Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
Caring for a child with ADHD can be challenging for the whole family. As a parent, you may be hurt by your child's behavior as well as by the way other people respond to it. And the stress of dealing with ADHD can sometimes lead to marital stress and even divorce. These problems may be compounded by the financial burden that ADHD can place on families.
Siblings of an ADHD child also may have special difficulties. They can be affected by a brother or sister with ADHD who's demanding or aggressive, and they may also receive less attention because the ADHD child requires so much of a parent's time.
There are no easy answers for struggling families, but many resources are available that can help. As a parent, you can get advice on raising a child with ADHD from a social worker or other mental health care professional or from a support group. Support groups don't appeal to everyone, but they often can provide excellent information about coping with ADHD from people who know.
In addition, many excellent books and guides exist for both parents and teachers. As well, numerous Internet sites deal exclusively with ADHD. Suggested reading for parents includes:
Recommended books for children with ADHD include:
Books recommended for teens and adults with ADHD include:
Many parents notice patterns in their children's behavior as well as in their own responses to that behavior. For instance, your child might throw a tantrum every night before dinner, and you might routinely give him or her a snack so you can finish preparing the meal in peace. Although you don't mean to, you end up encouraging your child's behavior. Both you and your child need to act differently. But substituting new habits for old ones isn't easy — it takes real awareness and a lot of hard work.
You can help make change easier by ensuring that your child has the right kind of structure in his or her life. For children with ADHD, structure doesn't mean rigidity or iron discipline. Instead, it means arranging things so that your child's life is as predictable, calm and organized as possible. Children with ADHD don't handle change well, and having predictable routines can make them feel safe as well as help improve behavior.
It's also important to have realistic expectations and not ask more of your child than is physically or mentally possible. Set small goals for both yourself and your child and don't try to make a lot of changes all at once.
One of the best ways to instill new habits is to provide firm, loving discipline that rewards good behavior and discourages destructive actions. Children with ADHD usually respond well to positive reinforcement, as long as it's genuinely earned. It's best to start by rewarding or reinforcing a new behavior every time it occurs. After a short time, this probably won't be necessary, but you need to continue to let your child know that you're serious about encouraging new habits.
Rewards can lose their effectiveness when they're overused. Instead of always offering food treats, for instance, try using a special privilege, such as staying up an extra half-hour or playing a favorite game, as a prize. Don't promise a reward and then not follow through. This defeats the purpose of rewarding good behavior and can be extremely frustrating for your child.
Some parents object to rewards because they seem like bribery. But changing old habits is extremely difficult, and rewards are simply a concrete way of recognizing your child's efforts.
Also, set a good example by acting the way you want your child to act. Try to remain patient and in control — even when your child is out of control. If you speak quietly and calmly, your child is more likely to calm down, too.
Finally, the relationship among all the family members plays a large part in managing or changing the behavior of a child with ADHD. Couples who have a strong bond often find it easier to face the challenges of parenting than do those whose bond isn't as strong. That's one reason it's important for partners to take time to nurture their own relationship.
If you're the parent of a child with ADHD, be sure to give yourself a break now and then. Don't feel guilty for spending a few hours apart from your child. You'll be a better parent if you're rested and relaxed. And don't hesitate to ask friends, grandparents and other relatives for help.