I reached out to other moms but all shared a resounding “I’m just trying to survive” mentality. Parenting ADHD is difficult. Four years later, here are six things (from one struggling mom to another) that I wish I had known when parenting a child with ADHD.
1. ENGAGE WITH THE SCHOOL
My hubby and I did not communicate with the school too much about our son and his ADHD. Conversations started to become more frequent than one would like in 2ndgrade and by the time he was officially diagnosed in 3rd grade, we didn’t want to give teachers a pre-set idea of who/what he was. Bad idea. Before I knew better, I shared my concern about telling them he was ADHD with my close friend; their reply was, “Either they have the stigma of ADHD, or the stigma of the bad kid.” Ugh! They were right.
I ~~became~~ forced myself to be brave. I started the conversation with my son’s educators right from the start, sharing behaviors I knew would be distracting, my expectations of him in the classroom and concerns about his education and abilities. You would be surprised what lines of communications this opens; and with parenting ADHD, communication is vital. This quickly places you and the educators on the same page and teaches them that you are open and an ally. If this doesn’t happen — find a new teacher! Educators will make or break your child’s success in school.
2. SPEAK POSITIVELY ABOUT YOUR CHILD TO OTHERS
As we sat in our teacher’s meeting with two teachers, two counselors, one special education teacher, the hubs and me — totally not overwhelming, right? [Super Huge Eyeroll] I listened to an obviously frustrated teacher tell me all the things my son was doing that he shouldn’t be doing. Umm…yeah…I know. I get it. No, really. I super get this. Uh-huh…yeah…right…yes, he does that…and that…and that…STOP TALKING! It was new to her and it is frustrating. However, she just kept rehashing everything he did wrong, repeatedly. We tried to give them some insight into our son but I could tell the frustrations were too raw. It’s important to realize that parenting ADHD includes involving others in the process.
By the next meeting my husband and I consciously chose to make sure the team we were meeting with knew all the amazing cool things about my son. He is a whiz in science, he loves helping people, he is hilarious, he is amusingly sarcastic, and so much more! We watched their conversations about our real-life-son, not just the frustrating student, change before our eyes. This frustrated teacher started complimenting my son at school on his science scores and laughing with him. Don’t forget: they see hundreds of kids a day. Chances are your ADHD child is getting under their skin. Change their mindset from obnoxious pupil to a real human-child that has feelings and is amazing. Make. Them. See.
3. EMOTIONS RUN DEEP
ADHD kids feel. They feel emotion deep in their soul and sometimes you would never know. Understood.org says, “Kids with ADHD don’t have different emotions from most of their peers. They feel hurt, anger, sadness, discouragement, laziness and worry just like everyone else does. What is different for many kids with ADHD is that these feelings seem to be more frequent and intense. They also seem to last longer. And they get in the way of everyday life.”
Take the time to ask your child about their feelings, with open-ended questions. Pay attention to their body language and demeanor. Once their emotions overflow, sometimes it is hard to have a logical conversation with them. Have patience and understanding; acknowledge their feelings and try to redirect the negative emotions when possible. Parenting ADHD is about listening and engaging with your child.
4. SHAMING: DON’T DO IT
Most of us in the trenches of ADHD never intend to shame our child. We are overwhelmed and frustrated; our tongues drip a little looser than we’d like. Shaming can be as innocent as saying, “Your 5-year-old little brother has his shoes on, why on earth don’t you?”. This makes them feel less than and you are essentially comparing their behaviors. Comparison brings nothing but hurt feelings and resentment.
We also had to engage a strict hand with the non-ADHD siblings. We started noticing them saying things like, “You’re being so crazy!! Go take your pill!”. This will not fly in our house and we put our foot down hard when we hear it. Shaming is never a useful tool in parenting, but when it involves a child with ADHD, it can make a child already prone to depression and anxiety feel more shamed and inadequate. Parenting ADHD is about awareness of everyone involved: parent, child and siblings.
5. LYING WILL HAPPEN
It is going to happen…a lot. You cannot realistically punish them every single time they lie (yes, it happens that much). Prepare yourself for this quirk and decide how it will be handled. If the lie is significant (depending on any number of factors) a consequence follows. However, if it is a little thing here or there, we express our disappointment that they lied and it is not acceptable and move on. We finally hit a stride where a lie comes out and is quickly followed up with the truth and an apology. It’s only taken 4+ years of pulling my hair out. [insert more patience here]
6. GIVE THEM OPPORTUNITIES TO SUCCEED
This is huge!! ADHD kids are insanely intelligent, smart, creative, funny, loveable and the list goes on. Sometimes their impulses get the better of them. If you think you’re frustrated, just imagine being them. Take EVERY SINGLE CHANCE to point out their successes and moments that make you proud. Did they hang their backpack up right after school? Make sure you say “Hey…thanks for getting your backpack put away. That was super helpful.” The small thank-you will do wonders for their self-esteem and remind you how fantastic your child is. Know they are a great pancake chef? Ask them to make the family breakfast! School and life are hard. They have a lot more hurdles than the average child; give them a chance to do things right and be rewarded.
Parenting ADHD comes with extra trials, but we learn so much if we take the time to understand our ADHD child and how to help them be successful. These six things are the first items I think of when people ask me about parenting ADHD. I wish I would have known these from the start, but I’m learning and still making mistakes too. Hopefully my mistakes can give you a leg up when parenting your child with ADHD. They’re some of the raddest people I know.
Looking for additional resources? A few of my favorite ADHD websites are: