Coping with ADHD in everyday life: Information for parents

Photo of a father and his son repairing a bike (PantherMedia / Wavebreak Media Ltd)

Raising a child with ADHD is not easy. Family life is often dominated by conflicts and sometimes there is additional pressure from other people too. Teachers, friends, family members or other parents often assume that the child’s behavior is a result of the wrong kind of parenting. But many parents of children with ADHD gradually develop strategies to help them cope better in everyday life.

Raising a child with ADHD can be very challenging. It demands a lot of attention from parents. The child’s behavior often leads to tension within the family or trouble at school. Children with ADHD are abnormally impulsive and restless. They don’t follow rules or instructions and are sometimes aggressive. So it's perfectly normal for parents to sometimes feel helpless, annoyed or even furious, as well as worrying about their child. But it's important to remember that the child is not behaving that way on purpose.

Over time, many families come up with strategies to help them cope with everyday situations. There are various strategies to help plan the day and avoid surprises, or to at least be ready for them. Some parents are reluctant to lay down clear rules because they don’t want to be too authoritarian or strict. But the aim of these strategies is to help create an environment in which the child can cope better.

Routines, clear instructions and rules

Many parents say it's helpful to plan and structure the day carefully. Clear routines can help children to know what to expect and be better prepared for things. A lot of parents say that telling their child about any changes to the routine as soon as possible helps too.

It's also a good idea to give your child very specific instructions. Then they will know what exactly needs to be done and you will also have the opportunity to offer praise or a reward when the task has been completed. For instance, instead of saying “Please clean up your room,” it would be better to say something like "Please put your toys in the box and make your bed." Whenever your child does what you ask them to do, it is important to praise them for that specific task. For instance: “Thank you for washing the dishes so well.”

Parents often say that it helps to establish clear rules for behavior and to reward their child when those rules are followed. One example of a reward is a certain amount of TV time. If the child breaks the rule, this privilege is taken away again. For this system to work, everyone needs to be aware of what kind of behavior is expected from the child and what the reward will be. It is also important to follow through on these agreements as much as possible.

Setting realistic goals

Children and teenagers with ADHD may have problems that touch many different areas of their lives. Some parents might want to try to change everything all at once – for instance, improve their child’s relationships with siblings, classmates and teachers and also improve their performance at school.

But it's very important to set realistic goals so the child doesn’t feel overwhelmed or frustrated. Goals should be approached in small steps that the child is capable of completing. An example of a specific goal might be playing with other children at recess without getting into a fight. The goals and achievements can be noted on a list or somewhere else, and then checked later on.

Watching for signs of overstimulation

If you notice early on that a given situation is too much for your child to handle, and that they are overstimulated or agitated and about to lose control, you can respond right away and, for instance, have them take a time-out in another room.

Watching for these signs in everyday life can also help you recognize what kinds of situations or other things may trigger the problematic behavior. It is important to talk with your child. For instance, you could wait for a quiet moment and then ask how they are feeling and why they think they “exploded.”

Children may find it easier to focus on a task or fall asleep if they are in a room that is calm and free of distractions. So it might help to keep things like televisions or computers out of the room where your child does their homework or sleeps. It might also be a good idea for their desk to face the wall instead of a window, so that they have fewer distractions.

Sports and hobbies

Many parents and children find that sports and exercise help to blow off some steam and get rid of excess energy. But it's also important to make sure that physical activities are guided by an adult because some children tend to become overexcited when they get too much exercise. Injuries resulting from inattentiveness are more common amongst children and teenagers with ADHD, so some types of sports might not be suitable.

Sports and exercise are best scheduled for the afternoon: Things need to quiet down towards the evening to avoid problems falling asleep.

Other hobbies can also make things a little easier. It is important for a child to find an activity that is captivating and enjoyable, and which offers opportunities to experience success. Feeling appreciated and knowing that they have done something well often helps children to focus better when doing other activities they are less enthusiastic about.

Praise is key

It is important to give children honest praise when they have succeeded at something and to help them build up healthy self-esteem despite all of the problems. Children who have ADHD often don’t get enough positive feedback because they cause trouble at home and in school, and have difficulties finding friends.

It’s not always easy to show affection and understanding when your daily life together is so difficult. But taking some time to give your child caring attention, do things together, have fun and enjoy shared experiences can make it easier to take the stressful moments more in your stride.

Pay attention to your own needs and accept help

It is important for parents to pay attention to their own needs in order to balance out the stresses of daily life and help them stay calm when dealing with their child. This means getting help – for instance from friends or family who can give them a break, or in the form of professional support to assist them in parenting.

It is worth involving close friends or relatives who get along well with the child and can occasionally spend an afternoon or evening with them – without being caught up in the everyday problems. That way both parents can have regular breaks to recharge their batteries.

Participating in education programs for parents, seeking advice and establishing good relationships with specialists who treat ADHD in children is a great help for many parents. It can help you be more patient, calm and tolerant when dealing with the problems in everyday life.

Sharing experiences in a self-help group with other parents who have children with ADHD is sometimes helpful. Regardless of the kind of support you choose, letting others help you out and actively addressing problems can make everyday family life much easier. It allows you to take a step back and clear your head so you can support your child as best you can.