Parenting a child with ADHD can be a challenge, but for parents who have ADHD, those challenges double. Supporting our kids' executive functioning skills and emotional regulation can be particularly difficult when we have our own struggles in these areas!
Today's episode offers 8 tips for parents as they navigate the complicated reality of parenting kids with ADHD as an ADHD parent.
Welcome to ADHD crash course, and today we're going to talk about parenting a child with ADHD when you have ADHD. This is a lot of us. There is a genetic link with ADHD, so we see this in families.
What was definitely true for me was that seeing my kids, seeing their struggles, and seeing them get diagnosed with ADHD made it really clear to me that it was what was going on with me as well. I had never really considered ADHD before that. A lot of people have that similar experience of recognizing ADHD in their kids, and then going back, learning about their brains and how to support themselves while they're trying to help kids. That's tough, it is not easy. I have the benefit of having an occupational therapy background and that gave me somewhat of a head start, but honestly, it still was so much to learn.
When my daughters were diagnosed, when I was diagnosed, there was so much to learn. There was so much to catch up on. I wanted to create this episode as a little bit of support for parents who have been thrown into the deep end and are learning all the things as quickly as they can. You have good company, and this episode is for you.
These are tips that I have for people who have ADHD, those who are parenting neurodivergent kiddos.
1. Be compassionate to yourself and your child
Number one is be compassionate. Be compassionate to yourself and compassionate to your child. This is not an easy place to be when you are parenting a complicated kid and you're struggling yourself.
Compassion for yourself is key. Compassion for your child is key. Understand that your kid wants to be successful. You are learning about your brains together, most likely. That is a sloppy process, it's going to be sloppy, so understand that. Understand also, that people are going to missunderstand your child's behavior. Your child with regulation issues is going to be thought of as a brat by some, and your child with sensory issues may look controlling because they're not going to do certain things or want to do certain things. Your child with executive functioning issues might be unfairly labeled as lazy. This is tough.
You're going to be wanting to work as an advocate for your child, as an advocate for yourself, teaching that, modeling that. You're going to be wanting to educate people around you, and to be totally honest, this is a tough job. There are going to be times that you feel embarrassed by your or your kids behavior. There may be times where you feel defensive. Someone's going to misunderstand you or your child. There's going to be times that you might feel inadequate, but I promise you there is no better person than you for this job.
When I decided to pivot and do this work professionally (work and coach), other people with ADHD- a loved one that was well meaning- asked me, "Do you really think that you're the right person for this job because of the way you've struggled?" I knew that I was the right person for the job because of the way I struggled. My oldest child is an executive functioning queen. It is just intuitive to her. She does this really well: plans, organizes, and all of that. She's really good at it.
Someone like that may be a horrible teacher for people that struggle with this, because being great at something, being skilled at something does not mean you can teach it. If you are in this sloppy process of learning for yourself, teaching your kid, advocating for yourself, or advocating for your child, understand that this makes you even more qualified for what you're doing. Have compassion for both you and your child in the process.
2. Prioritize supporting your families emotional regulation
Number two is prioritize supporting your families emotional regulation. Parents play a really big role in their kids emotional regulation. When they're infants, we do a lot of things to help them regulate. If a baby's crying, you're going to meet some of their basic needs, change their diaper or feed them, beyond that you're going to do physically comforting things, sensory based things, to comfort kids.
You might rock them, you might bounce them, you might sing to them, you're using this body input to help them regulate, soothe, and calm. As they get older and they're toddlers, they really struggle with this regulation piece, as well as their independence bumps up and they struggle in that way.
We also help our kids a lot at this stage.
We expect to help them a lot, you expect to see toddlers having tantrums and meltdowns. It is developmentally appropriate, but for kids with ADHD, that difficulty regulating continues even on to adulthood, which is a difficult combination, right?
You've got a parent who's struggling to stay regulated, and a child who's struggling to stay regulated. This can be a really tough combination.
This is a super important thing to learn about together, to get tools for, and to help you and your child strengthen this ability. I've mentioned this before, and I'm going to mention it again, kids who are compliant are not necessarily regulating. We know when we see someone who's having a big meltdown, whether they're five or fifty-five, that this person is struggling with emotional regulation.
What we don't recognize is somebody that smiles, nods, and internalizes all that big emotion. All of that overwhelming emotion is going to go somewhere. That's going to go somewhere, it's not just going to dissipate. That's not regulating, and it has a big fallout. Don't confuse compliant kids, people pleasing kids, or people pleasing masking adults, as people who are regulating. Either for yourself or for your child, be a detective here and recognize when you're not doing well emotionally, when you are overwhelmed, or shut down. Learn the tools that help you with that.
What does that support look like? Lots of things, right? There's definitely strategies that I've talked about throughout these podcasts: sensory strategies, cognitive strategies, breathing, mindfulness, meditation, there's all kinds of strategies. When my kids were young, I didn't know they had ADHD. I didn't know I had ADHD, and I didn't have any of the specific regulation strategies. I had a very good friend that I could be honest with. I would remove myself when I was totally dysregulated.
