Parenting an ADHD Teen: How It Really Works


A Classic Tale

My ADHD teen son agreed to do one week of conditioning camp with the cross-country team to get ready to try out for the (much cooler, much sexier) basketball team later in the year. By day 3 in the week, cross-country has been kicking my son's butt.  Five minutes before it was time to leave, he didn't want to go. After begging, whining, and negotiating, he stomped up the stairs and locked the door to his room – in true teen fashion. Now what?

Scream? Yell? Cry? Plead? Beg? Bribe? Or – use the Parenting Action Model?

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The Parenting Action Model

Step 1. Take Aim on My Self & the Situation:

Stay calm.  Easier said than done! It was especially difficult because I had a perfect storm of triggers: I have a hard time being late; I don't like it when my kids push back hard; I had work to get done; and I hadn't scheduled time for a meltdown. Oh, and our house has a no-door lock policy, especially when someone is angry!

Here's the cool part: knowing when I get triggered gives me an edge. I take a deep breath, calmly walk up the stairs, and stand in front of his closed (and locked) door.

Step 2. Educate Myself:

What is going on here? Mid-meltdown, besides keeping myself calm, I must help him get calm enough so that I can communicate with the reasoning part of his brain, rather than the primal one. He was only concerned with running away from the threat (me!), and I needed to get him moving in the other direction.

“Son, I can tell you are really upset.” Pregnant pause, no answer.  “Will you please open the door so we can talk?” No answer or movement. (Still) calmly, “I'm going to unlock your door.” I unlocked the door but decided not to open it because it would likely have triggered him again. I quickly survey the situation and guess that he is calm enough that I can move forward with the next steps.

Step 3 & 4. Plan & Act:

When a situation requires action, we often get an idea of what action we want to take and immediately try it rather than spending time sifting through possibilities. Before tackling any situation in an ADHD family, it helps to think through the four strategic response areas (brain health, shifting expectations, parenting positively, and using systems and structures), and figure out which one will work.

I chose to parent positively with humor. Son, if you don't open the door, I'm going to have to use coaching tool #143 on you.” I hear a faint noise (a suppressed giggle?). Evidence that he's shifting back. I open the door and start a tickle fight – works wonders to get him present. We talked about how to handle the fact that he is committed to two more days of training he doesn't really want to do. We came to a resolution that worked for both of us.

I stumbled into this situation and used the Parenting Action Model to get myself out of it! Even after all these years, I sometimes feel like I'm walking around barefoot, in a dark room, banging into furniture. With each new stage, my ADHD teen presents me with new challenges to manage. Fortunately, the coach approach to parenting has helped me avoid the bumps and bruises – even in the dark.

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