As you crawl into bed after another long day struggling with your ADHD child about school, chores and technology, do you ever feel like throwing in the towel? You’re not alone. Many parents of kids with ADHD feel frustrated and dejected. In your efforts to help your son or daughter get their homework done, make it to soccer practice on time and pick up their room, no matter what you do, does it seem like nothing sticks? What might you do differently to foster long-term results?
In spite of the pushback and yelling you may receive, your child or teen with ADHD really needs you to hang in there when you most want to run for the hills. They can’t learn the crucial executive functioning skills like organization, planning, prioritizing and self-regulation that they have to develop without you. This means managing yourself first before dealing with them, so you can maintain empathy, work together on solutions, encourage their efforts and notice any progress. The 5C’s provides the tools everyone needs to build essential life skills and lasting changes.
In over twenty-five years of clinical practice, leading workshops and training educators, I’ve seen how listening to the voices of kids diagnosed with ADHD improves cooperation and success. My “5C’s of ADHD” parenting approach--self-control, compassion, collaboration, consistency and celebration -- has helped hundreds of families reduce their stress, build closer relationships and improve day-to-day living. By learning and practicing these strategies, you’ll be more of the parent you want to be and your child really needs.
Let’s look at the 5 common mistakes parents of kids with ADHD make and how you can avoid them:
Mistake #1: Losing your temper: It’s natural to get upset when someone’s screaming, kicking or hitting you. But your agitation only adds fuel to their fire. The first order of business when things are escalating is to regulate yourself. We all have those moments when we say something in frustration and wish we could take it back. Those words are part of a knee-jerk reaction–a time when your emotional brain has hijacked your thinking brain. As adults, our mature thinking brain located in our pre-frontal lobes, has the capacity to re-establish control and put those emotions back in their place. But for children and teens with ADHD, whose pre-frontal lobes finish maturing at 25 or later, they need extra assistance from you to learn how to do this.
Solution: Practicing Self-Control: You start by managing your own feelings first. Then, you can act effectively and teach your child to do the same. This doesn’t mean never getting upset or always feigning calmness. Instead, you notice when you’re becoming riled up and try to bring yourself back. You stop what you’re doing, take some deep breaths, call a pause in the action and re-orient. If you have to go into the bathroom or outside for a minute to quietly think and re-center, do that. Act like your GPS: re-center non-judgmentally.
Mistake #2: Misunderstanding their experience as a young person living with ADHD.
In the midst of our busy lives where there’s so much to do and not enough hours in the day, sometimes it’s challenging to remember your child is just trying to do the best each day while struggling with significant executive functioning challenges. When your daugther can’t find her phone and is running frantically around the house because the school bus is rounding the corner, she’d much prefer to be at the stop already, chatting calmly with her friends. She’s struggling with organization, not purposefully creating chaos. Empathy for what it’s like to spend a day in her shoes will take you further than chiding her for not leaving the phone plugged in on the counter like you told her to.
Solution: Finding Compassion. You want to meet kids with ADHD where they are, not where you expect them to be or think they they should be. The first step in having compassion for others is to create some for yourself. If you can start to accept who you are, foibles and all, it will be easier to accept your child and their current challenges. Hold on to the possibility that your child will change while you do everything possible to make this happen. But really alter your expectations about when and how these shifts will occur. Kids with ADHD often need more time to develop daily executive functioning skills. Remember that persistent disappointment from unmet expectations just contributes to the shame they already feel about the ways they don’t measure up.
Mistake #3: Excluding them from participating in creating solutions to daily problems.
Kids with ADHD, even young children, have their own ideas about what isn’t working and what could be better. This input is very important. They spend all day at school--a place where they often face social, academic or emotional challenges, hearing about how, where and when they’ve missed the mark. They work extremely hard to hold it together and do things in ways that are required but often unnatural for them. At home, and ideally at school, things could go much smoother when they have some voice in how they can accomplish the tasks at hand.
