Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects a person’s ability to pay attention, manage daily tasks, and control their emotions and impulses. This can affect school performance and family relationships.

Although ADHD can be stressful for children, it can also increase parenting stress. Knowing how to look after a child with ADHD may ease this stress while also reducing the risk of negative outcomes for the child.

Keep reading to learn more about how to care for a child with ADHD, including information on certain challenges that parents and caregivers may face and tips for looking after both children and teenagers.

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Many studies suggest that parents and caregivers of children with ADHD may experience increased parenting stress. The stress tends to increase with certain ADHD symptoms, especially those that disrupt family life or cause behavioral problems.

For example, a 2017 study that included 126 mothers of children with ADHD found that mothers were more likely to report parenting stress when the ADHD negatively affected their child’s behavior or caused social problems.

Parenting stress can affect the parent or caregiver’s ability to manage their child’s condition effectively. For example, a 2016 study involving parents of children with ADHD found that those who reported parenting stress were more likely to resort to less effective authoritarian and permissive parenting styles. That study also found a link between these parenting styles and worse executive functioning and behavior in children.

A 2011 study found that mothers of children with ADHD who experience higher parenting stress may adopt more arbitrary parenting styles. This means that the child’s environment can become less predictable, and there may be little reason for the specific discipline tactics that a parent or caregiver uses.

This suggests that the stress of parenting a child with ADHD may create a feedback loop in which parents or caregivers rely on less effective parenting. This can cause more behavioral and other challenges in the child, thereby intensifying parenting stress.

Some examples of the stressors that a parent or caregiver of a child with ADHD may encounter include:

  • advocating for their child at school
  • dealing with negative comments and unsolicited advice from outsiders
  • finding, paying for, and accessing the right treatment
  • managing behavioral issues
  • worrying about their child’s future
  • dealing with family conflict about their child’s diagnosis, including conflict between siblings

ADHD is a medical diagnosis, not a behavioral problem or a product of bad parenting. For this reason, looking after a child with ADHD begins with helping them get the right treatment and support.

A number of treatments — including therapy, parent training, behavior modification techniques, and support at school — can help.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that in very young children under 6 years old, the first line of defense should be parent training in behavior management and classroom support.

Behavior management usually includes positive reinforcement, creating a structured and predictable environment, and cultivating positive interactions.

If these interventions do not work, the AAP also mentions that stimulant medications may be helpful.

Some specific techniques for looking after children with ADHD include the following.

Advocating for children at school

In the United States, two federal laws — the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 — require schools to accommodate the needs of children with ADHD.

Federal law entitles children with conditions such as ADHD to an individualized education plan and a 504 plan. The former includes special services to meet the child’s needs, while the latter includes changes to the learning environment to accommodate the child’s ADHD.

Parents and caregivers need to request accommodations, and they sometimes have to push for institutions to honor these accommodations.

Some examples of classroom accommodations and support that may help a child with ADHD include:

  • daily feedback from a teacher
  • rewards for appropriate classroom behavior
  • preferential seating, such as sitting at the front of the classroom
  • organizational materials
  • extra time for tests
  • the use of technology to support learning
  • frequent breaks
  • the freedom to move, either through taking breaks or by using specialized equipment, such as sitting on a ball
  • classroom changes to reduce distraction
  • training to teach children better time management and emotional regulation skills

Managing ADHD behaviors

Children with ADHD need lots of help managing their time and daily activities. They may also struggle with impulse control.

The following techniques may help:

  • Teach children better time management by helping them set goals. Then, work with them to break those goals down into manageable, actionable steps.
  • Try giving one-step commands instead of multistep commands.
  • Help children learn how to use planners and checklists to monitor their own activities.
  • Use a rewards chart and positive reinforcement to help children monitor their progress and stay motivated.
  • Maintain consistency. All parents and caregivers must use the same system. If they do not, they may undermine each other and confuse children.
  • Provide children with meaningful feedback. Impulse control issues can make it difficult for children to see the connection between their behavior and consequences. Make this connection explicit, consistently explaining to children why certain behaviors, such as hitting a sibling, lead to bad outcomes.
  • Take time to notice children’s success. Schedule one-on-one time for positive interactions that do not include punishment or negative feedback.
  • Do not punish typical ADHD behaviors, such as distraction. Instead, find ways to help children redirect their attention.
  • Talk openly and proudly about children’s strengths.

