A mother’s top tips for parenting your ADHD child

I recently read an article written by professionals concerning Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).  The article focused on diagnosis and treatment and it was apparent from the article that it was purely a professional's perspective, there seemed to be nothing that represented the child, parent or family's view.

Angel and son
Angela and her son as a young boy

Although I quickly concluded it was a very biased article indeed and unfairly representative, it did get me thinking about all us parents out there who do have a child diagnosed with ADHD. In particular, how the condition affects our everyday lives - child, parents and the wider family. I include myself in this, as I have a 15 year old who has an ADHD diagnosis.

The article took me back to when my son received his initial diagnosis.  I didn’t know anything about ADHD except other than whenever I felt a constant failure as a parent to parent my son – I couldn’t find an effective way that worked and believe me, I tried quite a few! So if I felt like that, I wonder how my son felt...

So, what is ADHD?

 ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is a genetically determined condition that affects those parts of the brain that control attention, impulses and concentration. It is thought to affect 3 to 7% of school age children. ADDIS website

 The best description for ADHD is that a child who suffers from this condition shows disruptive behaviours which cannot be explained by any other psychiatric condition and are not in keeping with those of the same-aged people with similar intelligence and development. These behaviours are usually first noticed in early childhood, and they are more extreme than simple “misbehaving”. Children with ADHD have difficulty focussing their attention to complete a specific task. Additionally they can be hyperactive and impulsive and can suffer from mood swings and “social clumsiness.

When reading about the disruptive behaviours, I remembered arriving at the school gates to collect my son with the teacher was waiting for me, child in hand, looking very severe. And that was on a good day, other days a phone call had arrived part-way through the day summoning me to collect my little one and take him home because his behaviour had become too disruptive.

My heart would start hammering, wondering what had happened during the day, fleetingly observing the ‘knowing’ looks from other parents.  After a talk with the teacher about my son's behaviour, usually in front of him, we would go home and I would try to instil ‘normal’ rules, gently talk through the day and encourage him to do their homework. This was only to be met with a complete meltdown, books thrown everywhere and both of us ending up in tears.  How could it all go so wrong so quickly?

Why does it all go wrong?

When assessing what has happened to cause a meltdown, it is very important to consider your child's day at school from their perspective: the misunderstanding of social boundaries, perhaps the need to go first at everything or to win each game played in a group, to be the biggest or the fastest, or in the case of girls with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), such a desperate need to blend in that their behaviour becomes so adaptive to that of their peers that they may lose sight of who they really are. This can lead to copying their peers, or trying to please others in order to ‘fit in’ causing frustration and emotional difficulties.

Other children find this behavior unusual at best, while in worst case scenarios can be completely intolerant of it, leading to bullying and excluding the girl from friendship groups.

When the child with AD(H)D is bullied/picked on, more often than not their immature and vulnerable social skills mean they don’t always have the ‘social savvy’ to know when or how to respond to a bully or ask for help. Instead, often just react - this may often be when  a teacher is present and the child is then blamed for the incident and gets into trouble (Girls may not react at all and just bottle up the hurt and humiliation).   No wonder you get an explosive child at the end of the school day!  All those feelings being bottled up and saved especially for you.

Long term implications

The longer term social outcomes can be difficult for our children as often this then leads to children labelled with a reputation for bad behaviour and/or being withdrawn and insular. Tea dates and party invites begin to slowly but surely, dry up.  You as a parent may find yourself standing alone at the school gate and any support networks are out of the window.  In fact, some parents have said they've felt so lonely and ashamed at their perceived inability to parent their child that they couldn’t even begin to think about seeking support or that they didn’t know where to begin looking.

Angela's son as a teenager
Angela's son as a teenager

Some tips from a mum with an ADHD son

But this article is not here to focus on the doom and gloom of having a disability (Yes ADHD is a disability and is protected under the Equality Act 2010, despite my son's teacher telling him the opposite!), it’s here to be refreshingly honest about its effects and to offer some areas that may be of help to some of you.

