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Six Strategies for Creating Strong Families With ADHD, Part 2

Last week I wrote about three things you can do to strengthen your ADHD-impacted family. I talked about Focusing on strengths, not just remediation; awareness that parents are important role models when it comes to dealing with ADHD; and the important of managing emotional lability in adults with ADHD. 

Here are three more!

Opportunity 4:  Balance Strengths and Remediation

While ADHD impacts how one functions in the world, an individual's strengths are what is truly important. Sometimes these strengths are related to ADHD characteristics. For example, Dr. Ned Hallowell argues that the unfiltered nature of the ADHD mind can lead to the sort of open and creative thinking used by artists, designers, entrepreneurs, and more. Sometimes the strengths are unrelated to ADHD, like athleticism.

We all have at least one thing we have the potential to do really well.  But sometimes families impacted by ADHD get so caught up in remediation of the problems that ADHD symptoms can create --disorganization, study skills and the like --that they end up focusing on doing the hard stuff better.  While this has its place, it misses a critical point: what we do really well helps us create a strong sense of who we are and where we fit in the world.

Families impacted by ADHD are more likely to thrive when they embrace the ADHD, create structures for those with ADHD to succeed and, most importantly, strengthen the strengths of all family members.

This is a balancing act, to be sure.  Flunking out of school because the homework doesn't make it into your backpack isn't a great option…even if you are the best drummer in your state.  Pick your battles for best efficiency.

As parents, you may fear what will happen if you stop your child's special tutoring so he can spend more time learning about rockets.  He might get lower grades, but in the long-term, that may be less impactful than having a child who does not have a sense of accomplishment moving forward.  Think of it as protection against developing low self-esteem, a chronic problem for many adults with ADHD.

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Opportunity 5: Balance Parenting Styles

When one parent has ADHD and one does not, often  the non-ADHD partner is quite organized and directed, while the ADHD parent could be described as “go with the flow.” It's not unusual that the more organized partner takes on the majority of home responsibilities, often leading to resentment.  This impacts spousal interactions, and the imbalance in home responsibilities and differences in style can also result in conflicts over how to parent children – particularly children with ADHD who may be struggling.

A healthy way to bridge these issues is to think about the difference between “discipline” and “creating structure.”  It's important to understand that both children and adults with ADHD typically know what they should be doing, but they have trouble implementing that thing at the right time due to the influence of ADHD.  Traditional disciplinary tactics (time outs, punishments, etc.) can be less effective than acknowledging the problem and working with the ADHD person to create a structure that will support greater success in the future.  Instead of grounding your child for hitting Billy (or, conversely, writing the episode off as ”boys will be boys”), consider social skills training, or role playing. Instead of nagging a child to keep her room clean and always make the bed, consider closing the door and focusing on sharing fun, family time.

Try to set up a family environment where members know that when mistakes are made they will be supported, not punished. Encourage them to try differently to do the ”right” thing at the right time.

Opportunity 6:  Learn about the ADHD Effect

Adult ADHD often leads to predictable negative patterns in marriages. Non-ADHD partners may take on too much responsibility, leading to feelings of resentment. Misinterpretation of ADHD symptoms may lead to negative feelings, such as when an ADHD partner is distracted but you interpret the lack of attention to mean he or she doesn't love you. It helps to learn what these patterns are in your family to strengthen your relationship.

Knowledge and empathy are critical. Parents and families with ADHD can thrive – and they are aided in doing so if they remember to take ADHD into account, anticipate predictable conflicts, and look for new patterns that work for everyone in the family, both with and without ADHD.

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