Guest Expert

A Team Effort: Managing a Family with ADHD

Abigail Wurf

ADHD is often inherited. If your children have ADHD, it is likely that you, your spouse or both of you are affected by ADHD, as well.

In order to help your children manage, you have probably tried to set up routines in your household that aid them in tapping in to their executive function skills. Many parents with ADHD affected children work with their children to develop systems that help them finish their homework, get chores done, get in and out of the house with everything they need for the particular activity, manage their room clutter, and the list goes on.

Once those successful routines and systems are established and have been “tweaked” to work well in your family, you’ll want to add yourself into the routines and systems so that the routines become a team effort. Just as teams support their teammates, family members can support each other. This allows your ADHD affected child(ren) not to feel like “the one” who needs the extra help, or the only one who gets extra reminders.

After all, it can be lonely, embarrassing and frustrating to constantly be singled out as “the one” of the family who needs extra help, even if there are more than one of you who are struggling to manage ADHD.

With everyone on the same team in a family, maybe playing different positions, management of ADHD and related challenges becomes a group effort. This gives each member of the family the opportunity to help his or her teammates, even if it is mommy or daddy. Actually, it is fun if it is mommy or daddy.

Becoming responsible for other teammates helps kids with ADHD learn they are not the only ones who makes mistakes. After all, every team member has strengths and weaknesses. More importantly, children with ADHD may feel less isolated because they feel as if they are on a team and have a chance to contribute and support others on the team.

How does this work in practice?

A common way to manage ADHD is to have a designated spot that is called a “launching pad.” A launching pad is the place where a person with ADHD puts the things needed when leaving the house; upon returning, they replace those things back on the launching pad. For some people it may be keys, wallet and phone. For others it may be a bag or purse. The important thing is the allocated spot is solely used as that particular person’s launching pad.

When I walk in the door of my home, for example, my keys go immediately into the heart shaped dish that my nephew made when he was little. Nothing else ever goes there and nothing ever covers my launching pad.

While a launching pad can be of great help to a person with ADHD, it wouldn’t hurt other family members to do the same thing. And it would make it a more inclusive activity. If each family member has a launching pad, no one is singled out.

What about helping an ADHD child remember household responsibilities? If you create and post a chart to help remind the child with ADHD, the chart should include the responsibilities of the parents or other siblings as well. Then it becomes a reminder for the whole family, not just about one family member who needs “extra” help.

This may seem like semantics, but those with “special needs” — whether with a visible or invisible disability — tend to be particularly sensitive to things meant only for them that others don’t need. Making something a family or team activity doesn’t make all the stigma go away, but it reminds us that everyone can use a little support. Everyone makes mistakes or forgets things at times. Everyone can use reminders.

As the ADHD child becomes an adult affected by ADHD, if the family has fostered a team environment, the adult will not feel as much like the “odd man out.” Everyone has something they contend with in life, whether it is a “disability,” a disease, or something else entirely.

In a family, we can all play on the same team and support each other. Teams often have different positions – the offense, defense or goalie – needing different levels of support. In many sports it depends on the situation as to who needs protecting. We do what is best for the team as a whole — or the family as a whole. That will go a long way towards fostering a sense of self-awareness, self-acceptance, and self-management.

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