A Family's Guide to Parenting a Child With ADHD

Mother and son drawing with colored pencils

ADHD causes children and teenagers to be impulsive, inattentive, and more hyperactive than is normal for their age. This condition makes it harder for kids to control their attention, activity, emotions, and behavior, so they tend to act out. Some common behaviors associated with children with ADHD include: 

  • Being easily distracted 
  • Never seeming to listen 
  • Being unable to sit still 
  • Being messy and disorganized 
  • Making impulsive decisions 
  • Having emotional outbursts 

It can be difficult to deal with these behaviors even if you understand that they stem from your child’s ADHD diagnosis. For parents, this often brings about feelings of embarrassment and frustration. There’s no question that parenting a child with ADHD can be difficult. You have to have more patience than normal to help your child achieve their goals and become more independent. 

What Parents Can Do 

Learn More About ADHD 

After your child’s ADHD diagnosis, the best thing you can do for yourself is to arm yourself with knowledge. Learn as much as you can about ADHD so you’re less likely to feel frustrated by your child’s behaviors, since you’ll understand that they aren’t being willfully difficult. Remembering that their behavior stems from a common trait of ADHD can help you stay calm when you’re stressed. Learning more about ADHD can also help you find strategies for what you can do to keep your child’s energy and attention focused on specific tasks and help support them. 

Know How ADHD Affects Your Child 

ADHD affects children differently, so once you’ve learned more about how it often affects people, you’ll need to pay attention to uncover which aspects affect your child the most. This can help you pinpoint which skills to focus on. 

  • Hyperactive children need to learn how to slow down, calm themselves down, and burn off excess energy. 
  • Impulsive children need to learn the importance of waiting patiently, thinking before they act recklessly, and interrupting people less. It can also be beneficial to teach them how to calm their emotions when they’re upset. 
  • Children with attention problems need to learn skills that involve planning, organization, and distraction reduction. These skills can help them complete their chores on time, organize their belongings, and show up to events on time. 
  • What Parents Can Do to Help Children Living With ADHD 
  • ADHD Changes in Children as They Grow and Develop 
  • What it’s Like for Kids With ADHD 

Talk Together About ADHD and Goals 

Take the time to talk to your child about ADHD and how it affects them at home, at school, and when they’re with their friends. When you take the time to talk to them about what they might be experiencing and show that you want to understand how they feel, they’re more likely to feel comforted. This is especially true when you remind them that ADHD is not a fault, and if they take some extra time to work on their skills with your help, you can set and achieve clear and realistic goals. 

Give Them Hands-On Help 

Instead of getting frustrated and yelling if your child’s room isn’t clean or they’ve lost something important, the best thing you can do is help them learn how to better organize their things. At first, you may have to help them work through the problem by figuring out ways to sort things and places where their belongings should go. But remember that even if you drive the message home, their room will get messy again: You should expect to repeat the process a few times before it sticks. 

Help Your Child Build Social Skills 

Something that is often forgotten about children with ADHD is that it can affect their personal relationships. Since it’s common for kids with ADHD to interrupt people, talk too much, struggle with listening, or act bossy, their friendships can suffer. You can help your child realize when these behaviors may be affecting their friendships by sitting down and talking to them about it without blaming them. Then, help them to practice skills like listening or compromising. 

Keep Up With Your Child’s Treatment for ADHD 

ADHD treatment may include medication, school support, parent coaching, and/or therapy. As your child grows up, their needs will change, so it’s important to work with your child’s doctor, therapist, and school support team to keep up with their needs and what goals they should be focusing on. 

Keep Your Parent-Child Relationship Positive 

Children who have ADHD can be more sensitive to criticism, especially when they get too much of it. Criticism rarely helps move the needle in a positive direction toward change. In fact, it’s more likely to lead to negative feelings about themselves and a less secure attachment to you. This can lead them to feel angry, depressed, and misunderstood. So try to focus on the positives by paying attention to the things they do well and encouraging them, showing interest in the things they love, and spending time together on a hobby you can both enjoy. These are great opportunities for quality time together that can show your child that you accept them as they are. 

Avoid Scolding, Blaming, Nagging, or Lecturing 

Negative responses to your child’s actions are more likely to increase unwanted behaviors rather than reduce them. Instead, pay attention to the things your child does well and give them praise for the behaviors you like to see, which can help increase those positive behaviors in your child. 

Help Children Develop (and Appreciate) Their Strengths 

Your child has plenty of strengths, like adaptability, creativity, playfulness, quick thinking, and spontaneity. In those moments when your child feels that they are letting everybody down and can’t do anything right, take the time to remind them of their strengths. This will help boost their self-esteem and resilience. 

Additional Reading on ADHD