Improve Relationships with Complex Kids and Teens

For over a decade, ImpactParents has been giving tips for parents of Complex Kids and Teens to help improve relationships. Here's a collection of tips you might find helpful to help you approach parenting your complex kids in a new way:

Take a Coach-Approach with Your Kids

Taking a coach-approach is what ImpactParents is all about – using coaching skills to:

Focus on yourself, to become conscious of your role as a parent in managing ADHD, and learn strategies to be as effective as possible.

Focus on your kids, to improve and enhance your communication with them, and actually teach them skills that will help them learn to manage themselves.

Coaching is a style of communicating that empowers people to believe in their potential, while simultaneously encouraging them to reach for it. If that's not an ideal skill for parents to learn, I don't know what is!

Here is a collection of Coaching Tips we’ve given over the years on how to improve relationships with your complex kids and teens to help you start practicing taking a coach-approach with your kids. Let us know if you'd like some help – that's what we're here for!

Creating a Relationship of Trust with Your ADHD Child 

A relationship of trust tells our kids it's ok to be themselves, to mess up, to try, to fail, to succeed – because we will be there with our love unconditionally. It is critical that we foster this connection for our kids' sake – and our own. 

When our children trust us, they know we are doing our best for them and that we won't lead them down a path we're not willing to go on ourselves. Introducing systems and structures to everyday life can be frustrating and scary for kids as they learn how to cope with ADHD and its challenges. And it can be frustrating and scary for us. That relationship, though, that's what's going to make this all work. It tells them that we have their best interests at heart; that we have their backs. And it tells us that it's ok to be ourselves, to mess up, to try, to fail, to succeed – as long as we keep going, learning, and trying. That's what families do for each other; that's what trust is all about. 

For more articles on Building Trust please visit the below articles: 

What To Do When Your Teen Says “Don’t Worry, I’ve Got It!” by Diane Dempster 

Outdoor Adventure Camp Experiences for Kids with ADHD by John Willson 

Targeting Behaviors for Change: Take the Two-Week Challenge by Tracey Powell 

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It’s Not What We Do, It’s How We Do It

Don't Forget About The Journey

“The ends justify the means.” “Outcomes measurement.” ”Getting to the finish line.” Our focus as a society seems to be on where we are going, and not how we get there. With ADHD kids, this mindset can lead to frustration and feeling defeated, because the “finish line” often feels out of reach.

So what can they focus on if not the prize?

One key concept in ADHD management is to hold your child (or yourself) accountable to the process, rather than to outcomes. This idea removes some pressure. Kids need to learn the “how” in order to get the results they want. For example, rather than focusing on finishing homework, you could hold your child accountable for staying focused for 10-20 minutes (depending on age and ability). Celebrate a success with a quick energy break or reward. If you stack a handful of these together, the homework can get done, typically with less stress. If your child is working on managing their emotions, base success on whether self-calming strategies are used to calm down. Acknowledging the success is much more effective than punishing outbursts.

Success breeds success, so take the time to reward the use of strategies. It can lead to improvement and increased self-esteem. And besides, celebrating is fun!

Teach Self-Awareness: Acknowledge Your Kids 

Ever had one of those parenting moments when you look around and realize that your child has just done, or said something great, and no one else recognizes how spectacular they actually are? 

When you find yourself wanting to share your child's success, tell him or her directly. Why bother with a middle-man? After all, who needs to know more than your child? 

Acknowledgment is an empowering coaching skill. It's about recognizing people for their inner strengths and gifts – for who they are, not just what they do. It builds self-esteem, and more importantly, it builds self-awareness. 

“It was really nice of you to make that for your sister,” tells your child that he is kind. “That was brave of you to try a new food,” acknowledges your child's fear and encourages more exploration. 

ADHD kids, in particular, can usually benefit from getting a better sense of how they are viewed by others. Acknowledgment is a great tool to help your kids see themselves – and their strengths – more clearly. 

An Attitude of Gratitude

Did you know that optimism is linked to better mental and physical health, and increased longevity? Well, gratitude can actually help you enjoy those extra years! Gratitude is a perspective, a way of looking at things with appreciation. It guides you to see what is working, instead of what is not.

How can you adopt an attitude of gratitude?

Celebrate “Thanksgiving” once a week. At dinner one night, ask each family member to talk about what they are grateful for.

Tape up a piece of paper for each family member, and encourage everyone to write or draw what they love or admire about that person.

At the end of the day, write down three things for which you are thankful. A gratitude journal makes fantastic reading for a “rainy” day.

Write “Thank you!” on post-its or cards and put them around the house to show your family – and yourself – how much you appreciate your life with them.

Say “thank you” for the little things your family members do, even if they're expected to. You might surprise your child when you thank them for unloading the dishwasher, but it will certainly be a pleasant surprise!

By the way, we are grateful for you. Thanks for being part of our community!

