Children's Health / 15 February, 2023 / Leanne Maskell
As an ADHD coach, I speak to many parents of children with ADHD. I tell them all the same thing: you are doing a great job. Your child is so lucky to have you. Caring is enough, and a luxury that can easily be taken for granted.
Any child that has someone who supports them, who helps them understand the way their brain works, who cares about their wellbeing and accepts them as they are, is incredibly fortunate. As so many adults such as myself are being diagnosed with ADHD later in life, it’s amazing to be able to help your child get off to the best start by using an ADHD-lens of parenting.
Even so, this isn’t always easy. From managing the highs and lows of ADHD symptoms in your child, to helping them (and yourself!) understand what it actually means in practice, to fighting a maze of bureaucracy to ensure they have the support they need, supporting them through additional mental health conditions, and battling against the stigma of ‘bad parenting’ – you deserve a medal.
From my personal and professional experience, here are my top tips on parenting a child with ADHD (written with the very strong disclaimer of not being a parent myself!):
The saying ‘put your own oxygen mask on first before helping others’ applies here. For example, parents often seek out ADHD coaching for their reluctant children, which would be far more effective for them.
You can’t help someone who doesn’t want it. However, as a parent, accessing support in processing what ADHD means for you as a family, and implementing any changes you may want to make as a result, can be life-changing.
It can be extremely stressful to parent a child with ADHD, especially in trying to access things like assessments, so looking after yourself properly is crucial to supporting your child. This could look like therapy, a support group of other parents, or simply giving yourself breaks to recharge.
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If you believe your child has ADHD, learn about the condition through credible sources such as books, and explore what this means with your child. Helping them to understand neurodiversity, and using analogies such as finding out they’re not a ‘muggle’ as in Harry Potter can be extremely helpful in eradicating shame.
Having ADHD doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them, and they’re not mentally ill – they just think differently, which is a good thing! Being able to identify certain experiences related to ADHD, such as Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria, can be very helpful for your child to manage the challenges and build confidence in their strengths effectively. You don’t need to wait for an ‘official’ diagnosis to do this!
Once you understand how ADHD may be showing up in your child and the specific challenges they face, you can understand what support they may need. Explaining this to your child as finding the right environment for a flower to grow can help them understand what it’s for, such as extra study support tailored to their learning styles.
Accessing support for your child’s ADHD in the UK can be a minefield, from assessments to education, health and care plans (EHCP’s). However, schools can help on the presentation of need (without a diagnosis), and appeals on EHCP provision have an extremely high success rate for parents, of 90% in some parts of the country – so it is worth it!
Children with ADHD may experience neurodevelopmental delays in executive functioning skills of approximately 30%, which means they may need parenting differently. For example, instead of simply doing as they’re told, they may need to fully understand the reasons behind doing something like cleaning their room to activate their motivation.
By coaching your child and asking them curious questions, you can empower them to take responsibility for challenges and implement solutions, such as packing their bag the night before school.
It’s been estimated that by age 10, children with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages from parents, teachers, and other adults than their non-ADHD peers.
Helping your child to understand ADHD can ‘explain but not excuse’ behaviour, and enables them to take responsibility for it. Identifying the positives and speaking through challenges will help them to build their confidence, regulate their emotions, and accept that it’s okay not to be like everybody else.
ADHD shows up differently in everybody and is highly situational. Understandably, as a parent, you may worry about ‘labelling’ your child, and have concerns about medication, but remember that you’re simply doing your best.
You can try things out, and change your mind later on – an ADHD diagnosis does not define your child.
Parents of children with ADHD are chronically under-supported, but remember that you are doing a brilliant job exactly as you are. You may be fighting in a broken system to access support for your child, but simply being there for them as a parent can allow your child to embrace who they are – ADHD or not.
Although ADHD can come with challenges, strengths such as creativity, curiosity, and courage have been scientifically linked to it. Encouraging your child to harness these strengths will help them live a happy and successful life.
Knowing about ADHD enables you to parent in a way where you can help your child to work with their natural instincts, rather than against them.
I’m always in awe at the parents I speak to, as I find it difficult enough to look after myself with ADHD – let alone somebody else! I wasn’t diagnosed until 25, and coaching teenagers with ADHD has shown me what I missed out on: years of feeling shame and blaming myself for the way my brain worked. By supporting your child with ADHD, you’re giving them a different path. Take it from me: they’re extremely lucky to have you.
Leanne Maskell is an ADHD Coach, the Director of coach training company ADHD Works and author of ADHD: An A to Z, published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers and available in paperback, priced at £12.99.