Positive Parenting

Parent Coaching the Child with ADHD

Is it appropriate to take on the role of parent coach for your ADHD child? A child psychologist gives his answer.

Coaching ADHD children and knowing when to pass the ball to professionals
Coaching ADHD children and knowing when to pass the ball to professionals

All children benefit from knowledgeable and nurturing guidance. In my experience training and treating thousands of parents and their children with ADHD, the coaching role is well suited to parents who wish to help their children with strategies that turn troubles into triumphs.

Parents live on the “front lines” of their children’s struggles with emotional and social problems. The vulnerability of a fragile ego, the unthinking behaviors rooted in impulsivity, or the steep decline of yet another meltdown, sends a clear message that our children need help, and they need it now.

Parent coaches strive to present themselves as on the same side as the child. “Let me hear your side,” helps calm the rough waters of a child’s emotions. Next, parents can offer, “Maybe there’s a lesson here for both of us — a way for me to understand you better and for you to better understand yourself.” Appropriately timed comments feel like a friendly gesture of help, not a critical put-down. Sensitivity in the form of well chosen words, soft tone of voice, and willingness to listen and truly understand the child’s point of view, opens the door to parent coaching.

From this point, dialogue focuses upon what coaching strategies can help them cope more effectively next time. Armed with tools, timing, and sensitivity, parents have a positive impact upon children with problems such as ADHD. Coaching improves children’s powers of observation and helps them manage potent feelings by developing coping skills.

Despite some parents’ earnest efforts though, some children can be so difficult to coach that it seems to be an exercise in futility. No matter how soft and non-judgmental the approach, coaching words sound like stinging criticisms. Coaching these unsettled children need not be abandoned, but parents must be more careful, creative, and above all, humble in their approach.

There are some situations, however, that warrant professional intervention. Talk to your physician or therapist if:

If your child is threatening to hurt him/herself or has taken action in that direction.There is evidence of feelings of hopelessness and persistent self-defeating behaviors in your child’s academic, social or family life.If your child is a target or perpetrator of violence and/or verbal or physical aggression. Despite your best efforts, your child continues to adamantly resist coaching and learn new strategies. Due to environmental or personal reasons, you are unable to provide the extent of help your child needs.

While there are many avenues that parent coaches can take with children with ADHD, there are also many pitfalls to consider. If parents rely upon the “shove-it-in-their-ears” approach, chances are their coaching is going to be met with “refused delivery.”

Parents should consider what blind spots might make their coaching efforts backfire. It’s wise to take inventory of one’s own “hot buttons” before attempting to act as a parent coach. If you are reactive and impatient, or often find yourself in a “do as I say, not as I do” scenario with your child, it’s best to seek support for both you and your family from a professional coach, therapist or counselor.

That being said, “I know that I can be just as much in need of coaching as anyone else,” can be offered by a parent as one way to emphasize how coaching is a two-way street. This sets the stage for children to let down their guard. If they can calmly comment upon their parent’s faults, it opens up a door to a rational discussion about how mistakes are learning opportunities.

If we can approach our parenting role as a journey that forever enlightens us about our kids and ourselves, that open-mindedness will serve our children, no matter how troubled, very well.