Parenting with ADHD
How to bring help home
By: Megan Wagner
Adults with ADHD and ADD are often “the fun parents.” “They’re energetic, enthusiastic, and creative,” says Edward M. Hallowell, MD, author of Delivered From Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life With Attention Deficit Disorder. He should know: He’s diagnosed with ADD and the father of three. Yet Hallowell and other experts agree that problems with impulsivity, organization, and structure can create hardships for moms and dads with ADHD. On top of that, it’s estimated that there is a 40 percent chance that a child with ADHD or ADD has an ADHD parent. How to cope with this potentially chaotic situation? Here are five tips for families:
Tend to your needs. Cynthia Hammer, MSW, an ADD mother of three boys (two with ADD), compares parenting with ADHD to the safety procedure on an airplane: “You have to take care of yourself before you can take care of your kids.” That means seeing a doctor to determine if medication is right for you, and, if so, taking it as directed. It’s also important to seek out “me time” activities such as meditation or exercise that can help you focus, relax, and recharge.
Be consistent. Hammer’s ADD caused her to be very forgetful. Often, she struggled with disciplining her kids—she couldn’t remember the rules or consequences. Her solution was to post a list of five main rules for the family to follow. “This way, we all knew what to expect,” she says. Set routines, especially in the morning, will keep everyone organized and on time, says Hallowell.
Break unhealthy cycles. Families can get sucked into behavior patterns that feed an ADHD person’s craving for stimulation. When other members of the household also have ADHD, the situation can easily escalate. For example, an ADHD child’s behavior may irritate an ADHD parent who, on impulse, sharply disciplines the child. The kid, revved up by the attention, acts out again. The parent responds, and around it goes. Hammer found that when she spoke simply, calmly and, yes, consistently to her sons, she felt more in control. “It’s hard to be really aware of yourself,” she says. “But the more conscious you are, the better the family environment can be.”
Seek out support. You may feel tremendous pressure to manage your ADHD symptoms and be a good parent. Relieve some stress—and trade advice with other moms and dads—by joining an online support network. Both Hammer and Hallowell strongly recommend taking parenting classes or working with a family therapist or ADHD coach.
Be aware that any therapist you choose should have experience treating ADHD clients, and have an interactive, problem-solving treatment style. Any person with ADHD needs strategies, structure, and follow-through from their therapist. Many cognitive therapists fit this profile, but be sure to ask before starting therapy, and discuss if there is not enough structure as therapy progresses.
To start, check out these websites: Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (www.chadd.org), the Attention Deficit Disorder Association (www.add.org), and Attention Deficit Disorder Resources (www.addresources.org), which Hammer runs.
Embrace the bright side. Parents with ADHD, often misunderstood during their own childhoods, bring great insight into what it’s like to be a kid. “They tend to be full of love,” says Hallowell. Moreover, they’re uniquely qualified to empathize with their ADHD children and to help navigate the difficulties of the disorder. Hallowell says that he wouldn’t trade his ADD for anything. As he puts it, “I’m an awesome dad.”
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