Hey, ADHD Parents: Shoot for Progress, not Perfection
When a parent and child have ADHD, you need lots of organization strategies—self-care, timers, and checklists for starters—to avoid burnout.
An ADDitude reader wrote:
“I am a 35-year-old mom diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety. I am raising a 13-year-old son who also has ADHD. We are both taking medication, and it helps with symptoms. It is tough, though, to stay organized for two of us, keep my emotions under control when we have a disagreement about something, and attend to all the things around the house. Do you have any suggestions that might make me a more efficient mom and not such a harsh critic of my shortfalls?”
This is a great question and a common challenge, especially when a parent and child have attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD). For starters, know that you are not alone. Most families dealing with ADHD struggle with organization and communication. Rather than beating yourself up, start seeing ADHD as a gift. We are creative problem-solvers capable of great insight. This positive spin helps many cope with the constant challenges of this diagnosis. Shift your focus from your personal shortcomings to your strengths, and learn to see yourself as a work in progress.
You can become more efficient and organized. Our behaviors and habits can be changed with perseverance and support. There is a lot of research that supports this proposition. The Power of Habit, by Charles Duhigg, and Lara Honos-Webb’s book The Gift of ADHD are excellent resources.
Here are some tools and techniques that I have found to be useful.
Start a family calendar.
Place it in a central location, like the kitchen, so you and your son can see the schedule. Visual information is especially helpful in the ADHD home. It makes planning easier, and it minimizes conflict. You and your son can just check the family calendar for reminders rather than nagging each other about the week’s activities.
Write and post a daily checklist.
Each of you can track your own tasks this way. Have your son write a new checklist every day so he can start taking ownership of the tasks he needs to accomplish. Share household jobs. For dinner, you could alternate making shopping lists and meals. Pick two nights during the week, for starters. Consistency with routines helps us know what to expect each day, and week by week. This system reduces arguments because there is less need for oral reminders. By completing checklists, your son will become more independent and you will both become more efficient. Making lists disciplines our minds and also forms habits that last.
Use a nightly checklist.
Place everything you and your son need for the following day in your bag and his backpack. Sign forms for school the day before. Get into the habit of checking your bag and having your son check his backpack and homework online daily. If homework and organization are big struggles, consider hiring an ADHD coach, to reduce power struggles.
Set reminders on your phone, on a Post-it, and on your computer.
The more, the merrier! If you miss a cue in one spot, you still have another cue in another. These reminders give a visual and auditory alert to help us stay on task and on top of our plans for the day.
Once you get good at writing your to-do lists, start to work on how much time it takes to do a task or activity. Those of us with ADHD experience the concept of time differently than others. Estimating time is an advanced skill, and you can do it! Knowing how long a task takes makes you more efficient and aware of time.
Set a timer.
Transitions can be difficult, so set a timer for five to 10 minutes before changing an activity. For example, if you or your son are working on a project and you need to leave the house by 10 A.M. for an appointment, set the timer for five minutes before you have to leave. The best tool for this is the Time Timer.
Set up a reward system.
People with ADHD respond much better to positive reinforcement. Reward systems are motivating and empowering. Reward your son for washing the dishes, folding laundry, and doing his homework. Keep your expectations realistic and reward him with a special treat at the end of the week. And reward yourself for getting your checklist done—a movie together, a special treat from Starbucks, or chocolates work for me!
Turn your self-criticism into positive self-talk.
It is amazing how much better you will feel and how much more you’ll get done if you change how you talk to yourself. Give yourself a break! Realize that though you both have ADHD and that this is a daily challenge, you are smart, resourceful, and creative. Give yourself credit each time you do something helpful. And say, “I can do this!” You really can.
Slow down and breathe before you speak.
The good news is, because you have ADHD, you can sense what your son is feeling when you’re having a disagreement. Remember that you both get overwhelmed, so stop and listen. This will allow you to approach a conversation with more compassion and understanding.
Hire an ADHD coach.
A coach will work with you as a partner to help you and your son learn more time management and organizational strategies. A coach also provides an objective viewpoint on family communication and can be valuable in setting up more constructive strategies.
Take care of yourself.
Self-care is key for both of you. Enroll in a yoga/meditation class together. Declare quiet time during the day for yourself. Plan nights out with friends to keep your spirits up, as well as fun diversions. The more you take care of yourself, the better you will be able to parent effectively. Make sure you are getting plenty of sleep. Set an alarm on your phone or kitchen timer to shut down all electronics and finish your nighttime routine at a reasonable hour. If you are going to bed past midnight, start heading to bed 15 minutes earlier for a week. Then cut back another 15 minutes for the next week, and so on. This method makes it doable; you will not feel time-deprived. And if the plan works for a few days and you go back to your old bedtime, you can always start over. Remember you are seeking progress, not perfection.
Have a weekly exercise routine.
It has been proven that exercise is essential for the ADHD brain. Exercise produces endorphins, which boost your mood, and also leads to the release of neurotransmitters and dopamine, which help sharpen focus.
Alter your eating habits.
Make sure you eat a healthy breakfast with plenty of protein every morning. The answer to the question, “Which is the most important meal of the day?” is “Breakfast.” An alert brain goes a long way! Eating healthy and clean can help support mood and energy. This includes limiting alcohol, caffeine, and other substances, which will benefit sleep quality, daytime energy, and daily focus.
Keep in mind that some strategies will work better than others.
Sometimes we take three steps forward and one step back. And realize that people with ADHD get bored easily, so if something isn’t working, always have the next tool in your pocket ready.
Finally, remember, you’re not alone. ADHD parents with ADHD kids are doubly challenged, but doubly blessed. Look for the positives in you and your son. You will get through this!
Updated on November 23, 2020