When kids with ADHD are preschool and elementary age, they lack the self-awareness and self-regulation skills to control their behavior. As they grow, mature, and begin to learn these skills, they usually have more self-control. I’m not saying they’ll make a complete turnaround, but some things will be easier for parent and child alike during the otherwise tumultuous tween and teen years.
Another benefit to the middle years is that you better understand ADHD, your child’s behavior, and ADHD’s impact on it. Take what you now know about ADHD and your child’s individual struggles, and reframe your goals for him.
The job of a parent raising a child with ADHD is to help him or her lead a happy and successful life, despite ADHD, to develop each child’s individual roadmap to success. Once you accept your child’s unique truth, the pieces fall into place more smoothly than when you fight ADHD symptoms. Your child’s differences make him who he is. Here are 10 tips for making the middle years happy and productive.
1. Stop looking for ways to “fix” the weaknesses inherent to ADHD. Instead, develop strategies and coping mechanisms to handle weaknesses. Establishing accommodations at school is a good example.
2. Learn the whys behind your child's behaviors and use that knowledge as your parenting compass. Why is it that your child has a meltdown every time you’re in a crowded location? Could it possibly be sensory overwhelm?
3. Create a different yardstick for setting expectations. Your child with ADHD is two or three years behind his or her peers developmentally — that’s how to measure behavior and expectations, not by calendar age. If you don’t use a different measure, your child won’t succeed, and you will both continue to be frustrated. If your child is 10 years old, set most of your expectations at the seven- or eight-year-old level.
4. Nurture your child’s gifts, interests, and talents, whatever they may be. Nothing is too “trivial” here. It’s about letting her be who she is. If it’s video games, help her connect with other gamers and maybe join a gaming club. If it’s art, offer to sign her up for an art class, or get some art supplies and let her create at home.
5. Give your child lots of opportunities for success. For instance, enroll him in classes and camps with programs he excels in. If your child isn’t coordinated, enrolling him in a sport probably won’t go well. However, if he loves science, enrolling him in a science-themed camp will give him an opportunity to succeed. Kids with ADHD are consistently bombarded with messages that they are lazy, defiant, broken, or aren’t good enough. As parents, we should always find ways to show our kids that they are just as deserving and capable of success as anyone else.
6. Foster your child’s independence. It’s scary to let a clinically impulsive, immature child make his own decisions. But hovering perpetuates learned helplessness, and prevents our kids from learning the skills they need to be a successful teen and adult. How does one learn how to do things on her own if it’s always been done for her? She can’t. Start by letting your child make the final decision from a set of choices you establish. Step back and let her take care of things she is capable of doing herself, like making her own lunch.
7. Build mutual trust. Show your child she can trust you and that you are in her corner. When something goes wrong, don’t dismiss it; show your support.
8. Make a plan for everything up front. The tween and teen years are filled with anxiety for many kids, especially those with ADHD. It’s reassuring to your child to have his fears heard and to make a written plan for what to do if those fears come true.
9. Teach and support the skills your child is lacking or lagging behind in. Organization, flexibility, resilience, and time management can be improved with consistent support and practice. When you schedule soccer practice, have your child help you plan it and put it on the family calendar. Talk through all the steps.
10. Make sure your child knows you love her no matter what. It’s hard growing up feeling like you’re always letting other people down. Leave notes of encouragement on her bathroom mirror or in her lunchbox. Give her a hug, just because.