Ask the Experts

15 Things I Wish Every Parent Knew About Raising a Child with ADHD

“Never take away the area of strength as a punishment, or as a way to motivate the child to do better in school.” And more essential parenting advice from a licensed clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience with ADHD.

A quick checklist of pointers for how to help a child with ADHD and a learning disability… Add your suggestions to the comments box below!

  1. Identify and treat the problems as early as possible, preferably before age 10. The first years in school are crucial to beginning intervention and preventing failure and feelings of inferiority.
  2. Help the child gain an understanding of his disability from a biological perspective. Don’t use or allow negative labels, such as “lazy,” “stupid,” or “inferior.”
  3. Help the child learn to identify feelings, use words to describe them, and talk about them.
  4. Provide a structured and stable environment at home. Routines (morning, study time, bedtime) are essential for young children. Insist that the child learn these routines and take responsibility for following them.

[Get This Free Download: Routines for Morning and Night]

  1. Help the child find his strength and capitalize on it. Pursue skill and competency in that area. You may have to try several activities to find the right one for the child.
  2. NEVER take away the area of strength as a punishment, or as a way to motivate the child to do better in school.
  3. Involve the child in group activities (sports team, photography club, church group) to develop social skills.
  4. Make a point to praise and reward effort, not just successful outcomes. Grades are less important than progress.
  5. Help the child set realistic, achievable goals. Confidence cannot survive without success.
  6. Don’t take over and do the work for the child. Provide help, be a monitor, but never take away the primary responsibility for doing the work.
  7. Help the child keep trying when faced with obstacles. Determination and resiliency will help the child get through any hardship.
  8. Never give up or lose hope. Never allow the child to give up on himself. Don’t allow the child to make excuses for not trying. Failure means failing to try.
  9. Help the child develop diverse activities, interests, and friends. Try many things and keep the child engaged in them. Variety challenges the brain and helps it grow.
  10. Use all appropriate interventions. In addition to school services, take advantage of outside resources when needed.
  11. Provide multimodal, interactive, and hands-on learning. Children with disabilities learn better by doing things than by talking about them.

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Peter Jaksa, Ph.D., is a member of the ADDitude ADHD Medical Review Panel.

1 Comments & Reviews

  1. A couple of recommended adjustments.

    4) I would recommend the addition of a “wind down period” this takes place in the hour or so before bedtime, where the family as a whole helps the child get ready for the transition to bedtime. No screens for parents or children, decrease the lighting, have any last snack or non water drink brush teeth and wash up as early into this time as possible, not right before going to bed, use this tie to read stories from a book or to talk as a family. This helps the child’s mind and body in its transition from wakefulness to sleep. Sleep disturbance is common in people with ADHD, and the effects of poor sleep reinforce and exacerbate ADHD symptoms. A consistent waking and getting up time is vital for the bodies wake/sleep cycle, and should be maintained with even more structure than bedtime (weekend sleep ins aren’t actually good for anyone, and especially those with ADHD. To preemptively nip the argument in the bud, you can’t catch up on missed sleep, that’s not how our brains ands bodies work, all you can do is disorder future sleep patterns. Also don’t set an expectation for a child, especially one with ADHD, to follow a routine that you aren’t modelling for them.

    While on the note of sleep, the facts for teenagers are different than those of children and adolescents, and society does the a massive developmental disservice by not recognising this. Physiologically teenagers are geared to stay up later than even adults, and to then sleep later as well, it isn’t laziness, angst, rebellion, or some other act of willful defiance. From a socio-evolutionary perspective this might be a hangover from our times as before even our times as hunter gathers, as is the existence of night owls and morning larks. Sleep is the most essential factor of our overall health and impacts the wellbeing and function of pretty much everyone of our internal systems, and so the progress of evolution shaped human development accordingly. Groups of our ancient ancestors who contained members of mixed sleeping habits where there were members whose pattern of wakefulness had them alert into the wee ours of the morning, were less susceptible to attacks from nocturnal predators and thus better suited to survive and out perform other groups. The teenage sleep physiology may result form this need for someone to be awake, with a social psychology aspect that rings true still to this day, namely the new person on a team pulls the worst duties. With teenagers being the members of their groups entering into adulthood, they pulled the short straw of manning the graveyard shift. Thus even for groups that contained predominantly morning larks, the ones whose teenage members had a tendency towards staying up all night were better equipped than those without. An additional influence may be that the physiological predilection to stay up later than all of their parents may have held another evolutionary advantage from a certain reproductive standpoint. The emotional and mental health of teenagers is as impacted by disordered or lack of sleep, and one of the best things a parent can do is recognise this and advocate for and support your teenage child in anyway you can.

    8) Rather than making a point to praise and reward a child for their efforts, talk to the child about the progress and the outcome. Make the focus of the discussion their experience and evaluation of both the effort and the outcome. A reliance on praise and reward reinforces extrinsic over intrinsic motivations, and tends toward unhealthy outcomes which we can see prevalent in modern north society. The over-inflated sense of self-importance, unrealistic confidence in ones abilities, and a sense of entitlement. A prevalence of empty praise may also create the opposite, a tendency towards being overly critical and judgemental of ones self and to self censor, these individuals tend to be more the more perceptive of the two types and their recognition of the emptiness or arbitrary praise that teaches them to mistrust any external opinion, particularly positive opinion or evaluation of themselves, their effort and accomplishments.

    Acknowledge the successes and failures the child experiences, in the same light be sure to acknowledge your own experiences with effort and failure, both in the things you do and as a parent. The most important message you can give your child is an authentic one. Be as mindful of empty praise as you are of over criticism. Early conversations will be difficult and expect tears at times, accept and acknowledge those tears, and be sure that your child knows that those tears are as valid as any smile. In the end it is about teaching them to honestly evaluate themselves and their work, and to increase their level of intrinsic motivation as opposed to extrinsic. Starting this as early you can, but it is never too late to start. Growing a tendencies towards open authentic conversations with your children is one of the best things you can do for your child, yourself, and your relationship with them. These conversations are even more important as they become teenagers, and maintaining your openness and authenticity during this time can be both life changing, and in the most dire of situations literally life-saving for them or their friends.

    A balanced and authentic approach to #8 makes #9 far more easily accomplished.

    * additional note your article tends to use the male or non at all. Some readers may find this distracting or disconcerting. Switching between pronouns can easily alleviate this as can removing gendered pronouns completely.

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