Solution: Start with Collaboration: When parents or caregivers include the opinions of kids with ADHD to address problem areas, there’s more buy-in and, ultimately, cooperation. Collaboration means working together with your child (and other important adults) to find solutions to daily challenges instead of imposing your rules on them. This collaboration offers a “we” attitude instead of a “you” attitude: they see you more as an ally instead of an opponent. By feeling seen, heard and valued, they will participate more readily because they are part of the process. Of course, during times of crisis regarding health or safety, you make the decisions and that’s made clear from the beginning. Otherwise, take the time to listen to their perspectives and incorporate what matters to them into any solution.
Mistake #4: Creating plans or threatening consequences that you can’t or don’t follow through with.
Kids with ADHD, despite their protests, thrive on routines and predictability. When parents struggle to stick with a behavioral plan or improvise a spontaneous punishment, it’s confusing. Do you mean what you say or not? Like most children, they’re looking for a way to convince you to change your mind if they try hard enough. When they succeed, then they learn that pestering you (or anyone else) gets them what they want.
Solution: Staying as Consistent as possible and forgiving yourself when you don’t.
Of course, no parent can follow through all of the time. The goal is staying steady, not being perfect. You aim is to have clear messages and similar consequences for the same behavior as often as possible. When life is uncertain or you’re in a pinch, you can adjust the plan and explain why. This is very different from negotiating in the midst of a meltdown or right before it’s time to start something. If you need to discuss a plan or make changes to it, set aside a specific time when you can both talk and listen calmly.
Consistent parenting means that you don’t give your ADHD children and teens consequences that you can’t enforce, remember or support. Kids with ADHD already struggle with trial-and-error learning. Knowing what’s coming fosters their understanding that actions have consequences. But don’t kick yourself if you slip up: instead be patient. You’re likely doing the best you can with the resources you have available.
Mistake #5: Being too focused on the outcome and ignoring their efforts along the way.
Many parents, understandably, want to see immediate changes in their child’s behaviors when they give feedback or start a behavioral plan. You are helping them achieve steps towards being the responsible, productive adult you both want to see. But sometimes these goals overshadow the efforts. Too much feedback focused on how they could do things better frequently backfires into kids simply giving up. While it’s important to keep the end in sight, kids with ADHD, who naturally struggle with intiating tasks and sticking with them, can easily lose motivation and momentum.
Solution: Acknowledging progress with Celebration: While you don’t have to break into a cheer every time your son remembers to clear his plate from the dinner table or your teen daughter gets off her phone when asked, a high-five or pat on the shoulder with a short “thanks” conveys two important messages: you noticed their efforts and you’re pleased with them. You’re actively counteracting the dominant negative messages they hear daily into positive ones. Studies have found that a 3:1 ratio of positive comments to negative ones makes a big difference in promoting behavioral changes and can-do attitudes.
These small celebrations acknowledge what’s working and lay the groundwork for further similar behaviors down the road. Little successes build on each other and ltlimately create the larger shifts you’re working towards. These encouraging comments help kids see their progress and feel a sense of competency.
The 5C’s of ADHD Parenting transform your family by shifting attention away from what’s not working--anger and disappointment-- to building closeness and cooperation. Managing your own reactions before dealing with theirs, remembering the daily challenges facing kids with ADHD and accepting them where they are, including your son or daughter in creating collaborative solutions to problems, following through as much as you can on agreements and behavioral plans, and noticing their efforts with positive feedback--these are the tools that help you reduce family conflict, teach essential executive functioning skills and foster lifelong success.
Sharon Saline, Psy.D. is a licensed psychologist who specializes in ADHD and teens, children and families. Her first book will be published on August 7, 2018. It is called What your ADHD child wishes you knew: Working together to empower kids for success in school and life. Based on her 25 years in private practice and as a mental health expert interpreting psychological evaluations and improving teacher/parent communication in schools, this book captures the actual comments, thoughts, feelings and experiences of kids living with attention issues.
Please visit her website for more information about her book, workshops and testimonials.