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

Setting realistic expectations is key.

by Matt Schneiderman
Originally Published: 
Ariela Basson/Fatherly; Getty Images

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 ADHD is not only exhausting, but helping your child overcome the struggles associated with ADHD 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 kids with ADHD per year, and they all look like they need a nap. So if you’re on the brink of a breakdown, here are some of Taylor-Klaus’s road-tested tactics to help you prepare to parent your neurodivergent child.

Understand That 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. In other words, ADHD is heritable, and you may have it yourself, even if you’ve never had a diagnosis. “It could show up as struggles with anger, impulsivity, or organization,” Taylor-Klaus says.

If this sounds like the man in the mirror, focus on how ADHD shows up for you, and particularly the negative impacts it has on your life. 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.”

Dads tend to have the least amount of patience with their kids for so-called bad behaviors 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. Although it’s difficult to see your disorder manifest in your kid, recognizing it can give you more of a chance to understand them.

Start With Your Relationship To Your Kid

The main 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 their back,” Taylor-Klaus says.

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. But 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 she forget? Is he frustrated and can’t calm himself down? Then you can help 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 your child work on it. The results will be better in the long-term than if you try to tackle everything at once.

Let Your Daughter Roughhouse

Some girls with ADHD may be more rough and tumble than other girls their age. Let your daughter know you aren’t holding her to gender norms, 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 ladylike, it’s hard for her to self-regulate.”

Focus On The Short-Term

Many fathers worry about their children’s ability to support themself when they grow up, but don’t stress yourself out by thinking that far ahead. “Focus on where they are in the next six months to a year,” Taylor-Klaus says. “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.”

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