Positive Parenting

Dear Parents: You Are the Solution…

…to your child’s biggest struggles with ADHD. The Fix You First approach to ADHD therapy recognizes that traditional parenting approaches actually exacerbate and worsen ADHD problems within families. To make progress with your child, you need to recognize that they are not the problem — and that nothing will change unless you change.

parenting adhd
parenting adhd

When my oldest child was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder at the age of seven, I wasn’t ready to try medication for a few reasons that may sound familiar to other parents: she was young and it was scary.

Instead, I tried everything else I could get my hands on: acupuncture, food elimination diets, occupational therapy, cranial sacral therapy, chelation therapy, homeopathy, horseback riding, vision therapy, martial arts, COGMED, neurofeedback, counseling, and chiropractic care. All in the name of fixing my broken child. Nothing made a noticeable difference. Her symptoms worsened, our relationship deteriorated, her grades dropped, friendships disappeared, her self-esteem melted away, and our bank account deflated.

What I wanted, more than anything, was to change her. I wanted to make her ADHD symptoms go away so that I could have the nice, obedient child I signed up for, the one I’d dreamed about, the one I felt extremely guilty for wanting, yet nonetheless continued to pursue. It took me years to understand that my daughter was not the problem. I was the problem.

I needed to come at her with a radical acceptance of who she was and how she struggled. I needed to find, deep within myself, a compassion for her. I needed to realize there was nothing wrong with her; that she didn’t need to be fixed. She was emotional, lost everything, messy beyond belief, loud, got lousy grades — and she was perfect.

As a psychotherapist who treats ADHD, I get calls from parents like my former self on a daily basis. Please help my child. I recognize the exhaustion, the frustration, and the grief. The desperation. And I offer them a solution: Fix You First.

This advice doesn’t always land well. By the time they call me, they have heavily identified with the fact that their child is the problem — and frankly, many don’t want to do the work themselves. It’s hard, and they are already exhausted. But, in many ways, what is actually harder is the constant fight against the current of your child’s behavior. If you swim alongside him, things get so much easier.

[Take This Test: Could My Child Have ADHD?]

Why Might You Be the Problem?

  1. The parenting approaches that typically work for other children not only will not work for your child but may exacerbate the problem. By learning a different parenting approach, you can positively impact your child’s behavior.
  2. You may need a deep understanding of why your child’s ADHD brain causes the difficult behavior. Many parents think the defiance, lying, lack of motivation, forgetfulness, and sloppiness is willful and intentional. It makes them angry on a daily basis. An understanding that these are often physiological and uncontrollable responses can lead to compassion, and this compassion can shift your child’s behavior in measurable ways.
  3. Your own emotional hot buttons are sometimes triggered by your child’s behavior. This can cause the maladaptive response of nagging, shouting, negotiating, being authoritarian, or being overly permissive in an attempt to quell your own anxiety and discomfort. Understanding these triggers can help you react differently and model the controlled, mindful response you are trying to get from your child.
  4. You may be practicing Reactive Parenting — after-the-fact responses of punishment and unintentional shaming that won’t positively shape your child’s behavior but will cause a worsening parent-child dynamic and self-esteem problems. Learning Proactive Parenting skills will arm you with tools to anticipate your child’s needs and possibly make home-life smoother.
  5. You may be in a dysfunctional communication pattern of trying to convince, negotiate, rationalize, or fix when instead sometimes simply listening and reflecting and holding boundaries would be easier and more effective.
  6. And the single biggest reason that Fixing You First is often necessary and healthy: You have access to your child far more than the hour that a counselor might see them each week. You might hope the counselor can help with symptoms, but since many of the symptoms come from an impulsive brain, expecting a child to access tools they learned in session to control an impulsive reaction requires a mindfulness most children with ADHD simply don’t have.

[Get This Free Download: 4 Parent-Child Therapies for Better Behavior]

You Can Be the Solution

You don’t necessarily have to work with a Parent Behavior Therapist to become a ProActive Parent. It requires a willingness to learn about ADHD and the brain, to reflect on your own triggers, to find compassion for your child’s struggle, and to change your communication style, among others. Your child’s ADHD symptoms are part of them — sometimes they make your child funny and creative and entertaining, but frequently they lead to dysfunctional responses to the overwhelming requests of the world around them. Learning ways you can lessen that overwhelm and provide a positive space for your child to feel accepted can be the first step to inviting not only better behaviors, but also a better relationship with your child.

