Positive Parenting

How to Shepherd — Not Carry — Your Child Toward Fulfillment

Your job as a parent is not to sculpt your child to fulfill your own expectations, but to be a guide, supervisor, provider, nurturer, and protector of their unique gifts and strengths. Use the “shepherd” parenting style and these 8 strategies for raising happy children and well-adjusted adults.

Your child is a unique being with a distinct mix of strengths and weaknesses. As a parent, you get the chance to shepherd — not carry — your child into adulthood by understanding their patchwork of developed and still-developing executive functions. This steering takes place indirectly, primarily through the environment in which you raise your child with ADHD and the resources you provide.

If you understand your part, you can impart essential lessons to your child, all while enjoying this developmental journey as it plays out. You get to play the important role of shepherd — you don’t get to design or change the sheep!

The “Good Shepherd” Parenting Style: 8 Strategies

#1. Provide protection

Job one of parents is obviously to protect their child from nefarious forces at play in their homes, neighborhoods, schools, and communities.

Children with ADHD are three to five times more likely than other children to endure accidental injuries and poisonings; to experience bullying, victimization, and physical and emotional abuse at the hands of other children and adults; and to generally get into more trouble because of their penchant for risk-taking and sensation-seeking. They are also nearly twice as likely to die from an accidental injury before age 10. Most parents are psychologically wired to engage in this protective behavior instinctively. These protective efforts are especially important for parents of children with ADHD.

#2. Find the right environment

Do whatever you can to find the best neighborhood in which to raise your child. Not all of us have a lot of choices, but we usually have some discretion.

  • Does your neighborhood provide good-quality schools, pro-social peers, and adults who can be good role models?
  • Are there resources that can foster your child’s physical and social development, like sports, clubs, scouts, and church groups?

[Click to Read: What Kids Need to Be Happy]

Judith Harris wrote in The Nurture Assumption (#CommissionsEarned) that where you choose to buy or rent a home has more to do with your child’s development than what you are likely to do inside of it. Find the best neighborhood that you can reasonably afford. Then, monitor your child’s relationships, and steer them toward friendships with well-adjusted and inspiring peers.

#3. Engineer quality time

The younger your child, the more your interactions with them matter. Predictable, supportive, rewarding, and stimulating interactions with your child help them become better adjusted and more confident and competent.

Make your home’s rules, routines, family rituals, and other activities reasonably predictable, and as pleasant and respectful as you can. Keep your interactions with your child stable, not chaotic, emotional, capricious, or disparaging. And, lastly, never be psychologically absent or uninvolved. Stay engaged.

#4. Find accommodations

Make adjustments as needed to accommodate your child’s needs and executive dysfunctions. You can reduce the hurdles that come with ADHD by changing the environment. For instance, you might have your child do their English homework at the kitchen table while you are preparing dinner. That way, you can set a timer for completing a small quota of problems, allow short breaks from work, and dispense encouragement and approval throughout. Touch them affectionately on the shoulder occasionally as a sign of approval. Reward them with their choice of dessert after dinner.

[Read: 20 Classroom Accommodations That Target Common ADHD Challenges]

Doing so in no way changes your child’s degree of ADHD impairment, but it does make it more likely that they will complete the assignment than if they had been sitting in her bedroom, with no break, working unsupervised.

#5. Adopt a child’s eye

Look for ways to change your child’s settings to make them more educational, stimulating, or fun to be in and interact with. Adding a swing set to the backyard, more books in the bedroom, more educational toys, DVDs, video games, and more sports gear to the home environment will have a positive impact on a child’s development.

#6. Prioritize nutrition and nourishment

Take a close look at what your child eats to make sure the foods are contributing to health and wellness. Is it slanted toward junk, starchy, sugar-laden foods and beverages? On average, children with ADHD eat less nutritiously than typical children. We think that is because junk foods are what a child with ADHD will make less of a fuss about eating. This has led to the risk of health problems among children with ADHD that increases with age.

Try to provide access to balanced and nutritious foods; reduce and remove the less nutritious ones from the house. Some children with ADHD have vitamin (usually D), omega 3 or 6, or iron deficiencies that could be addressed through foods. A small percentage have allergies to food colorings that can worsen their ADHD symptoms. Ask your pediatrician if this might be the case, and take steps to improve these deficiencies and allergies.

#7. Provide consistent and predictable routines

  • Are the family’s morning routines consistent and effective at getting your child prepared and out the door for school?
  • Are your dinnertime and evening routines fairly consistent as to when you eat, do homework, prepare your children’s things for the next day, bathe or shower, brush their teeth, and get them off to bed?

The routines of ADHD families are often inconsistent and chaotic, which can lead to poor health, increased stress, and impaired coping abilities. Worse, it can sow the seeds for oppositional and defiant behavior in children.

#8. Take good care of yourself

You can’t be your best at raising your child if you have health problems, emotional distress, or general life stress.

  • Assess your habits: Do you use alcohol or other substances excessively? Do you eat nutritious meals?
  • Are you exercising enough to remain in good physical and mental shape?
  • Are you getting enough sleep to avoid being a fog-brained, irritable, emotionally brittle, or spaced-out shepherd?
  • What are you doing to recharge your emotional batteries, so you can cope with and shepherd your child with ADHD? Don’t skimp on emotional self-maintenance while trying to be the best shepherd you can be.

If you have concentrated on improving in the areas above, you have done as much as you can to be a good shepherd. The rest is largely out of your power to control. You can raise a unique individual and build a close and supportive relationship that will last a lifetime. Having done your best, enjoy the show!

Excerpted from 12 Principles for Raising a Child with ADHD (#CommissionsEarned), by Russell Barkley, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission from The Guilford Press. Copyright 2021.

Parenting Style: Next Steps


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Updated on February 5, 2021

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