Parenting

11 Helpful Tips for Parenting a Child with ADHD

This article has been medically-reviewed by:

Parenting a child with ADHD is significantly different than traditional parenting. Depending on your child’s behaviors and symptoms, parents will need to develop various approaches for the child to be engaged and feel loved and heard.  

However, this can be difficult. Children with ADHD have different brains than children who don’t. Their disorder may also make them more prone to impulsive and hyperactive behaviors. This article will provide several tips for parenting children with ADHD. I’ll also outline things to avoid. 

Tips for Parenting a Child with ADHD

It’s essential to recognize your child’s strengths and weaknesses. You may have to change your behavior to manage your child’s behaviors.

Provide structure

When you provide structure for your child, the environment created is organized and predictable. While studies have shown that structure and routine are beneficial for all children, it’s especially important for a child with ADHD for the following reasons:

Children with ADHD may have difficulty with self-control (or internal control). Therefore, their surroundings and environment need to have a structure, in which they can manage their symptoms better.

When it comes to building healthy habits and skills, it’s also important to structure these habits and skills. With structure, the child knows when to complete the chores and what’s expected of them.

Communicate unacceptable behaviors

It’s important for children to understand the rules and expectations for their behaviors. You can communicate this through conversations with your child and remind them which behaviors are acceptable and unacceptable, as well as the consequences.

Also, be sure to allow for some flexibility because children with ADHD may have trouble adapting to change, and may have more emotional reactions to consequences.

Keep calm

If you start to feel your patience run out or your frustration reaching a breaking point, try to step away and take time to relax and breathe. Children tend to copy the behaviors they’re exposed to and escalate when parents do. So avoiding an outburst is the best way to keep you and your child calm.

Here are some ways to keep calm:

  • Go into another room for a few minutes
  • Talk to a friend or family member 
  • Try box-breathing

Set aside time to connect with your child  

Negative feedback can impact a child’s self-esteem. Try to set aside time to connect and spend time with your child one-on-one doing something fun. This can help your relationship with your child and really experience fun and excitement with their parent. You can do this by playing games, going out to an activity (bowling, the movies, etc.), or something as simple as coloring together.

Make sure they’re getting enough exercise 

Exercise has numerous benefits for all children. For children with ADHD, exercise increases dopamine in the brain, a neurotransmitter responsible for pleasure and reward. 

People with ADHD have slightly lower levels of dopamine compared to those who do not have ADHD. While medications can increase dopamine levels, exercise and other activities can too. Exercise can also help your child get excess energy out and ultimately help their focus and attention later on in the day.

Some fun ways for your child to get exercise include:

  • Walking 
  • Playing a game outside
  • Jumping on a trampoline
  • Riding a bike
  • Going to a playground

Take breaks

It’s important to incorporate breaks when you’re feeling frustrated or overwhelmed. Make sure to take breaks to experience some alone time and gather your thoughts.

If you’re unable to get out of the house, you can try taking a few minutes by yourself in another room, breathing exercises, or calling a friend. It may also be beneficial to hire a babysitter or have a friend or family member stay with your child if this is accessible to you.

Break tasks down into smaller pieces

Children with ADHD may feel overwhelmed when they approach a large (or small) task. Try to break tasks down into smaller steps or pieces, so it’s easier to see the progress step by step. 

When it comes to household chores, you can try color-coding charts so the child knows which days they’re to be completed and when. You can also do this with something as simple as teeth brushing. 

Try verbalizing the steps with your child so they understand what comes next and avoid being overwhelmed:

  1. Take the toothbrush out
  2. Take the toothpaste out
  3. Put the toothpaste on the toothbrush 
  4. “Almost there!”
  5. Brush your top teeth, then your bottom teeth
  6. Rinse your mouth
  7. Wipe your mouth
  8. “You did it!”

Learn and understand your child’s challenges

ADHD is a condition that looks different in everyone. Even if two people have the same type of ADHD, they can still show different symptoms.

