Parenting a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) can pose additional challenges and strain but it is possible for children with ADHD to thrive. Dr Mia Eisenstadt has provided 8 strategies to equip parents based on research and ADHD organisations.
The surrounding environment can have a big effect on how a child fares with ADHD within their home, school, and community. As a parent, you may be lucky and be surrounded by a school and friends that understand ADHD and ADHD behaviours. Or, your child’s school may not be fully aware of what the diagnosis means and how they can best support your family.
ADHD is a type of neurodiversity.
In the past, ADHD was viewed as a deficit or a problem. Whilst ADHD can certainly present additional barriers to learning and daily life, it’s not a deficit. It’s increasingly recognised that the brains of children and adults with ADHD are wired in a different way. It’s not bad to have ADHD, just different, just like other forms of neurodiversity, such as dyslexia, or, Autism Spectrum Disorder.
8 things you can do to help your child thrive
Learn to recognise the symptoms of ADHD
You may see symptoms in your child that concern you. Due to you knowing your child from birth, you are the expert on your child’s behaviour. But it’s helpful to become familiar with the diagnostic symptoms that are associated with the condition of ADHD. Whilst you may be sure, try to avoid diagnosing your child with ADHD as some of the symptoms overlap with more episodic childhood behaviours. Always save diagnosis for the professionals. At the same time, there are lots of great resources and websites that provide information on ADHD (Additude Mag is a great resource).
What might you notice in a child with ADHD?
When clinicians diagnose ADHD they will look for a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity–impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development (see here).
Most children are a little distracted or highly active at times, but to have a diagnosis this needs to occur persistently and interfere with their normal functioning in daily life for a clinical diagnosis.
In-attentiveness can look like:
Not paying attention to instructions
Difficulty listening to others
Difficulty organizing or completing tasks
Hyperactivity can look like:
Difficulty sitting still in class or at home
Difficulty holding concentration
Excessively physical activity
Non stop talking
Climbing or running around in situations where it’s not appropriate
Difficulty with waiting their turn in games and activities
It’s important to have your child assessed by a professional and potentially this may require 1 or 2 assessments as misdiagnosis is possible.
2. Take a mental note of how much you criticize your child
Children with ADHD often experience a lot of criticism, admonishment and correction at both school and home. As a parent trying to support your child to follow rules and routine, there is some inevitability to this. If a child is running around at a road or at a school assembly they will likely be told to sit down and be still. However, being told off repeatedly wears children down and can erode children’s confidence. Criticism needs to be counterbalanced with love and positive attention, such as praise, positive affirmation, and rewards.
3. Be an advocate for your child at school
Sometimes schools or institutions misunderstand the needs of an ADHD child. ADHD behaviours may be mistaken for disobedience, unruliness, or naughtiness. A failure to recognise what ADHD is or misunderstanding neurodiversity can be harmful to your child. Historically, some neurodiverse children (children with ADHD, autism or learning difficulties) have been punished for things that can be beyond their control. In the UK, some schools are actually well equipped to support children with ADHD and others are less so. Talking to the Special Educational Needs Counsellor (SenCo) is essential and they should reach out to you, but if not be sure to seek them out via your child’s teacher.
4. Get into the wild
Green time is time in nature around trees and fields and woods. Research shows that time in nature is beneficial for children with ADHD. Regular time outdoors has been found to reduce symptoms of ADHD in children in research studies. You can also create activities such as holding a picnic, hide and seek or a treasure hunt in the woods.
5. Support your child as to whether they want to identify as having ADHD or not
It’s easier to add a label than remove one. A diagnosis can be something that is private to your child or something that they choose to tell their friends and family about. In any case, there are many other aspects to their identity that are important to make them aware of so a child has a broad sense of identity beyond a diagnosis. There is no shame in being open about your child’s neurodiversity. At the same time, you can choose to be private about it as well, this is another thing that is helpful to discuss with your child’s school teacher so they can be sensitive to the approach that you take.
6. Boost your child’s confidence
There are a number of actions you can take to gradually boost your child’s sense of esteem and self confidence.
Make sure you have 1-1 time for you and your child. If a lot of your attention has been focused on their behaviour, it’s nice to have time with your child where they are setting the agenda or you are doing something together that they enjoy.
Celebrate your child’s successes, big or small. From listening to instructions to participating in a football match, make sure that your child is praised.
Let your child know that your love is unconditional
Identify your child’s passions and strengths and help your child to develop these.
7. Look out for other symptoms like low mood and anxiety
People with ADHD are also at risk for other mental health conditions. About two-thirds of people with ADHD have another mental health disorder, such as depression. Make space for any difficult emotions or thoughts and seek professional help if need be.
8. Connect with other parents whose children have ADHD or who have ADHD themselves and can provide good role models.
Whether it’s in their community, or through celebrity role models such as popstar Justin Timberlake and acclaimed gymnast Simone Biles, make sure that your child does not feel alone and recognises the strengths and opportunity for success living with the condition. Many people with ADHD have many other traits such as being fun, active, intelligent and creative (however, it's important not to assume there is one set of traits or personality types among people with ADHD because there is huge diversity and it can be stigmatising to assume someone has a particular trait (e.g. good at sports) just because they have ADHD).
In any case, it's vital that you and your child are able to celebrate the positive side of the condition, as well as celebrate your child’s other strengths and talents as a growing young person.
Do you have other strategies that have helped you or your family? Let us know in the comments section below.