9 Tips for Non-ADHD Parents to Motivate Your Whole Family

Melissa Orlov

Families with children with ADHD often discover that one or both parents has ADHD, too.  And when this happens, non-ADHD adult partners find that they are called upon to motivate everyone in the family, creating routines that will make family life easier.  It can be exhausting. Besides, you may end up feeling like the family bad guy.  Here are some great ways to inspire change in family members and enjoy family living with ADHD:

Understand your limits.  ADHD symptoms and behaviors belong to the person with the ADHD, not you.  As you seek to create change in your family, try not to take responsibility for the change that others should be making.  If you tell your husband or child to do something, are constantly reminding or nagging them to meet deadlines, or are generally running their lives, you are actually interfering with their ability to decide for themselves what they need to do.  Change comes from within…so don’t try to create it from without.

Encouragement works better than scolding.  While you can’t force another to change, you can have an impact.  Think back to times when you were inspired to change.  What do you remember?  Probably that the inspiration is something that bubbled up from inside…and that it was encouraged and supported by at least one important other figure in your life. Study after study shows that positive reinforcement is a stronger motivator than negative reinforcement.  Use that knowledge to your advantage and seek to positively reinforce your partner or child as they move in a productive direction.

  • Focus on the person’s performance, not the person.  Make sure your significant others – both your children and other adults — understand that you love and accept them…even when you are concerned that they are not performing specific tasks in a way that pleases you.
  • Do your research and get support.  Your family does not need to reinvent the wheel.  There is a lot of information out there about how to change behaviors when you have ADHD.  Cognitive behavioral therapy, coaching and parent training have been shown to be effective complements to medicinal therapy.  There are specific organizational and communication techniques that work for those with ADHD (and their partners).  There is strong evidence that shows that the vast majority of people who decide to treat their ADHD can find significant symptom relief. Once symptoms decrease by about 50%, meaningful behavioral modifications follow.  Use the expertise of others to your advantage.

  • Understand ADHD in relationships.  ADHD symptoms encourage very specific patterns of interactions in spousal and parent-to-child relationships.  Knowing what these patterns are can lead to dramatic improvement in your lives, which can set the stage for motivating change for the whole family.

  • Put relationships first.  Non-ADHD adults are often very efficient.  But their quest to keep everyone’s lives in order (since their ADHD partners and ADHD children are not as efficient as they are) can lead to a dreary family life.  Rather than spend all of your together time focused on the next chore that needs to get done, remember to put relationships first.  The goodwill that results can help support an ADHD partner or child’s openness to doing the hard work they need to create new habits.

  • Get buy-in.  Change happens when a person who has ADHD decides to make it happen.  This means that the role of non-ADHD partners is that of supplicant, not instructor.  Non-ADHD partners may believe they know the best way to get something done.  That’s actually irrelevant if the person with the ADHD is not interested in listening to that idea.  Instead, non-ADHD partners must lobby for what they want in a very respectful way, not dictate what will happen.  With both spouses and children, it is important to always remain respectful and listen carefully (with an open mind) to the ideas and feelings that an ADHD person expresses.  This puts you on the same team, increasing the chances that your partner or child will be interested in working with you to figure out how to put important changes in place.

  • Don’t assume your way is the best way.  The minds of those with ADHD work quite differently than those without.  Don’t assume that something that works for you will also work for an ADHD partner or child.

ADHD Parent Video

At LAST — Operating Instructions for raising ADHD kids! This video gives you the tools you need to tackle ANY challenging situation, one step at a time.

Learn More

Maintain Healthy RelationshipsAll ADHD Articles