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Parenting a Child with ADHD: Tips for Everyday Challenges

Written by: Amanda Levison, M.S., LMHC, LPC, CCBT


Parenting can be both a challenging and rewarding experience for any parent. However, when a child has Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), the challenges can be even greater. ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects a child's ability to focus, control impulses, and manage their behavior. This can make daily activities such as getting ready for school, completing homework, and following directions much more difficult. It impacts their ability to function daily. 


As a parent of a child with ADHD, it is important to educate yourself on the disorder and develop strategies to help your child thrive. In this blog post, we will discuss tips for everyday challenges that parents of children with ADHD may encounter.

A worried mother during therapy session for her child with ADHD

Understanding ADHD

The first step in effectively parenting a child with ADHD is understanding the disorder. ADHD is a complex condition that can affect a child's ability to pay attention, control impulses, and manage their behavior. It is important to remember that ADHD is not a result of bad parenting or a lack of discipline. It is a medical condition that can be effectively managed with the right strategies and support. One of the key characteristics of ADHD is difficulty with attention and focus. Children with ADHD may have trouble staying on task, following instructions, and organizing their thoughts and belongings.


They may also struggle with hyperactivity and impulsivity, leading to impulsive behavior and difficulty sitting still. Leaving ADHD unmanaged can lead to long-term life consequences, such as bad grades, difficulty keeping a job, or relationship issues. Therefore, it is important to learn how to manage your children's condition and to set them up for success as effectively as possible. Family counseling can also play a crucial role. Let’s explore some tips for the everyday challenges parents can experience while raising a child with ADHD. 


Tips for Everyday Challenges

  • Establish a Routine: Children with ADHD thrive on routine and structure. Establishing a predictable daily routine can help your child feel more secure and organized. Be sure to include set times for meals, homework, bedtime, and other important tasks. You can use visual schedules or checklists to help your child stay on track.

  • Break Tasks into Smaller Steps: Children with ADHD may have trouble with tasks that require multiple steps or sustained attention. Break tasks into smaller, more manageable steps and provide clear, concise instructions. This can help your child feel less overwhelmed and more successful. This also aids in keeping your child more motivated to achieve the task or goal. Remember that when breaking down tasks, assist your child in only focusing on one task or goal at a time. Example:  Telling your child that they have to clean their room, pick up their laundry, get rid of any trash, and do their homework, even when directing them to “break it down into smaller steps,” may still appear to be a lot for them to handle.  Give instructions one task or goal at a time, such as: “Pick up all your dirty clothes off the floor and place them into the hamper”. When your child has completed that task, then you may direct them to get rid of any trash that has been left around.  Once that is completed, you may direct them to focus solely on completing their homework. You may have to even break it down to one subject at a time. This will help him to focus on accomplishing that one thing, allowing them success when it is finished.   As your child gets older, having them form lists that they can mark off when each item is completed will also provide them with a sense of accomplishment and keep them focused on completing one task at a time.

  • Provide Clear Expectations: Children with ADHD may struggle with understanding and following rules. Be consistent and clear in your expectations for behavior and consequences. Use age-appropriate positive reinforcement and rewards for good behavior to encourage your child to follow rules. This clarity also extends to setting clear instructions so your child has a better chance of grasping the expectations that are being set for them.

  • Limit Distractions: Children with ADHD are easily distracted by their environment. Minimize distractions by creating a quiet, clutter-free workspace for homework and other tasks. Consider using noise-cancelling headphones or white noise machines to help your child focus and stay focused. Much the same, by minimizing interruptions, interference, and other forms of distractions, you can help limit your child’s chance of confusion, irritability, and forgetfulness, all of which easily occur when a child with ADHD is distracted.

  • Encourage Physical Activity: Children with ADHD often have excess energy that can make it difficult for them to sit still and focus. Encourage your child to exercise regularly to help burn off excess energy and improve focus. Consider activities such as sports, dance, or yoga. Even a daily trip to the park or playing outside in the backyard can do some good. Physical activity immediately boosts the brain’s dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin levels, all of which positively affect focus and attention. Physical activity, in this respect, works similarly to ADHD medications such as Adderall or Ritalin, but are more natural means of achieving these results. 

