Parenting Children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder

CADDAC National Director

Children with ADHD require specialized parenting. Most parents parent somewhat inconsistently, but this is not good enough for children with ADHD and Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD). The more severe the ADHD and ODD is, the greater the necessity for specialized and consistent parenting.

When one spouse has undiagnosed and untreated ADHD or another disorder of self-regulation the consistent, unified and specialized parenting required becomes very difficult to implement. The parent with the self-regulation disorder will find it very difficult to be consistent in their parenting. Issues with emotional dysregulation will most likely also be apparent in parents with these untreated disorders. This will make it difficult for them to remain calm and model appropriate self-regulation when the child displays unwanted behaviours caused by their own regulatory issues. This can cause significant issues in the parent/child relationship as well as the spousal relationship.

Parents must be able to accept the diagnosis of ADHD and agree with the concept that ADHD is a medical neurodevelopmental disorder. ADHD cannot be trained out of the child. The parent you cannot “fix” the child, rather the parent will need to adapt and change how you are interacting with, supporting and advocating for the child.

These children will require far more and closer parental monitoring due to their attention dysregulation, impulsivity and hyperactivity and their impairments in executive functioning and self and emotional regulation. They will drift off task or into unwanted behaviour more easily and lose track of time.

Parents will need to learn as much as they can about ADHD, so they can understand their child. They will need to learn why the child is having difficulty doing what is being asked of them and at the same time unable to resist doing things they should not be doing. Parents will need to re-frame their thinking of common ADHD behaviour from being a result of lack of willpower, motivation or childhood manipulation, to being caused by neurodevelopmental impairments due to a medical disorder.

Parents must create supportive environments by reducing conflict as much as possible and put structures and supports in place to offset impairments. Rules will need to be very clear and consistent with immediate positive rewards when followed. Parents will be required to be proactive rather than reactive, anticipating times, and situations that trigger behaviours and have a plan in place for when behaviours happen.

It is common for the majority of ODD negative behaviours to occur in the home and with the parent who is most familiar. It is important that parents do not take the child’s behaviours, moods and ODD, disrespect personally.

Be aware that some of the things you are asking your child to do may not be in their control. Insisting on this can lead to decreased self- esteem, anxiety, withdrawal, acting out and depression and loss of motivation. Research has shown that before a child with ADHD reaches 12 they have received more than 200,000 negative messages.

Parents will need to spend time learning about their child’s medical and psychological profile. They will need to understand their child strengths and needs before good parenting practices can be out in place. Once this is done, strategies can be put in place to help the child improve their daily functioning. Daily effort in teaching and practicing executive functioning skills can help the child improve on these skills, however, it will take a great deal of consistent effort on the parents part.

Due to all of these parenting requirements parents can become overwhelmed and exhausted needing to take time out to regroup and replenish their own strength. Having support and respite system in place for parents of children with ADHD can help the well-being of the entire family.

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