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Tips for parenting a child with ADHD

Child and parent

In my last blog I highlighted how tough it is to care for a child who is impulsive, constantly on the go, has difficultly with paying attention to what you say and struggles to organise themselves. Today I’ll be giving some tips to help make parenting a little easier.

Spend special time together every day

This is about the most important thing you can do with your child and it will make all the following steps much more likely to work. Plus it really boosts your child’s self esteem.  

Make time to talk with your child and enjoy relaxing, fun activities together, even if it's just for a few minutes. Give your child your full attention. Compliment positive behaviours. Comment when your child does something good, for example, when your child waits her turn, say, "You're taking turns so nicely”.

Focus on encouraging the behaviour you want to see more of (even just a hint of it)

Concentrate on just one or two specific behaviours at a time, such as sitting down for 5 mins, or speaking at a low volume. Acknowledge and praise straight away every time you see even a glimmer of this behaviour… positive reinforcement means you’ll see more of it!

Set clear expectations and boundaries… and stick to them

Consistency is the name of the game with parenting… so even when you’re tired or your child has been going on and on and for hours DON’T GIVE IN! They will know that nagging pays off and keep doing it. It’s tough, I know, but it’s the only way.

These expectations and boundaries need to be shared by all members of the family so you may need to have a conversation with partners or ex partners to make sure you’re on the same page, so your child really knows where they stand and feels secure.

Have a good routine

Kids with ADHD need structure to function (as do all children) and they find it difficult to create structure for themselves. Have a consistent morning, after school and evening/bedtime routine, and life will run much more smoothly

Learn how to effectively ask them to do something

Having routines and a set of clear expectations means that generally you need to give fewer instructions… it’s been proved! But when you do need to ask your child to do something here are some ways to get them to be responsive:

  • Get their attention with eye contact (don’t just yell upstairs!)
  • Say what you want them to do…not what you don’t want them to do… For instance, say “Turn the volume down please!” Rather than “stop yelling”
  • Use a gentle but firm voice, they need to know you mean business but you aren’t been antagonistic
  • Make it clear that you expect them to do it, so avoid phrases like ‘Can you’,’ I’d like you to’ ‘I’d wish you would’ and so on
  • Make one request at a time, not a whole string of them… they’ll never remember them all or just switch from one to another.

Ask once then give a warning of what will happen if they don’t listen

You find yourself asking for something over and over and your child still doesn’t do it… Sound familiar?

Only ask your child to do something you really want them to do and be prepared to follow through with the consequence, because your child doesn’t know which requests you want them to do and which you aren’t bothered with.

Remember to think in advance what the consequence will be, that way you don’t have to come up with something in the heat of the moment. It should be fair, make sense, and you need to stick to it. Something such as “if you don’t come off the Xbox when I ask you’ll get 5 mins less time on it tomorrow”.

So there’s a lot of advice here and it’s not all that easy. But these approaches DO work… they just take time and consistency. As long as things are moving in the right direction, you’ll get there in the end.

And finally one of the most important things I’d say is look after yourself! Parenting is stressful at the best of times but parenting children with ADHD can be super stressful… that’s why you need to find ways to relax. Get support wherever you can. Maybe link in with parent support groups so that you have someone to talk to and spend some time with. Remember a calmer house leads to a calmer child!

If you need support, you can call the YoungMinds Parents Helpline on 0808 802 5544 (Monday to Friday 9.30am – 4pm) or find resources for parents of children with ADHD. Parenting Special Children provides specialist support for parents in Berkshire. 

And don't forget we also have lots of information on our ADHD pages.

About the author

Claudia Swain is a Speciality Doctor in Child and Adolescent Mental Health