It was often, and she would know if I was calling her and I would say "I'm on the porch" I was outside with a porch story. She loved the porch stories, because they were always nuts. "My child has filled a clothing storage bin full of water as a pool, and now it's leaking from the ceiling because they've all jumped in this pool," "my child's leg is stuck in a bucket", or "my child hit a poop in a drawer and told me it was fabulous when I found it."
Whatever it was, I was outside so I didn't explode. This was because I was not regulating well emotionally, and needed to create space. Emotional regulation is one of those skills that you just need all the time. A lot of times when our kids are diagnosed with ADHD, we are drawn right to the academic and school performance. Of course, that's relevant, but what I have found is one of the most impactful issues with ADHD is emotional regulation. That underpins relationships, social skills, and academics because that if that emotional regulation piece is difficult, it's hard to press on through frustrations, it's hard to push through in general.
That being said, emotional regulation is just a super, super high priority for your whole family. If you're a parent with ADHD, and have a child with ADHD.
3. Get all of the help you can access
Number three is get all of the help you can access. Now that's going to look different for all of us, depending on our financial situation, our schedule or location, all of that. When you're in doubt and don't know whether to get the help, my advice would be get the help. I can tell you about my situation. Both of my daughters were diagnosed in fourth grade. The school was not concerned about them. They were getting straight A's, they didn't have behavioral issues in the classroom, but I just knew that they were working way too hard.
I knew something was going on. For both of my girls, I had this diagnosis long before there were any actual functional problems in school. We had them at home, but the academic problems hadn't begun at school. Both of my daughters were high achievers, they were maskers, they were going to cover up, they were going to exhaust themselves, but they were going to do what they had to do to meet the expectation at school. This can be really tricky, because we're always looking at function. That's what we should be looking at, is function. If your kids are making the grades, meeting the expectations, but they are toast, exhausted, and fried by the time they get home, that's a sign.
If your child is getting really good grades, but they're having to work super, super hard, that gap is likely to keep growing because those demands (executive functioning skills) just keep growing as kids move along in school. When they're younger, they're really heavily supported. Teachers are spending a lot of time organizing, breaking things down, helping kids plan, and as they get older, that is expected of kids. More of their energy as teachers goes into complicated subject matter. What you see often with kids is that gap grows too much.
Now for some kids, that's in elementary, some it's middle or high school, and for a lot of kids it's college. College is this time where maybe you need to go to class, maybe you don't, or maybe you have some checkpoints along the way, maybe you don't. Oftentimes in a college classroom, you're completely expected to pace yourself, to have acquired the knowledge for an end exam, or an end project. Kids who really understand the material and content, but can't break down and plan, really crash and burn during that time.
Getting the help early for your kids is a good thing. I know parents worry about kids being labeled, and they worry about their self esteem. I get that, and I have those same concerns and questions with my kids, because they weren't struggling academically yet. The tricky part about that is once they are struggling academically, they're struggling.
They're struggling, and they start getting a lot of ideas about who they are, what kind of students they are, or how capable they are. It's a lot harder to do damage control than being proactive, getting them extra tools, teaching them how to advocate for what they need before they need it, honestly. I can tell you, I didn't know if I was doing the right thing. I wasn't sure at that time, because I thought, "well, is this overkill? Am I labeling my kid? Am I doing too much here?" As it turns out, I was grateful that was the approach that we took. It was helpful for us in working with them, and helping them get the help they needed. They had vocabulary for what they needed, and they understood more what they need for their brain. It wasn't so difficult when they actually had to advocate for themselves to understand what they needed to be successful.
4. Learn to buffer things
Number four is buffer, learn to buffer things. We definitely do this in terms of time. If you know you need to get somewhere at 8:30, plan to be there at 8:00, especially when you have kids because there's so many factors that end up jamming you up. It can be so difficult, you can be doing all the things right, and somebody has put their shoes in the recycling. Now you can't leave when you plan to leave. It just happens, so buffer for your sanity. Buffer to help you manage time, especially if you don't feel time. A lot of people with ADHD struggle with time blindness. Buffer for that, and give yourself that extra room.
Not just buffering for time, what I found is really helpful for my family, for myself, for many of the people I work with, is buffer for your energy. With ADHD, we don't often talk about energy. It's really important because oftentimes, we have a hard time of regulating energy, we might have tons of energy at one point in the day and be tanked in other point of the day. We can't always predict that. What I found is really helpful parenting somebody with ADHD when you have it yourself, is to buffer energy as well as time. Try not to jam your schedule full of things with no downtime, even if that's what everybody around you is doing.
Understand that for you, you may be expending a lot more energy doing the things that everybody's doing. Planning for that, and buffering for your own personal energy and your kids energy is an important way to take care of yourselves.
