Parenting A Child With ADHD

  • in the home
  • Issues relating to school
  • Involving a healthcare professional
Parenting a child with ADHD can be overwhelming for both children and parents. However, providing appropriate environmental, physical and emotional support to your child can make the disorder more manageable for both parents and children. More importantly, appropriate parental support can make the difference between success and failure for the ADHD child.

Parents can help their child manage difficulties with organization, attention, and activity levels by providing a home environment that helps, rather than exacerbates these struggles. First, help your child maintain a neat an organized bedroom. Children with ADHD tend to loose important items on a regular basis, therefore a cluttered and disorganized room will only make this tendency worse. Loosing things is frustrating for your child and when it happens frequently, can begin to wear down self- esteem. Hang hooks for bags, purses or other items that can be hung, designate drawers or shelves for items like chargers, cell phones, cameras, and other small electronics that can easily be misplaced. Encourage your child to keep the room as neat and organized as possible. If your child is younger, you can do the chore together. Next, designate a place for homework to be done. This should be a clean and uncluttered surface such as a desk or table, with good light and minimal distractions. Try to provide a comfortable chair that does not wobble or spin, since this can also become a distraction for your child. If it is difficult to provide quiet for your child during homework time, consider using an Ipod with classical music to block out noise from elsewhere in the house.

Providing a structured daily routine is a tool parents can use to help with difficulties with low frustration tolerance and other behavior issues.

Try to structure daily activities with as much consistency as possible. Establish a morning and evening routine that is consistent each day. The morning could involve waking up, eating breakfast, getting dressed, etc. in a specific order each day; while the evening routine may involve watching TV, a shower or bath, and a bedtime story. Try to keep the routines the same each day, so that your child knows what to expect, and what is expected of him or her. In addition, attempt to establish homework time as early in the day as possible, before settling down in front of the TV. Children with ADHD have limited attention in the best of situations; therefore attempting homework later in the evening when he or she is exhausted is never a good idea.

Helping your child to stay physically healthy and feeling good is another way parents can support their ADHD child. Appropriate sleep, diet and exercise is important for all children, but is especially so for children with attention deficits. Feeling tired, hungry, or sick, will significantly add to the concentration and attention issues that your child is already struggling with. Try to maintain consistent bedtimes that allow your child a solid 8-10 hours of sleep (teenagers may not appreciate this, however for younger children it is very important). Establish good eating habits by encouraging a healthy breakfast before school, and try to ensure that your child gets some physical exercise sometime during the afternoon after he or she gets home from school. Consistent and healthy meals, good sleeping habits and exercise will help your child stay physically fit, thereby making him or her less likely to succumb to illness.

Lastly, consider giving your child some type of responsibility around the house. It should be something simple, like emptying the trash in the kitchen, emptying the dishwasher, drying dishes, clearing the table, etc. Household chores hold important lessons for all children, however, they can be especially important for children with attention deficits and behavior issues. The expectation that your child participate in household chores shows your confidence in their ability to handle responsibility. This can be a great way to boost self-esteem, an issue many ADHD children struggle with.

A child with ADHD faces many challenges in the school environment. Parental involvement in supporting their child begins at home, and often extends into personal involvement with their child’s school personnel, depending on the child’s age and level of disability.

Building on the previous principle of keeping the child’s life as organized and uncluttered as possible, parents need to help their child keep their school bag and supplies neat and organized. A backpack that your child has chosen and finds comfortable, is a good place to start. The backpack should have one or two small compartments in the front, and at least two larger zipper compartments in the main body. Too many compartments can make it difficult to find things, and too few compartments often result in a disorganized mess-also making things difficult to find. The small front compartments are great for basic small school supplies, such as pens, pencils, erasers, highlighters, sticky notes, etc. Use the other compartment for more personal small items, such as money. Try to organize the rest of the backpack so that one compartment holds books, and the other binders and folders. It is also a good idea to have a designated compartment for food items; otherwise these tend to get mashed into important homework assignments and textbooks.

