Guest Expert

When To Let Go: Fostering Independence in ADHD Kids

What does it mean to foster independence in our kids – especially those with ADHD? We consider this all the time, especially since one of our worst fears is being labeled the denigrating term, “Helicopter Parent.” When do we move from being caring, compassionate parents to a piece of machinery? Is this what teachers are calling us behind our backs as we advocate and get a grasp on our children, their diagnoses and their educational and emotional needs? When we stand strong as parents, are others judging us for giving a voice to our children's needs?

These are questions that come to my mind and the minds of many parents whom I have worked with over the years. Inevitably, when a child is diagnosed with any type of medical or emotional label, at any age, the rules change about our level of involvement in our child's life. We want to find out everything we can about how to help. We research, we talk, we consult, we meet, we probe, we advocate…and the list goes on.

Fostering Independence When Your Kid Has ADHD

When that child has ADHD, we also take on many of the executive functioning skills that are lacking. We become CEOs since they have challenges in the areas of planning, time management, and organization. We become homework monitors, schedulers, planners, project managers, time managers, list makers, file organizers, paper editors, and many other roles. We compensate.

The larger question becomes, “At what point, do you let go of being the CEO of your child's life?” This is a critical question to begin asking yourself. It's not easy. We have many fears around the concept of “letting go.” While this applies to all parents, it is different for those of us whose children REALLY need us to help them with their executive functioning skills. Many of us fear that if we let go, everything will fall apart. With children in high school, fears creep in about letting go and college, or having things fall apart so that college isn't an option.

5 Questions to Ask Yourself

When you are ready to begin to really think about this question for yourself, your child, and your family, here are a few questions to consider:

  1. How old is your child?
    At any age, it is important to begin teaching your child self-management skills. But as they reach the middle and high school years, these life skills become even more important. They begin to have greater demands and more responsibilities as an individual. It is important to consider age-appropriate expectations, and what is reasonable for your child's stage in life. If college is in the picture, consider what skills will be necessary for her to have in place in order to be successful.
  2. What fears in yourself do you need to address?
    In order to begin letting go, what do you need to face in yourself? Often times, we hyper-focus our energies on challenges we see our children are having because of our own fears, for ourselves and for them. What are your greatest fears? How do these impact how you parent? Once you can address these, you can get a clearer picture on how to help your child and let go, when the time is right.
  3. What can you begin with?
    If you are ready to begin letting go, what is reasonable place to begin? Look for something small that you can begin to let go of, whether it's around homework or scheduling or some other area that you feel you are keeping a really tight control on. What small shift can you start with to test the waters?
  4. What tools can you help your child develop?
    Your child is going to need some tools to help manage the challenging areas. What can you put in place to help? This doesn't mean you should go buy your child an agenda calendar, unless they ask for one. Kids with ADHD need to develop their own, creatively designed system of organization. You can work collaboratively with your child to come up with a creative solution that may involve technology, telephones, post-it notes, and anything else they can think of to try.
  5. What needs to be in place – does it have to be you? Many parents I work with are seeking a coach to help with the transition from “parent” to child. A coach can be a great intermediary to help your child develop his systems, tools, and confidence to forge ahead once his parents begin letting go.

What Works Best for You – and Your Family?

There is no right or wrong answer to any of these questions. Only you, as your child's parent, know what is right for you and your family. It is important you have all of the information you need in order to make informed choices about when and how to let go. Look to teachers, other parents, a coach, or the ImpactParents community for a start. And then…trust yourself. When you're really honest with yourself with the questions above, you'll know how and when the time is right to foster independence in your ADHD kids.