Creating Family Milestones 

It's amazing how quickly a single event can become annualized for a child. It doesn't take much to create, and it offers a huge bang for the buck! 

Milestones, or observances, have a way of making people feel grounded. People know what to expect with them, they give us something to look forward to, and they help us feel like we belong to each other. They are a great bonding opportunity. 

Here's a simple way to create a milestone: 

  • Identify something(s) your family enjoys doing 
  • Draw attention to the fact that you do it together (hiking, game night, etc.) 
  • Talk about it in terms of past or future (“Last year, we…” or “next year, we'll”) 
  • Start planning for next time 

This simple tool will give your kids a connection point to your family time together. Chances are, in the future, your kids will remember to re-visit the family ritual, even after you've long forgotten. In my family, for example, spitting watermelon seeds competitively across the front lawn is a time-honored summer tradition. You can rest assured that I'm not the one who remembers to do it every summer! 

Make Family Dinner a Priority

I know how busy families are these days, running from practices to rehearsals, getting home late from work. It's hard to make family dinner a priority when there is so much else going on!

And yet… Family Dinner is often the only time many families get together on a regular basis. It's a unifying place, the “Central Perk” of the family. It may not always be harmonious (let's be serious, this is family life!), but it's where you feel like a family, rather than having everyone feel isolated in their own lives.

Family dinner gets harder to maintain when the numbers get small. Whether it's the result of a divorce, or of older siblings leaving home, it takes a conscious decision to make dinner happen, (almost) every night, even when there are only two of you. It's so much easier to just eat in front of the television, or have a bowl of cereal for dinner. But something happens when we come together to break bread – even when it's gluten-free!

So this tip is twofold:

Prioritize family dinner: Make an effort to have dinner together as a family, if not every night, then at least a few times a week. Set the expectation that everyone attends if at all possible.

Try to keep it fun and lively. Don't save every heavy and serious conversation for dinner. Talk about the events of the day, or what's happening in the news. Use it to foster relationships.

Best part? Before long, you'll notice that you and your kids will start looking forward to dinner together as a much-needed break in everyone's busy day!

Play Hookie 

Okay, so maybe this one isn't as much of a coaching tip as it is a parenting tip, but it's a great suggestion, anyway! Play hookie with your kids this summer, and let them know that you are doing it. Find a time when it won't cause a huge backlash for you – plan it if you need to – and then turn to your kids and suggest that you do something fun. Pool, movies, bowling, playground – doesn't really matter what it is. It only matters that you're suggesting it, they know that you are choosing them over work (or responsibilities), and everyone is excited. If they don't want to do what you suggest, ask for their input until you find something you both want. And then – go have fun. It won't kill anyone to skip dinner and have popcorn every once in a while! 

How to Handle Grumpy Kids (and Grown Ups Too!)

Grumpiness Happens

Sometimes, people are just going to get grumpy. And yes, that means kids will be grumpy too.

Hormones. Need I say more? Okay, let's add to that: Fatigue. Tired. Sleep-Deprived. Hunger. Anxiety. Excitement. Lonely. Angry.

There are so many different factors that can come into play to make our kids, or us, supremely grumpy. Often, we're legitimately grumpy – and not just being rude or disrespectful.

The Power of Compassion when Kids are Grumpy

Sometimes when our kids, spouses, or even ourselves, are feeling a little grumpy – maybe it's early in the morning, after a long day at school, or right before bedtime – we can ease the situation by showing some compassion. I know this is easier said than done, but if you understand WHY they're grumpy, it may help you avoid letting it become a trigger for you. Maybe you can lightly tease, tell them you understand why they're behaving that way, or even give them the space to get it out and vent. Be careful of the teasing because not everyone can handle teasing when upset. 

The trick, here, is to recognize that people can get moody sometimes, and it usually has nothing to do with us! When we show some compassion and understanding, and try not to take it personally, we can help them shift out of that mood a whole lot more quickly than if we take the bait and get our grumpy game going, too!

Let Them Take Risks 

We know our kids grow older. They want (need) more independence & responsibility. And yet, developmental milestones are usually harder for parents than they are for kids. In some ways, we don't want to see them grow up. They are our babies after all. 

My tip is simple:

  1. Challenge your kids to do as much (or even a little more) than you think they can.
  2. Allow them to stretch.
  3. Let them go to the movie on their own, cook dinner for the family, mow the lawn – whatever they could be ready for next.

It will always be easier to do it yourself, or wait a little longer. But really, what are you waiting for? If the goal is to raise confident, independent kids, what can you do to encourage that now? 

Help Them Figure It Out

My kids, 11 and 13, are practically twins developmentally. It leads to a lot of power struggles and conflict. This is actually healthy.

In a "safe" environment, conflict can help kids develop stronger problem solving and relationship skills.

I need to be honest. Sometimes (often) I can't stand to listen to them fight over who gets to play what, and when. It stresses me out to hear them arguing. But for the most part, I bite my tongue.

