Here’s What Works For Me…
Moms’ advice for parenting children with ADHD, creating an ADHD-friendly household, and smoothing out daily rough spots with discipline and behavior.
It’s the stuff attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) days are made of: You’re trying to get your daughter to finish her homework, but she insists on doing cartwheels across the living room. Or you’ve already had two big dustups with your son — and it’s only 9 a.m.
Sound familiar? Parents of children with ADHD have a lot on their plates. And while doctors, therapists, and ADHD coaches can offer helpful guidance, much of the best, most practical advice on parenting children with ADHD comes from those who have been there, done that.
For this article, ADDitude asked members of support groups across the country (both live and online) for their tried-and-true parenting skill tips for monitoring behavior problems, disciplining and smoothing out the daily rough spots. Here’s what they said.
The Morning Routine
In many families, the friction starts soon after the alarm clocks sound. It’s not easy to coax a spacey, unmotivated child with ADHD out of bed and into his clothes; the strategizing required to get the entire family fed and out the door on time would test the mettle of General Patton.
Getting off to a slower start can make all the difference, say parents. “We wake our son up a half-hour early,” says Toya J., of Brooklyn, New York, mother of eight-year-old Jamal. “We give him his medication, and then let him lie in our bed for a while. If we rush him, he gets overwhelmed — and so do we. Once the meds kick in, it’s much easier to get him going.”
Some parents aren’t above a little bribery. “In our house, it’s all about rewards,” says Jenny S., of New York City, mother of Jeremy, age seven. “Every time we have a good morning, I put a marble in the jar. For every five marbles, he wins a small reward.”
Amy B., of Los Angeles, mother of Jared, age seven, is another believer in reward systems. “If the TV is on, it’s impossible to get him moving. Now the TV stays off until absolutely everything is done and he’s ready to go. He moves quickly because he wants to watch that television.”
Another organizing tip is to keep your morning structured and problem-free by dividing it into a series of simple, one-step tasks. “I’m the list queen,” says Debbie G., of Phoenix, mother of Zach, 10. “I put a list on his bedroom door that tells him step-by-step what he needs to do. I break his morning routine down into simple steps, like ‘BRUSH TEETH,’ ‘MAKE BED,’ ‘GET DRESSED,’ and ‘COME DOWNSTAIRS FOR BREAKFAST.’ The key is to make it easy to follow.”
What about kids who simply cannot, or will not, do what’s asked of them? When 10-year-old Liam refuses to comply, his mom, Dina A., of New York City, shifts into “if-you-can’t-beat-’em,-join-’em” mode. “I can’t believe I’m admitting this,” she says, “but I wake him up and bring him cereal in bed. Once he’s gotten something to eat, he’s not as crabby.”
At first glance, a child’s misadventures may seem random. But spend a week or two playing detective, and you may see a pattern. Pay attention to the specific situations that lead to trouble and — even more important — to the times of day when trouble usually occurs.
“You may find that tantrums come at certain times of the day,” says Laura K., of San Francisco, mother of Jack, eight. “With my son, we found that it was right after the ADHD medication wore off. So we asked the doctor for a small booster dose to get us through. It’s worked wonders for cutting down on the bad behavior.”
Sometimes children simply fail to see the connection between how they behave and how they’re treated. In such cases, behavior charts are a godsend. The idea is to post a chart, specifying the behaviors you expect and the rewards the child will earn for toeing the line.
Renee L., of Northbrook, Illinois, mother of Justin, nine, explains: “Once children see that good behavior gets them privileges and bad behavior gets them nothing, they’re more likely to comply.” It helps to focus on only a few behaviors at a time.
Saying ‘No’ to Screen Time
For a weary parent, the sight of a child quietly watching TV, playing a video game, or working on a computer can seem heavenly. But too much screen time is not good — especially for kids who tend to hyperfocus.
Once these kids have entered the video or computer “zone,” it’s hard to switch their focus to something important — homework, for example.
For these kids, placing limits on screen time is a must. But how do you do this without triggering a battle?
“My husband and I decided that the only way to control our son’s screen time was to have consistent rules,” says Lisa L., of San Francisco, mother of Corey, 12. “So we started a ticket system. At the beginning of each week, we give Corey 10 tickets. Each ticket is good for an hour of screen time, whether it’s used on TV, video games, or the computer. He knows that, once all 10 tickets are gone, that’s it. It has helped him learn to budget his time.”
Like Lisa, Kate W., of Los Angeles, mother of 10-year-old Alex, requires her son to ask before he turns on the TV or picks up his Game Boy. “If he has homework to do, or if we’re getting ready to go somewhere, he knows that I’m going to say ‘no,'” she says. “When he asks, I tell him to move on to something else.”
Help with Homework
Children who have ADHD sometimes forget to write down their assignments or bring home the textbooks needed to complete them — making it impossible to get their homework done. What can parents do to solve this common problem?
“We have a system in place with the teacher,” says Maggie H., of Chicago, mother of Jake, 11. “She gives Jake a list of his homework, and he hands it to me the minute he gets home. When he’s done with his assignments, I initial the list and send it back.”
Patty L., of Boston, mother of Brittany, 13, found an even simpler solution: “My daughter kept leaving her books at school, so we bought a second set to leave at home.” (If your child has an IEP, include this as an accommodation, and you won’t have to foot the bill for the duplicate set.)
Even if books and assignments do make it home, some kids are lost without constant supervision and coaching. Breaking assignments into manageable steps helps. So does staying nearby as your child plugs away. You can step in if your child gets frustrated or distracted.
“I used to send my daughter upstairs to do her homework,” says Linda S., of Grayslake, Illinois, mother of 10-year-old Emily. “But by the time she got there, she had forgotten all about it. Now she works at the kitchen table, where I can see what is going on.”
Parents of older children may find themselves butting heads with their kids every day after school, and wonder when to call it quits. “Homework was a battle,” says Marcus M., of Scottsdale, Arizona, father of Jonathan, 11. “One day I decided I couldn’t take it anymore, so I hired a teenager to come over after school each day to help Jon do his homework. It’s the best money I’ve ever spent. There are no more battles.”
If your child simply seems too tired to complete his homework in the evening, try shifting it to the morning. This strategy is especially helpful for kids who are involved in sports or other extracurricular activities.
“It was just too tough to do homework at night after a busy day,” says Debra S., of Las Vegas, mother of Sammi, 10. “Now we wake up earlier in the morning and do it when she is fresh. We started this when she was learning to read, and it still works.”
Time to Cool Off
Sometimes, all the planning and good intentions in the world aren’t enough to rein in a rambunctious child. The good plan that goes awry will test a parent’s patience — to the point of “losing it” herself.
“When your child is having a tantrum, the worst thing you can do is yell and threaten,” says Sari W., of Hermosa Beach, California, mother of seven-year-old Jacob. “Giving your child extra attention at this time just adds fuel to the fire. Kids don’t care whether the attention is positive or negative.”
If you lose your temper, don’t shout at your child. Instead, tell him that the conversation will continue only after he calms down. “Once you regain your composure,” Sari says, “don’t hold on to your bad mood. Move on.”