I don’t claim to be an expert in parenting. There is no fancy degree in child psychology behind my name. I have been perfectly imperfect as a parent for the last 11 years and I learn as I go. However, I do have my experience as a mother of a child who has ADHD and ODD to go on, and this is what I have learned. When you parent a child with this condition, there are adjustments and allowance that must be made if you want things to run a little smoother.
1. Accept That They Don’t Mean Everything They Say
If your child has ADHD, you likely know what I mean, although it is the Oppositional Defiant Disorder that generally leads to the hurtful words in our case. When my son gets angry, I can expect to hear things like “I hate you,” “You don’t love me,” “My life sucks,” or most recently “This is the worst birthday ever.”
These words all have the ability to be completely hurtful and devastating to any parent. What a parent of a child with ADHD must realize though, is that the child does not mean these things. One of their ways of venting the frustration they feel inside is through words. Does it make it right for them to say these things? No, and while there can be consequences for them or talks about how they should be choosing wiser methods of venting, you must know that the words are not truly meant.
2. Do Not React
Children with ADHD will often try to draw a parent into an argument when they are upset or something is not going their way. For instance, if Joshua does not get the plate he wants at lunch, he will say he is not eating and leave the table. If we say fine and nothing else, he will start yelling and creating a spectacle trying to get us to react to his actions. If we feed into it, and believe me sometimes it is tempting, the situation can quickly turn into a full fledged argument that gets blown way out of proportion.
We have learned to hold out tongues no matter how hard it may be. The behavior generally stops rather quickly and Joshua is able to calm down. Once he is calm, we can then take the measures that need to be taken for the actions that occurred.
3. It is Okay to Parent Them Differently Than Your Other Children
I felt guilty for parenting Joshua a bit differently than the others at first. In truth, things had been out of control for so very long, that when he first was diagnosed and started on medication, he could do no wrong. It took a period of adjustment for us to start seeing the negative behaviors again, because we were used to things being so bad that the improvement was a million times better.
However, I have learned that although it may not always seem fair from the outside, it is necessary on the inside to parent Joshua differently. For instance, if Joshua runs his mouth and gets into an argument at some point, but then he realizes the actions he is taking and stops, he may only be sent to his room for a fraction of the time initially assigned. If we tell him during the argument that he will go to his room for the rest of the day, but he is able to stop himself and change the way he is acting, then he is slightly rewarded for that progressive step. He may only have to go to his room for a few hours instead. This teaches him the benefit of finding different ways to control his behavior.
4. Patience is an Invaluable Tool
Patience and a calm demeanor is an invaluable tool when parenting a child with ADHD. Everything about the condition begs you to argue, to yell, to demand your right to be right as a parent. However, acting like that only fuels the fire and can make everyday miserable. Learning how to remain calm even if you are screaming inside is the key to diffusing many of the behaviors and keeping the day on track.
5. Schedules and Routines Are a Must
Scheduling and routines are your greatest tool. Children with ADHD thrive with routine and can quickly get out of hand when rushed or when they feel there are no rules or guidelines to the day. I have found that trying to rush is the worst mistake that can be made some days. Keeping the days as balanced and uniform as possible help them stay focused and on task. During the school year, I wake up early to give Joshua his medicine a half hour before anyone else wakes up. Why? Because if I don’t there will be screaming and fighting and arguing all morning long.
There are many other changes and adjustments that must be made when your child has ADHD. The ones above have proven to be the most important in our home though. Above all else, you must love your child and let them know that they are loved and wanted. Children with ADHD often think they are “bad” or “worthless,” they are not. They simply have a condition that does not allow them to think or react as one normally would.
It is a very misunderstood label to have placed upon you at a young age. Joshua is one of the sweetest children I know when the real him is allowed to shine through. It is important to bring out the best in your children and find ways to deal with the undesirable condition that sometimes hides that from your view.