Being a Parent of a Child with ADHD

Written by Heidi Bernhardt, RN, Founder of CADDAC

Being the parent of an ADHD child or children, in some ways, is no different than being the parent of a child without ADHD. We all want our children to be happy and healthy. We want them to become responsible adults who will be able to leave our homes one day and be successful in whatever their chosen endeavour may be. Like all other parents, we must be teachers, mentors, disciplinarians and a comforting shoulder to cry on. But perhaps, even more so than other parents, we need to be that source of unconditional love that is so necessary for all children, but especially so for ours.

Just like other parents, we hurt for our children when they don’t succeed or get into trouble. Even though we understand better than anyone else how tiring, frustrating and annoying our children can be at times, we still become defensive when they are criticized. Hopefully we can also recognize how sensitive, imaginative, creative, caring, and exceptional our children can be. It can be extremely painful when others notice the negative aspects of our children but fail to recognize their positive traits.

When times are tough it can become difficult for us to remember some of these positive traits ourselves. Our children’s positive aspects can become completely buried under power struggles, worry, and guilt.

Every once in a while, take some time to reflect on your child’s strengths, and make sure that your child is able to recognize his or her own strengths as well. Help your child to feel good about these strengths, and while you’re at it, remember to recognize your own strengths as a parent. Too often, parenting a child with ADHD can leave us feeling inadequate, frustrated, and a failure. Remember, these children can be a challenge for even the best of parents.

Children and adolescents with ADHD can try your patience until you think you are going to lose your mind. It is possible for these children to blow up and call you every name under the sun and then ten minutes later, turn around and calmly ask “What’s for dinner?” As a parent, you are very likely still hurt that this child, for whom you do so much, has just yelled at you but they have moved on.

A parent once told me that she needed to learn how to like her son again after his diagnosis. I found this a very profound statement. Once our children have the diagnosis, we must alter our understanding of their behaviours and learn to assess these behaviours through the filter of ADHD. We need to continually ask ourselves if a given behaviour is due to an impairment, is a defense mechanism the child is using to avoid something that is difficult due to an impairment, or is just a normal childhood behaviour that requires correcting.

While the dreams that we have for our children and many of our feelings may not be different from those of other parents, we learn quickly that parenting a child with ADHD can offer many challenges, frustrations, and sometimes even heartbreak. Again, these are not easy children to parent! When one member of a family has ADHD, the stress on the entire family increases. As parents, we need to accept this reality and structure our lives accordingly.

Learning everything that we can about ADHD and how it affects our child is the essential first step. The second step is altering our views on what we think the ‘perfect family’ should be. Please don’t waste your time and effort striving to structure your family in a way that your extended family and friends may view as ‘ideal’. I spent years beating myself up, prior to my children being diagnosed, questioning why doing certain things that other families did so effortlessly was so difficult for us.

Spend your energy doing what works for your family, gets done what needs to be done and causing the least amount of stress for everyone. Remember to keep your eye on the long-term goal. Yes, you want your children to learn the skills they need to be successful in life, but you also want to end up an intact loving family, with parents and children who feel good about themselves.

Your next step will be to add those routines, strategies and solutions that will allow your family to function well. While structure is often needed for children with ADHD, finding that delicate balance between rules and flexibility is often a difficult challenge for parents. ADHD in a family will mean added effort from both parents and the entire extended family if they spend considerable time with your children. It does not mean that your family cannot function well, remain loving and close knit, with children who succeed in life