Calmer, Gentler: Four Tips for a Happier ADHD Household from a Happy Mom
Assigning chores to my kids with ADHD is a recipe for an emotional meltdown, but these four strategies made every day life easier.
If your ADHD kids are anything like mine, they never remember to do the things they’re supposed to do, even with chore charts and endless reminders. I end up being overworked and stressed.
I can’t tell you how many times over the years that I was in tears over the battles to get them to do their chores. I know how hopeless it can feel, and I wanted to share my “behavior-altering secrets” with you.
I tried chore charts and star charts, with toys or extra computer time as rewards. Nothing worked. Then I tried taking away computer and video game time. I tried bribery. The money worked for a little while, but we can’t afford to pay the kids for things they should be doing. No one pays me to cook dinner and do the laundry. So, why should I have to pay them to pick up after themselves, brush their teeth, and clean the cat litter?
My kids are 15 and 11 now. About 18 months ago I found a a four-part solution to my challenges. The mood in our home is much so happier these days.
1. Let Them Complain
If they are doing what they’ve been asked to do, and complaining the whole time under their breath…let them. When I learned to turn off my ears to the complaining, it instantly lessened the stress.
Action is more important than words. Let them whine while they sort their laundry and clean the litter box. They’re doing it! In time they will complain less. Just thank them when they come and tell you it is finished. The “thank you” and lack of yelling will eventually sink in.
2. Don’t Assign Them Weekly Chores
OK, I know that you’re thinking, “What!? Is she for real?!” Hear me out. Most ADHD kids have poor executive functioning skills, and they struggle doing things that require self-planning and follow through. They are not being lazy and argumentative.
If I set up a dishes chore for my 15-year-old daughter three nights a week, we fight every one of those three nights. But if I wash the dishes and ask her to come dry them, she is good to go. No complaints.
We live in the country and have chickens in the back yard. If I ask her to go feed them, give them water, and bring in the eggs, she has an emotional meltdown. But if I ask her to go check for eggs-and only that-she will do it happily. She loves the chickens, so she is happy to do that task.
When she comes back in with the eggs, I say “Thanks! Now here’s a bucket, please go feed them.” Guess what!? She does it without a single complaint. As she is on her way out the door, I remind her to bring me back the water dish for the chickens. Because she is already on her way-and not overwhelmed by that small add-on task-she brings it back in with no issue. Then, if I fill up the water dish and give it back to her, she will go outside for the third time and give the chickens the water.
It may seem like a lot of hands-on parenting, especially if a child is older and “should be able to handle chores.” With ADHD kids, you need to guide them this way until they develop better executive functioning skills, which are slower to mature. It takes less time to do things this way than if she had a meltdown, went outside after I yelled at her, and I had to follow up to make sure she did any of the three things I asked her to do.
3. Give Them Lots of Positive Feedback
This tip has created the most amazing change in the kids’ behavior. You cannot give kids with ADHD too much praise. Giving ADHD kids positive feedback when they do things they’re supposed to goes a long way to making them feel better about what they did and it will help them get better at it-even if they don’t have the routine down yet.
If I got in trouble every time I didn’t do a chore perfectly, I wouldn’t learn to do it better. I would resent the task and complain the whole time I was doing it! So, say thank you, even for their completing their homework. Give them a high-five when they make a valiant effort. Say things like “That’s awesome!” or “You rocked that!” My kids love fist bumps. Try it for a few days and you’ll notice the difference.
4. Give Them Hugs
This was the hardest one for me to do. I made a goal of hugging my 14-year-old daughter at bedtime every night for a week to see what would happen. I had read about a study that said that 20-second hugs were proven to lower blood pressure, relieve stress, and release oxytocin in the people who are hugging. The hormone oxytocin is released when a person feels loved, which helps strengthen the bond between the hugger and the huggee.
I had not given my daughter given bedtime hugs for a few years when I decided to try this little experiment. One night, as she was going up to bed, I said, “I think you forgot something!” I stood in the kitchen and she was halfway up the stairs. She turned around and came back down sighing heavily. I think she thought I was going to tell her to do something, like pick up her coat off the floor.
When she got to me, I said, “You forgot your hug!” and I hugged her. She didn’t hug me back, but I held on anyway.?? While I was hugging her, I said, “Science says a 20-second hug releases hormones that make you feel loved and makes anxiety go away.” We had been hugging for 10 seconds, when she giggled. Then I felt like she might be pulling away from me, so I squeezed her tighter and I said lightheartedly: “No, 20 seconds…we gotta release the love!” She giggled again, leaned into the hug, and put her arms around me. We counted out another 10 seconds together. She went to bed smiling that night, and so did I.
I intended to do that for seven nights in a row to cement the habit, and something amazing happened! After the fourth night, she came to me for the hug. It’s been over a year and I hug my teenager and my 11-year-old son every night for 20 seconds before they go to bed, and it is a nice way to end the day. Now, they hug each other more than any other set of siblings I know, and they are proud of it!
We are human and imperfect. I still get frustrated and lose my temper at times, but overall these four tips have changed how we interact with each other. Even after an argument or a meltdown, we can turn to the 20-second hug and move forward rather than resenting each other.