challenges of parenting a child with adhd

Parenting is no easy task. As the parent of a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), I have gone through my share of parenting challenges. Although there is always more to learn when parenting a child with ADHD,   I have learned many lessons along the way. This post discusses strategies and tips to help children with ADHD. I hope you find these suggestions useful in your parenting journey:

parenting tips for children with adhd

 

(1) Be open and honest with your child about their struggles so there is no shame associated with it.

Children need compassion, empathy, and support.  In order to ensure that, open lines of communication are crucial. My daughter, Brielle, is aware  of her challenges, which include focusing and  impulsivity. However, she understands that who she is as a person is what defines her. While struggles are important to address, it is just as important to emphasize your child’s strengths and skills.

(2) Limit screen time

I understand we all need a break. There are times that we put our kids on the iPad or TV so we don’t lose our minds. However, kids tend to be so enthralled with the stimulation from the screen that it often becomes a huge battle to take it away from them . Children with ADHD become hyper-focused on what fascinates them, and the transition from screen time to no screen time is incredibly hard for them (additutemag.com, 2021 ) . My daughter acts possessed after I take away the iPad. On the weekends, I allow her to pick between the iPad or TV for thirty minutes each time. I set a timer on her iPad that goes off in thirty minutes. I then give her ten-minute and five-minute reminders.

(3) Discuss strategies in advance that your child can use for emotional regulation  

I created a “calming corner” for my daughter that is comprised of a bean bag chair, a weighted blanker, squeeze ball and some books. Make a chart of different options/tools your child can use, and place it in various locations throughout the house that are easily accessible. Encourage your child to use the tools when needed.

(4) Stay calm

I know how hard that is, believe me! However, if we want our children with ADHD to learn strategies to emotionally regulate themselves, we have to model how we emotionally regulate ourselves. Teach your child to identify their emotions by labeling your emotions. Let your child know that you need to use one of your calming tools, such as taking a time out or doing some deep breathing.

(5) Advocate for your child

As I discussed in 6 strategies and tips for parenting a special needs child , it is important that you are on the same page as your child’s teacher and school.  Make sure that your child has a 504 plan or an IEP (individualized education program).Strategies need to be implemented in the school as well as the home to set your child up for success. It is also necessary to communicate with your child’s teacher on a regular basis.

(6) Educate yourself about ADHD

Join support groups. Read literature about ADHD. Speak to your child’s pediatrician, psychologist, and any other related professionals. Knowledge is power, and knowledge will allow you to make informed decisions about what is best for your child. Have an open mind, and be willing to explore different options. If medication is suggested, find out about all possible side effects and be in constant communication with the psychiatrist. There is no shame in your child needing medication, but make sure you are well-informed before choosing any option.

(7)Make sure your child has a comprehensive evaluation so you are in the best position to help your child.

ADHD can accompany other issues such as executive functioning delays, processing issues, anxiety , or autism. A complete evaluation will give you pertinent information to better support your child. 

(8) There is no one-size-fits-all solution

Be humble enough to seek help and gather information from others, but also trust your own intuition. Nobody knows your child better than you.

(9) Take time for yourself

We love our children so much that we often take our own well-being for granted. You are in a better position to support your child when you aren’t pouring from an empty cup. In order to properly care for your child, you need to love and  care  for yourself. Make sure to implement a self-care routine daily. 

(10) Mistakes are inevitable

Parenting is a challenge with any child, and children with ADHD require extra support. There will be times where you will say or do the wrong thing. Own up to your mistakes. Set a good example that flaws are part of life, but we can learn and grow from them.

challenges of parenting a child with adhd

the biggest takeaway of parenting a special needs child

As parents, we have a responsibility to support our children, advocate for them, and love them for who they are, not the labels they have. Teach your children to accept themselves and to love all parts of themselves.

Be your child’s biggest cheerleader and fan. Try to instill in them that although some things are challenging for them, they are capable and wonderful just as they are. Parenting a child with ADHD is challenging. As in all aspects of life, some days will be easier, and some days will be incredibly challenging. The journey of parenting is a bumpy road, but I feel blessed to be along for the ride with my daughter.

how to teach emotional regulation

Let’s be honest. Controlling our emotions is no easy task. With the chaos surrounding us due to the pandemic, our sense of normalcy and stability have gone out the window. We find it hard to manage our feelings due to the upheaval of our lives, so how can we expect our children to have emotional regulation? 