The Fix You First Daily Plan

As a start, consider making the following a part of your daily routine:

  1. Dedicate at least five minutes each day to focus on your child. Set up a game or special play time or, for older children a dedicated time to talk or share an activity. Research indicates that even just five minutes can build a healthy relationship. To better your communication, use PRIDE: Praise, Reflect, Imitate, Describe, Enthusiasm.
  2. PRAISE your child during this interaction using specifics. “Nice job keeping your hands to yourself.” “Thank you for sharing what happened at school with me.”
  3. REFLECT verbatim what your child says. This is excellent during whining so you don’t start negotiating, but also makes the child feel heard. Child: I don’t want to go last! Parent: You don’t want to go last. No matter how much they beg or complain, simply repeat what they say. It tends to end there, sets boundaries, and leaves the child feeling they’ve been listened to.
  4. IMITATE: During your time together, do exactly what your child does. It lets him lead and feel empowered, but also models doing what you’re told. If she puts the doll to bed, you put your doll to bed. If he draws a sun, you draw a sun.
  5. DESCRIBE: Narrate your child’s actions during play. This shows you are watching and are interested, helps with language development and self-esteem, and helps organize the child’s thoughts about play.
  6. ENTHUSIASM: Using an elevated tone of voice demonstrates interest in your child and can strengthen your relationship.

If your child understands how to get positive responses from you, he may begin to automatically shift behaviors to elicit that response instead of the nagging, yelling, disappointed response he typically receives. This can make a positive impact at school as well, because positive adult responses feel so much better and he may begin to seek them more.

[Your Free 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD]

Thank you for reading ADDitude. To support our mission of providing ADHD education and support, please consider subscribing. Your readership and support help make our content and outreach possible. Thank you.

2 Comments & Reviews

  1. A great article!!! As a mother of a child with severe ADHD, and as a counsellor who works with parents, I love that you have laid out such clear and helpful steps. My child is now grown, and I can attest that the best thing I did, through all those challenging years, was to stay connected at the heart (and during the teen years this was a one-way effort). I will be passing on the PRIDE method, as it incorporates strategies which take some practice, but are wonderfully effective. And not just with kids who have ADHD. These are great tools for keeping the relationship strong. Many thanks.

  2. As an adult who had ADD as a kid (undiagnosed), still has it as an adult, and has a child that has been clinically diagnosed with ADHD, I disagree with a lot of what this article says.

    First, if my child had a heart condition, or an infection, I would not hesitate to give him medication. Why should I not treat this similarly? Medicine for ADHD does not have to greatly impact who your child is, if it does, find a better Dr.

    My wife and I were firmly in the “We are not medicating our child” camp until we had a chat with a teacher who told us that our son’s classmates didn’t want to work with him or sit near him because he was distracting them from learning. At this point, trying everything but medicine was not working, we needed to be open to other options.

    We tried many medications in extremely low doses until we found the one that worked and didn’t alter who he is as a person. During this time we had one that turned him into a zombie, we got off that quickly. Another worked great, but killed his appetite, and our son is already very thin, so we got off of that. After going through a handful, we found the right one and the difference is night and day in some regards, and very slight in others.

    Night and Day changes really show up at school. Over the last 4 years in school, my son went from being the kid who didn’t live up to his potential and no one wanted to work with because he was too distracting, to being a straight ‘A’ student in the gifted program, even taking math courses a year above his grade level. Was this just due to the medicine? No, this was a fair amount of work on our part (my wife and I), the school, and my son. I truly believe it would not have happened if it wasn’t for the medicine.

    The very slight changes are in his personality, it really hasn’t changed at all. Yes, the mornings can be trying, as can the evenings, but that isn’t all that different than any 10 year old.

    From a parenting perspective, I think this is more difficult on my wife than it is on me. She didn’t grow up with ADD, she was a straight ‘A’ student, she didn’t have the challenges that my son and I have. It has to be incredibly difficult for her to fully understand what is happening. For me, it is easy. Everything my son is going through, I went through as a child, with one major exception, I never got better. The outcome was horrible grades and a lack of discipline that haunts me to this day.

    As an adult, I have learned to manage it to an extent, but it set me back in life probably a decade. The poor decisions I made (getting bad grades, doing what I wanted instead of what I should have done, etc) as a kid really set me back as I got older. It isn’t like this is an issue that goes away when you turn 18, it doesn’t, it gets harder. You have now trained yourself to not do all of the things that you should to live that life you want, and now you need to learn those things as an adult, and the consequences are greater.

    My son does not need to traverse the same mountain that I did, there is a better way, and that involves a small amount of medicine and a lot of work by those around him. We have a stigma in our society when it comes to mental disorders, and we need to stop treating them differently than we would a physical disorder. If you have high blood pressure you will take a medicine and make changes in your life to maybe get to a point that you don’t need it, why do we treat a mental disorder like ADHD any different?

Leave a Reply