What I’m about to suggest have been tried by me and/or suggested by others parents too. If you have ideas that have worked to help support your child or a family, then please leave them in the comments below and I will try to respond to you all.

  • Keep channels of communication open as much as possible and keep in communication with the school. This will support your child if they can see you working together.
  • Ask about what other support you can expect for your child such as being on the SEN register or applying for a statement (or an EHCP or local offer help in the future) and be confident. You might want to contact your area's parent partnership team, or your local parent carer forum for help.
  • Don’t wait for help to be offered – Be proactive in seeking it, even if it initially feels awkward or uncomfortable
  • Ask if school has a home-school link worker – They’re often a valuable source of information
  • Call up your local Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS) – They usually have a noticeboard that contains support groups
  • Use the internet to find support groups – Facebook has many open and closed forums and just by typing in ADHD, support groups pop up and you can click to join.  Sometimes just this can be enough for some people and for others its a step to seeking out further support.
  • Try, where possible to not talk about your child in front of them, it's surprising what they pick up and remember and its not normally the good stuff!
  • Try to avoid your child becoming their label – They have ADHD, They are NOT ADHD.
  • ADHD is not a reason to behave as they like – Boundaries and structure are an essential ingredient – Seek out parenting support if it is not offered to you – It can be hugely beneficial (1-2-3 Magic is a great book with some fantastic suggestions and advice)
  • You are a parent and not superhuman – parenting a child with ADHD can be difficult, be kind to yourself
  • Pick your battles – Life is often more challenging if you have a child with ADHD – Choose which situations you will respond to and which ones are just not worth creating a scene.  Looking after you is vital and if all your patience and energy is used reacting to everything then what will you have left for the really big stuff that comes up
  • Remember that your child probably doesn’t like behaving like this either – Be empathic to what is going on for them – It is so easy to get caught up thinking about how you feel about the situation at home or school.
  • Planning and co-ordination of their day are often a major disadvantage for the ADHD child, especially as maturity kicks in and the child is naturally expected to do more for themselves – help by having planners and reminders for your child or speak to school to have a ‘room’ or  ‘base’ where PE kits, spare equipment etc can be stored – These would constitute reasonable adjustments under the Equality act and are perfectly reasonable requests to make.
  • Look beyond the ADHD – Don’t react to their behaviour, but try to talk the situation into a calmer communication, or don’t talk at all – Its OK to give yourself time before you respond – People can only argue if they have someone to argue with.
  • Just because your child can focus on computer games for hours on end doesn’t mean they are being selective with their attention span – A computer game, whilst the same activity, is constantly changing and promoting different challenges hence why they can sustain attention for longer when playing these.
  • Give your child space and don’t impose ‘surprises’ on them – Be clear about your expectations and stick to them
  • Teachers aren’t medical experts and medical experts aren’t teachers.  Remember to get the right information from the right people.
  • Keep medical letters and information from Educational Psychologists, in fact keep as much evidence as you can as this will help build a picture of what your child needs as they move through the education system and on to adult life.
  • Finally remember that you know your child the best and don’t be fobbed of. Health care professionals/Teachers often have huge workloads and can’t always provide the support you need or have the understanding you need.  Look to the voluntary sector for help.  Organisations like ADDISS, IPSEA, ukadhd.com and Young Minds are a few of the support websites that may be useful.

***Please note, I have deliberately not written about medication, I am not a medical expert but I would suggest that you be confident in whatever way you decide to help your child with ADHD. Be confident with the decisions you make based upon the information you have available to you.

For information on the current treatment guidelines for ADHD on the NICE website 

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Angela Kelly

Psychotherapist & SEND parent at Emotions Counselling & Psychotherapy
Angela Kelly is a practising psychotherapist in Surrey. She is the parent of two sons who have autism and ADHD. Angela is Special Needs Jungle's Mental Health Editor
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