Statistics reveal that approximately 4% of adults in the U.S have ADHD. The majority of those affected are not getting diagnosed, nor are they receiving appropriate treatment. This is most likely due in part, to the fact that ADHD in adults was not widely recognized until the mid 1980s. Since then, researchers have found that adults with ADHD are at risk of having significant lifetime impairments, partly because they often suffer from other disorders, such as anxiety and depression in addition to their ADHD.
Keeping in mind that ADHD is highly genetic and that there is about a 50% chance of an adult with ADHD having one or more children with ADHD, it’s no wonder that families with multiple ADHD members tend to have high stress levels, marital conflicts and find parenting to be a daunting responsibility.
Consider the common symptoms seen in both adults and children with ADHD:
- Problems with procrastination
- Difficulty finishing tasks/projects
- Emotional lability
When both child and adult share ADHD symptoms, it becomes extremely difficult and challenging for all family members involved. For example, how does a distracted parent keep an inattentive child on task? How does a disorganized parent teach a child organizational strategies? How does a parent with a short fuse tend to an overemotional child?
The adult with ADHD faces the already formidable task of raising a challenging child while at the same time trying to cope with his own personal struggles. If the parents’ ADHD issues are not addressed, they will experience tremendous difficulties fulfilling their roles as effective parents. The unique needs of each individual family member must be met in order for the family to manage effectively.
The challenges ADHD families face is addressed in the article, “When Mom and Dad are Distracted, Too: Parenting When Both Parent and Child Have ADHD.” Below are specific strategies families can use to improve relationships, self esteem and family life in general.
Family Strategies for Living Successfully with ADHD:
- Elicit help from your spouse and work as a team.
- Educate yourself about the disorder by reading as much as you can about ADHD in adults and children.
- Knowing that ADHD is part of the family mix, begin to shift expectations of yourself and your child. Expect that there will be more chaos, disorganization and tension in your home.
- Get babysitting help even if you are at home.
- Take parenting classes to acquire specific parenting tools.
- Realize that suggestions from well meaning friends and relatives may work for their (non-ADHD) children, but not for yours.
- Make sure that both parent and child’s ADHD is optimally treated.
- Hire someone to do homework with your child. This will knock down the stress level immediately for the entire family.
- Give yourself time outs when you feel you’re about to lose control of your temper; teach your child the same tactics. Ask your spouse to take over when you feel overwhelmed.
- Simplify your life in all areas: learn to say NO, or get into the habit of responding to outside requests by saying, “I’ll think about it and get back to you.” This tactic forces you to think carefully about the commitment before jumping in. Stop over-committing.
- Delegate chores to each family member – don’t take it all on yourself.
- Spend time with each child, where the focus is only on FUN.
- Learn to see the positive traits in all family members and remember to verbalize them often.
- Spend time away with your spouse, friends or alone to re-charge.
- Hire a Professional Organizer to get systems in place. Often times, children and adults with ADHD don’t have a natural understanding of organizational methods; a professional organizer can be extremely helpful in teaching such strategies.
- Consider hiring an ADD coach to help with prioritizing, time management, organizing your day, etc.
- Whenever possible, hire outside help with such chores such as house cleaning, lawn upkeep, etc.
- If budget is an issue in getting outside help, consider swapping chores with friends, relatives and neighbors. Ask relatives/friends to take over, then reciprocate with something you can do for them.
- Have quiet time for yourself after work. Consider spending 20 minutes at a coffee shop on your way home in order to re-charge, so that you have energy for your family.
- Have quiet zones set up in your home to help minimize distractions and sensory overload.
- Allow yourself to have “messy zones” at home so that there isn’t constant anxiety and frustration in trying to keep the entire house in order.
- Turn off the TV and phone during meals and turn on the answering machine.
- Have weekly family meetings to discuss problems and ways to solve them.
- Find humor in ADHD mishaps.
- See it coming and have a plan. For example, if your child has tantrums at the supermarket, leave him/her home with your spouse or sitter.
- Find creative ways for the family to do chores, i.e. singing/dancing; have contests to see who finishes first; offer weekly prizes, etc.
- Keep a large wipe-off board and color code using markers for each family member- for schedules, chores, homework, etc.
- Have a “home” for daily items that typically get lost, i.e. keys, backpacks, glasses, wallet.
- Have things ready ahead of time so there’s not a last minute frantic dash before heading out for the day: pack lunches the night before; put briefcase and backpacks next to the door where the family exits.
- Place a small white board on the fridge for family members to jot down needed items from the grocery store.
- Remind yourself and your family that ADHD is not a death sentence and that together, you will get through this through humor, creativity and thinking outside the box.
- Remember the basics: exercise, good diet and adequate sleep. Some find that meditating is helpful to maintain calm and focus.
- Simplify meals if cooking isn’t your forte’. Allow yourself to carry dinners in, and use shortcuts to make simple, fast meals. Many kids with ADHD are very picky eaters and it’s best not to fight the issue. Some parents find that having kids develop menu ideas and helping out in the kitchen motivates them to be more interested in their food choices. Supplement poor eaters’ diets with healthy snacks and vitamins.
- Use checklists and other organizing strategies such as a Palm pilot or paper planner. Make sure the system works for you, rather than investing in the latest gadgets just because they are popular.
- Pick your battles- let go of things that aren’t all that important. Ask yourself if it’s essential that your son’s socks match at soccer practice; is it worth getting into a fight over it?
- As parents, be consistent with house rules and show a united front. Follow routines; children with ADHD thrive on structure.
Things to Remember
Raising a family is challenging, even in the best of circumstances. Add ADHD to the mix, and the stressors can take a toll on all members involved. It’s important to recognize the special challenges these families face. Allow yourself to take a step back, to change your expectations and forgive yourself when you feel that you’re not doing a “good enough” job juggling family and work responsibilities. Think about new strategies, starting with the ones above, to help improve daily family life. Remind yourself that having ADHD is not your fault, but on the other hand, it should not be an excuse for the problems your family may be facing.
Recognize that you are doing your best, but most likely you will need outside help and support- from working with mental health professionals, to securing household help in managing some of the chores when possible. Remember to delegate household responsibilities, keep your sense of humor and get the necessary treatment for all members challenged by ADHD.
Each family member lends a special uniqueness to the family, with talents, strengths and insights; pointing this out on a regular basis will help improve self-esteem and draw your family closer together. We tend to laser-focus on the negatives which only creates more family tension and resentment.
Your job as a parent with ADHD parenting children with ADHD is extremely challenging. Keep your sense of humor and remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can.
(Originally published 2008)