Are you a parent of a child with ADHD who's feeling overwhelmed? You're not alone. Parenting is hard enough as it is, and it can become even harder when your child's behavior is affected by something like ADHD.
But having a child with ADHD doesn't mean that parenting needs to be difficult all of the time. You can experience the joy of parenting, too.
In this article, I'll go over what makes parenting a child with ADHD so hard. I'll also give you tips that may make it less overwhelming to parent a child with ADHD.
Is it hard to parent a child with ADHD?
Parenting any child is difficult. Nobody is given a “how-to manual” when their child is born, and many parents figure out what works for their child as they go. However, parenting a neurodivergent child, like a child with ADHD, is especially challenging for many parents.
This can be due to many different reasons. Sometimes, it’s the child’s behavior that makes parenting difficult. But other times, it’s the world that makes it difficult; the world isn’t equipped to make it easy for children with ADHD to succeed. There are many things you can do and not do with a child with ADHD to keep them calm.
How do you calm a kid with severe ADHD
For most parents, the most overwhelming moments come when their child with ADHD is having an emotional meltdown. It might seem like nothing you say or do can calm them down.
Being equipped with the right tools and knowledge to calm your child with severe ADHD, when they’re in the middle of a breakdown, may help you feel less overwhelmed in situations like these.
Follow these tips to calm your child the next time they’re having a meltdown.
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with trying to parent your child with ADHD, then the Joon app may be able to help. Joon is a game-based app that helps your child get through their most important tasks – without any meltdowns. Simply assign your child tasks on the Joon app; they’ll need to complete the tasks to move on to the next level of the game. 90% of kids who use the Joon app complete all of their tasks with no nagging or tantrums from ADHD at all.
Download the Joon app for 7-days free to get started.
Keep your cool
It’s tempting to meet anger with anger. But if your ADHD child is having an angry outburst or an emotional breakdown, try not to let your own anger or anxiety make you lose your cool. Losing your temper with your child will only make their meltdown worse.
Try to remind yourself that your child’s behavior is not their fault, and that they’re not behaving this way simply to annoy you. Use any coping skills you have to calm yourself down so you can model this energy for your child. Many parents benefit from having their own therapist to teach them anger management strategies.
Get their energy out
Sometimes, kids with ADHD have so much restless energy that they’re – almost literally – bouncing off the walls. If you’re faced with a very hyperactive or silly child, find healthy opportunities for them to get their “wiggles” out.
For example, let’s say that you’re cooking dinner and your child won’t stop running around the kitchen. Rather than simply telling them to stop running, set up an activity – in another room away from the kitchen – where they can run and get their hyperactivity out in a safe way.
Incorporating lots of physical activity into your child’s day will also make it less likely that they’ll have breakdowns as well.
Teach them self-calming techniques
This tip takes a bit of preparation. Work daily with your child to teach them self-soothing techniques that they can use when they’re about to have a meltdown. It’s best not to introduce these techniques when your child is already upset or hyperactive. Instead, incorporate them into your child’s daily routine. That way, they’ll be familiar with these strategies when it’s time to use them.
Some great self-soothing techniques include deep breathing, giving yourself a hug, listening to calming music, and using the 5 senses for grounding.
Use a feelings thermometer
One way to help your child self-soothe is to teach them how to identify their own emotions. When your child has better self-awareness, then their self-regulation abilities may improve as well.
You can teach your child self-awareness is by using a “feelings thermometer.” Help your child identify their own warning signs that let them know when they’re getting into the “red zone” – feeling angry or overwhelmed. For example, maybe they can tell they’re getting into “the red zone” when their face starts feeling hot.
When your child is able to recognize the signs that they’re overwhelmed, they’ve mastered the first step to emotional self-regulation.
Give them breaks
Sometimes, kids with ADHD have emotional meltdowns because the task they’re working on is simply too much for them. For example, maybe they have to work on their math homework. Even as adults, we’d likely get frustrated after being asked to complete one math equation after another. It’s understandable that your child with ADHD would be unable to self-regulate these feelings of frustration.
Don’t be afraid to give your child lots of breaks. Be realistic with expectations. They don’t need to complete their tasks at once, especially if this overwhelms them. Break tasks up into very small chunks, and give your child plenty of breaks while they work.
