Kids with ADHD Are Harder to Parent: Here’s How to Do It Better
Some people say that ADHD is the result of bad parenting. There are even some research studies that come to this same conclusion.
Here’s the part that’s true: parents of kids with ADHD use more negative parenting techniques. Case closed, right? Hardly. This case is one of those interesting moments in science where the observation is correct, but the conclusion is dead wrong. A study found that medicating children with ADHD led the parents to use fewer negative parenting techniques. In other words, kids with untreated ADHD engage in more of the sorts of behaviors that push parents past the point of frustration, at which point any parent responds less productively. So the more accurate statement here is that kids with ADHD cause bad parenting, not vice versa, as some skeptics claim. If the problem had really been the parents, then we would need to medicate them, not their kids, in order to see a positive effect.
It’s much easier to be a good parent to a child who follows directions, remembers what they are told, keeps their stuff organized, and thinks before acting. Although all kids have their moments, these “easy” kids will push parents to their limits much less frequently than the kids with ADHD, who will struggle with all of these behaviors.
How can you be a good parent for a child with ADHD?
The first and most important step is to educate yourself about ADHD — what it is and what it isn’t. ADHD isn’t an excuse to not do homework, but it probably does mean that you will need to be more involved to ensure that all the homework is completed (and then actually gets handed in). The good news about ADHD is that there is a lot of valuable information available, so there is no need to re-invent the wheel. Learn as much as you can, borrow good strategies from others, and connect with other families, so you don’t have to go it alone.
The next thing to do is to remind yourself that your child isn’t purposely doing things just to bother you or get out of obligations — or at least no more than anyone else. This point doesn’t mean that you won’t have reasons to be frustrated (you’ll probably have more than with a kid without ADHD), but rather it won’t help to take it personally or assume negative intent. When we get overly worked up, we’re more likely to react badly and in ways that we regret. It’s more helpful to take a moment to pause and think about your reaction first. This is especially important with kids who are hyperactive and impulsive, since they tend to not pause before reacting. Two reactive people can quickly escalate a situation, so if your child tends to over-react, you need to make a point to under-react. It doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be consequences, merely that the consequences need to be delivered more slowly and calmly in order to prevent an escalation.
It’s preferable, though, to not find oneself in those situations in the first place, which often involves providing more oversight, structure, and support for your child. Don’t get too caught up in your child’s age (as in, he’s eight and should be able to remember to brush his teeth on his own). If you know that your child tends to forget certain things, for example, then you will need to do more of the reminding. If he is less able to remember it because of his ADHD-based distractibility, then you will need to do more of that remembering — but he still needs to do the thing that you’re reminding him of. It’s always better to give a reminder than do it yourself. We don’t ask a near-sighted child to read the blackboard without her glasses; why do we expect kids with ADHD to focus when they can’t? The way that you improve focus is to reduce distractions. You improve remembering by adding more reminders. You help a child clean up his room by being there and coaching him through it, one step at a time.
Kids with ADHD require more hands-on parenting, but they do just as well as the easiest child when they are given the right balance of oversight and freedom. Look to others for ideas, but don’t limit yourself by what others are doing, especially the parents of kids without ADHD. Instead, focus on what is best for your child at this moment. You can’t change that your child has ADHD, but you can change how it affects your relationship and how that affects your child’s self-esteem.
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