ZONES OF EMOTIONAL REGULATION

This is where the Zones of Emotional Regulation comes in. I cannot take credit for this; it was invented by Leah M. Kuypers. There is a book and applications designed to help children label and manage their emotions. If you’d like more information about those resources, you can go to here

The purpose of this article is to share what I successfully implemented with my daughter. I hope that this gives you and your child support and structure, which we all need now more than ever. Although this is great for anyone, it is particularly helpful for kids with special needs, young children, and/or anxious children. I learned about Zones of Regulation when my daughter was getting Occupational Therapy for her sensory issues. 

FOUR EMOTIONAL REGULATION ZONES

emotional regulation

The Zones of Emotional Regulation are comprised of four zones, each demonstrating a different level of emotions. Click here to download the Zones of Regulation Visual and other handouts. There is a blue zone, green zone, yellow zone, and red zone. You can print out the handout as is, which display the colors, or you can print it without color and have your child color it in themselves.  

The blue zone represents low energy, which can occur for a myriad of reasons. Someone who is in the blue zone may feel sad, sick, tired, or bored.

The remaining green, yellow, and red emotional regulation zones are similar to a traffic light. Therefore, using traffic lights to explain those emotional regulation zones is a helpful analogy. The green emotional regulation zone is similar to a green traffic light; the person is okay to go. When you are calm, happy, focused and relaxed you are in the green zone. The yellow zone of emotional regulation is like a yellow traffic light; it indicates to proceed with caution. If you are frustrated, excited, anxious, or starting to lose control, you are in the yellow zone. Lastly, the red zone of emotional regulation is like a red light. It means to stop. This is when feelings are extreme and/or out of control. Yelling, angry, scared, and other intense emotions occur in the red zone. 

HOW I INTRODUCED THE ZONES OF EMOTIONAL REGULATION TO MY DAUGHTER

I introduced the zones to my daughter by going over with her what each zone meant and what each associated feeling meant. It is also necessary to discuss and brainstorm with your child what strategies can be implemented when in the blue, yellow or red zone. Your child can write a list of what to do in those situations, draw pictures, or you can look up images and your child can cut them out and glue them onto a piece of paper.  

Strategies my daughter uses when in the yellow and red zone include hugs, talking with me, drawing pictures, singing songs, dancing, jumping up and down, squeezing stress balls, reading, listening to music, and doing belly breathing (filling belly up with air when inhale, and slowly letting air out of stomach when exhale). The tools your child needs to manage their emotions will vary based on the child, the emotions, and the circumstances. 

When I began this with Brielle, it took some time for her to get used to the idea of colored zones. Due to her sensory issues, impulsivity, and poor emotional regulation due to her ADHD, she acts first without thinking about the emotions behind her actions. I modeled my own zones, feelings, and tools to help her learn this new way of managing emotions. For example, if I felt angry, I told her that I was in the red zone because I was feeling angry, and I needed to listen to some music to calm down. 

REMIND YOUR CHILD TO BE AWARE OF THEIR EMOTIONS

emotional awareness

It is important to use “I” messages during your discussions. Examples include I feel” and “I need this tool” when speaking about the zones. 

I also asked my daughter what zone she was in if she didn’t bring it up herself. I encouraged her to be aware of her emotions and what she needed to regulate them so she could be in the green zone. With time and consistency, she got better at independently labeling what zone she was in, and then with repetition she was able to name the emotion that accompanied the zone.  

Initially, she was reminded to select tools to help her with this process. I created a “calming corner” in her room with things she pre-selected to help her feel better. Her calming corner included a bean bag chair, a weighted blanket, squeezing toys, and books. She was encouraged to go to the calming corner if she felt that would help, but there were times she wanted to do something else. I praised her for taking the initiative to select what tool would be best for her in the moment.  

USE THE ZONES OF REGULATION YOURSELF TO MODEL BEHAVIOR FOR YOUR CHILDREN

Remember that your children will model what they see. Try to keep your emotions in check, and label what zone you are in and what strategies you are using. It is unrealistic to think you can be calm and collected all the time, so be open about how you are feeling and what helps you to regulate your emotions. You are setting a great example for your kid and you are also taking the time to recognize and prioritize your feelings. It’s a win-win! 

Make several copies of the Zones of Emotional Regulation and the strategies you’ve discussed with your child. Put them throughout the house where they are easy to access. 

HELPING YOUR CHILD UNDERSTAND EMOTIONAL REGULATION

helping children understand emotional regulation

Another thing I implemented with my daughter along with emotional regulation is discussing whether she had a little problem, medium problem, or big problem. Brielle would react to any situation with the same ferocity. It was important for me to help her put things in perspective. A little problem is something that only impacts you and is easy to solve or can go away on its own. A medium problem involves some people and can be resolved in a matter of hours or a few days. A big problem is something that impacts many people and takes a long time to get resolved. 

