Overwhelmed. Frustrated. Tired. Ask any parent who has a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder about his or her own life, and those are often the first descriptive words you’ll hear. That doesn’t mean it’s all bad; but parenting a child with a mental health condition is, without question, far more challenging than parenting healthy kids. So what’s a parent to do? Following are some guidelines to help you survive the challenges of parenting your ADHD child.
Caring for your child with ADHD.
Parenting techniques that work with other children don’t necessarily cut it when you’re living with a kid struggling with the disorder. Try incorporating these tips to help your child manage their symptoms and achieve their potential:
- Establish a routine. Setting predictable times for daily activities, such as eating or homework, allows a child to understand expectations. For example, post a kid-friendly chart or checklist that details the morning routine: eat breakfast, get dressed, brush teeth, etc. Hang the reminders in an easy-to-see place. If your little one can’t read yet, print out photos of the tasks to use on the chart.
- Help kids manage time. Use time tools to help your child understand how long tasks should take or when he needs to move on to another activity. For instance, post an easy-to-read clock in a bedroom so an older child knows he has a certain amount of time to clean his room. Younger children can learn to recognize timers. Set a timer to alert a preschooler, for example, that she’ll be leaving for school in 3 minutes.
- Stay organized. An unorganized home creates chaos in any family-but it creates that much more in the life of an ADHD child. Teach your child to manage responsibilities by helping her organize schoolwork. Use color-coded folders for assignments or notes in each subject area. Regularly remind her to use and maintain the organizational system. If your child often forgets to bring home textbooks or workbooks, find out if the school is able to loan you a second set you can keep at home.
Caring for your other children
Siblings of ADHD kids often feel they fade into the background. It’s a feeling that potentially leads to anything from exhibiting behavior problems of their own to increasing friction with siblings. Paying particular attention to your other children will actually help your ADHD child by creating a calmer household. Try these tips for parenting siblings:
- Explain the condition. It’s easy to assume that a sibling who’s been living with ADHD in the family understands the condition, but that’s not always the case. Often all they see is a brother who behaves “badly”-and gets lots of attention because of it. Using age-appropriate language, explain that their sibling has a brain illness that causes them to act in a certain way. Also let them know that you are working with the sibling and mental health professionals to reduce or eliminate those behaviors.
- Carve out alone time. Chances are good that parents and other family members pay plenty of attention to the child with ADHD. Give siblings the attention they need by scheduling regular alone time. Try to schedule 10 or 15 minutes every day with your son or daughter. Use the time to talk, read, do a puzzle, or just cuddle. If a daily check-in is impossible, go for a half-hour session (or more) on a weekend. A sibling might also love a monthly mommy- or daddy-and-me date, whether it’s hitting the movies or taking a long bike ride.
- Recognize good behavior. It’s not uncommon for parents to become so wrapped up in what their ADHD child does wrong that they extend that “policing” behavior to other kids in the family. Take time to notice what your non-ADHD child does right, from helping another sibling tie her shoes to making his bed without being asked. Catch them in the act and praise them.
Caring for yourself
You are everything to your kids: an advocate, a caregiver, and a role model. It’s an overwhelming thought, but it’s at the core of everything you do as a parent. So when it comes to parenting a child with ADHD, one of the most important things you can do is take care of your physical and emotional well-being. When you’re worn down and stressed, it’s hard to be the parent your ADHD child and his or her siblings need. Here are practical tips for caring for yourself while caring for everyone else:
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. In the whirl of daily life it can seem like everything is a big deal. But it’s not. There will be days when crumbs litter the floor and the laundry doesn’t get folded. And that’s okay. Take a deep breath and remember that, even though it seems like it at times, the house will not implode. Leave the mess today and deal with it tomorrow.
- Organize your home. As the parent of a child with a mental condition, you have more to manage: more medications to dispense, more doctor appointments to attend, more interactions with teachers, etc. So, just like you would organize your child’s responsibilities, try to organize your own. Use a paper system, an online calendar, or household planning software to keep up with the to-do’s on your list. Many online planners allow you to set reminders, maintain recurring events (like doctor appointments) and keep checklists. While some online planners and calendars charge a fee, there are plenty of free tools available on the web.
- Take care of other relationships. Many parents-regardless of whether their child has a medical condition or not-find that other relationships take a backseat when the kids come. But as the parent of an ADHD child, those friendships you built BK (Before Kids) are more important now than ever. Keep in touch by chatting over social networks, stealing away for a quick lunch, or even scheduling a joint grocery shopping trip.
- Find a supportive shoulder. No matter how hard you try, chances are good that the stress of life will wear on your emotional state. But sometimes the friends and family you look to for support may not be aware of the exact strain you’re under. Consider finding strength by joining a support group comprised of others who parent kids with ADHD and other mental disorders.
- Give yourself a break-an actual break. No caregiver can run 24/7/365 without wreaking serious havoc on their well-being. Granted, it can be hard to trust someone – even a family member – to properly care for a child with ADHD. After all, what’s the point of taking a break if you find twice as much work when you return? It’s a challenge every parent in this situation faces. Yet you owe it to yourself to create a plan that allows others to care for your child. Start by choosing one person who’s willing to babysit, whether it’s a friend or a special needs caregiver. Educate him or her about the child’s specific needs as well as how to handle common situations. Also provide specific instructions about dispensing medications. An educated babysitter will give you the break needed to be an effective mom or dad.
Parenting is a hard job under the best circumstances; parenting a child with ADHD makes it much harder. However, you can be proactive and do things to alleviate stress while allowing your child to learn, thrive and grow. Start by choosing one or two strategies to implement. After your family is accustomed to the new routines, gradually add in additional stress-busters. It may take time (and a little trial-and-error), but your family is well worth the investment.