  • Teach Organization Skills: Children with ADHD may struggle with organization and time management. Teach your child strategies for keeping their belongings and schoolwork organized, such as labeling bins for their toys/belongings and using color-coded folders or a planner. Utilize breaking tasks down into smaller steps and help your child prioritize tasks. There is a phrase, “Organization saves time”.  So, helping your child to be organized can assist him in remembering where he put things and what he needs to do from one time to the next.

  • Communicate with Teachers: It is important to communicate with your child's teachers and school staff about their ADHD and any accommodations they may need. Work together to develop a plan that supports your child's academic and social success. If your child’s teacher has concerns, it is important to listen to them. Regular communication with teachers can help identify any issues early and address them proactively. Taking such steps may even lead you down the road to educational assistance, such as an IEP or a 504 plan that will help your child succeed educationally. 

  • Helping Your Child Learn Mindfulness:  This is a tool that significantly helps with so many mental health conditions such as anxiety management and depression, self-esteem/self-image issues, and ADHD. Teaching your child to be more mindful will train them to be present to better practice staying focused on a task at any given time.  Helping them to let go of everything else that they need to do and only concentrating on the task at hand is a wonderful way to help them learn to block out distractions.

  • Promote a Balanced Diet:  Ensuring that your child is eating healthy food rich in vitamins and other nutrients can aid in positive brain power. While fine in moderation, constant fast food, processed food, and foods rich in carbohydrates will adversely affect your child’s ability to sustain long-term energy, causing them to have fluctuations in out-of-control behaviors that will ultimately result in them crashing when sugar levels start to drop. If not coming from complex carbohydrates such as vegetables or beans, elevated levels of carbohydrates break down to sugars that will prevent sustainability in focus and attention. Managing what foods, you provide your child may make a significant difference in how they can manage their ADHD symptoms effectively.

  • Seek Professional Help: ADHD affects not only a child’s ability to pay attention or sit still but also the relationships they have with family and other children. Many view ADHD as a “school problem”, but it negatively impacts your child’s ability to function daily. Children with ADHD often show behaviors that can be disruptive or difficult for others to manage.  If you are struggling to manage your child's ADHD on your own, seek professional help from a healthcare provider or mental health professional. They can provide guidance, support, and potentially medication to help manage your child's symptoms. Consider attending parenting classes or support groups to connect with other parents of children with ADHD.


Individual therapy can help your child learn to identify for themselves what they may or may not be doing that could be thwarting efforts to achieve success. A therapist can also help your child achieve a more mindful approach to changing behaviors and patterns that may be interfering with daily functioning.


Another form of treatment available is Neurofeedback. Neurofeedback or Biofeedback EEG is designed to retrain the brain to produce feelings of calmness and relaxation, increase concentration and focus, and is the direct training of brain function. Neurofeedback training can help the brain regulate and improve its attention and behavior. For the vast majority with this diagnosis, complete remission of ADHD symptoms, combined with other methods, could be attained. The goal of Neurofeedback is that the person with ADD or ADHD achieves calmness and mental stability.


The approach is to achieve better overall performance. While it may take some time to see the results as desired, it is a non-invasive form of treatment with long-term effects. With regards to medications, they can affect children differently. There can also be side effects, such as sleep problems or a reduction in appetite. How one child may respond to medication may not be the same for another. However, medication taken in conjunction with therapy or behavior modification may significantly improve ADHD symptoms. Exploring the benefits of Neurofeedback for ADHD may turn out to be beneficial for all involved in the long run.


Conclusion

When your child is upset, and you are unsure what to do, be available to talk with them and enjoy both relaxing and engaging fun activities together.  This does not have to be for a long period.  Remember, most children with ADHD struggle with staying engaged for long, so even if you can engage your child for a few minutes at a time, it can still benefit them. When doing this, make sure to give your child your full attention. It also helps to compliment positive behavior; however, you may want to guard against over-praising them, but simply comment when your child does something good. This reinforces their good behavior and motivates them to continue to act in these appropriate ways.


Parenting a child with ADHD can be challenging, but with the right strategies and support, you can help your child thrive. Be patient, consistent, and loving in your approach, and remember that every child is unique. Focus on your child's strengths and abilities, and celebrate their successes, no matter how small. With patience, understanding, and support, you can help your child with ADHD navigate everyday challenges and reach their full potential.






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