Reducing family conflict

Parents and other caregivers may disagree about how to look after a child with ADHD. Also, other family members, such as siblings, may resent the impact that ADHD has on their life or the family system.

The following strategies may help:

  • Enroll in family therapy: This gives everyone an opportunity to share their emotions and get expert insight on managing ADHD.
  • Take a parent training class: These can help all parents and caregivers adopt effective strategies.
  • Join a support group: These groups are where parents and caregivers can get help and feedback from other ADHD caregivers.
  • Spend one-on-one time with each child: This is so that children with ADHD, and other children without it, do not feel resentful of each other. Children with ADHD also have an opportunity to discuss how the condition affects them.

Girls may experience ADHD differently from boys. Learn more here.

Teenagers are moving toward more independence, especially as they approach high school graduation. However, this independence can be difficult, especially if they have not yet learned the skills to manage their ADHD or advocate for themselves.

Impulse control issues can also endanger teenagers with ADHD. For example, they may be more likely to misuse alcohol and drugs. So, parents and caregivers must remain active in their teenagers’ lives while working to help them gain more independence and better control over their symptoms.

As with younger children, finding the right treatment is important. For example, have a doctor reevaluate a teenager’s medication dosage. It is also important to continue pursuing accommodations at school. Parents and caregivers should talk openly with their teenagers about these accommodations, as teenagers will eventually have to advocate for themselves at work, in college, and in their relationships.

Learn more about ADHD and relationships here.

Some strategies for helping teenagers with ADHD include the following.

Reducing risky and impulsive behavior

Driving, traveling with friends, and engaging in other forms of increasing independence can pose a risk to teenagers with ADHD and to others.

Try these strategies to reduce the potential risk of harm:

  • Avoid giving them independence all at once. Instead, talk with the teenager about the various potential risks, and give more independence as they show they are able to handle those risks.
  • Supervise the teenager’s driving, and provide lots of oversight. Consider delaying driving if the teenager is particularly impulsive.
  • Know where the teenager is at all times, and get to know their friends.
  • Encourage harm reduction strategies. For example, teach the teenager about safe sex and sexual consent.

Supporting academic life

Teenagers with ADHD may continue to struggle at school. This may affect college admissions and career opportunities, so it is important for parents and caregivers to continue to support them.

Try the following:

  • Encourage the teenager to develop an organization system that works for them.
  • Continue pushing for accommodations at school, and talk with the teenager about which accommodations work best for their needs.
  • Help the teenager advocate for themselves by encouraging them to talk with teachers and providing feedback on these conversations.
  • Consider enrolling the teenager in an organization or time management class so that they can master the skills they need in college and beyond.
  • Try to intervene early if the teenager begins failing a class or skipping school. For example, recruit help from school counselors, administrators, and teachers.

Encouraging healthy emotions and relationships

Teenagers with ADHD may struggle to make and keep friends or find that impulsive behavior affects their relationships.

The following tips may help:

  • Talk with the teenager about their relationships without being critical.
  • Encourage the teenager to talk with other adults about their relationships.
  • Help the teenager master their social skills by finding them a therapist who specializes in social relationships.
  • Try to teach the teenager emotional regulation and impulse control strategies. Consider enrolling them in therapy to help them manage their emotions.

Although ADHD can present challenges to parents, caregivers, and people who have the condition, there may also be some benefits. Learn more about them here.

ADHD can be challenging for children and their parents and caregivers. However, with the right help, children with ADHD can be successful and happy.

People with ADHD can thrive in adulthood and even lose many of their symptoms over time if parents and carers know how to care for them in the right way.

Do not consider ADHD as a parenting failure or a behavioral problem. It is a unique challenge with its own rewards. Seek help from healthcare professionals who specialize in ADHD in children and teenagers.