Parenting Your Child with ADHD
Parenting Your Child with ADHD
Did you know children in foster care are considered a “special health care” population by the American Academy of Pediatrics (1)? What does this mean? It means that kids who have lost their families are likely to have more health challenges than those who have not.
One of the more likely challenges is having Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Some of us may not have parented children with this challenge until we welcomed foster children. This is a wonderful opportunity to grow our parenting skills as we seek to love and teach them while they are in our care.
We know that the ADHD brain is wired differently from other brains. Simply put, the circuits are over or under-actively fueled by the brain’s chemical messaging system. The result is that the ADHD brain functions like a TV with a remote control that does not work. The channels change unpredictably. This, of course, is frustrating for anyone watching. Sound familiar? Your ADHD child is not behaving this way because he or she wants to. “Grace and space” parenting, infused with lots of laughter, is key!
Are you wrestling with any of these questions surrounding common ADHD challenges?
1. What do I do?
I love my child - but right now I don’t even like him!
If you are so frustrated with parenting your child with ADHD that you don’t like him very much right now, that’s OK. Your feelings are real. Take a break and take some time to connect with him in a way you both enjoy. Everything we do as parents works best when coming from a positive, connected relationship!
2. How should I respond?
No discipline seems to work for this child!
Approach your parenting task as “coaching her rather than “disciplining” her. Coaching makes us think about teaching in a non-punitive way. Teaching self-control is always the primary goal for children with ADHD. Punishing children with ADHD is a far less effective method for connecting “cause and effect.” The most successful coaching is done by allowing the child to experience natural consequences. This better connects the behavior and the result of the behavior in the child’s brain.
For example: If the child forgets her sports equipment, do not deliver it to her at school. If a child cheats at a game, let him discover that friends may exclude him.
Be watchful and wise, sometimes you will have to rescue your child, but don’t rush to do it every time. And a tip to surely remember? 😉 Try not to punish yourself with the consequences you choose!
3. Are there any basic rules?
Parenting like this feels complicated!
Yes! One approach is to “Praise the good, Ignore the bad and only give consequences for the dangerous or intolerable.” Believe it or not, you can let some behaviors slide. Even correcting a child over and over is a form of attention. Children in foster care may especially struggle with this need for attention of any sort. So it‘s OK to ignore undesirable behavior. Instead, celebrate the good choices with tremendous enthusiasm! Your child will repeat those behaviors!
4. Really? Should I increase her consequences?
My child does not seem to learn from her mistakes!
Like with any sport, practice makes progress. Since teaching self-control is the goal, we want to keep the lessons short and it’s preferable to have many, many lessons rather than an extended battle of wills. This means the cycles of teaching “behavior/results of my behavior” should repeat quickly! Extended consequences do not accomplish this. In fact, they decrease the chances to teach and reinforce the behaviors we want and may end up discouraging both the child and the parent!
The length of these “behavior/results of my behavior” cycles may be increased as the child matures. Keep in mind that even teenagers with ADHD do not need lengthy punishments, especially when related to peers and to denying privileges.
5. How do I know if I need help parenting my child with ADHD?
- When you are feeling “stuck”
- If you are having marital conflict
- If you are suffering
- If your child, your spouse, or other children in your home are suffering
- If your child is doing things that are illegal, dangerous or high risk - then it’s time to get help!
6. Where do I go for help?
Always pray and ask God’s direction, first. Then, ask your pediatrician, school counselor, teacher or your fostering agency for referrals. You are not alone. Never be afraid to ask for help when you realize your family needs it!
Dealing with ADHD in children from hard places can be extremely challenging, even for experienced parents. You may not get it right every time, but don’t beat yourself up. Instead, draw on strength from God and try again using some of the suggestions above. Remember 1 Peter 4:8: "Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins."
1. The AAP is a national group of pediatricians who have joined together to seek to improve the health and well-being of America’s children.
Dr. Patricia Lantis is an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the Emory University School of Medicine, teaching pediatric trainees and medical students the art and science of caring for children. She is the mother of five children–three by birth and two by international adoption. Dr. Lantis is a member of Perimeter Church, Johns Creek, GA, and enjoys gardening, reading, watching her kids play sports, and cuddling her dog, Ruby.