Living with a child with ADHD is definitely a challenge.
You may get so much crap in your day from your child with ADHD. Fighting, arguing, rudeness, not listening, winding up the siblings, teasing and being generally bloody difficult to be around. It’s draining, exhausting and some days you just wish you could run away.
I know. I felt like this most days. The Summer holidays are incredibly tough.
But years down the road, I have come to realise that life doesn’t need to be so tricky. It still is tough, but I react to my son’s behaviour in a different way. I don’t get cross or shout. I react with kindness and help him sort things out for himself by learning strategies to cope and flourish in the real world.
Studies have now given us evidence that ADHD is caused by neurotransmitters not consistently firing in the brain. There is not enough dopamine. Messages are just not getting through consistently. The ADHD brain is wired differently. Your child has an internal battle with a zillion thoughts and ideas buzzing around his head. It is difficult for your child to filter through the noise and focus on one thing. Unless it is hugely motivating, an ADHD brain will be distracted and will be constantly seeking stimulation.
So we now know that your child is not being deliberately difficult or disruptive. He is not deliberately trying to wind you up or make you have a hard time. At the outset he cannot help the annoying behaviour.
However, if you we do not react to this behaviour with understanding then this will escalate into something more undesirable.
I think the key to a calm, happy household is to have a great relationship with your child.
Easier said than done. But in the end you want your child to be happy, secure, emotionally resilient and have a great sense of self-worth. You must show him* that you love him, like him, respect his opinion and want to spend time with him.
I am not suggesting that you don’t set rules and boundaries. or even that you don’t raise your voice and get cross. of course you will. But if your relationship is secure, then your child will be more likely to stick to the rules as he’ll know they’re fair and there will be communication. Rules and consequences imposed on our children with no discussion are doomed for failure and battle.
*I use the male pronoun for ease of reading, but appreciate as many girls have ADHD as boys.
So I suggest:
1. FIND TIME EVERY DAY
Every single day find some time to engage with your child. Maybe just 5 minutes. This could be at bedtime, whilst walking, driving. Just you and him. No other distractions. I know if you have other children it’s difficult but maneuver your life so that the others are occupied. This is special time just the two of you to establish a relationship. Listen to his opinion, suggestions and empathise. Debate, laugh and find common ground.
2. HAVE FUN
Create as many fun opportunities to laugh and smile. Make life silly. Think what would make your child smile and go for it! Don’t worry about housework or spending time doing your chores. Stop and make memories.
3. MAKE A DATE
Put in the diary maybe once a month, for the two of you to go out somewhere special. Choose together what you both would like to do. Doesn’t need to be expensive trips to theme parks. Just the act of planning and doing is enough.
4. AVOID CRITICISM
If the aim is to establish a great relationship, then try to avoid using any negative language. We are not robots and our lives have many stresses and so it is understandable that sometimes we crack. But once you tell your child that you’re “disappointed” then you can’t take it back. It is planted firmly in your child’s psyche.
Avoid comparing with a sibling “Why can’t you sit still like your brother?” or expressing how you feel “You make me so angry!”.
Your child is fully aware that his life is problematic. He lives with the constant buzz of thoughts, the distractability, the disorgansiation, the poor time keeping. So he doesn’t need criticism. He does need support and guidance.
5. NOTICE THE LITTLE THINGS
See the small things your child does in a day and let him know that you’ve noticed. This could be a simple smile or a statement like “Thank you for letting your sister go first”. You don’t need to make a huge song and dance. Rewarding positive behaviour is extremely powerful. Be your child’s cheerleader.
6. ALL EMOTION IS OKAY
There will be rows. This is normal in any family. But always create an atmosphere where you are available to talk about it, clear the air and move on. Create an atmosphere that you child can tell you when he is sad, worried, frightened, jealous, guilty. These are normal emotions and we want our children to be able to talk about them rather than keep them locked away, festering and causing more damage to emotional health later on.
As our children get older, we lose that time when they sat on our lap for a cuddle. Or remember the time when they were unwell and you gently stroked their head. How comforting for both of you. Why does that go as our children get older?
Whether it’s a gentle touch on the arm, a full blown hug, a stroke or holding hands, scientist know that that simple act releases chemicals to the brain to promote well-being. So every day try to hold, touch, hug, snuggle in an age-appropriate way.
Back to my story. My son is now 30 and yes he stills makes me feel exasperated at times. But I now know not to show it. I show him unconditional love mixed with a heavy dose of support and guidance to help him make some great life choices.
Let me know how you get on and if you have any other fab tips to share.