I wanted to do a series of posts that focuses on parenting children who have different needs such as one with a psychological disorder. Parenting is a tough job anyhow, and to add a psychological disorder on top of it, can make it even harder at times. I interviewed the mother who has a daughter with ADHD (She is grown now, so she’s looking back at what her daughter’s childhood was like). She offers some excellent insight and advice on parenting a child with ADHD.
If you do have concerns about your child, please seek help from a health professional such as a primary doctor or mental health therapist. As this mother mentions, listen to your gut.
1.Describe your child.
Kylie was a super happy and easy baby, which is good because our first child had colic and cried constantly and never slept! Kylie napped, was a good eater, not finicky. In the beginning of elementary school she made good friends and seemed fine.
But she was very specific about not liking playdates with more than 3 people—and really preferred just one friend at a time. She found more than that to be difficult, and I think it stressed her out. She was also very sensitive and took things personally so would feel hurt and left out very easily.
I also noticed that she hated change. If we had a playdate planned and her friend had to cancel, it was hard for her. If we changed plans on a weekend, it was hard for her. Then it became hard for all of us, because she would melt down quickly and strongly. The tantrums were awful and caused a lot of stress in the house.
2.What challenges do you face in parenting a child with ADHD?
Parenting a child with attention deficit disorder can feel like walking in the dark: You tiptoe around, unsure of what you will come up against. Sometimes you may say or do something to set off a small emotional explosion. It’s something you try to avoid since those can blow hot and strong. On the other side, however, is a kind, generous, and loving kid. It’s a condition of opposites and extremes.
The physiological difference in the brain often means everything is intense and magnified for someone with ADHD. Kylie’s sensitive to what’s going on around her. And the lack of impulse control means emotions are hard to control and can run wild: She can be stubborn, impulsive and moody. And did I mention tantrums?! 😉
The tantrums were really challenging to manage. It amped up the stress in the home because before she was diagnosed the fits just were that—fits. Parents and grandparents and friends all handle things differently, so when we weren’t aligned in how to handle a tantrum it was really tough on all of us. I knew something was wrong—or different—and kept my eye on getting through the moment with the least amount of anger and stress. I just kept my eye on the prize—like getting her to put shoes on to go to school—rather than get in a power struggle. But of course it’s challenging to stay calm with all that emotion being thrown at you.
There is a large overlap of ADHD and Anxiety—and that is really difficult too. Tantrums can be anger but they can also be anxiety related and kids don’t have the language for that. So Kylie was also very fearful and anxious about things but we had no way to know. So they typical not wanting to go to bed alone or in the dark—again something you expect some of as a parent—is escalated to crazy heights. So that would feel dramatic and over the top to us, when for her it was very real and more drama came from being basically told to get over it.
It can also be challenging when kids don’t listen or forget what you’ve told them. Again, common with all kids—and a challenge for all parents. But especially tough with kids with ADHD because depending on the processing differential, remembering is super hard for them and then they are getting yelled at or reprimanded for something physiological. That in turn is hard to not internalize as a kid and it’s hard to keep your self esteem up when you aren’t necessarily being praised as much.
3.What advice would you give someone else who is raising a child with ADHD?
First and foremost I say listen to your gut. If you think your child is a little off in some way—scared, angry, dramatic—go see a doctor. No one knows your child like you do and you just keep at it until you get an answer.
Once you know its ADHD it gets a lot easier in many ways. Knowing that some of her behavior is not on purpose or her choice, helps you can remain calm easier. We also found that medication made a profound difference immediately. It truly was night and day for all of us. It was a relief for her to realize she wasn’t stupid or a drama queen.
We also found that CBT (cognitive behavioral therapy) helped her. She had somewhere to put her worries and having that private space was good for her. She also learned coping mechanisms and skills to control her emotions. Because even though the emotional reaction is physiological, kids still need to behave appropriately in the world—ADHD is not a crutch or an excuse. She really grew and flourished through her therapy.
My other piece of advice is to read a lot about ADHD and how it affects the brain. It is different in every brain and it manifests in very different ways. In fact ADHD is often missed in girls because it can be quieter and less obvious. So get in front of it, normalize it for him or her—it has it’s benefits too and they need to know that. It isn’t who they are it is just one small piece of them.
In a word, advocate. Be an advocate for your child and teach him or her to self advocate. That—and confidence/self love— are the two most important things we as parents can give any of our children.
4.What do you enjoy most about your child?
She is a joyful kid. She is smart, strong, funny and so creative. She loves to bake and make gingerbread towns with her father—which are amazing and she writes well creatively. She loves music and we love to dance around the kitchen together. And she is fiercely loyal to her friends and will stand up for people without hesitation. And personally, I love that she has opinions and expresses them, that she is going to go toe-to-toe with anyone—including boys which is great when you are the parent of a girl!
5.What kind of things does your child need help with most?
Kylie is very strong and independent now but still needs help with things like balancing her time, breaking things down into bite size pieces so she doesn’t get overwhelmed and stressed. She needs reminders and she needs distractions—like music or dance or a snack—to help manage a mood. She is still sensitive so a good hug is perhaps the best medicine for her—for all of us.
6.How does education work for her?
Kylie is smart and likes to learn. Starting out however, she really wanted to read in kindergarten and was frustrated that she couldn’t. She would get very upset. Then, when she knew how to read, she had a very hard time spelling—and that continued for a long time. None of this was particularly unusual, but I felt something wasn’t right. Then in third grade memorizing things was difficult for Kylie. Kylie called the same friend every single morning for years to walk to school together. But every morning she’d ask for Casey’s phone number. That was eye-opening for me. She struggled with multiplication tables. It wasn’t math in general, it was memorizing — state capitals, spelling, and historical dates.
So she had to work many more hours a night on homework than others. Before we knew about the ADHD or how to help her, homework was a struggle. She would literally worker 5 hours in elementary schools sometimes. That in turn was cause for a meltdown because focusing that long is so hard. Again the medicine helps a lot with getting her through homework in a much shorter time and giving her the impulse control to remain calm.
It turns out that Kylie is also a hands-on learner. So once we realized that it was helpful. She learned strategies to memorize and she knows what areas she has to work harder in. If you want her to remember something, put a rhyme to it. Give her a song, — about math, history, or grammar and even Spanish— and she totally nails it.
It all works—she gets excellent grades and she doesn’t get any accommodations at school. Although that is really because we were so late to the party diagnostically that she already had amazing work and study habits.