Practical Tips for Parents of Kids with ADHD.


By Angelica Shiels Psy.D

I’m going to make this quick and dirty, since you parents with ADHD kids don’t exactly have the time or luxury of sitting around with your feet up, enjoying quiet and leisurely reading.

But the school year is back upon us, and I figured you could use a “Great job! You’re doing a wonderful job at something that is RIDICULOUSLY HARD!”  as well as a few tips:

1)  Manage your expectations.

Assuming your child has been evaluated properly (a subject for another day), he/she has a legitimate neurological condition that impairs planning, organization, impulse control, focus, and attention.  ADHD is not something that can be CURED, but rather, is a condition that can be managed with teaching strategies, making accommodations, practicing difficult skills, and, sometimes, medication.

Sometimes parents think that their children “should” be able to follow through on cleaning their room, finish a whole worksheet without being distracted, remember their notebooks, and keep their hands to themselves when reminded.  However, these expectations may be unrealistic without interventions and accommodations.  And most importantly, these difficulties are due to neurological differences, and do not indicate poor parenting efforts on your part.

2)  Meet them where they’re at (AKA provide “accommodations” even at home.)

In the event that your child is unable to stay on task, focus, sit still, organize, control impulses, or plan on his own, parents are tasked with creating accommodations.  An accommodation is basically a way to assist a child so that he/she can ultimately be successful.  At school, that may be anything from the child sitting in the front row away from his friends to a sticker chart to a one-on-one aid.

Eventually, some accommodations are reduced as the child learns how to attend, focus, organize, control impulses, and plan on his/her own. However, sometimes a child learns how to create his/her own accommodations to continue to use into adulthood.  Calendars, alarms, digital prompters, post-it-notes, manipulatives/fidget objects, to-do lists, keeping an incredibly structured routine (homework immediately after school), and mental tricks to use when bored are all examples of commonly used accommodations that kids with ADHD can continue to use into adulthood.

Commonly, the accommodations necessary at home are demanding of the parents.  Like when “meeting him where he’s at” requires you to first help him organize all the steps necessary for him to finish his homework and then sit with him in a quiet room during home-work time and give frequent verbal prompts to stay on task. Or when “meeting him where he’s at” includes standing in his bedroom and giving him redirections every 90 seconds as he holds his written list of tasks  (#1. Throw all trash away #2.Put dirty clothes in hamper #3. Clean clothes in drawer  #4. Put toys in box  #5. Bring plates and dishes downstairs).

When the demands become daunting, see #3.

3)  Recruit Help.

In cases where a child needs constant one-on-one assistance/frequent redirections during homework time or unstructured play (if you turn away for two seconds Jimmy will be hanging from the chandelier, and you need to be there to provide negative reinforcement if not to prevent him for cracking his skull open), I often recommend recruiting help.  What parent is able to cook dinner, attend to siblings, and live any sort of life if constant reidrections and behavioral interventions are necessary for one (or more) of the children?

This might sound crazy, but what’s crazier is NOT doing it:  For about an hour a day, preferably during a time which every day is designated to chores and homework, get HELP.  Yes, that’s right.   Recruit a paid (highschooler in the neighborhood for $5/hour?) or unpaid (Aunt Martha) parent’s helper to help the child organize and stay on task while doing daily chores and homework.

Discuss with the “helper” all of the accommodations and interventions that you do with your child (These can be suggested by the child’s therapist.  Some examples are:  rewarding every two minutes of focus with a sticker, providing exercise breaks every ten minutes, providing visual redirection cues, spraying him with a squirt bottle when he stops attending– just kidding.  Really, but that reminds me that a sense of humor is sometimes all that gets you through it 🙂

This helper will then be responsible for instilling accommodations and behavioral interventions (consequences or rewards) when necessary.

4)  Work closely with your child’s therapist.

If you never hear about what your child is supposed to be working on or how you are supposed to be assisting your child with ADHD, I suggest you check in with the therapist to make sure parental involvement is part of the treatment plan.  Parental involvement NEEDS to be part of the treatment plan for ADHD (and if there are no mood or self esteem issue present in the child– two things that often accompany the ADHD diagnosis– the BULK of the therapy may include the parent).

Your child’s therapist  can assist you  in creating reasonable and appropriate accommodations for home, and decide when and how it makes sense to gradually  give your child more independence .  The therapist can also help you navigate behavioral expectations, rewards and consequences which are both realistic and hold the child accountable for growth.

5)  Practice self-awareness and self-soothing. 

There is nothing like a child with ADHD to test a parent’s every last nerve!  The worst thing a parent can do is anger to shut a child down or destroy a his motivation to keep trying.  And unfortunately, frustration and anger are often reactions to dealing with a child who struggles with compliance.

Parents with ADHD kids often have similar “anger triggers” when they deal with their child.  I often hear parents admit that their “trigger” thoughts  the split-second thoughts that fuel their anger) are “He SHOULD be able to do this,” “He’s not going to be successful,” and “I must have failed as a parent.” 

Pay attention to which thoughts make you even more angry, and replace them with something more realistic such as, “He is doing what he can and I am doing what I can.”  Then, in-the-moment, practice self-soothing, such as taking deep breaths or deliberately tensing up and releasing individual muscles when you feel yourself get angry.

6)  Prioritize your child’s sleep, exercise, and nutrition as well as your own.

You know how your child does best when he exercises, sleeps adequately, and stays away from sugar? Well, you will be your calmest, most emotionally-resilliant, and most patient when you have also taken care of yourself. (Side note:  Some parents notice behavioral differences when their kids abstain from certain dyes or gluten, but I always suggest these dietary changes with caution, since I have also heard parents claim they noticed no difference at all when these items are removed.)

7)  Validate yourself frequently.

Remind yourself that it makes sense to feel the way you feel.  It is okay and understandable to feel exhausted, angry, alone, afraid, and powerless. It is hard work to attempt to teach and manage a child with ADHD, and I say “attempt,” because in some moments, teaching and managing is not even possible.  It makes sense that some days you just want to shut the door of your room and stay in bed and cry.

Also, validate your behaviors.  It makes sense that you lose your patience sometimes. It makes sense that you make mistakes sometimes, and don’t have all the answers and solutions all the time.

You can feel and do all of that and STILL be doing an amazing job.  (I’m pretty sure you are doing a superb job, in fact, as evidenced by the fact that you are even reading this article!)

8)  Seek support.

Seek support in your marriage (if you are married), and seek support in your close relationship(s).  When you need support, take a deep breath and tell someone how you are feeling *frustrated and powerless and afraid?).  And then tell them what you need:  Just listen, hug me, hold my hand, give me an afternoon to nap.

And I often suggest in couples therapy, that partners directly ask, “Just tell me I’m not crazy for feeling the way I feel.  It makes sense, right?” (This is also known as asking for validation; There is no shame in asking for validation, especially when friends or husbands that don’t read my blog give you a deer-in-headlights look when you betray your vulnerable emotions.)

There are also support groups for parents who have children with ADHD.  There is something powerfully rejuvenating about hearing other people truly understand your struggles and knowingly rejoice with you in your triumphs.

So in conclusion, parents-who-must-be-doing-an-amazing-job-since-you-are,-in-fact,-invested-in-your-child-enough-to-be-reading-this-blog, great job and best of luck!





1 thought on “Practical Tips for Parents of Kids with ADHD.

  1. Pingback: Help! My kid has ADHD and his teacher makes him feel like a horrible kid! | ON THE YELLOW COUCH

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