Number five is related. It's simplify. When I did an episode on managing your energy with ADHD, one of the tips was simplification. When you're simplifying, you're trying to do this to serve you. You're trying to do this to make your family life smoother, to preserve your energy, to prioritize where you want to put your energy and resources. Try not to make this a big rule or even an extreme lifestyle overhaul, because those don't tend to be sustainable. Thinking about simplification when you're coming up with your calendar, or when you're deciding where you're going to spend energy and time really helps when it comes to supporting ADHD (both as an individual and just for your whole family).
6. Create some habits and routines
Number six is create some habits and routines. I say some because you really have to understand your brain here. Many people with ADHD need a balance, we need some places that are automatic in our lives just to give us a break. That's what routines can mean for us. It's just having some areas where you don't have to make decisions. That can be this autopilot. That's good for you. It's also great for kids. Most kids really thrive on some of that predictability. The flip side of that is understanding that you might need to change it up, you might need novelty, you may not want too many of those. I usually advise people to leverage those in really important places.
Common areas that people prioritize are our morning routines and evening routines. It's the beginning and the end of your day. You might help your kids develop them around study habits or coming home from school. If you're like me, you're not particularly a routine person. Understanding why this works, why it's valuable might make it easier to do for me. It's not enough to do it just because everybody's doing it or it's the way it's done.
When I see that it is helpful in how my day flows with my family, that it protects my energies, it's a lot easier for me to prioritize creating routines and using these when I know there's actually a benefit that matters to me.
7. When in doubt, make things visual
Number seven is when in doubt, make things visual. If you're struggling with time, make time visual. The visual timers create wall calendars. Make things visual, if your child isn't putting things away in drawers, label the drawers. That seems unnecessary with some brain types, but for some of us, remembering where things go is a challenge.
It's just not something that you or your kid pays attention to. If things are not going to go back in a way that you can find them in a set place, make things visual in any area that's a struggle. If you're trying to explain a multi-step thing to your child and they're just struggling, move away from the words and move more to visual or physical examples.
If you have a kid that is really struggling to clean their room and what it boils down to is you're just always pretty much cleaning their room for them, having written out steps of what a clean room actually means is helpful. For example, number one, you're putting all trash in the trash can. Number two, you're getting all clothes in the hamper or put away. Number three, toys are going here. Spelling out the steps, making them visual, taking a picture of end products, this is important for many of us with executive functioning struggles.
Take a picture of what the room looks like when it meets your definition of a clean room. That can vary between people, but have an image of what that means. Remembering that too academically, if your kid is really struggling because they don't know what the end science fair project looks like, or the paper looks like, it's a reasonable accommodation to get a model. Not that they're going to copy the exact thing, but to get a model of what the end looks like, because that can actually help them break down the steps once they have that model to work backwards from.
8. Expect your kids with ADHD to be less mature than their neurotypical peers
Number 8 is expect your kids with ADHD to be less mature than their neurotypical peers or siblings. I see all kinds of numbers thrown out, two, up to three years of a difference between what you expect typically, and what you see with many kids in terms of performance when it comes to maturity and ADHD.
This is not necessarily academics, this is talking about some of these life skills, these relationship skills, these getting things done skills. It doesn't mean that we just say, "hey, throw up our hands, they're never going to close the gap," but that creates a more realistic expectation of where they are. You can work from that place, you're likely to see socially that a lot of times kids with ADHD are going to gravitate towards younger kids. They're going to have more in common with them and they're going to enjoy their company more. They're going to have more success with them. It's just something to be aware of that is just common with ADHD.
Now wrapping up, these are eight tips, eight ideas, just scratching the surface. Hopefully these are some things that are helpful to you. We looked at compassion: self compassion, compassion for your children, so important. Emotional regulation was next. This is a big priority if in terms of the support that you get for your whole family. Getting help was number three and that very often might look like executive functioning skills, support, accommodations, whatever you need to help you as a parent and your child.
Prioritizing getting the help, getting it earlier, is often better than getting it later. Number four was buffering, buffering for your time, for your energy, understanding that transitions are tricky in creating some more buffer for that. That goes smoother for you and your family. Number five is simplifying wherever you can, wherever you're willing to. This can free up your energy for the things that really matter to you. Number six is habits and routines. Routines in particular, these are things that we may not gravitate towards naturally, but they do have a benefit for us, even a protective benefit for us.
We probably want to consider ways that we can live with that, add those into our lives. Number seven is making things visual. This is good for adults and good for children. Very often a big part of working with ADHD brains is making things visual, but not so visual that we're overwhelmed with the visual. It's that balance once again. Number eight is understand that kids with ADHD might have their own timeline for maturity. That timeline might not sync up with their chronological age or their peers.
That's it for today. Thank you so much for joining me. If you're not already a member of my website, jump over to www.theadhdclaritycoach.com. Get on my mailing list and you'll be the first to know about offers. I do webinars and free coaching, all kinds of things that I offer to people on my mailing list. Also, if you have ideas, things that you'd like me to cover on ADHD Crash Course, send them to me. I'm always looking for different topics, ideas, and things that are of interest to my listeners. That's all for today. Thank you so much and we'll see you next week.
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