In the 20 years I've spent advocating for children and families with ADHD, I've identified one common denominator that stands behind every child's success: a mother (or dad) who has been an incredible advocate for her child.
We are not just mums. We are the most important people in the field of child-rearing, especially with children with ADHD.
When you have children, you have this idyllic vision of what life will be like. You think you'll sit in the garden, and the kids will play nicely at your feet and do as they're told.
And then you have your first child and you think, “oh my goodness, what's happened here? Why is this child not responding to me?” And you get comments, “Don't you discipline your children? You're rubbish at parenting.” And you start to believe it yourself.
And then, the second child comes along - same problems, same behaviors. Now I have two children who don't respond to any of my parenting, and it just confirms what a rubbish parent I am.
I think its the most awful thing to go through, to have children you love to bits, but you just don't like. And you just don't know how to manage them. And it's really, really desperate.
For me, that was 21 years ago. My children are now 30 and 26, and they're doing great. But I want to share with you what I learned, what I call the Bilbow Formula for Success with ADHD. And it all starts with you!
1. Parent Education - Make yourself the most knowledgeable person about your child and his/her condition. Russell Barkley says that the frontline treatment for ADHD is parent education. And you know what? Nobody else is going to do it for you. How do you do it? Support groups. You have got to get connected. You cannot raise these children in a vacuum. It doesn't work. Find a support group. Go to conferences. Go to workshops. Just Go. Educate yourself.
2. Be the Expert on your child - Really get to know your child. What do they like, or not. Anticipate how they'll respond, and don't put them in situations where they're going to fail. If they don't like shopping, don't take them shopping.
Some adults say, “our kids should do what we want – we're the parent.” Well, you're talking about children who have lots of sensory issues, emotional issues, behavioral issues, and you've got to be sensitive to that. Why would you want to put them in a situation where they're going to fail?
3. Be an advocate for your child - You're the one who has to make sure your child has access to education. School is the place they hate the most. School is not designed for children with ADHD, but they spend most of their waking hours in that environment. So you're going to have to go into the school, educate the school, and educate the teachers. A lot of schools just don't have a clue.
4. Positive Role Model - Kids model their behavior on their parents. If you yell, swear, or drink - your kids are going to do it, too. If you're aggressive with them, they're going to be aggressive with you. We have to watch our own behavior so that our kids learn good values and skills from us. They will do and act what they see you doing.
5. Be Patient - This is the hardest thing. A kid with ADHD needs good quality one-on-one time with parents -- it's good for their self-esteem. The most amazing conversations happen in the car because you don't have to make eye contact and kids just talk away. Sometimes they talk so much it drives you mad, but just listen. If you don't agree with something, don't argue. Let them have their points of view. Discuss it with them. Don't try to take control. It's like playing board games - sometimes you have to let them win. You've got to let them feel success.
6. Find your child's Island of competence - You've got to support their hopes and dreams. Invest in them and what they're good at. Every child has a gift – you just have to find it. Don't let them take their eyes off their goals. Don't give up on your kids! It's really hard - sometimes you feel like you want to. Find what they're good at. Invest in it. It's really important. You are the only person who can make it happen for them.
7. Unconditional love - let your kids know you love them and that you believe in them. That's the most important thing, because our kids have got to feel safe, and they've got to understand that even if they fail, you are there for them, that you will be there to help them pick themselves up. Always.
8. Teach Self Awareness - we've got to make our kids knowledgeable about this condition. They have to understand the impact their behavior has on the people around them. They have to know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of ADHD.
9. Teach Resiliency - My son said, "I wasn't born resilient, but my mother taught me to be resilient.” Our kids get knocked down, over and over again, and they have to be able to pick them selves back up.
About the Author:
Andrea Bilbow, Executive Director, ADDISS, Attention Deficit Disorder Information Services and Support, was recognized by the Queen of England to become an Officer of the Order of the British Empire, an honor bestowed upon her for her advocacy and training work in the realm of ADHD.