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You Are Not Alone: Support for Parents of Children with ADHD

Parents of children with ADHD and learning disabilities routinely put their own needs — or mental and physical health — on the back burner. Here are strategies to help you prevent burn out, feel less alone, and learn new strategies to help your child.

A tired mom trying to juggle raising her child and handling her work at the same time.
A tired mom trying to juggle raising her child and handling her work at the same time.

In the mad morning rush before school, you’re applying Post-Its to his folders and lunchbox so he won’t forget to turn in those overdue library books or hand in his completed homework. At baseball practice, you’re dashing into the dugout with a forgotten glove or quick snack. During homework time, you’re the bad cop — fueling him with food, setting the timer, and keeping him on task when he’d rather be doing just about anything.

At the end of a typical day with your child, you feel overwhelmed and exhausted. And yet you still haven’t handled all of your to-do-list items for the rest of the family, your house, or your job. And you certainly haven’t taken even a moment to focus on yourself. That is not good.

If you are an adult with ADHD, you work hard to get through your day while being distracted by children, co-workers, your spouse, and your own thoughts. On top of trying to manage yourself, you are also trying to create a structured home environment to help your child function at his best. You understand better than most people what a day in your child’s world feels like, but you may be having a hard time getting through the same kinds of tasks and responsibilities yourself.

If you don’t have ADHD, your child’s world may feel foreign, frustrating, and constantly moving. You may be having a hard time understanding why your child cannot walk in a straight line, put on his shoes without picking up a random toy on the way, or brush his teeth without 12 reminders. His actions feel random, and they drain your time and energy.

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Here are a few strategies to help you, as the parent of a child with ADHD, prevent burn out while caring for, coaching, and managing your child:

1. It’s okay to ask for help. This help can be a hired tutor or nanny, a family member, or a switch off between parents. If you are going to hire someone to help you, make sure that person is older than your child, and train him or her. Provide clear-cut information about your expectations regarding activities and accomplishments – i.e., finish math homework, take a bike ride, give a bath. Share the strategies that you’ve found help your child to complete tasks (e.g., take a five-minute break after working on homework for 10 minutes, break down homework or tasks into individual steps, etc.).

If another family member is willing to help, offer similar training so that person is using the same terminology, following the same routine, follows whatever structure you have created. Continuity and consistency across caregivers is critical.

If you can, break up ‘shifts’ with your spouse. For example, you might take the morning routine if your husband takes the bedtime routine. This offers each of you a break during one of the high-stress times of the day. You may also want to rotate so there is no burnout within that shift.

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2. Create an informal support group for parents. It is helpful to sit with other parents who are experiencing the same struggles and frustrations. You will find comfort and solace in knowing that you are not alone. This is also the best forum to share ideas, brainstorm, and problem solve together. For example, parents may share best strategies for approaching a teacher and gain accommodations, or referrals for ADHD professionals within your community.

In addition, your child gains a peer group of other children who are like her. As your child gets older, she can share her struggles with her peers and perhaps they can problem solve and back each other up as well.

3. Consults with a psychologist or educational consultant. Ask about your rights are as the parent of a child with ADHD within the public school system. What accommodations might help your child in the classroom? What is your child’s learning style? How does he best take in new information? How can the teacher maximize your child’s ability to complete classwork? What kind of plan does your child need – an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) or 504 Accommodation Plan? What’s the difference? Does your child need a sensory diet? Can your child participate in a social skills group in school?

As a parent, you may not be aware of all the services available to your child, and what can be best incorporated into her school day so that she is accessing the curriculum as best she can. Some teachers will seek you out, but in some cases, you will need to seek out the teacher to encourage collaboration and brainstorming. Your best bet is to be ready with strategies and accommodations that will help your child on a daily basis.

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