Raising a child is an adventure. Raising one with ADHD is an adventure with a twist. It doesn’t have to be a life of frustration and confusion, though. With some simple strategies, you can work with or around ADHD to effectively parent your child and help them thrive.
Try these three strategies (ones I’ve used myself) to parent your child with ADHD.
Establish, and stick to, a structured routine
Kids with ADHD do better with structure and limited “downtime.” Waking at the same time, breakfast at the same time, homework and after-school play and dinner at the same times, all contribute to easier transitions.
Of course, things come up and we can’t all live a perfectly structured schedule every day. That’s why I said routine rather than schedule. More days than not, you want to stick to your routine. But when a doctor’s appointment comes up, or something else happens, it will be easier for your child with ADHD to adapt.
You’ll want to create a few routines: one for school days, one for weekends, and one for breaks like Christmas, summer, and vacations away from home.
Why not just use the weekend routine for breaks? You can if it works for you. But some parents have to leave kids with a babysitter or in a daycare or even home alone when the kids are out of school. They often find that a different routine works better.
This routine should be fairly detailed, too. You’ll often read that kids need idle time to be bored to improve creativity and imagination or whatever – but that doesn’t apply in the same way to kids with ADHD. If a kid with ADHD gets bored, that’s when things can get crazy. They start looking for things to do and the ADHD can contribute to poor choices, starting and forgetting an activity, or getting in over their heads with an idea that is beyond their abilities alone.
When you do give some idle time, try to make sure it’s not entirely open. Offer a few options your child can choose from rather than leaving the whole world wide open.
Set clear expectations and rules
This might seem like a no-brainer. Of course you set clear expectations and rules for your kids! Who wouldn’t? But what seems clear to you may not be so clear to your child with ADHD. A clean room in your mind is unlikely to be the same clean room in your child’s mind, for example.
Go into deeper detail than you think you need to about your expectations – but do it in pieces. For example, if you want your child to clean their room, start by telling them to pick up all the dirty clothes. Once that’s done, ask them to pick up the toys. Then, make the bed. And so on until the room is cleaned to your satisfaction. It can also help to take some pictures and create a visual chart that shows them what you expect. This way you don’t have to keep telling them what to do.
It’s also a good idea to write house rules down. Remember to keep them simple, though. Make the rules about the big, important things rather than trying to regulate every possible thing your child could ever do wrong.
By writing down house rules, you ensure that everyone is on the same page. Put those rules in a highly visible place and you also ensure that your child with ADHD gets consistent exposure to those rules, making it harder to forget them.
Take this a step further and consider implementing a rewards system for when your child meets or exceeds expectations and follows rules. Kids with ADHD frequently get far more criticism for bad behavior than they get praise for good behavior. This leads to frustration and lowered self-esteem.
Implementing a rewards system encourages you to be on the lookout for their good behavior. It also gives them another incentive to try to make good choices and do what’s expected of them.
Don’t forget to be patient, too. Despite how it may look, your child is probably trying their best.
Clean up their diet
Diet doesn’t cause ADHD. But it can contribute to, or ease, symptoms of ADHD. For example, some studies have indicated that food colorings can contribute to symptoms.
Naturally, we all benefit from a healthy diet filled with fresh fruits and veggies, good fats, protein and healthy carbohydrates. But for a kid with ADHD, this can be even more important.
Avoid pre-packaged and processed foods whenever possible. Artificial flavors, colors, and preservatives can all impact your child’s ADHD symptoms. Stick to home-cooked meals made from fresh ingredients as much as you can. Skip fast food and boxed or frozen meals.
Offer a variety of fresh fruits and veggies. If you find that fresh tends to go bad before you finish it all, try frozen instead of canned. Frozen fruits and veggies typically don’t have a lot of added salt, sugar or other preservatives but canned does.
If your child eats nut butters, look for natural ones with less or no sugar or grind your own if you have time. Use whole-grain breads – again, if you have time, make homemade bread for even better results.
Skip potato chips in lunches and packaged cereals for breakfast as much as possible. Try eggs or steel-cut oatmeal for breakfast.
We all like a sweet treat now and then, and they don’t have to be eliminated completely. Instead, bake cookies, cakes, brownies, and other baked goods from scratch. This allows you to control the amount and type of sugar and eliminates other preservatives that may make your child’s symptoms worse.
If ice cream is your child’s weakness, try making homemade ice cream or buy one like Breyer’s that has fewer ingredients and preservatives (just make sure you don’t stock up since the lack of preservatives means it’ll get freezer burnt quickly).
Don’t forget consistent mealtimes too
Cleaning up the foods your child with ADHD eats is a good start but making sure they eat those foods is also important. Kids with ADHD often end up skipping meals because they’re distracted. This leads to mood swings and extreme hunger, which can lead to binging on unhealthy foods.
Consistent mealtimes ensure that they eat healthy foods regularly. But it also adds to the structured routine of the day. Meals are one of the few things that you actually can plan to remain on the same schedule through just about anything.
These are just a few of the things you can do to help ease the symptoms of your child’s ADHD. From sleep to vitamins and supplements, friends to grades, there is always something to try. The good news is that even when one thing doesn’t seem to work for your child, there’s almost always another option.
What suggestions do you have that have worked for your child’s ADHD?