Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can present challenges as a child grows. Parenting a child with ADHD, age by age, can involve trying techniques to support their development and confidence.
Parents and caregivers may benefit from learning about ADHD, trying strategies to manage behavior, and focusing on the positive aspects of ADHD to raise confidence.
With the right support, parental interventions can increase the likelihood of good school performance and self-esteem.
This article discusses parenting a child with ADHD, including specific tips for preschoolers, older children, and teenagers.
Parental support plays a crucial role in the lives of all children, but for those with ADHD, it is especially important. Parenting can help:
- Boost confidence: Children with ADHD can receive a lot of negative feedback, which can damage self-esteem. Loving children unconditionally, noticing their successes, and identifying their strengths can counteract this.
- Promote social skills: Impulsivity and hyperactivity can sometimes interfere with forming relationships. Parenting can help children learn how to work cooperatively, take turns, and make friends.
- Manage energy: For children with hyperactivity, engaging in sports or other activities that channel their energy into a hobby or passion can be helpful.
- Create a helpful home environment: Children with ADHD benefit from structure at home, with clear and realistic rules and expectations. This can make victories more likely.
- Support education: Parents and caregivers can advocate for children at school, ensuring they get the support they need to succeed.
The five Cs of ADHD parenting is a framework that Sharon Saline, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist, developed. It emphasizes:
- Self-control: Caregivers should try to model self-control, responding to children rather than reacting.
- Compassion: Caregivers should withhold judgment, accepting others for who they are right now.
- Collaboration: This involves working together to find solutions, such as through compromise.
- Consistency: Caregivers should aim to follow a consistent plan or routine, but allow for flexibility.
- Celebration: This means offering praise and encouragement when things go well.
Some tips that can help with parenting at this stage include:
- Learning about ADHD: If a child shows potential signs of ADHD, take time to learn about the condition and its symptoms. This may involve reading medical information, but it can also help to read personal stories from people who have grown up with this diagnosis.
- Booking an assessment: If a child does not already have an ADHD diagnosis, it is important to try and get one as soon as possible. Some children receive a diagnosis as young as 4 years old.
- Positive reinforcement: This is important for all children, but especially those with ADHD. Praise their wins, no matter how small.
- Understanding childcare: Relatives, caregivers, and preschool staff should know about their diagnosis, how it affects behavior, and how to respond to it.
- Behavior therapy: This evidence-based treatment can help children learn how to manage impulses, hyperactivity, and difficulty concentrating. Some people believe that starting this early may reduce the need for medication later on.
At this age, children may have started school, which can be a major shift in daily routine.
To make sure children with ADHD get the most from school, it can help to plan ahead. Speak with new teachers before the term starts to let them know about the diagnosis and what helps the child.
Caregivers can also work with the school to arrange accommodations that may help their child, such as:
- writing out the day’s schedule on the board at the start of each day
- seating the child in a less distracting part of the classroom
- alternating seated activities with active ones
- allowing frequent breaks
- dividing bigger tasks into smaller ones
- giving the child an object they can discretely fidget with, such as a stress ball
- giving the child small errands when they are restless, such as fetching art supplies
- deciding on a subtle signal that indicates when the child is interrupting, rather than openly calling them out
- making learning fun with games, songs, or creative elements
After school, children may be tired from controlling their behavior all day. It may help to:
- set aside time for them to relax or burn off energy immediately after school
- take them to fun clubs or activities, but avoid overscheduling
- follow a predictable schedule for mealtime, homework, and bedtime
Teens with ADHD can sometimes experience changes in their symptoms. Hyperactivity may become less pronounced, but as the demands of school increase, they may encounter new challenges.
At this age, it may help caregivers to focus on:
- Clear boundaries: Teenagers often crave more freedom and may push the limits of old boundaries. Caregivers can work with this by setting age-appropriate boundaries that allow their child to become more independent, but within safe limits.
- Privileges: To further motivate adolescents, caregivers can grant additional freedoms as rewards for meeting goals or sticking with certain habits.
- Open communication: Adolescents may begin asserting different opinions and wishes to those of their caregivers. Try to encourage open communication about these issues.
- Medication schedule: Teenagers sometimes disagree with caregivers about the need for ADHD medications. If they want to stop taking it, it is important to have a balanced discussion about the potential benefits and consequences. ADHD medications can help with school performance, learning to drive, and other things that may be important to them.
- Unconditional support: When talking to a teen with ADHD, emphasize love and support. When caregivers believe in their child and their ability to solve problems or overcome difficulties, it can help boost confidence.
Boundaries are a vital part of parenting any child. When parenting a child with ADHD, it is important to:
- Remember their challenges: Children with ADHD do not intend to misbehave or forget things — their symptoms make it harder for them to control their behavior. Empathize with them, and keep in mind that it is not intentional.
- Set simple but specific expectations: This helps children understand what is and is not acceptable.
- Focus on logical consequences: If a child crosses a boundary, explain the consequences of that action. For example, the consequence of not doing homework could be that the child has to take extra lessons.
- Give a clear warning: Allow the child opportunity to change their behavior before delivering any consequences.
- Be consistent: Stick to the same rules and consequences and be consistent in applying them, even if a child makes the same mistake several times.
It is also important to avoid:
- Punishing or criticizing their symptoms: People with ADHD cannot change their symptoms, so punishing them for this is not helpful.
- Disciplining with anger: When responding to behavior, remain calm and keep the emphasis on the behavior, not the child. Avoid harsh punishments and yelling.
- Rigidity: While consistency is important, there may be times when boundaries need to change, such as with the child’s age or when something is not working.
Parent training can help caregivers learn more about ADHD and how to parent a child with ADHD. It usually involves
Parent training is the doctor-recommended treatment for preschoolers with ADHD. It can also be useful for caregivers who have children under the age of 12.
People can get more information about parent training from a doctor, or they may look for a qualified therapist directly.
At all ages, parenting a child with ADHD involves education, empathy, and consistency. There are also specific ways to support children as they reach key milestones, such as when they start school.
Learning about ADHD and the techniques that work best for each child can help them flourish. Parents and caregivers may benefit from parent training to learn more about this.