Should Your Kids Be Responsible for Their Own Systems Yet?
Hanging Up The Manager Uniform
With ADHD kids, milestones are often delayed. Parents have to be involved in managing things – like making sure a teenager gets out of the house on time for school, or instructing a preschooler on how to pick up his blocks every single time he plays with them – for longer than they would with typical children. It can feel like you'll be your kids' alarm clock for life!
But you don't have to be. When you teach your kids to use systems and structures, offering them the guidance and support they need, step by step you can let them take over. When? That's going to depend on your child.
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Your child's timeline is completely individual. As parents, our job is to set reasonable, realistic expectations for our kids. Most of us tend to focus on where we ultimately want our kids to be and try to work from there. This can be a daunting and exhausting approach. Instead, we need to be understanding of their processes, and curious about what they can do now. Then we can challenge them to get to the next level.
At our house, for instance, everyone has weekend chores to do. How I hold everyone accountable to them has changed over the years.
- In the early years, I'd write a list of chores on a piece of paper and place it on the kitchen counter on Saturday morning.
- After we got this down, I stepped back a little and told my kids what they needed to write down for themselves.
- Next, I asked them to come up with the things they needed to do every week, and I added in what they “forgot”!
- Ultimately, they'll be able to make their own list and go to it. The goal is that at some point – again, on their schedule – they'll do it as independently as possible.
Another example many parents face is getting their kids into the routine of taking medication or daily vitamins. Not everyone uses medication to manage ADHD, but if you do have a child who does, it's important to take it as prescribed. Let's take a look at some systems and structures that you can put in place here:
- When your child is young, medicating might be part of the morning routine. You get up, brush your teeth, take your medicine. It's on the checklist, it's clear, and it's consistent.
- As your child gets a bit older, you can put pills into a days-of-the-week container. Your child is responsible for taking the medicine before getting on the bus. The empty box for the day is like crossing an item off the checklist. If needed, you have a way to check behind to make sure it is completed.
- As a tween or teen, kids might want to stop taking medicine altogether. They don't want to be different, or they just don't want to bother. If, or when this happens, it's important to create buy-in and help your child see the value of medication. At this point, taking it might be a house rule. Everyone takes what they need for their health: Mom takes her calcium supplement, Dad takes his cholesterol medication, one child takes vitamins, and another takes an ADHD med.
- For teenagers, if its important to you that they take ADHD medication and they are resistant, you might make it a requirement tied to something like a driver's license. If you want to drive, you have to take your medication. It's important because people who actively manage their ADHD brains have fewer auto accidents than those who do not.
Every Challenge (And Child) Is Different.
Every challenge – whether it be getting chores done or taking medication – requires different structures and systems, implemented at different stages. Maybe as an adult, your child will remember to take medication. Or maybe there will always be a need for a reminder like an alarm on the phone, or that good old days-of-the-week container. That's fine – that's great, actually. When your child learns the value of these systems and is using them independently, that's what we want!
It just takes a while to get there. It's all about progression: each step brings us forward, even if slowly.
I would love to say that your kid will wake up at age 14 and magically be able to do all the things a teenager should be doing. Or your 8-year-old will come home from school one day and perform at the exact same level as his typical peers. Instead, though, try to look at growth over time. You might reflect, “Wow, he is so much more independent than he was last year.” Or, “This task or chore used to be so difficult, and it's much easier.” Celebrate those wins; and then get ready for the next challenge!