Children who suffer from ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) struggle to concentrate and show signs of hyperactivity and impulsivity. At other times they might fall into a state of hyperfocus, usually when they find something that truly interests them. All of which leads to children with ADHD having trouble starting and finishing tasks, sleeping, and even struggling to make friends.
If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, you’re probably exhausted, stressed out, and constantly looking for new ways to help your child become more productive, more socially adept, and generally calmer and happier. To help them get there, we suggest seven ways you as a parent can make sure your child gets the best headstart possible.
1. Make Sure Their Day is Structured
Children with ADHD find it much easier to finish their tasks if they have a clear schedule of the day ahead. Try to create a schedule that has everything written down, not just the most important activities like school, baseball practice, or someone’s birthday. For example, include lunchtime, playtime, time for chores, homework. It might sound trivial, but your child will thrive if they can see their full schedule, from A to Z, in a visible place in your home. If they don’t have a set time for, say, homework, chances are their lack of focus will cause them to leave it for later or forget about it altogether.
2. Let Them Face Consequences
Be understanding but firm when it comes to consequences. Children with ADHD find it harder to finish their tasks, but learning about the consequences can help rewire their brains. So if they said they’d do the dishes, but they end up not doing it, consequences are in order.
The best thing to do is use logical consequences – for example, if they don’t do the dishes, there’ll be no dessert for the next three days. Don’t make the consequences too harsh, but hold your ground when it comes to them. You may feel like a bad parent for punishing them (“They have no control over it and I’m punishing them for it – I’m such a lousy parent”), but just remember you’re not doing it to hurt them – you’re doing it to help their brains understand there’s consequences to actions.
After experiencing some consequences and realizing they don’t enjoy them – because an ADHD brain is all about getting satisfaction here and now – they’ll be able to calculate that that same satisfaction is much more likely to come after they finish some chores!
3. Introduce rewards, too
Rewards can be just as effective as consequences, especially when you’re using both. The trouble with rewards, however, is that if you’re constantly handing them out, children will never develop a real motivation to do anything – they’ll only be doing it for the reward. That’s why giving rewards only occasionally is beneficial, so that the child doesn’t get used to them.
So while consequences are a good parenting technique when it comes to everyday things like chores or homework, rewards should be saved for when something out of the ordinary happens – they show a lot more effort than usual in school, they offer to help with the dishes without you asking them to, etc. It’s important to reward the effort rather than the achievement!
4. Take a break together
We often confuse taking a break with giving up, but these two couldn’t be more different. Everyone – even a machine – needs to take a break every once in a while. We lose our focus, get sleepy, and generally, lack motivation for a lot of things if we work too hard for a prolonged period of time.
ADHD makes it even more difficult, so make sure both you and your child pause for a while, whatever it is you’re currently doing. If you notice them or yourself getting tired, there’s no need to push it. Children with ADHD need some rest to be able to re-focus, and stressed-out parents do, too. So take a break for a while (but following tip #1, let them know how long it will last!) and play a game with your child or have an ice cream while enjoying nature.
5. Remove Distractions
“Getting Distracted” is the middle name of almost any child, and when you combine it with ADHD, the usual result is that not much gets done. In order to help your child finish their homework or chores, remove the most common distractions – their phone, toys, laptop, or TV. It will help them focus and motivate them to finish the task in order to get back to their toys or games.
Before removing the distractions, make sure that you explain to them why that’s important and how it will help them, otherwise they might see it as punishment.
6. Spend More Time in Nature
It has been proven time and time again that green time is highly beneficial for children with ADHD. For one, they have plenty of space to spend their energy in. Maybe even more importantly, all that nature has a calming effect on children the same way it has on us adults, perhaps even more so on children who struggle with ADHD. You should try taking them to the park or a nearby woodland as often as you can, but it’s especially important when they’re upset and acting impulsively.
7. Ask for Help
One major thing that parents of children with ADHD struggle with is understanding that asking for help does not make you an inadequate parent! You’ve got a lot on your plate, so having a friend, a family member, or even a coach help you out does not make you a failure. It simply means you love your child enough to understand that getting some help will benefit them. Have you recently caught yourself constantly waking up anxious? Or maybe not even wanting to get out of bed in the morning? These may be the consequences of some extreme stress you’re under. So even if it’s not just about your child, but about your own state of mind and happiness – ask for help. Do everything to make things easier on yourself.
Parenting is never easy, and with an ADHD child, it’s even more challenging. But with enough education, trial and error, and openness to others, it can become easier. Keep in mind that you can’t pour from an empty cup: make sure to take care of yourself. Self-care is contagious – if your child sees you’re happy and satisfied, they’ll want to take good care of themselves, too!