Your child getting a paper cut is an example of a little problem. That said, don’t tell that to my daughter. She held up her middle finger in the backseat of the car the entire car ride because she had a paper cut on that finger. She refused to put her finger down. Yes, I got some stares from other people. A story for another time. 

A medium problem is getting locked out of your car and having to wait for AAA to come to your rescue. Annoying and frustrating (yellow zone!), but not a major problem in the scheme of things. 

A big problem is COVID-19. Sadly, I think that example explains itself. 

Remember to ask for your child’s zone when an opportunity arises. Another good idea is setting reminders in advance to discuss everyone’s zones at set intervals throughout the day.  

For example, if your child is in the red zone because he knocked over his blocks, acknowledge the zone if your child doesn’t do so on his own. Once your child has used his calming tools, ask if the problem was an example of a big, medium or little problem. I know that when my daughter is in the red zone, logic isn’t going to work with her. Once she has calmed down, she is more receptive to having a conversation about the significance of her problem.  

SUPPORT AND UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD’S FEELINGS

how you feel

Keep in mind that even though some of your child’s concerns and struggles are not a big deal to us, it often feels like a catastrophe to them. Try to support their feelings and understand them, while teaching and modeling a new way to think about situations. 

My daughter became so good at discussing zones and emotions that she now points out other people’s zones and emotions. There is nothing better than trying to explain an assignment to your child for the 4th time and having her say, “You look like you are in the red zone, Mommy. I think you’re going to explode. Do you need to use my calming corner?” How well the student has become the teacher. Sigh. 

Structure, consistency, and supporting one another’s feelings is always necessary, but especially when living through a pandemic. With many kids using distant learning or homeschooling, these tools are a great way to teach emotional regulation, awareness, and support your child’s (and your own!) emotional and social well-being.  

parenting a child with adhd and spd

Imagine this scene: You are shopping at a grocery store, and you see someone nearby (pre-COVID, of course). That person watches your daughter touch various items in the aisle. You try to stop your child, and remind her that she can look, but cannot touch. As you push your cart, your daughter starts running ahead even though you tell her to hold your hand. The person who is watching then shakes their head and mutters something about a wild child. This is a mere glimpse into my life of parenting a child with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Sensory Processing  Disorder (SPD).

“Parents who have children with special needs, also have special needs. They need to know more than the average parent. Need to do more than the average parent. They need more patience than the average parent, and so much more.” (Parents Supporting Parents).

parenting my child with adhd and spd

The scenario I described at the top is not at all shocking for a parent of a child with ADHD and SPD. The constant struggle to support our children is something that is an everyday part of our lives. Even worse, surveyors assume our children are spoiled and not properly parented.

This makes us feel shame, not only because we feel we are failing as parents, but because our children are being judged.

The purpose of this post is not to discuss strategies, although I’ve used many, which you can find here and here. On behalf of every parent who has a child with special needs, I am giving a glimpse into my experiences with my child who has ADHD and SPD. It is important to remember that “No two kids with ADHD are exactly alike. Their symptoms can vary in type and severity… ADHD isn’t an all-or-nothing thing.” (understood.org, 2014).

My hope is that sharing some of my obstacles will make other moms feel less alone and judged by others. Knowledge is the foundation for awareness and advocacy. My aspiration is that we spread awareness to those who do not understand these challenges.

lack of impulse control and emotional regulation skills

parenting a child with ADHD

One of the biggest challenges I face is my child’s lack of impulse control. Brielle needs constant monitoring. She has hurt herself several times because she runs down the stairs. Also, Brielle jumps off couches, is unable to take a shower by herself because she tries to jump and run in it, and throws herself backwards in chairs. She already fell backwards twice, but fortunately wasn’t hurt (although I aged ten years each time). Many times she went down the stairs at night and jump on the countertops. I continue to have a baby gate at the top of the stairs for my 8-year-old daughter. Whereas other children would learn from these painful mistakes, Brielle continues to put herself in danger.

Emotional regulation for Brielle is also a huge obstacle.

She perseverates on things that cause her to worry and feel sad. Using emotional regulation tools is very helpful, but she still fixates on things and needs extra support to process her feelings and move past them. “Kids with ADHD don’t have the same capacity to manage their emotions. If they don’t have it, how do you expect them to do it? How do you expect them to respond to what you’re asking them to do? It’s like they can’t win.” (Dr. Dawn K. Brown, MD, ADHD Wellness Center, 2016).

