Parenting a child who has an attention deficit can be tough. There’s the lack of focus and organization, the constant movement and impulsivity, the emotional intensity flaring at the slightest provocation, and the hair-trigger tears out of nowhere. It can be a constant struggle for any parent to manage.
But what about a parent who also has a diagnosis of attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD)? Research shows that a child diagnosed with ADHD is likely to have a relative who also meets the diagnostic criteria. How can a parent who has trouble organizing bills and staying focused during meetings coach a child to build the skills they lack themselves?
The strategies that are often recommended to help a child with an attention deficit may be difficult to manage or implement for an adult who struggles with executive functioning. But have faith! When a parent turns their liabilities into strengths, it is possible to guide a child toward success. An adult who understands what the child is experiencing is one of the best supports that child can have. By sharing their own experiences and the coping strategies they’ve developed throughout life, parents can help kids develop new skills to be successful at home, in school, and with friends.
In recognition of ADHD Awareness Month, let’s examine some possible scenarios involving this dynamic.
Scenario No. 1
- The struggle: A parent has difficulty following through with a complex, long-term behavior plan. Whether it is earning points toward positive behaviors or remembering to sign a homework planner on a daily basis to send back to the teacher, a parent with an attention deficit may have trouble providing the appropriate reinforcement to facilitate change over time.
- The solution: Embrace novelty! One strength of individuals with attention deficits is their creativity. Find simple solutions that work for now and change them up as needed. Set manageable goals for one or two weeks (instead of, say, a semester) with tracking and positive reinforcement that is easy to manage.
Scenario No. 2
- The struggle: A parent struggles to remember to remind a child about scheduled activities and responsibilities. Adults with attention deficits may have a hard time remembering and planning their own schedules. Asking them to manage a child’s schedule on top of their own (or more for families with multiple children) can be daunting.
- The solution: Get high-tech. Many kids today have access to a phone, tablet, or other electronic device that can be used to set an alarm with reminders about upcoming events. Use a shared calendar with alerts that notify both the child and the parent about upcoming events—say, “Time to practice for piano lessons,” or, “Put library books in backpack.” Not only does this reduce the responsibility of the parent, but it teaches the child vital skills to remember important tasks.
Scenario No. 3
- The struggle: A parent can be impulsive in quick, emotional reactions to situations. There is nothing like two tempers flaring in frustration with each other. These interactions can damage parent-child relationships when they occur frequently.
- The solution: Process emotions verbally. When parents catch themselves reacting impulsively, they can model the self-talk they use to self-regulate their behavior: “I know I feel angry right now, but I know this situation is one that I can’t control.” The child sees that it is OK to have impulsive and strong emotions but that, by using self-talk, they can learn to calm down more quickly.
Scenario No. 4
- The struggle: A parent finds it difficult to manage homework time. Not only does the parent have trouble managing study time, they have a hard time sitting still during office meetings and focusing on one thing at a time.
- The solution: Get moving! Adults have probably learned a few tricks that help them focus during those times. Maybe they doodle while listening to a speaker or get up to take frequent breaks. These are strategies that can work during school and at home for a child, too. Get permission for a child to have a “fidget” in class, and set an alarm to break homework into manageable chunks of time.
Parents who have an attention deficit can use it to build a connection with their child. Their experiences can also help their child learn the habits they need to be successful in managing ADHD. If you are having difficulty parenting a child with an attention deficit because of your own ADHD-related struggles, I strongly encourage you to seek the support of a qualified therapist.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2015, July 8). Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/adhd/research.html
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