time? Do you want a child who is compliant, or one who is competent? Do you feel that you have room to grow in your parenting skills? My guess is that you wouldn’t be reading up on parenting children with ADHD if you felt like you already know everything there is to know. Parenting is a skill that we learn as we go. Each child is different and unique. Parenting with a growth mindset means that we let go of preconceived notions about our child, we open ourselves to new ideas and strategies, and we be willing to stop doing things that do not produce the desired outcomes. It means that we recognize the ADHD brain has different needs, and that we are willing to learn new ideas and methods for helping.
  3. Partnership. A spouse and other adults are your partners in parenting children with ADHD, but perhaps the most important partner is your child him or herself. This is the crux of Dr. Greene’s approach, known as CPS, or Collaborative and Proactive Solutions. In this approach, you and your child are partners in expressing your concerns, and in producing potential solutions to the problems. At first glance, this may sound like letting your child “parent themselves”. To the contrary, it is working together, modeling, and teaching skills for problem solving – which are useful strategies for a lifetime.
  4. Presence and Consistency. Be available to provide structure and predictable routines and schedules. This is especially important in parenting children with ADHD. A parent who is never home when their child returns from school cannot realistically expect that in the 90 minutes the child is alone, that he or she will have a healthy snack, complete their homework, and start dinner. If this is the expectation, there must be some work done to achieve that goal, with presence and consistency, before the child is left on their own. If rules are “sometimes” enforced, or enforced by one partner but not the other, your child learns that rules are only sometimes enforced. Consistency is key across the board: expectations, skill building, communication.
  5. Support. Provide just enough support. I like the approach developed by Dr. Margaret H. Sibley known as Supporting Teens Autonomy Daily, or STAND. STAND is facilitated by a therapist and focuses on working with the parents and teen together to establish motivation, strengthen executive functioning skills, and develop habits that make it stick. If you do not seek outside help to learn how to support your child in a productive way, you may need to experiment with how much is too much support.

In Part 2 of Parenting Children with ADHD, I will go into the ideas around the collaborative models, and why this method is more effective for kids with low emotional control and for kids and teens lacking motivation.

If you are still struggling, consider joining my Practical Solutions For ADHD online program. Fill out my ADHD Questionnaire to work with me directly to coach your family to sanity!