Next, organize binders, notebooks and folders. Depending on what the particular teacher requires, it is helpful to coordinate subjects by color. For example, use a red folder, a red notebook and a red binder for math. Red sticky notes and a red highlighter help complete the package and make it fun for your child. Lastly, your child will need an assignment pad. This can be a smaller spiral notebook with blank lines, or one with pages already dated. Remember to involve your child in choosing all the school supplies and in deciding how to organize the backpack. The more involved he or she is, the better the rate of follow-through in using the supplies appropriately.

Establish that homework will be completed before beginning any leisure activities, whenever possible. Homework time is often difficult for children with ADHD. They become frustrated easily, often rush through assignments leaving them partially incomplete, and commonly overlook directions. Therefore, your child will have more success with homework if he or she is alert and motivated to finish by the promise of something fun when the work is completed properly. Make sure your child has a quiet place to work that is free from clutter and other distractions. You may need to check the assignment pad, to insure all homework has been written down and help your child verify that each completed assignment has been put in the appropriate folder and stored in the backpack. Make sure your child has packed up for school before going to bed. The backpack and any other items necessary for the next day should be packed and waiting by the door, before bedtime. This simple precaution will drastically reduce the chances of your child forgetting to bring important items to school the next day.

Parents of children with ADHD often have to decide the degree of involvement, if any, they require from the child’s school. Some children will prefer to manage their ADHD without involving the school. It is recommended that they be allowed to attempt this approach. However, if your child continues to struggle, schools can offer a wide range of assistance to a child with ADHD. Interventions can be subtle, such as a seat in the front of the class, a “buddy” or class friend to help explain or restate directions that the child may have missed, and the teacher sending the child on errands during the day to provide extra physical activity and a break from the classroom. Younger children may respond well to the institution of a behavior chart that is sent home at the end of the week, thereby informing parents how the week unfolded. Some children will benefit from having the teacher check their assignment pad at the end of the day and sign off, indicating that the homework has been correctly recorded. Parents then have an accurate list of assignments to help them determine that all homework is accounted for and back into the child’s backpack for the next day. Most of these interventions can be instituted by a conversation with the child’s teacher and/or guidance counselor, and do not often require a formal evaluation by the school. Interventions can also be instituted on a larger scale, such as allowing more time on tests and long-term projects, or the development of an Individual Education Plan, or IEP. These interventions usually require an evaluation by a Child Study Team.

Although Child Study Team evaluations are often initiated by school personnel, parents can request such an evaluation as well, by speaking with their child’s teacher. A Child Study Team usually consists of a team of school professionals from different ancillary services, who evaluate and test the child in several different relevant areas, such as cognitive ability, fine and gross motor skills, speech and language skills, and social skills. The evaluation may also include a medical examination by a doctor, to rule out physical illness or disability, or to provide a medical diagnosis, such as ADHD. If your child is evaluated by a Child Study Team, the results and proposed interventions will be discussed with you upon completion of the evaluation.

Several different types of professional interventions are available to parents of children with ADHD, who are feeling overwhelmed and in need of support. Mental health professionals, such as psychologists or social workers, can help parents and families manage many of the suggestions and interventions detailed above. Mental Health professionals can offer emotional and psychological support, as well as concrete suggestions and ideas for handling difficult situations.

Medical professionals can also offer intervention in the form of medication, for children with ADHD. The decision to begin medication therapy is often an extremely difficult one for parents. Many parents feel guilty about medicating their child, and blame themselves for not being better parents. However, medication can make a tremendous difference in the child’s ability to concentrate and learn, in addition to helping with socially appropriate behavior. These skills are critical to a developing child, and for this reason, many parents are able to consider this intervention as an appropriate one for their child. Medication therapy is most effective when combined with the home and school interventions previously discussed.

Parents and children with ADHD will be most successful when they keep an open dialogue about the difficulties of living with attention deficit disorder. Parents should explain this disability to their child in an age appropriate way, and involve their child in decisions about what types of interventions are appropriate, whenever possible. The more a child understands and participates in treatment, the more successful they will be in living with their attention deficit.