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6 Expert Strategies To Help Parents Understand Their Kid’s ADHD

Setting realistic expectations is key.

Asking any kid to settle down and focus is a challenge. But wrangling one with ADHD is a whole other beast. Parenting a young child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder is not only exhausting, but their DGAF attitude can leave you feeling helpless, frustrated, and prone to flying off the handle. Elaine Taylor-Klaus, co-founder of ADHD-coaching program ImpactADHD, can relate. She sees thousands of parents of hyperactive kids a year, and they all look like they need a nap.

If you’re on the brink of a breakdown, here are some road-tested tactics to help you get things under control.

Understand Your Kid May Be Like You

Do you daydream a lot? Are you forgetful? Lose things easily? It’s entirely possible that your kid’s just like you. “It could show up as struggles with anger, impulsivity, or organization,” Taylor-Klaus says. If this sounds like the man in the mirror, then focus on how ADHD shows up for you. Then take a look at yourself and make a change. “Get support, coaching or therapy,” she says. “Treat it, but cut yourself some slack and give yourself time — because change takes time.”

Spoiler alert: Dads tend to have the least amount of patience with their kids for so-called bad behaviors that they engage in themselves. “If you can recognize that it’s hard for you and hard for your child, then you can shift to compassion,” Taylor-Klaus says. While it’s difficult to see your disorder manifest in your kid, it can give you more of a chance to understand them.

Start With Your Relationship

The ultimate goals in raising a kid with ADHD are to understand how their condition shows up, learn coping strategies, and teach them those strategies so they can use them for self-management. This only works if your relationship is solid. “Your child should feel that you have his back,” Taylor-Klaus says. “The strongest support for a child is to learn to self-manage; that he can learn from his mistakes rather than being in an environment where he can’t do anything wrong.” So, instead of automatically doling the timeout, try to slow your discipline roll.

Reach An Understanding

Next time your kid is in trouble, Taylor-Klaus recommends putting yourself in their constantly moving shoes. “It’s easy to be frustrated with kids when the ADHD is not well-managed,” she says. Your goal isn’t to be exasperated or reactionary; it’s to be understanding. “Instead of wondering, ‘Why can’t you just…?’ wonder what’s going on neurologically. Did he forget? Is he frustrated and can’t calm himself down? Then you can help him with that.” Just remember, learning to be patient takes patience.

Set Realistic Expectations

When you start working with your child on their behavior, positivity and setting realistic expectations are essential. (Somehow negativity and inflated expectations never pan out.) “Think to yourself, ‘Am I asking him to do something that’s in his wheelhouse, or am I asking him to grow taller?,’” Taylor-Klaus says. Focus on one behavior at a time, and help them work on it. The results will be better in the long-term than if you try to tackle everything at once.

Girls Vs. Boys

Some girls with ADHD may be more rough and tumble. Let your daughter know you aren’t holding her to any gender stereotypes, and she’ll know that she has a dad that supports her. “That helps girls to self-manage,” Taylor-Klaus says. “If her dad thinks bouncing off the walls is not lady-like, it’s hard for her to self-regulate.” You can point to the fact that women like Ronda Rousey made a career out of bouncing people off walls.

Focus On The Short-Term

Many fathers worry about their son’s ability to support families when they grow up, Taylor-Klaus says. The key is to not think that far ahead in the first place. “Focus on where they are in the next six months to a year.” And remember what it was like when you were a kid. “We want kids to behave like the adults we want them to be, but learning to grow up takes time, especially when you add ADHD.”