Parenting children with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD) brings more ups and downs than a roller coaster.
One day you're basking in your child's creativity, the next you're worried about his social isolation and discipline problems at school. You do everything you can think of to help your son or daughter, yet wonder if you could do more.
What does it take to be a good, even great, parent of an ADD child? How can you create an environment that helps your special, wonderful child overcome the obstacles in his path?
Let me suggest four strategies:
1. Forge connections
Once you've taken care of your child's safety and feeding, your top job as a parent is to help her feel connected. By this, I mean creating an environment in which she feels part of something big and warm and benevolent. Reading to your child is a great way to create connections. Sharing a bedtime story each evening (and doing a little cuddling in the process) lets you create a special, "slowed-down" time together, and, of course, it's a great way to build your child's vocabulary.
Don't assume you have to give up this ritual once your child is reading on his own. You can continue it well into his teens.
How else can you create connections? Consider getting a family pet. And encourage contact between your child and his extended family. Frequent visits or calls from relatives extend a net of warmth and caring around your child. One of my favorite research studies showed that the single best predictor of happiness in adulthood is whether a person regularly shared family dinners when growing up.
2. Stay positive
It's too easy for parents to focus only on the problems associated with ADD. Yes, children with ADHD lose things. Yes, they often forget to turn in their homework. Yes, they are easily frustrated. But constantly harping on your child's shortcomings only undermines his self-confidence and optimism.
Try focusing on the positives for a change. What is it that your son does well? What hidden (or not-so-hidden) strengths does your daughter have? One mom I know used to say that her ADD daughter had trouble seeing the fish in the aquarium at the doctor's office - because she was so fascinated by the tiny fish eggs clinging to one leaf of an aquatic plant. Well, that daughter is now hoping to use her ability to see the unusual to launch a career in fashion design.
3. Be a coach
Helping your child grow into a happy, successful adult involves more than giving her medication each day. It means helping her find success and confidence in relationships and activities that she enjoys. Medication can be instrumental in helping her apply the brakes to her racecar brain. But medication alone is never enough.
Certain issues will persist throughout your child's school career -- and, in all likelihood, her whole life. I'm talking about practical matters, like getting along with others, planning each day, and staying motivated in the face of setbacks. As a parent, you must be ready to help your child in these areas. Medication is not the whole treatment for ADD. Never was, never will be.
4. Allow time for play
Parents sometimes fear that their child won't "keep up" or develop friendships unless he is signed up for several organized activities -- sports, clubs, and so on. But kids need some time for unstructured play. It shows them that they can learn to create joy all by themselves -- a skill that will help them preserve the positive energy of childhood into their adult years. So pick a couple of things your child loves, then give him the gift of time.