I want to let them figure it out themselves.

When they get stuck and really do need some help, I pop in. I don't offer solutions, but instead make some observation or ask a pertinent question:

  • Sounds like you need to figure out how to reach agreement.
  • Is it realistic to think that you will actually change each other's minds on this? Can you find a fair way to make a decision if you can't?
  • Why don't you both go cool off for a few minutes and then see if you can come back and figure things out.

This way I keep the responsibility on them. I can encourage and support them in managing their own challenges, and not have to always be referee. Besides that, by taking some small action, I can usually quiet the voice in my own head that keeps saying, "just make them stop arguing, please!"

What Can You Learn from Your Child?

As adults, we worry a lot about what we “have to do” and what we “should do.” Our children, on the other hand, tend to make decisions based on what feels ”right.” This isn't always the best approach, but it can add joy, spontaneity and a feeling of well-being to our lives. We have as much to learn from our kids as they do from us when we take advantage of the opportunities.

What would it look like for you to view your relationship with your kids this way?

Here are some things I've learned from my kids:

  • Keep things simple – adults tend to make things harder than necessary.
  • A hug, a smile, or a deep breath can reset you and get you back on track.
  • Live life with Gusto – enjoy every moment and be on the lookout for the next adventure.
  • Wipe the slate clean each day and be ready and excited to start fresh.

When you bring a sense of curiosity to all of your interaction with your kids, it's amazing what you can learn.

Go On “Dates” With Your Children 

I'm a big believer in “dating” your children. Now don't get me wrong, it's important to spend time together as a family. But we have unique relationships with each of our kids, and those relationships need to be fostered and cultivated. 

Just like we do with friends and significant others, we need to make sure to create space with each of our children to enjoy time with each other – to laugh and play and learn and explore – in addition to managing the details of our lives. 

Our kids need to have a connection with us so that when something does come up that needs support, they'll have trust and confidence that we are there for them. We want them to know that they are loved unconditionally – not just when their laundry is put away. And those moments of trust and connection happen in one-on-one encounters. 

So consider asking your kids out on dates – and let them guide the activity (within reason). You'll be amazed at how often they're happy with a walk to the park or a board game. Most of all, they just want your undivided attention (that is not about making sure they get something done). 

And one more thing – when you're on that date? Try to keep your corrections and re-directions to a minimum. Just enjoy the moment. Trust me…it goes by faster than you think! 

Wait Before You Act 

How often do you make things harder on yourself than they need to be? Sometimes, as parents, we feel like we have to take care of everything, we have to make it all happen, and we have to do it right away. As a result, we wear ourselves out. More to the point, we don't allow enough time for situations to resolve themselves. 

A client called me today to celebrate not making a decision. A family member had made a request of her, which would have been difficult for her. She really didn't want to say yes, but she didn't want to deal with the fall-out of saying no right away. So she took no action, and decided to think about it. About 4 hours later, she received a text. Her assistance was no longer needed. Situation resolved. 

Sometimes we seem to forget that "Not Acting" is as valid a choice as taking action. 

This week, try to lie back a little, let things unfold. Watch and wait to see when you need to act. You might save a little bit of energy. You'll also give others the opportunity make things happen on their own. As parents, that is often the greatest gift we can offer to our kids. 

Reduce Stress: Create a Story that Makes You Feel Good

The Problem With Worry

One of the most significant causes of stress in people's lives is worry – wondering and thinking about some undesired outcome that might (or might not) possibly happen in the future. I'm not sure I'd go to Vegas on this, but the reality is that anything can happen. The challenge is that when we don't know for certain what is going to happen we start to feel out of control. Our brains don't like not knowing. When we don't know, we tend to “fill in the blanks” with something just because it's more comforting than living with not knowing. We create stories. The problem is that the stories we create aren't always happy ones. Our tendency is to lean toward less favorable (and potentially less likely) scenarios.

Worry Not

The reality is that you don't know what's going to happen. Actually, you probably won't know until it actually happens. I remember one time when I got one of “those” emails from my son's teacher. She didn't say why, but she needed to meet with me after school. After a few minutes, I noticed that I was focused on the future conversation with her, and I wasn't getting my work done. For the next few hours I chose to believe that the reason she wanted to talk with me was because my son had won an award. Just that small shift gave me two extra productive hours of work, instead of 120 minutes of worrying.

So if you are making it all up anyway – my challenge to you is to create a scenario that makes you feel better than you do not knowing. If you're going to create a story, why not create one that makes you feel good?

Improve Relationships with Complex Kids and Teens

For more tips, check out our Maintain Healthy Relationships category and our posts about communication, expectations, and relationships:

Six Things to Stop Saying to your (ADHD) Kids

Why Nagging Doesn't Work Especially for ADD

3 Step Method to ACE Communication with Complex Kids and Teens

Relationships by Design

A Huge "Aha" Moment: Set Realistic Expectations for ADHD Kids

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