As I illustrated in my earlier scenario, taking Brielle with me on errands is a recipe for disaster. She is overly stimulated by all the things in the store and wants to touch everything. Due to her short attention span, she gets very frustrated when having to stay next to me and walk calmly. I only bring her for quick errands while providing redirection and encouragement. If my errand requires me to talk to a cashier or salesperson, Brielle will get restless and try to run around.

parenting a child with adhd who has endless energy and craves sensory stimulation is very difficult

sensory stimulation

Brielle plays outside every day as an outlet for all her energy. However, when playing in the yard, she runs up the driveway towards the street despite my consistent reminders. She tries to take her scooter and sit on it instead of standing. She’s fallen down the driveway on multiple occasions.

Brielle craves sensory stimulation.

She is always seeking out “more.” I am fearful at parks because she climbs up objects without looking where she is putting her feet. She jumps off of high places (I will never forget the time I had to catch her when she walked off a beam midair), and runs around without looking to see if any object can hit her. As a result, I can’t sit at a park and relax. It is imperative that I am hyper alert everywhere. Looking away for a few seconds is the difference between safety and disaster.

From morning until night, Brielle is always on the go. That means that from the moment she wakes up, she is immediately energized. She goes from 0 to 100. No matter my exhaustion or mood, I have to be alert. There is simply no laying low with her.

lack of focusing and difficulty playing independently 

independent play

Everyday Brielle loses her stuff because she is always on the go. She doesn’t remember where she puts her things, so keeping her stuff organized is a must. When she had dance class, there was always at least one item missing. As a result, I had to go on a scavenger hunt with her to find her shoes, her leotard, or her tights. Teachers needed to assist her in making sure that her folders and materials were packed in her bookbag. There were two occasions where she brought her folders back to school and proceeded to misplace them.

They were lost for two months.

Brielle rushes through activities and moves on to something else very quickly. She needs numerous reminders to stop before jumping to another activity. She will leave books on the floor, clothes on the bed, and toys all over unless she is redirected.

Playing independently is a huge challenge for her because using her imagination requires higher level thinking. She has difficulty coming up with safe ways of playing independently due to her sensory issues and impulsivity. I limit her choices to only a few items when she does “quiet time,” and I check in on her regularly.

If I don’t check on her, she does things such as jumping into the tub and turning on the water, spilling water all over the floor, and/or going into closets and taking things out.

Due to her lack of impulse control, she will interrupt and tap me when I am in the middle of something. I cannot look at my emails, talk on the phone, or have a conversation without Brielle trying to get my attention or get into something if I am preoccupied.

Boredom in a child with ADHD and SPD equals trouble. She has gone into my room and looked inside my drawers, in my closets, and through my jewelry. There have been many incidences where she accidentally shattered hung pictures on walls and items on floors because she is running around. I give verbal and visual prompts that she needs to wait for her turn, but this is something she struggles with daily. What may appear to others as being demanding or a troublemaker is actually a child who struggles with delayed gratification. Brielle always acts before she thinks.

inattention and executive functioning

Brielle has difficulty focusing and learning, as well as executive functioning issues. She has an IEP because she needs constant redirection, individualized instruction, and the use of multiple prompts to learn new information. There are times when she is unable to grasp new material because of her processing issues and poor memory.

She has a different learning style than others, but that does not mean she can’t learn.

Brielle has difficulty sleeping because of her sensory issues with her bladder. She will have accidents because it doesn’t register that she has to go to the bathroom. Most often, she uses the bathroom every few minutes because she is overly sensitive to the sensation.

Brielle’s body doesn’t register exhaustion like other kids, so she becomes hyperactive (more than usual) when she gets overtired. She also has difficulty falling asleep because her body and mind won’t quiet down. As Sarah Young explained, “Living with ADHD is like being locked in a room with 100 televisions and 100 radios all playing. None of them have power buttons so you can turn them off and the door is locked from the outside.”

 

 

childs advocate

There are many ways of supporting kids with special needs, and Brielle has made huge strides.

She is not defined by her ADHD and SPD; rather, she is a smart, funny, sweet, loving, sensitive girl who has ADHD and SPD.
“No mom who is actively trying to understand what their child is going through should ever feel like they are not doing enough or they are a bad mom. Your child is very lucky to be loved so unconditionally by you. Some day they will look back and say, ‘I got here because of you.’”

( ourADHDstory.com, 2014).

