Parenting Children with ADD and ADHD
Definitions, tips, strategies, and what you need to know
Image source: Professor25
Parenting children with ADD and ADHD is, well, HARD. It is challenging. It will push you to the limits of your patience and beyond. But the joys of raising these children with such a fire for life–it is also a very rewarding experience.
Perhaps you need to know more about these disorders, how they affect your children, and how you can adjust your parenting to best serve their needs? We here at Babienet would love to be of help.
This article will cover:
- Symptoms of ADD
- Symptoms of ADHD
- The differences between ADD and ADHD
- How these disorders affect your child
- Methods of parenting that are better suited for children with ADD and ADHD
- Tips to help you parent these children with the best results
- How to stay sane through it all
The information is divided into easy-to-navigate sections so you can scroll to the content most useful to you. We’ll begin with an overview of the disorders and conclude with the parenting advice to help.
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What is ADD and ADHD in children?
There are three types but they are basically all variations of the same disorder. ADD is the inattentive type, ADHD is the hyperactive-impulsive type, and then some children have a combination of the two. ADD and ADHD affects children in such a way that it can be difficult to diagnose, especially when there isn’t a glaring hyperactive quality. Simply behaving like children can mask the symptoms. But if you think there may be an issue, your child can be evaluated by a medical doctor for a diagnosis. Having a clear diagnosis is crucial to determining your plan of action.
Children who have this condition may experience a wide variety of symptoms that make it challenging to parent them or discipline them, or find measures that correct problematic behaviors. It can make education difficult as well.
But understand, because these children process the world differently, learn and communicate differently, and behave differently–does not mean they cannot learn or cannot function in society. When your child is first nearing diagnosis you may feel they will never be what society considers as ‘normal.’ It’s ok to have these fears and concerns over how your child is interacting with other people and in society, but you as their parent can be reassured–they just need a plan of action on your part. Emotional support. Perhaps some medical support. Just because the path is different for your child, don’t feel at all that they are “doomed” in some way! Their path may simply be a bit bumpier along the way.
As a mother who has raised two ADHD children, let me tell you…what makes them different is also what makes them very special. The best thing you can do is educate yourself as thoroughly as possible on these conditions and adjust your parenting strategy to give them the best guidance you can. It’s a bumpy ride that is well worth it!
Now, let’s get into it.
Image source: tupungato
The first thing you need is an evaluation for your child. A medical doctor will ask you a series of questions and may ask other people involved in your child’s life like their teachers at school. Here are some of the symptoms that may alert you to ADD or ADHD in your child:
Mental health professionals in the United States use the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) to diagnose all psychiatric conditions, including ADHD. The latest version divides it into three types:
- ADHD predominantly inattentive presentation (what used to be called ADD)
- ADHD predominantly hyperactive-impulsive presentation
- ADHD combined presentation
- Often fails to give close attention to details or makes careless mistakes
- Often has difficulty sustaining attention
- Often does not seem to listen when spoken to
- Often does not follow through on instructions and fails to finish projects
- Often has difficulty organizing tasks and activities
- Often avoids, dislikes, or is reluctant to engage in tasks that require sustained mental effort
- Often loses things necessary for tasks or activities
- Is often easily distracted by extraneous stimuli
- Is often forgetful in daily activities
WebMD offers this set of symptoms:
- Trouble paying attention (easily sidetracked)
- Doesn’t like or avoids long mental tasks (such as homework)
- Trouble staying on task during school, at home, or even at play
- Disorganized and seems forgetful
- Doesn’t appear to listen when directly spoken to
- Doesn’t pay close attention to details
- Loses things often
- Makes careless mistakes
- Struggles to follow through with instructions
Children with inattentive ADD will often be called “daydreamers” or people may comment that they are ‘in their own head’ or ‘in their own world.’ A medical doctor will be able to determine if your child has ADD and the course of treatment.
- Fidgets with hands or feet or squirms in seat.
- Leaves seat in classroom or in other situations in which remaining seated is expected.
- Runs about or climbs excessively in situations in which it is inappropriate (in adolescents or adults, may be limited to subjective feelings of restlessness).
- Has difficulty playing or engaging in leisure activities quietly.
- Appears “on the go” or acts as if “driven by a motor.”
- Talks excessively.
- Blurts out the answers before the questions have been completed.
- Has difficulty awaiting turn.
- Interrupts or intrudes on others (e.g., butts into conversations or games).
Children with ADHD are very busy, always active and sometimes seem inexhaustible. Their behavior can be disruptive or difficult to manage. This diagnosis can be a bit easier to nail down and often parents seek help sooner for the presentation of ADHD symptoms. Again, your child’s medical doctor can determine diagnosis and course of treatment.
What is the difference between ADD and ADHD? What is combined presentation?
The main difference between the two is a presence of fidgety, hyperactive behavior and impulse control issues. This is where it gets a bit confusing because ADD children do not present the hyperactive or impulse control issues but what does that mean for children who present as a “combined” version of ADD + ADHD?
Here is how it is explained by ADDitude website:
Combined type ADHD occurs when someone has 6 or more symptoms of inattention, and 6 or more symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity. Men and boys more commonly have hyperactive symptoms, while women and girls more commonly have inattentive. Because of this, men are more commonly diagnosed than women, as their symptoms are more easily recognizable as ADHD.
Common treatment plans for these disorders
- Behavior therapy
- Training for parents
How ADD and ADHD affects your child
Children with ADD / ADHD often have other issues that co-present such as depression, anxiety, and learning disorders.
They may have trouble adjusting in social situations, difficulty making and keeping friends, behavioral problems, disruptions at school, and may be at a higher risk of injury. Some children with ADD and ADHD may develop self-esteem issues.
