Self-Care for Parents of Children with ADHD


5 Tips to Prioritize Yourself

In my parent support group, in other online ADHD pages, in my parent coaching and in conversations with parents every day, I hear a common refrain: “I’m exhausted, I’m frustrated, I’m drained, I’m at my wit’s end.”

Parents of children with various high needs know the sentiment all too well. Make it an invisible diagnosis like ADHD, throw in the stigma of difficult behaviors, and now you have parents who are truly trying to get through each day with their own mental health intact.

I write a lot of blogs about how to help your child through behavior struggles, homework refusal, executive functioning skills and more. With Mother’s Day and Father’s Day approaching, I want to acknowledge the parents that work so hard for their kids, while putting their own needs at the back of the line. I want to give you permission to take care of yourself in the same kind and loving way that you take care of your children. I want you to feel seen and heard and supported.

What is self-care?

Self-care doesn’t mean spa days, girl’s night out, dad’s only fishing trips or even date night. Sure, those things do recharge our drained batteries, make us feel human, and give us much-needed respite. But they don’t help us to manage the worries, anxiety, frustration, anger, sadness, and any other range of emotions that come along with being an ADHD parent. But it is not a luxury that you cram in between doctor’s appointments and school meetings and soccer practice.  What self-care really means is taking the time to prioritize your own needs in every role that you play: not just mom or dad, but partner, worker, friend, family member and more. It means engaging purposefully in acts designed to promote physical, mental, or emotional well-being. Self-care helps you build resilience toward life’s stressors.

Keys to Self-Care for Parents of Children with ADHD

  1. I’ve mentioned this many times regarding children with ADHD. When we can see their challenges as stemming from lagging skills and unsolved problems, we can view the behaviors and struggles with a new lens. Guess what? Adults have lagging skills and unsolved problems, too! Adults do well when they can, just like children do. This is a good time to take a breath and remember the Maya Angelou quote, “I did then what I knew how to do. Now that I know better, I do better.”. Recognize within yourself that you have done the best you could with the skills you had in the moment. Give yourself grace and allow time for growth. Re-adjust those lenses and make sure they are on tight, so that you hold the same mindset for yourself that you do for your child.
  2. Maintain your relationships by managing and adjusting expectations. When we continue to hold firm to expectations that a child cannot regularly meet, we are going to feel frustrated, disappointed, and like we failed at parenting. Take a hard look at your expectations that you set for your child, and for yourself. Be honest about what is not working and what can be temporarily relaxed. I always say that your relationship with your child is much more important than that homework assignment you are fighting about, or that trash can that still isn’t empty after the tenth reminder. Does this mean letting them “get away” with not doing homework or chores? Only if you’ve let your lenses slip, as above. Expectations and the mindset of “people do well when they can” go hand in hand. An occasional “I see you are having trouble with right now. I’ll take care of that today, or let it go today, and we’ll figure out a new strategy for next time together” can do wonders for your relationship. This practice is as much for you as it is for the others who benefit from adjusting expectations. You can use this strategy with your spouse, at work, with your family and with friends. You will feel an immediate lifting of emotional weight when you can adjust expectations in the moment!
  3. Pay attention to how to speak to yourself. Unsurprisingly, we are often our own worst critic. When I work with kids, I notice how they talk about themselves. I frequently hear, “I’m terrible at math” or “I never remember to do my chores”. I even hear some say “I try to change but I can’t seem to do it”. When I hear these things, I teach them what a self-fulfilling prophecy is: that if you say it enough, you believe it and it comes true. I then encourage kids to speak to themselves as if they were speaking to a best friend who was feeling low and needed their support. Instead of saying “I’m terrible at math”, try “I am working on improving at math”. Instead of saying “I try to change but can’t do it”, say “I learn from my failures and keep taking small steps forward”. Parents can talk to themselves in this same way. Instead of “I ignore my friendships because my kids take all my energy”, you can say, “I know my best friend will still be there for me even if I can’t devote a lot of time to the friendship right now”. Practice being gentle and loving with the words in your head. This is an important key to self-care!
  4. Change your thoughts. How you think about something drives the emotions that are generated and the actions that follow. We think many of the same negative thoughts every day, which are followed by negative emotions and actions that do not produce beneficial outcomes. What are some of your common thoughts? Ones I have heard include: “I am not the best parent I could be”, “This is impossible!”, “Nobody understands” and more. Changing how you think about your situation (the facts) helps you to take care of yourself. You must first recognize that thoughts come from your own brain and are not facts. They are optional. You can change them! Emotions and reactions are the direct result of those thoughts, so choose your thoughts with self-care in mind.
  5. Give yourself a break. Whatever that means to you, do it. Whether it is sleeping in, having a spa day, going to yoga or for a long walk, working on your mindset, journaling or working with a life coach or counselor, know that being loving and supportive of yourself is one of the best things you can do for your self-care as a parent. Parenting is the hardest job out there and I commend each one of you who show up with the best version of yourself

And, Happy Mother’s Day and early Father’s Day!

I will be holding a Parenting ADHD Workshop Series this summer. The workshops will be live and interactive, focused on tools that you can use immediately to help your child or teen. Each session will also offer parent support for self-care strategies. Please visit our upcoming classes to check for more information.