Parenting strategies for helping kids with ADHD

Parents can use a variety of tools and approaches to help young people succeed and thrive.

As a new school year gets underway, many parents may be interested in knowing more about the role of schools related to the education of children who have been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or who may be showing ADHD characteristics. The United States Department of Education Office for Civil Rights recently sent a letter to schools to clarify their obligation to provide educational services to students with ADHD, and schools can use a variety of strategies to carry out this responsibility. Many experts stress that these efforts will work best when parents and other caregivers are also using strategies that complement these efforts.

While many young people are prescribed medication for their ADHD characteristics, sources such as the American Academy of Pediatricians stress the importance of including behavior therapy within a young person’s treatment plan, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends using only behavior therapy for children under age 6. Depending on a child’s needs, some parents may look to psychologists and other kinds of clinicians who can help young people build problem-solving and social skills and techniques to address their ADHD behavior. Parents may also explore whether school counselors and school social workers could be resources for providing this kind of one-on-one support to young people.

While all children can be impulsive, overactive and inattentive at times, it’s important for parents to recognize that ADHD is a real disability that can seriously and consistently affect a child’s ability to do things like follow family rules, maintain friendships, or manage his or her environment and tasks. If you have a child who has been newly diagnosed with ADHD, it may be helpful to explore some of the common myths and misconceptions about ADHD and whether any of these are affecting how you think about and interact with your child. It can also be helpful to explore resources that can deepen your understanding about ADHD and what your child may be experiencing as a result of this disability. For example, the American Academy of Pediatrics healthychildren.org website includes an extensive set of resources about ADHD, and the Children and Adults with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD) website includes a variety of parent training resources.

Specific strategies you can use in the home that involve helping children have clear and age-appropriate goals and that consistently provide them with positive reinforcement for desired behaviors and consequences for inappropriate behaviors.
  • Keep children on a daily schedule that provides a routine and helps them organize their day and know what to expect. Maintain consistent times for getting up in the morning and going to bed at night, mealtimes, leaving for school, and doing homework. Help younger children use a timer for certain activities so that they know when to finish up with things like chores or watching television. Give kids a heads-up if there’s going to be a change in the family schedule (like going to a doctor appointment or visiting a relative).
  • Do an inventory of distractions in the household and cut down on things that might overstimulate a child (such as music or television during meals or homework time or messy environments that make it hard for kids to keep school supplies organized). Limit kids’ access to digital devices such as smartphones, tablets, computers and other electronic devices that may be negatively affecting their health by overstimulating them, providing frequent interruptions and interfering with sleep patterns. Help young people (and yourself) identify strategies for using digital technologies in healthy ways.
  • Help children create and use charts and checklists that can help them keep track of schoolwork and household chores. Have the adults in the household also model using these kinds of techniques so that kids can recognize the value of these tools for people of all ages.
  • Be sure to talk with kids ahead of time about goals and rewards for positive behaviors and consequences for undesired behaviors. When you need to carry out consequences, make sure they reflect calm forms of discipline as opposed to physical punishment or the use of loud and harsh language.

Having a child who is dealing with ADHD can be challenging for both the young person and for you! Acknowledge this and find ways to take care of yourself so that you don’t feel overwhelmed or helpless. In addition to finding support from other adults who are dealing with the same issues, you may want to explore mindfulness as a helpful tool. Research has shown that practicing mindfulness can help relieve stress and anxiety and improve emotional regulation. (A variety of research efforts are also taking place to determine whether mindfulness-based therapies could be helpful in reducing the symptoms of ADHD.) You may want to look into Michigan State University Extension resources designed to help adults explore and practice mindfulness, including the Stress Less with Mindfulness program. In addition, you may be interested in the variety of workshops, webinars and resources provided by MSU Extension that are focused on the health and well-being of children, youth and families.

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