Parenting children with ADD or ADHD
Parenting strategies that work
Children with ADD / ADHD have problems with executive function, They have trouble thinking ahead, planning, considering the consequences of their actions, and sometimes with impulse control. Your parenting role will be heavily executive for these children. I recall when my oldest son was small I had to do a lot of mental preparation for him when we changed environments. I had to prepare him for what to expect, how to act, and what would be expected of him in the new environment. Just taking him somewhere without adequate preparation could lead to wild behavior or tantrums. Here is some advice on parenting strategies that work well for children with ADD and/or ADHD.
Prepare your child’s inner circle
It is important to educate family and friends about your child’s condition. Be aware there will be a lot of people that either don’t understand your child’s condition or who will criticize you if you choose to have your child medicated. Stay focused on your child’s health and progress rather than letting people dictate what you should and should not do with your child.
It helps to have an inner circle of people who you can trust that understand and can be supportive.
This is hard to do when you at your wits end, but staying positive goes a long way for staying motivated and focused. When your child is having a rough day, they will need your consistent, grounded, positive support.
Pick your battles
This is so important. Children with ADD / ADHD will push you. They will manipulate you or act out. They will test your boundaries and your limits on a regular basis. Some things just are not worth the energy it takes to enforce or argue about. Set firm boundaries and limits–yes–but know when something is just not that important.
Children who live with ADD / ADHD have a hard time following through and following directions which can be difficult. The small things can become big, intrusive things so know when to press on an issue and when to simply let it go for the sake of peace.
This is not to say let your child be in the “driver’s seat.” It is to say that you will have to let some smaller things slide, especially when there are bigger issues to work on with your child. Knowing the difference can save you a lot of trouble and disruption in the household.
Structure is important
Kids with ADD and ADHD desperately need structure, balance, a familiar schedule, and predictable surroundings. Structure and scheduling is so important to keeping your child on track and to keep them feeling a grounding sense of normalcy around them.
- Do not over-schedule them as to tax their emotional stamina.
- Have a general schedule that remains consistent.
- Make sure to schedule in some downtime for your child.
- Make sure to schedule in some time for your ADHD child to just let loose in active play.
- Be clear and consistent about your expectations and what behaviors are appropriate for each setting.
Encourage your child to be active
This is true for all children but especially true if your child has hyperactivity. They need time to “burn off” the excessive energy they have. Let them run and be wild in play.
ADHD children are at greater risk for injury, so be sure to provide a safe space for active play and exercise. Put them in swim classes or dance classes. Give them opportunities to be active.
Make sure your child gets enough sleep
An over-stimulated, tired child will have more meltdowns and behavioral problems–and these things can spiral quickly.
A regular bedtime with adequate sleep is a necessary factor in their care. If your child has trouble sleeping or refuses to go to sleep, talk to their pediatrician about options that may help. (Children’s melatonin has been a lifesaver in my household.)
Some ADD and ADHD medications can disrupt sleep cycles so talk with your child’s doctor if you think their medication may be causing sleep problems.
Learn their triggers
Most kids have triggers than make things worse. Perhaps too much sugar or too much television before bed can cause more meltdowns. Maybe social situations seem to be the most difficult. Learning your child’s triggers can help you to know when added support and calming strategies need to be incorporated.
Be clear and consistent on rules and expectations
ADD and ADHD kids, as I said before, will test your limits. Keep household rules simple and be consistent. Keep the expectations realistic for your child.
- Use timers to remind them to finish a task–if it helps them.
- Use a calendar or a white board to show your child what to expect for their day or week.
- Use a reward system and remember–if they are having difficulty achieving rewards it can be very discouraging. Praise their efforts and help them achieve even smaller goals.
Work with your child’s doctor for a treatment plan
Understand, as well-meaning as friends and family can be, they are also close to your child, may not be able to see this as a medical condition, and may have lots of advice.
But it is the advice of your child’s doctor and counselor or therapist that should carry more weight. As well as your own parental intuition. Work with your child’s doctor to develop a treatment plan that you feel good about. One that puts your child’s health and well-being at the center.
A treatment plan gives you a roadmap. It can provide essential resources to call on when you need help. It gives you hope and direction.
Tips for parents of ADD and ADHD children
Staying sane through it all
I can tell you–but you probably already know–parenting children with ADD and ADHD can be very trying. There were times when I was raising my son (who is ADHD with additional bipolar disorder) that I thought I might lose my mind entirely. Medications always seemed to backfire or cause more harm than good. When he got a bit older he refused to take any medication at all and I finally gave in to his wishes–with the understanding that as long as he kept himself out of trouble, I would not insist he be medicated.
Every parent has to make these tough decisions–and every parent has to find ways to stay sane through it all.
From my own personal experience, I have a few tips for staying sane.
- DON’T take their behavior personally.
- DON’T get yourself all wrapped up in parent-guilt.
- Just do the best you can.
- Get a good support system around yourself.
- Expect the unpredictable and try not to overreact.
- DON’T give up.
- Never stop advocating for your child to receive the best care.
- TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. When it gets tough focus on the big three–Eat. Sleep. Breathe.
- Eat right, exercise, and try to find ways to reduce stress.
- Learn the art of three deep calming breaths. (And teach this to your child!)
For further reading:
The Best Parenting Skills — well, that’s the GOAL | Babienet Blog
5 Must Have Parenting Advice Books | Babienet Blog
Parenting as an Introvert: What You Need to Know
Surviving as an Introverted Mother
Christina M. Ward,
Babienet blog contributor
Mother and grandmother
Parenting Children with ADD and ADHD helps parents to understand ADD and ADHD in children, how it affects their parenting, and tips for parenting success for children with these disorders.