ADHD is not a “new” condition, nor unique to life and times in the 21st century. But our understanding of this condition and how to parent ADHD children is actually quite new – and growing. We know so much more today than a generation ago, and I'm confident we will know that much more in 20 years than we do now. With information comes a greater ability to cope, and to handle the stress that accompanies ADHD.
Parenting ADHD In The Past
In the “old days” – and by that I mean as little as 10-15 years ago – most people didn't really understand ADHD, much less how to manage it at home or at school. Parents didn't know what we were dealing with – and truthfully, the medical and educational communities didn't know much more than we did. We were all doing the best we could with the little information we had.
But that “information” was sketchy – we knew only that our kids didn't act like other people's kids. They were hyperactive, threw tantrums, acted out, didn't listen, were disorganized, struggled socially, or received bad grades in school. But for most of us, there wasn't a definitive reason why.
Most parents didn't have the real, proven information they needed to make decisions. In the past, for example, discipline or punishment was often used instead of positive reinforcement and motivation. Incredible frustration may have even caused many parents to react with more extreme discipline than they would have otherwise. Now, we know that ADHD kids respond much more favorably to the carrot than the stick. It's all about motivation and finding what works for them.
Like it was a generation ago or more, raising an ADHD child today is still stressful; it's still trying. But now, at least, we have a secret weapon: knowledge. We have a better handle on what works, what doesn't, and how to help ourselves help our children.
Moving Past Frustration
Interestingly enough, the key to improving your ADHD children's behavior and supporting them through their challenges is managing your own behavior and emotions. You lead; they follow.
We call it using “T.A.C.T.,” and it's really all about the parents, not the kids. There are 4 steps:
- Triggers. Often, if you can anticipate what's going to cause a blowout or trigger a meltdown, you can use safe, effective strategies to prevent it. Recognize what's going to set you off (“If I see one more dirty dish in your room!”) or what will set off your child (“I don't want to do my homework!”). Sometimes you can avoid triggers, other times you can avoid being triggered. Recognize that these are areas of challenge. Let yourself take a breath. Walk away, if necessary, so you act instead of react.
- Acceptance. This is neurobiological. Your kid blew up at dinner again? She forgot her homework again? She honestly didn't want or mean to. Her brain makes everything from managing impulses to short-term memory a challenge. It's not purposeful. Realizing this makes a tremendous difference.
- Consistency. Knowing what to expect can help kids manage frustration and improve their organization. If your child has difficulty getting ready for school in the morning, for instance, you can create a simple checklist (written or pictorial) that she can use to help. If bedtime is the same time every night, kids won't be surprised. They need you to act as their external executive function until they can do it on their own, and routine is a great way to do that.
- Transitions. Whether it's turning off the TV and going to bed, stopping outside play to take a bath, or switching classes at school, transitions can be a difficult time for ADHD folk. Make transitions smoother by anticipating that they may be difficult. Give plenty of warning and, when possible, set expectations or plan ahead to minimize potential upsets.
There are a wide variety of strategies that parents can use to go from frustrated to organized, angry to accepting. The key is to experiment a bit. Find tactics that work for your child, and use them consistently.
One thing that hasn't changed through the generations is how much we love our kids. Now that we have more information about how their brains are wired, we can make better decisions and parent ADHD kids more effectively.