Some tasks, like driving, become automatic when we master them. When you're 16, every turn of the wheel requires conscious thought (or should!). Once you learn, you go on autopilot unless something jars you – a car in the wrong lane, a dog running into the road, a police cruiser in your rearview mirror when you're going 60mph in a 50mph zone.
Well, parenting is not an automatic task! We can't go on autopilot, especially when our kids have ADHD. Something is always jarring us – a meltdown, a bad report card, a 10-minute worksheet that turns into an evening-long struggle. We always have to be “on,” and it's exhausting. How can we give ourselves a break?
ADHD is a neurobiological condition – and it's highly heritable. Many parents struggle with a double whammy: raising an ADHD kid and having ADHD. Parenting calls heavily on our executive functions, a set of cognitive skills and processes that are impaired in ADHD brains. When you're dealing with executive function deficits and then trying to act as executive function for your child – well, that creates some difficult family dynamics!
On the other hand, you may not have ADHD. You don't understand why it's hard to do a quick homework assignment or how your child can misplace her shoes every single day. Why does she need a checklist at age 14 to remember to brush her teeth? It's frustrating! But that's her life.
Whether your kid's brain doesn't work the same way yours does, or whether your kid's brain works exactly the same way yours does, parenting is work! Some days you feel like Sisyphus, struggling with the weight of the rock – knowing you're going to have to get up and do it all over again in the morning.
It doesn't have to be this way. We rolled our share of boulders up steep mountains, but when you learn how to support your kid, when you seek support for yourself, the load gets lighter. Some days, you don't need to struggle. Some days, you don't need to work quite so hard. And some days you do - but you're better able to handle them. To make things easier for yourself:
- Tackle one challenge at a time. Sure, you need systems for getting out of the house on time in the morning, for getting the homework done, for ensuring your child does his chores, brushes his teeth, gets his exercise, eats his veggies…I'm overwhelmed already. Choose one. Do it. Master it. Then move on to the next one!
- Know what works for your child and what does not. The ADHD brain needs motivation to do anything. What is your kid's motivation to do his chores? Is it allowance? Time on electronics? Is it a house rule with consequences if he doesn't do it? What is going to drive him to do what he needs to do? Understand his disposition and motivators, and you have a powerful key.
- Set clear expectations. Your child needs to understand what you expect, and you need to be consistent. Base your expectations on where your child is, keeping the challenge at her level. If it's too hard, she will give up and feel like a failure. Expect great things from your kids – but start where they are and build them up.
- Keep it simple. If, for instance, your child is upset, teach him that it is ok to go to his room and get his favorite book. Let him know that this is a simple structure that will help him calm down and reset. You don't need complex systems. The easier, the better.
- Take care of yourself. Parents who are happy and healthy can give their kids a much better shot at success at home, at school, and in life. Take the time to be kind to yourself and find the support you need to manage life with an ADHD kid.
Parents play a tremendous role in their kids' lives. You are the difference between a lifetime of struggle and a happy future. Without your love and support, ADHD kids tend to falter and fall. With your support, there's no limit to what they can accomplish. No one is as critical in their lives, and because you're so important, you deserve some help and support yourself. The whole family will thrive as a result.
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.