The Parenting Skills ADHD Families Need

Transform your ADHD child's problem behaviors into strengths with these simple parent-child exercises designed to build better behavior and boost self-esteem


Filed Under: Self Esteem, Behavior in ADHD Kids
Your Little Genius ADDitude Magazine

The things that often frustrate you and can make your child's life miserable at times--spaciness, distractibility, and impulsiveness--are the very things that also make him exceptionally intuitive and imaginative.

Fire needs oxygen to burn. Similarly, creative inspiration requires a certain sort of openness, exactly the sort that your child displays. Creativity often requires reframing or rethinking old problems. And that's just what kids with ADHD can do--in their own lives (with your help), and, eventually, in the world.

In fact, children with ADHD who have been labeled spacey often have a heightened capacity to dream of possibilities not yet existing in the world. Students with ADHD may miss some of the little details, but they are excellent at getting the big picture.

You can bring out your child's gifts by strengthening his innate nature and teaching him how to channel it. The summer is an ideal time to do this. Here's how:

Goofing off

Our culture values hard work and achievement above all else. But what happens when the inner voices call you or your child to take a mental break? What some people call laziness is actually central to creativity. Imagination is cultivated by getting lost in the corners of your mind--through play and goofing off.

The following experiment is for both you and your child. It has three purposes:

  • to help you show support for the dreamy side of your child's personality
  • to help you develop a feel for the role spaciness plays in her life
  • to help her learn that, if she limits her daydreaming to specific, appropriate times, she may be able to think more clearly when she does focus.

For you... Once a day for a week, spend half an hour daydreaming. Do not try to solve a specific problem. Do not try to concentrate on one topic. Just let your mind wander wherever it wants to go. Invite in fantasies and daydreams.

For your child... Have him take half an hour for the same thing. (Make sure you each do it alone.) Tell him that daydreaming is a wonderful use of imagination that promotes creativity, so he should do it purposely during his half hour.

For the two of you... Talk about the daydreaming experience. How did it feel? What did you think about? Emphasize that you value being spacey and getting lost in imagination. Tell him that when he is tempted to daydream in places where it's inappropriate, like during a music lesson or when he's playing left field, he should remind himself to save it for the special daydreaming time that you have set aside.

For you... At the end of the week, write in your journal what impact this experience had on you. (Writing things down will make them clearer.) Where did your mind wander during these times? What did this period of reverie feel like? Do you and your child want to continue setting aside time to daydream?

Feed the urge monster

When parents become more sensitive to their own impulses, they're better able to understand their child's. The following exercises will help you learn what his life feels like, so you can help him learn to problem-solve about his impulses.

For you... Find a day, or a half day, or even a couple of hours, to spend following your own urges - walk in the woods, eat a hot fudge sundae, sleep late.

If acting on some of your impulses would be inappropriate, let yourself explore them mentally. Ask yourself, "What is underlying this urge? Is there some way I can honor it?" Suppose you felt like telling off a friend. How could you communicate your needs to this friend without being explosively angry? Could you ask another friend to help you come up with the right words and practice them with you? Follow through on the action. Use this experience to help you connect with your child for the next part of the exercise.

For your child... If he is between the ages of 5 and 9, tell him you want to talk to him about the "Urge Monster," that thing inside each of us that pushes us to do things we shouldn't. (If he is older, you can talk more straightforwardly about uncontrollable urges.) Share some of your own urges as examples. Tell your child that it is important to feed the monster but not to let it control you. Ask your son to talk about some of his urges. Work with him to think of ways to control the Urge Monster and to feed it without getting into trouble:

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This article appears in the Summer issue of ADDitude.
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