Positive Parenting

7 Strategies for Single Parents

Seven expert strategies to help single parents raise confident, successful children with ADHD.

Single Parents: How to Raise ADHD Children - Alone
Single Parents: How to Raise ADHD Children - Alone

You’re sitting in the principal’s office, waiting to talk about your child’s misbehavior. You consider how much easier this would be — not to mention running the household — if your spouse were still in the picture. Raising a child with ADHD can challenge parents in a strong marriage. Doing it alone seems impossible.

It doesn’t have to be. I’ve worked with many single parents who have done it without losing their sanity or their sense of humor. What’s more, their children have thrived, developing a full complement of social skills and flourishing at school and in their careers. All successful single parents have a plan — strategies for taking some of the parenting pressure off their shoulders and nipping little problems in the bud. Here are my best suggestions for going it alone.

1. Make and stick to routines.

When you find your car keys in the cutlery drawer and Chinese food containers in the cabinet, it’s time to make hard-and-fast routines for your home. Set up chore charts, with firm times for accomplishing each task.

Consider listing chores on separate charts, so that children can choose a task from each chart each day. No one wants to be consistently stuck with the most unsavory one — like cleaning the downstairs toilet.

2. Schedule “together time.”

Being the breadwinner and raising a child can drain your energy, leaving you exhausted and irritable. Too many skirmishes, however small, can erode a child’s perception of feeling loved. Every week, press the “love-reset” button by spending some recreational time with each of your children.

[Free Resource: Sample Schedules for Reliable Family Routines]

The shared time should be child-oriented and involve high-quality interaction between the two of you. Reading together, playing a board game or cards, watching a DVD or video, riding bicycles, or making a favorite meal will do nicely. Sibling rivalry, often a concern in families with ADHD, will decrease considerably if you schedule regular together time.

3. Outsource activities.

Music or art lessons, martial-arts classes, or after-school sports enrich the lives of children with ADHD. Such activities develop their abilities and social skills. Getting your children to lessons and appointments, however, may seem like more than you can manage. Don’t ditch the activities; get help.

Arrange for your children to share rides with other kids in the same program. Call relatives or friends to see if they can occasionally run your child to his guitar lesson or gymnastics hour.

4. Streamline mealtime.

Kids with ADHD benefit from helping out with menu planning, meal preparation, and setting and clearing the table. To shorten your list of chores, make children responsible for preparing part of one meal each week, whether it’s dessert or a salad. While you’re at it, prepare double portions of the main course, and refrigerate or freeze them for next week. Get into the habit of clearing and washing dishes immediately after each meal or snack. No TV or computer time until the “clean team” places the dishes in the dishwasher and the condiments back in the fridge.

[Fast, Healthy Recipes That Everyone Loves]

5. Put a sock in it.

Many single parents act like super-cops, because there is no one else around to remind their child about homework, taking a shower, whatever. The problem is, nagging creates tension in the household. Be alert for opportunities to let your child take the lead. Ask him to tape-record reminders for himself, so you don’t have to do all the reminding. A laid-back approach brings peace and harmony into the family, and empowers an absentminded child to take control of his day.

6. Agree on treatment.

When your child visits your ex-spouse, his treatment program may be interrupted or called into question. Arrange a joint session with your child’s counselor, therapist, or physician to educate the other parent about why treatment is needed. If the non-custodial parent decides to take the child off medication, and symptoms flare up, use that potentially unpleasant experience as leverage to require your spouse to maintain the treatment plan during the next visit.

7. Agree on responsibilities.

If your child can’t wait to get to Dad’s house every other weekend, Dad might be spoiling him with unadulterated fun. ADHD children often yo-yo between the excessively permissive parent and the taskmaster. The contrast between fun-and-games visits and daily routines at home can create problems for you. Ask your ex-spouse to assign the child some tasks when visiting with him, even if you have to sit down and map them out. Also, make sure that life at home isn’t all work and no play (see “Schedule ‘together time'”). Single parenting is challenging, but it can be fun as well.

[When Parents Disagree About ADHD Medications]