Teens with ADHD

Stop Fighting with Your Teen: 5 Transformative Strategies

When tangling with teen moods and defiance, it’s easy to forget you’re on the same team! Both you and your teen want him to succeed. Use these five strategies to avoid the dynamics that pit kids against their parents, and help no one.

A dad fist bumps his teen son after helping him manage ADHD symptoms.

Who am I?”

Where do I fit in?

These questions plague and preoccupy every adolescent, to some degree, in the throes of puberty. For teens with ADHD, they are compounded by a psychology of shame, inner put-downs, and even self-hatred spawned from years of trying (and often failing) to cope with the added challenges of school and life with attention deficit or a learning disability.

We see this play out on a daily basis but sometimes forget what our teens need most – even (and especially) when we are enforcing discipline or building skills: encouragement and positivity to counter those critical, negative voices in their heads. How can you effectively balance your teen’s need for rules and consequences with his simultaneous need for conditionless love? Read on.

1. Self-Control

You lose your temper – and faith in the belief that your efforts will ever pay off – after reminding your teen for the fifth time to fold the laundry all over his bed. Frustration is an understandable reaction. But, teens tell me they only grow more agitated and defiant when their parents explode. The key here is learning to manage your feelings first, and then trying to help your child.

Start by making a point to notice when you are getting off-track, and try to bring yourself back by taking deep breaths and pausing the action. Act like your GPS and take a moment to “Reroute.”

[Have a Teen with ADHD? Encourage Communication & Avoid the Drama]

2. Compassion

Meet your teen where she is, not where you think she should be, or where you expect her to be. Your child is a young person with ADHD, and that means she develops skills and emotions at a different rate than do her peers.

It’s easier to accept your child – and her challenges – when you accept that we all have strengths and challenges (even as parents). The, you can model how to move through life, warts and all, for your teen.

Kids do well if they can — and if they have the proper support. Even in hard times, hold on to the possibility that your child can change, and do everything in your power to help her in this process. Teens with ADHD have executive function delays that slow down their development, and necessitate more patience than you might think.

3. Collaboration

No strategy will succeed unless your teen is on board from the beginning. This means including him in the process of setting goals and planning the programs he needs to achieve them.

He has amazing insight into and ideas about how his ADHD brain works, and what works for him. So work with your child to find solutions to challenges instead of imposing your rules upon him. Those collaborative solutions are guaranteed to be more effective.

Of course, you get to have the last say. You’re the parent. But know that planning from a “we” attitude instead of a “you” attitude helps teens feel less alone, less targeted, and more likely to really try.

[Free Download: What Are Your Teen’s Weakest Executive Functions?]

4. Consistency

Creating plans or consequences that you can’t – or don’t – follow through on is an all-too-common mistake. You’ll never be 100% perfect at enforcing rules, but try to be as consistent as possible.

Kids with ADHD say it is very confusing for them when consequences, directions, or expectations change. Staying steady helps both of you.

5. Celebration

Notice the efforts your child is making to change, and actively counteract the dominant negative messages that he hears daily with positive ones. For every one negative observation, make three positive ones. That is the ideal ratio for promoting behavioral changes and can-do attitudes.

A high-five with a short thank you conveys two messages:

  • You notice his efforts.
  • You are pleased with him for trying.

Getting mad doesn’t help either of you. Your child is emotionally overloaded and needs your support. Wait until tempers have cooled, then ask for her opinion about what happened, share your observations, and create solutions together. Engaging her as a partner improves your chance of success.

[“Take a Sabbatical from Teaching and Judging”]

This advice came from “Organized and Motivated: A Parent’s Guide to Executive Function Fixes for Teens with ADHD,” an ADDitude webinar lead by Sharon Saline, Psy.D. in September 2018 that is now available for free replay.

Sharon Saline, Psy.D., is a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel.