Adolescence is one of my favorite age groups to treat in my practice. However, when my oldest son was 12 ½ years old, I didn’t know if I was qualified to ever treat another adolescent, let alone parent one! Matt was a typical preteen with ADHD – very impulsive, distractible, and hyperactive. He underachieved in school, and required frequent directions and reminders to complete tasks. This led to many conflicts at home.
Parenting a teen, particularly one with ADHD, can be challenging. Many would agree that this is an understatement! Parenting Matt was like living on a rollercoaster. We never knew what challenges might arise around the next loop. Here are some things I learned to help us survive his teens:
- DO determine if your child qualifies for academic accommodations. These might include
- extended time
- a quiet room for tests (especially high stakes exams)
- organizational supports
- copies of class notes
If uncertain whether your child might qualify for these, start the process in public schools by requesting a Student Support meeting. In private schools, check with your child’s counselor.
- DO set clear, reasonable academic performance expectations. Try not to intervene unless your child doesn’t meet them. For example, I set the expectation, for all of my sons, that they must maintain at least a “B” average in their courses. As long as they had a “B” average, I let them manage their schoolwork. This was very difficult, especially when I knew how little it would take – like turning in homework assignments — to improve to an “A”! If grades dipped below the “B” criterion, specific consequences were enforced. These consequences were discussed before any implementation.
- DO set reasonable expectations. Matt also has Dyslexia. He chose to take Honors Literature, a reach for him, so I made a “C” the criterion for this class. He attained a “B”!
- DO repeatedly praise your child for meeting expectations. Adding bonus reinforcers, such as money or later curfew times, can be helpful as well.
- DO have expectations in writing, printed out and saved on your computer.
- DON’T change the expectations or plan mid-term/semester, unless you and your child are in agreement. Many of my student clients complain about parents changing or reneging on plans. This is almost certain to lead to conflict.
- DON’T nag or offer unsolicited advice. Set the plan and stick to it. Duct tape your mouth if necessary!
- DO communicate clearly, explicitly stating rules and consequences. Rules should be stated positively, identifying what the teen should do versus not do. For example, your assigned chore: unloading the dishwasher by 5PM this evening. Explicit expectations for what “unloading the dishwasher means” should be written, like a cookbook recipe.
- DO pick your battles well and prioritize what’s really important. Recently, a terrific teen with ADHD related that his mother treated him like a “little kid.” A specific complaint was that his mother repeatedly asked him to pick up his shoes from the family room. My advice was to ignore the shoes entirely. If shoes in the family room bothered her, then she could put them away. Alternatively, she could put them in a box and make him pay her to get them back. There are more important issues than shoes!
- DO keep communications short. Think in terms of 10 second sound bites. All teens hate parental lectures. ACT DON’T YAK!!!
- DO listen more than you talk to your teen!!!
- DON’T keep “discussing” when one or more person is clearly upset. Call a family or personal time out. Nothing gets accomplished when one or more family members are reacting emotionally! Most likely, continued conversation will result in an escalation of the conflict.
- DON’T repeat patterns of conflict. If upsetting situations recur (e.g. battles about getting home for curfew), then develop a plan. The plan should be created when everyone is calm, and include your child’s input. Teens are more likely to follow a plan they’ve helped to create.
- DO get outside, professional help when your solutions don’t work. Often a couple of therapy or coaching sessions can lead to hours of family cohesion.
- DO keep your sense of humor. Remind yourself that someday what just happened will make a great story! As the late Joan Rivers stated, “If you can laugh about it, you can live with it.”
Recently, my now 23 year old son with ADHD toasted us on our 25th Anniversary. He stated, “I know I wasn’t an easy kid to raise.” My husband and I looked at each other and laughed. That was definitely an understatement! So buckle your seatbelt and try to enjoy the ride. Parenting your ADHD child will include some hilarious adventures when you accept that you are on the ride of your life!
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