Take time to learn and understand your child’s diagnosis and how it impacts their life. Observe them while completing tasks, such as homework or chores, and take note of what frustrates them, distracts them, and when they might lose motivation to complete the task. Doing this can help you understand how to be there for your child and give them the support they need.

Follow a routine

Routines are essential for making a child feel safe and secure. While effective routines take consistency and commitment, the benefits will not only provide positive outcomes for the child but the whole family. 

Following a routine also help display to your child what’s to be expected of them. It helps them to understand what comes next without being overwhelming. Routines look different for every family. But a good place to start might be to analyze your current daily life and choose items that you think should recur every day. 

For example, when the child wakes up in the morning, the routine is to eat breakfast at 7:30 AM, brush their teeth at 8:00 AM, and get dressed at 8:15 AM.

Encourage a healthy sleep pattern 

Dysregulated sleep patterns can heighten symptoms of ADHD, like hyperactivity, inattentiveness, and impulsiveness. Therefore, your child needs to get enough sleep on a regulated schedule.

Children with ADHD are also more likely to experience difficulty sleeping when compared to other children and have trouble falling asleep and waking up on time. If your child has trouble sleeping and needs additional help, you may want to reach out to the child’s pediatrician. 

Reduce distractions 

Children with ADHD may be easily distracted. Due to this symptom, you may want to consider reducing the child’s screen time (including video games and television) so they can put more focus on homework, chores, and other responsibilities that need to get done. 

Try to Avoid

Negativity and discouragement 

When children are exposed to negativity and discouragement, it negatively impacts their self-esteem. While it sounds simple, try to avoid a negative outlook or attitude toward your child’s behaviors. 

Instead, try to be as positive as possible. For example, if your child didn’t put their dish in the sink, but wiped the table, say, “You did a great job at wiping the table! Next time, try to put your dish in the sink as well” Using this phrase, you recognize what they completed, yet remind them of what to do in the future. 

Losing control

As the parent, you are in control. This means you are able to set boundaries and rules with your child, even if they don’t obey and don’t like the limits you set. While you should try your best to show patience and kindness toward your child, you shouldn’t feel intimidated by your child or allow your child to intimidate you.

Being overwhelmed and lashing out 

Losing control can also be completely lashing out while your child is not listening or following instructions. Keeping calm is important because it shows your child that you are still in control of the situation.

When feeling overwhelmed, try to step aside for a few minutes and take deep breaths to avoid lashing out. Also, try to remind yourself that this is not your child’s fault and that they have a disability that impacts their behaviors. 

Finding the Right ADHD Treatment

There are different treatment options for children with ADHD and it’s important to find the right one to help your child manage their symptoms. Speak with your child’s healthcare provider to learn about which would be the best fit.

Medication

About 75% of children received medication as part of their treatment plan for ADHD. Stimulants are the most common type of medication used to treat ADHD. 

There are two stimulant medications, methylphenidate (the active ingredient in Ritalin, Concerta, and other formulations) and amphetamine (the active ingredient in Adderall, Vyvanse, and other formulations). Both medications are available as short-acting medications and in longer-acting preparations.

All medications have potential benefits and side effects; so it’s important to discuss the options with a healthcare provider.

Behavior therapy

Behavior therapy is used to manage symptoms of ADHD in children. It can improve a child’s symptoms, self-esteem, self-control, and behavior. It’s most effective when it’s delivered to parents. 

Behavioral therapy may be suggested as soon as the child is diagnosed with ADHD. For children ages 4-5, behavioral therapy is likely the first treatment recommended by a healthcare provider. 

Parents work with a mental health professional during behavior management therapy to learn skills and strategies to help their child. Usually, it takes about eight or more sessions and can be one-on-one or in a group setting.

The mental health professional will review the child’s behaviors and symptoms and come up with strategies for the parent to implement with the child. Throughout the sessions, the professional will monitor the child’s progress, provide support to the parent, and adjust the strategies.

Takeaway 

Parenting a child with ADHD can have its challenges. Practicing these tips can provide further support in order to be there for your child. And while your child is important, your mental health and well-being are too; so be sure to ask for help and take breaks when necessary.