In a similar vein, let go of the small things. Remember that your child has ADHD, which comes with both benefits and challenges. This means that it’s a futile attempt to try to get them to behave like a neurotypical child. And it may not be worth the time and energy to fight with or scold them every time they don’t listen.
You may need to make some compromises with your child. Decide on what things you’re not willing to budge on. For the rest of it, compromise. For example, maybe your child didn’t put all of her toys away, but you can see she made an effort. It might be okay to count that as a “win.”
Redirect their attention
If your child is extremely upset, or is full of hyperactive energy, it’s sometimes helpful to simply redirect their attention. For example, maybe your child is having a meltdown because his sister won’t play with him. Redirect his attention with a game of rock paper scissors or invite him to color with you. Distracting your child from what’s upsetting them is a simple strategy, but more effective than you may think.
Remember their strengths
Lastly, when your child is in the middle of an ADHD meltdown, try to remember their strengths. ADHD has many benefits, too – like creativity, high energy, and resilience.
Remembering your child’s strengths may not necessarily help them calm down, but it may help you feel less overwhelmed and frustrated.
Consequences for ADHD child
One important part of parenting is providing discipline. Rules, structure, and discipline help children find comfort and predictability in their environment. Research also shows that having household rules reduces the likelihood that kids will engage in risky behaviors as teens.
But consequences for children with ADHD may look slightly different. It’s important to remember not to discipline or punish your child for behaviors that are out of their control. For example, a child who fidgets at the dinner table should never be disciplined for this behavior – fidgeting is a core symptom of ADHD and can’t be controlled.
But some behaviors do require consequences, such as physically harming a sibling. In these cases, try to keep your child’s ADHD in mind to design consequences that will be effective for them. Here are some tips.
Keep their developmental level in mind
Research indicates that ADHD can delay children’s brain development. This means that your child could be at a younger developmental stage than their chronological age. Try to keep this in mind when deciding on what consequences are appropriate for your child.
For example, a neurotypical 12-year-old may need a consequence after having a temper tantrum, because they’re expected to have outgrown this type of behavior. But a 12-year-old with ADHD may be at an earlier developmental stage; they may not yet have the skills to manage their feelings to prevent temper tantrums.
Always keep your child’s developmental level in mind. If you’re unsure about whether a behavior merits a consequence, talk to your child’s pediatrician.
Keep time-outs short and intentional
Sending your child with ADHD to their room on a “time out” for every misbehavior may not be an effective consequence. Time-outs, especially when they’re too long, are often ineffective for kids with ADHD and could lead to a meltdown. If you’re going to use time-outs for your child with ADHD, keep them very short, and only use them for serious misbehaviors (e.g., aggression).
You can also design time-outs in a way that’s intentional and helps your child calm down. For example, you might design a “calm corner” where your child can retreat to use self-soothing strategies after having an angry outburst.
Help them connect consequences with behavior
Children with ADHD have a hard time with reasoning. This means that they may not realize their behaviors have natural consequences. This is what makes kids with ADHD so impulsive – they’re unable to think through the consequences of their actions.
One way to provide a consequence for kids with ADHD is to simply help them connect the dots between their behavior and the consequence.
For example, the family dog may not want to play with them when they’re running around or making loud sounds. You can have a conversation with your child about their behaviors that may be off putting to the dog, and how they can behave in a way that makes the dog feel cared for. This is best when it’s done in the moment. For example, you can say, “Why do you think the dog ran away from you just now?”
However, it goes without saying that you should never put your child in an unsafe situation to “teach them a lesson.”
Ignore mild misbehaviors
All kids, including those with ADHD, want attention from their parents. Most kids will take any attention they can get, whether it’s positive or negative. This means that paying too much attention to mild misbehaviors could be counterproductive.
In other words, pick your battles. Don’t feel like you need to give a consequence for every misbehavior. For example, say your child keeps humming loudly, when you’ve asked them not to because you’re in the middle of an important call. Giving a consequence for this mild behavior may not be effective or sustainable.
Instead, save consequences for serious misbehaviors – like causing harm to others.