Raising my son with ADHD has been full of inspiring, albeit challenging, parenting moments.
While preparing for a dessert party at my home, for example, I discovered that the cord had been severed from the base of my large coffee pot. "Matt!," I yelled, coming upstairs. My then-15-year-old son calmly stated, "You weren't using it and I needed a connection for an electronics project." When I explained I planned to use the coffee maker that night, Matt responded, "No problem, Mom, I'll fix it." And he did!
Today, Matt is an extremely successful electrical engineering student. He has presented at international conferences and helped design a satellite to be launched on a 2013 NASA flight.
I'm often asked what our family did to help Matt succeed. My husband and I employed several strategies, changing our approach according to the needs of the moment and the issue at hand.
While many factors go into help a child with ADHD find success, here are 10 tips that can definitely make a difference:
- Always make available at least one parent or caregiver whom your child knows s/he can count on. Research reveals this is the single most important variable that leads to resilience in children with challenges.
- Become knowledgeable about your child's learning challenges. Learn when your child is struggling with a symptom, vs. when s/he is being willful. For example, you wouldn't expect a child in a wheel chair to climb a set of stairs. Yet, parents often expect a child with ADHD to clean his/her room (the one that looks like a tornado hit it), a very complex, multi-step task. Knowledge helps parents set realistic expectations.
- Consider medication as part of a comprehensive treatment plan. Yes, the dreaded "M" word. ADHD is a medical, neurological condition. At 9 years old, Matt explained,"Off medication, I'm out of control. On them, I can choose to be in or out of control."
- Use humor, humor and more humor. If you can laugh about it, you can live with it. We have an ongoing competition in our family, acknowledging the one who makes the most remarkable spill or mess. Current title-holder is my youngest son for sending a full glass of milk flying -- and landing all over me! In a split second, someone yelled "great spill," turning a potential disaster into hilarity.
- Seek appropriate educational and therapeutic interventions. When possible, check out specialized tutoring, school, coaching and/or therapy. No single intervention or school works for all challenged children and families. Determine what works for you. Keep in mind that the most recommended may not be the best for your child or family.
- Identify an Island of Competency, something your child excels at. This will help bolster his/her self-esteem. Sometimes this feels like looking for a needle in a haystack, but it's well worth the effort.
- Avoid worrying about what others think, especially well-intentioned relatives. They are not you, nor do they have a complete understanding of your children's challenges. Trust yourself to set your own expectations, ones that are best for your unique family.
- Don't engage in verbal battles with your child. When one of you is overly emotional or yelling, the situation will likely worsen. I strongly recommend family time-outs that can be called by any family member.
- When applicable, make time to be alone with your spouse (or yourself) that does not include discussing problems. Taking care of your marriage (and yourself) is important.
- Enjoy the miracle that is your child. This means making time to play or create experiences when you are not trying to teach or parent. After dinner, we play a family game, cards, pool or another fun activity. My sons are now 21, 19 and 15. We are still playing.
Helping your ADHD child find success doesn't stop at 18 – it is a life-long practice of recognizing their challenges and empowering their strengths. Last month, Matt visited home for the weekend. His shoes landed in the middle of our family room floor, two pair of socks sat in a ball on our sofa, half the kitchen cabinet doors were cracked open, and there were cooking items and debris all over the kitchen.
My husband and I looked at each other and smiled. Matt was home!