Originally appeared in NY Parenting Magazine, January 2011
Do you feel as if your day never ends and you are constantly on alert? Living with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is not easy for the child with ADHD, the siblings, or the parents. The environment that surrounds the family of a child with ADHD is often full of stress and chaos.
So, how can you, as the parent, stay grounded, alert, and ready to deal with each day’s new challenges? It isn’t easy, but there are certain steps you can take to make the road a little more smooth and manageable.
Take comfort in the fact that you can cope and thrive by following these guidelines:
ADHD is a complex condition. There is so much more to know and truly understand beyond the diagnosis. Most people recognize the main traits of impulsiveness, hyperactivity and inattentiveness, but few realize that having ADHD often involves other character traits, such as impaired sense of time, emotional dysregulation, and difficulties with short-term memory, to name just a few. There are also a number of common coexisting conditions that often occur, such as learning disabilities, anxiety and sleep disorders.
Each person’s ADHD manifests itself differently, and, as in all areas of life, knowledge is powerful. Knowing what goes along with your child’s ADHD allows you to make decisions based on facts. It is helpful to communicate your needs and that of your child to others who interact with him. You must also be prepared to answer to the naysayers who still profess that ADHD is just an excuse for laziness, poor parenting, and an overly-stimulating society.
Agree on rules
Make sure you and your spouse, or any other significant caretakers, are all in agreement, and working together, regarding how you work with your child. One of the greatest roads to discord and chaos is when a child has different or inconsistent rules and expectations placed upon him. Many children, and especially those with ADHD, will look to test limits. By having consistent rules and expectations established, there is less room for chaos and confusion.
The most important key is to stay calm and let the rules do the talking. Don’t allow yourself to enter into a debate unless it’s truly an open issue and you can have a constructive conversation about it. Bear in mind, though, that each child is different and needs different parenting. It can be very tricky to establish and maintain appropriate guidelines and boundaries for your children, especially as they mature. If you are unsure about what reasonable and appropriate structures to put into place, or are having difficulty following through on the plan, outside support and guidance might be helpful.
Have a support system
Surrounding yourself with a support system is not just about having friends and family to spend time with. The support you need is from people with whom you can share some of the true stresses and strains life with your child brings about. Your friend with whom you enjoy shopping may be a fun and interesting person and may truly care about you, however, this same person may not, for now, be the person with whom you want to share the challenges you and your child face. Perhaps she has a child who is your child’s age and you want to respect your child’s privacy. Or, perhaps, this friend doesn’t quite understand your struggles and you are not yet ready, or able, to help her understand.
Find other parents, perhaps through your local support group, or your school’s Special Education Teacher Association, with whom you can let your hair down and share war stories. It may relieve stress and give you needed support as well.
Take time for yourself
Notice how your day is spent. Is there any time that you have that is not about everyone else? Realistically, it is neither easy nor practical to have an abundance of time to devote to yourself while you are raising a family. However, there are two solid reasons why you must take care to pay attention to yourself. First, to avoid emotional burnout and physical illness, you should take some time to let your mind truly take a break from your daily demands. Just as a person training for a distance run will take walk breaks at intervals, you will recharge your emotional and physical battery if you take true breaks.
Second, it is always important to recognize that you are, at all times, modeling how to be an adult to your child. It is valuable for him to see that you have interests and needs, and that you know how to take care of yourself. Take up knitting, running, or some activity that you do independent of being a parent. Try to find a way to have your spouse, your family, or a friend, watch over your children for a short while.
Finally, one of the best ways to fight the fatigue that often goes along with raising a child who has ADHD is to have fun with your child. Set the stage by explaining that this is your special time together to just enjoy being together. Let your child choose an activity that you can agree upon. Keep the time limited to about half an hour when it can be one-on-one time. Don’t worry about teaching or accomplishing anything. Just enter his world and be with him. The more you can build upon the positive experience with your child, the more you can build a connection between the two of you that will lead to his trust and growth in the years to come.
Written by Cindy Goldrich, Ed.M., ACAC © 2013 PTS Coaching. All rights reserved. Articles may be reproduced or electronically distributed as long as attribution to PTS Coaching is maintained.