6 Ideas for Parenting Kids with ADHD
First of all, living with ADHD means no wishful thinking is allowed. It’s important to accept reality as it is (without feeling guilty) and give up naive and idealistic notions of what you think family life should be like. ADHD, in other words, is not your fault (you really want to get that through your head), but you are stuck with managing it.
Second, a pleasant sense of calm versus the unpleasantness of being upset are both emotional matters. We often focus so much on the symptom triumvirate of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity that we overlook the fact that ADHD is usually a very emotional matter. I have been lobbying for years regarding my thought that emotional overarousal should be on the ADHD symptom list. ADHD usually means feeling everything—positive and negative—very intensely. That includes anger, anxiety, and sadness, as well as happiness and excitement. This makes for a lively household!
Third, part of being realistic about ADHD often means accepting the fact that more than one family member has this handicap. If you have a sibling with ADHD, for example, your chances of having ADHD are one in three. (Sibling rivalry will also be worse.) If you have a parent with ADHD, your chances of having that disorder are over 50 percent.
Multiple family members with ADHD means several things. For one, it often means that one family director (parent) or sometimes even both directors (Mom and Dad) are disorganized and overly emotional. Not a good way to run a family—or a company. Also, multiple ADHDers often means the opposite of “the more the merrier.” The more family members you put in the same room, for example, the more confusion and conflict is likely to occur, especially when there is a specific task that needs to be done, like eating dinner, getting up and out in the morning, or going to bed.
So is a family with ADHD impossible to manage? Not at all. Tough, but not impossible. In fact, if you look at your current daily life, you are probably already doing most things reasonably well. You eat, sleep, get along most of the time, get most of the homework done, get the kids off to school on time, pay your bills, etc. The fact that you often feel exasperated—or even like a failure—may be more ADHD (emotional overarousal) talking, rather than a realistic commentary on your daily competence.
Here are a few ideas, from someone who’s been there, on how to further reduce your family stress. These ideas I chose largely based on simplicity and feasibility—the possibility, in other words, that these ideas can (1) actually be put into action and (2) that they can be maintained because they become self-reinforcing.
1. Maximize Medication Benefits
During the week, family stress usually is worst in the late afternoon and evening when everyone is together. The problem with many ADHD medications is that they work during the day but are gone for homework time, suppertime, and evening hours. Many of the “long-acting” drugs last nine to twelve hours (usually more like nine), but the last I heard, the typical day still had twenty-four hours in it. Meds help for concentration, that is true, but they can also assist with behavior, emotional overarousal, and interpersonal conflict. Consider medication alternatives that might help with these troublesome later-in-the-day times (and weekends), such as stimulants, longer-acting meds, and non-stimulants.
2. Treat the Directors (Parents)
At a seminar a few years ago, a frustrated mom asked me this question: “My ADHD son is ten and horribly disorganized in the morning. But I’m ADHD myself and probably just as bad. What should I do?” Answer: Get yourself treated for ADHD! We parents of ADHD kids experience more of the following than the rest of the population: ADHD, depression, drug and alcohol problems, and anxiety. Appropriate treatment for Mom and Dad can reduce household stress tremendously.
3. Family Fun Can Be Dangerous
Since having the whole family together often (or usually!) makes for more conflict, consider the Divide & Conquer Routine. Who says, for example, that you have to eat together as a family every night? How about taking one child and going out to lunch just the two of you on the weekend? We all know that ADHD kids do better in smaller groups—and the smallest group size is two! Play hard with your ADHD child, play hard with your non-ADHD kids, and play hard with your spouse. Nothing makes for better bonding than shared, one-on-one fun.
4. Behavior Management
What are the three biggest behavior problems you experience with the kids? What are your strategies for managing those problems? If your answer is “I just yell a lot at the appropriate time,” that’s not a good answer. Find yourself a good behavior management program, learn it, and do it as well as you can. (For example, you need a good daily routine for homework.) By the way, nagging, yelling, and repetitive attempts at reasoning do not constitute a good behavior management program.
5. Noise Management
Households with ADHD produce lots of stress-inducing NOISE. You can help by reducing both outgoing and incoming noise. Outgoing: How much daily prattling do you do (talking at length in a foolish or inconsequential way)? Example: “How many times do I have to tell you…!” Cut it by 75 percent. Incoming: Experiment with earplugs and headphones. They can be a great blessing!
6. Lots of Exercise
You’ve heard this song before. Strenuous exercise really, really helps reduce stress.
You didn’t ask for ADHD in your family. But you’ve got it—and the stress the disorder brings—one way or another. Get after it!