 
We are our children’s biggest supporters and greatest advocates. Wear that honor with pride and hold your head up high. Remember that your kids are lucky to have a parent who tries as hard as you do.
parenting tips and strategies and tips to help

parenting a child with adhd

This article is part 1 of a 2-part article devoted to parenting and providing tips to help children with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

I have not been shy about how hard it is to be a parent. My daughter wasn’t officially diagnosed with ADHD until she was 6. However, we suspected she had ADHD long before she was diagnosed. As a Speech-Language Pathologist, and more importantly, as a mother, I came up with some strategies to help my daughter:

tips to help children with adhd

Strategies to Help Children with ADHD

(1) Structure and routines are crucial

Most kids like routine, but stability is extra important for children with ADHD. If you subscribed to my blog, you have the daily routine I use with my daughter for homeschooling/remote learning. Involve your child in the implementation of their routine (within reason) so your child has some input. For example, I give my daughter options of what she gets to do when she takes a break.

(2) Establish clear boundaries and expectations in advance

Make sure these boundaries are reasonable. It is crucial to understand your child’s capabilities and set expectations accordingly to promote success. That means expecting your child to calmly walk throughout the grocery store while you to do a full grocery shopping is unreasonable. A more reasonable expectation (that is more likely to be successful) is making a list of a few essential items and playing a game to see who will spot the items first.

(3) Transitions are especially challenging for children with ADHD

Make sure to discuss transitions in advance, so your child is prepared for it. Give reminders of upcoming transitions as well. I try to give a ten minute and then five minute warning before transitions (like leaving the park, stop playing with a friend, leaving the house).

Pick Your Battles

(4) Give your child opportunities to make choices

Kids like to feel some sense of control. Power struggles are common, but if you give your child some options, you give them a sense of power while still having control of the situation. Try to provide options rather than ask an open-ended question. I provide my daughter with choices throughout the day such as offering carrots or strawberries for a snack, whether she wants to wear sneakers or sandals when we leave the house, picking two books out of five that she wants me to read to her, what stuffed animal she wants to sleep with, etc.

(5) Pick your battles

Children with ADHD struggle with impulse control and emotional regulation, so understand your child and be mindful of their struggles. Praise them for their accomplishments, and unless they are putting themselves or someone else in danger, try to ignore the small stuff. This promotes a calmer environment for you and your child. It’s a win-win!

(6) Choose quality over quantity

It is better to give your child ten minutes of interaction without distraction (checking your phone, answering an email, thinking about something else) than twenty minutes with numerous interruptions. I spend ten minutes a day with Brielle everyday doing “fun time”. During these ten minutes, she gets to pick any activity she wants to play with me (within reason, of course), and there are no phones, computers, or any other distractions. Kids need attention and they want to feel like they have some control.

This is especially true for children with ADHD because there is so much that isn’t within their control. This daily activity honors both of those components. My daughter knows this is something we do together each day, and it can never be taken away as a punishment.

(7) Be mindful of what you are feeding your child

I don’t give Brielle anything with Red-40, and I try to limit her sugar intake as much as possible. That’s not to say your child should never get a special treat. However, don’t give something with a ton of sugar and then be surprised when your child is bouncing off the walls. FYI- Brielle literally tried to bounce off the wall one time when she had a huge piece of cake- lesson learned!

(8) If possible, provide visual and auditory prompts when asking your child to do something

For example, when I am homeschooling my daughter I start off by pointing to my eyes and asking her to put on her “focusing eyes”, pointing to my ears and ask her to put on her “listening ears”, and pointing to my head and asking her to put on her “thinking cap”. I also read aloud instructions to her and underline or highlight key words. I then ask her to explain the instructions in her own words. We also have a saying that accompanies gestures, which is “Stop, Think, then Act”. Reminders are crucial with a child that has ADHD.

(9) Sleep

It’s important for every child to get adequate sleep, but especially a child with ADHD. I can tell when she didn’t get enough sleep the day before, as she’s even more hyper on those days. Establish a routine that provides ample time for sleep and naps, and stick to it as much as possible.

(10) Children with ADHD need breaks

Included in my homeschool/ remote learning routine are intervals and suggestions for breaks throughout the day. My daughter gets numerous breaks so she has the opportunity to “get her wiggles out”. If your child is at school, discuss with the teacher opportunities for brain breaks.  For example, letting your child get up and stretch or a being a helper that gives out something. When your kid gets home from school let your child play outside. Your child can just run or play active games such as Simon Says, tag, hopscotch or Red Light, Green Light. Make sure your child knows that asking for breaks is okay when doing homework. Set a timer for a specific amount of time for your child to recharge.

Reminder about parenting

I hope that these strategies and tips to help children with ADHD are helpful! Remember that parenting is challenging, and it is no easy task to parent a child with special needs. It will take time and patience to implement these strategies.  Just as it is important to be your child’s biggest advocate and supporter, don’t forget to do the same for yourself!