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Never Underestimate the Power of a Well-Timed Hug…

…and other parenting lessons I’ve learned the hard way. Save yourself the tears, screams, and slammed doors — consider trying these 8 strategies for parenting children with ADHD this week, and see what happens.

“Can I show you a magic trick?” my 8-year-old daughter asks while bouncing up and down, a huge smile on her face.

“Sure..” I respond. “…if there’s time after you finish getting ready for school.”

Suddenly angry, my daughter tenses her whole body. Her eyes squeeze shut with an alarming amount of strength, and a sound begins escaping her mouth that resembles a distant train rapidly approaching. I may even see smoke escaping her ears – just like in the cartoons.

I quickly wrap her in a bear hug, and her body relaxes. I stand back, bend down to her level to look in her gorgeous green eyes, and say, “I can’t wait to see your magic trick. If we do it now, though, we might run out of time for you to catch the bus. You still need to brush your teeth and get your shoes on. Then we can see if we have time.”

She isn’t ecstatic, but she’s not angry anymore either. “O-kaaaay,” she agrees, walking up the stairs with shoulders slightly stooped. By the time she reaches the top, she’s skipping.

It Wasn’t Always This Way

I didn’t know enough to react this way at the beginning of my parenting life — or even last year. I began this journey believing that children should do what their parents say — without question. This made me harsh, unbending, and constantly disappointed.

[Free Resource: 10 Ways to Neutralize Your Child’s Anger]

I still believe in respect and obedience, but now I know I don’t need to be a tyrant to achieve that outcome.

Last year, I probably would have responded to my daughter’s cartoonish tantrum by immediately taking away a privilege — or, worse yet, I may have just yelled. She would have become so upset at 1. missing out on showing me the magic trick, and 2. being treated harshly, that she would have stayed rooted to the spot with loud tears. I would have begun to panic about the bus’s impending arrival, and would have responded with more hurried yelling. She would have snapped out of the tears to show me an impressive force of foot stomping.

Nobody would have left without a battle scar. And if she made it to the bus, she would have greeted her friends with a tear-streaked face.

But as I learn more and more about ADHD, I’m understanding that my daughter did not come equipped with the ability to control her intense emotions. And as I learn more and more about ADHD, I’m seeing that I need to get my own act together if I want her to develop this crucial skill.

[When “Use Your Words” Isn’t Enough]

I’m still learning, but I’ve found these 8 actions are essential in teaching my daughter emotional control:

1. Learn Everything You Can About ADHD

My daughter’s ADHD brain functions differently from mine. Her emotions flood her brain, and she forgets past consequences, making it difficult for her to behave appropriately in a moment of intense frustration. Harsh consequences simply will not teach her anything — except to feel bad about herself. Knowing this about her brain helps me to stop myself from reacting, and instead to pause and consider how she’s viewing the situation.

2. Touch

My husband has ADHD, and if I touch his arm when I ask him to do something, he’ll remember better what I’ve said. When I realized this, I began to do the same thing with my daughter. Somehow, the touch gets her brain to calm down for a second and focus on what I’m saying.

3. Make Eye Contact

Just like with touch, if I can get her eyes to focus on mine while I talk, she will more likely hear and process what I have to say. Combining touch and eye contact yields the best results. I often bend down to look at her face while I put my hand on her cheek. It helps calm both of us, and I find I can speak far more gently from this angle. I never force eye contact. If a gentle connection doesn’t yield eye contact, I don’t push it.

4. Hug

It’s so counterintuitive for me, but hugs are absolutely crucial during my daughter’s tantrums. Nothing calms her quicker, and nothing better prepares her to have a logical conversation about the current issue.

The trick is getting the hug in there before I lose my cool. If she melts down, and I argue back, I often lose my desire to show affection. The hug won’t happen. But if she melts down and I immediately throw my arms around her, I not only stay calm, but she’s able to put the brakes on her reaction.

5. Listen

I used to get so annoyed at my daughter’s intense negative reactions that I didn’t listen to her reasoning. In my mind, she had no reasonable justification for behaving badly. Therefore, my focus fell to one thing: teaching her respect, goshdarnit. Forget her feelings.

Now that I know and understand that she’s learning to control her reactions, I listen. She may start with an angry yell, but when I hug her or put my hand on her cheek, the yell stops and she explains her frustration to me.

I used to think I was right all the time. Now I know she has valid points, too. I don’t always agree and give her what she wants, but once she’s been heard, she doesn’t feel the need to express her frustration so loudly. It’s like she’s been given permission to be disappointed and then move on — and so she does.

6. Explain

I don’t know if all children with ADHD are like this, but wowzas, my daughter needs explanations. I believe she honestly wants to know my reasoning for many of my parenting decisions; not because she wants to argue, but because she’s so curious!

I used to look at her endless questions to my discipline and decisions as defiance, but now I realize her brain is a gigantic sponge, and she wants to soak up everything she can. So I explain decisions to her.

Sometimes, she asks more questions than I have time or patience for, and so I have to tell her to stop. But because I’m making a conscious effort to answer her questions more often, she isn’t terribly disappointed on the occasions when I have to put an end to the discussion.

I consider the explanations during my patient times to be relationship maintenance.

7. Follow a Schedule

Many of our fights erupt when we’re rushing to get somewhere, or when we realize too late that we forgot to do something. Following a morning routine, after school routine, and bedtime routine has eliminated half of the reasons for a fight. When my daughter knows what’s expected of her from one task to the next, I don’t have to nag — and she doesn’t have to feel like I’m running her life.

8. Enjoy

It’s terrible to admit, but for a while, parenting was so hard that I was annoyed by every little thing my kids did. It was hard to get over the arguments, defiance, and disrespect, and I found that I couldn’t even enjoy positive times. I forgot that my children were my joy.

Taking the time to understand my daughter’s brain has helped me to put energy into talking, listening, and hugging so that we have a happier feeling in our home. I’m remembering to enjoy my children. My daughter is better able to control her emotions, and so am I.

And the bonus to all of this? The time I’ve spent understanding ADHD has helped me to better understand all three of my children, ADHD or not.

[Meltdowns Happen. Here’s How to Respond.]