Managing ADHD and Reducing Family Stress

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ADHD has a profound influence on family life. It often contributes to an increase in daily household stress, with a relatively high level of tension in the house. This tension results from factors such as widespread disorganization, messiness, noise and periodic emotional outbursts from one person or another.

In this article we’ll focus on simple and doable ways of dealing with and reducing household tension. I’ll start by introducing three basic concepts, and then focus on 5 tips for management.

1. Living with ADHD means no wishful thinking is allowed. It’s important to accept reality as it is (without feeling guilty) and to give up naive and idealistic notions of what you think family life should be like. ADHD, in other words, is not your fault (you want to really get that through your head); it’s up to you to manage it.

2. ADHD is usually a very emotional matter. We often focus so much on the symptoms of inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity that we overlook the fact that emotional overarousal should also be on the ADHD symptom list.

ADHD usually means feeling everything—positive and negative—very intensely. That includes anger, anxiety and sadness as well as happiness and excitement. This makes for a lively household!

3. ADHD is a family affair. Part of being realistic about ADHD often means accepting the fact that more than one family member has this condition. If you have a sibling with ADHD, for example, your chances of having ADHD are one in three (sibling rivalry will also be worse). If you have a parent with ADHD, your chances of having that disorder are over 50%.

This often means that one family director (parent) or sometimes even both parents are disorganized and overly emotional, which makes it more difficult to run a family. Multiple ADHDers often means the opposite of “the more the merrier.” The more family members you put in the same room, for example, the more confusion and conflict may to occur, especially when there is a specific task that needs to be done, like eating dinner, getting up and out in the morning, or going to bed.

5 Tips to Reduce Stress in Your Family

So is a family with ADHD impossible to manage? Not at all. Tough, but not impossible. In fact, if you look at your current daily life, you are probably already doing most things reasonably well. You eat, sleep, get along much of the time, get most of the homework done, get the kids off to school on time, pay your bills, etc. The fact that you often feel exasperated—or even like a failure—may be more ADHD (emotional overarousal) talking, rather than a realistic commentary on your daily competence.

So here are a few ideas—from someone who’s been there—on how to further reduce your family stress. These ideas were chosen because they are simple and feasible. In other words, they can actually be 1) put into action and 2) maintained (because they become self-reinforcing).

1. Maximize Medication Benefits

During the week, family stress heightens in the late afternoon and evening, when everyone is together. The problem with many ADHD medications is that they work during the day, but are gone for homework time, suppertime and evening hours. Many of the “long-acting” medications last only 9-12 hours (but the typical day still had 24 hours in it!). Meds help for concentration, that is true; but they can also assist with behavior, emotional overarousal and interpersonal conflict. Consider medication alternatives that might help with these troublesome later-in-the-day times (and weekends), such as stimulant “boosters,” longer acting meds, and non-stimulants.

2. Treat the Directors (Parents)

At a seminar a few years ago a frustrated Mom asked me this question: “My ADHD son is 10 and is horribly disorganized in the morning. But I’m ADHD myself and probably just as bad. What should I do?” Answer: Get yourself treated for ADHD! We parents of ADHD kids experience more of the following than the rest of the population: ADHD, depression, drug and alcohol problems, and anxiety. Appropriate treatment for Mom and Dad can reduce household stress tremendously.

3. Behavior Management

Parent Training in Behavior Management is an evidence-based treatment for children with ADHD.If you have not received parent training, then you have not yet provided comprehensive treatment for your child.

What are the three biggest behavior problems you experience with the kids? What are your strategies for managing those problems? If your answer is, “I just yell a lot at the appropriate time,” that’s not a good answer. But a good behavior management program can help. Take the program, learn the strategies, and practice them as well as you can. (For example, you need good daily routines for homework, mornings and bedtime). By the way, nagging, yelling, and repetitive attempts at reasoning do not constitute a good behavior management program.

4. Noise Management

Households with ADHD produce lots of stress-inducing NOISE. You can help by reducing both outgoing and incoming noise. Outgoing: How much excess daily nagging do you do? Example: “How many times do I have to tell you…!” Cut it by 75%. Incoming: Experiment with ear-plugs and headphones. They can be a great blessing!

5. Lots of Exercise

You’ve heard this song before. Strenuous exercise really, really helps reduce stress.

You didn’t ask for ADHD in your family. But you’ve got it—and the stress it brings—one way or another. It’s up to you to get after it — for you and your kids!

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