Does Your Parenting Style Work for ADHD?
The following article is adapted from Mark Bertin's Book, “The Family ADHD Solution” . This article is an overview of some of the content shared in Chapter 7, Behavior: Avoiding the “No David” Approach. Dr. Bertin's book is a wealth of information, and we strongly encourage you to read more 🙂
Does Your Parenting Style Work for ADHD?
Parenting style matters in ADHD. Parenting does not cause ADHD, but different methods tend to be more effective and more likely to minimize symptoms.
What actually improves behavior for kids with ADHD? Emotionally supportive but consistently firm parenting. Behavioral improvement happens when parents:
- take the lead,
- stick by new systems, and
- remain patient with their children.
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Change Begins with You
While biology drives ADHD, parenting choices profoundly influence the symptoms. Children learn new skills and take control of their lives over time, but through most of childhood parents create the broader framework for change. You didn't cause the ADHD but you do impact the outcome.
Studies show that support aimed at parents -- such as therapy, coaching and training -- helps ADHD symptoms more than when therapists work only with children. Does hearing that parenting affects ADHD sound as if you've done something wrong? Or like you should be doing a better job? It's not that! You've always done the best you can, and there's always something new to learn and try. The balancing act is being open to change, while also accepting that you (like all of us) haven't been perfect before.
Stick to the Basics of Positive Parenting
Where other children may respond well to a wide range of parenting styles, children with ADHD require parents to more consistently stick to the basics. All children need supports until they have the capacity to monitor their own behavior, create their own routines, and manage their own responsibilities. Children with ADHD require this framework for several years more than their peers.
Styles of parenting often grow out of ADHD triage. A child's inability to follow routines, impulsiveness, poor listening, irritability, or poor communication is challenging for parents, regardless of their intentions. Even the most loving parent ends up needing to correct behavior more than anticipated. Reward systems break down. And general exhaustion over the required effort make us more likely to be reactive when managing behavior.
Research shows that parents of children with ADHD tend toward punitive parenting. It makes sense, as they have children who require redirection in order to be safe, do their work, get ready for bed, and complete countless other details of the day. Their children do not respond as easily to praise alone when learning new behaviors; they have ADHD, so they struggle. With all these challenges, it is unsurprising that parents of children with ADHD often lose confidence in their ability to affect change at home.
As a parent of a child with ADHD, you're being held to a high standard. You are expected to stay positive in the face of slow progress when a child does not consistently do what you think best. And yet, ADHD-related behaviors require near-constant correction for some kids, creating a background hum of “don't touch that, don't run into the street, get back over here and finish your dinner.” What follows is a tough-to-break cycle of negativity.
Yet parenting that leans too far in the punitive direction may exacerbate ADHD-related behaviors in the long haul. Instead, a balance can be found where a parent firmly upholds limits while creating an overall home environment that seeks out and emphasizes a child's successes.
Set Fair & Reasonable Expectations for Yourself
Taking care of children begins with carving out and protecting your own internal resources. Your children do come first. But if you are burned out or overwhelmed, it limits what you can give to them. If your marriage is strained and your relationship with your spouse chronically tense, it affects your children. When you are too harried to notice creative solutions, old habits keep you stuck.
Does this emphasis on your own parenting style and well-being feel overwhelming? It does not need to be. If you expect yourself to be a perfect parent, you'll always fall short. The reality is, as you seek happiness and peace of mind for yourself some of your choices will work, and some will not. The same is true for your child's attempts at seeking happiness and peace of mind. And your view and your child's may often be at odds while you're both trying to sort it all out.
Skillful parenting often comes from recognizing when you need outside support. Working with someone to address your own concerns or improve your marriage can make a huge difference for your children. Getting training and working with a coach or therapist provides skills and strategies. Practical tools support behavioral change and can help you build your own confidence and resilience.
Setting realistic expectations for you and your children is also vital. You cannot do everything “right” as a parent, or depend on a uniform, cookie-cutter approach to “fixing” life, since there is no one perfect solution. Instead, you can cultivate your own balance and wisdom, which allow you to manage family life to the best of your ability. Practicing mindfulness is one way to do this; ImpactParents' regular “Self Care Tips” for parents is another.
Children with ADHD benefit from parents who are compassionate, consistent, and able to set appropriate limits and expectations. Pay attention to your parenting style and find a match that works for you and your children. The fact that parenting influences ADHD may seem like a burden, but it can be an opportunity to take life in a new direction.