Parenting can be tricky at the best of times, but parenting and providing care to a child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can present additional challenges. The symptoms of ADHD are far-ranging, but one of the overarching difficulties you’re likely to encounter that might affect your patience with your child is executive dysfunction.
Children with ADHD have executive function deficits, which means it’s hard for them to exhibit impulse control, organisational skills, and critical thinking. ADHD generally affects your child’s behaviour, self-control, and how they interact with other children, and sometimes, this can lead to challenging behaviour. Therefore, as a caregiver, you need to have a lot of patience whilst your child develops their executive functioning. But, in the process, you might find they ignore you, misbehave, or fail to understand the impact of their actions on other people.
As exasperating as this can be for you as a caregiver, it’s even more challenging for the child with ADHD . Children with ADHD don’t willfully misbehave, lack self control, or go out of their way to make things difficult. This means discipline won’t work as a way to manage ADHD symptoms. Instead, patience and understanding are key, but of course, don’t always come easy.
In this article, we’re going to explore some of the ways you, as a caregiver, can learn to support your child and provide a compassionate, positive, and stable environment that works for everyone in your family.
Managing Emotions and Maintaining a Positive Attitude as a Caregiver
Firstly, it’s important to recognise the emotional impact that caring for a child with ADHD can have on caregivers. Research shows that parents of children with ADHD experienced higher parenting stress levels compared to parents of children without ADHD. Another study found that parenting stress peaked in caregivers when negative symptoms of ADHD were displayed.
There are several reasons why, as a caregiver of a child with ADHD, you may feel stressed and have a negative mindset. Some common points of contention include:
- Education – Children with ADHD may struggle to flourish academically and socially in traditional education settings, so advocacy is required from caregivers to ensure children are given the right attention and level of support, but this can be an ongoing challenge as children with ADHD get older. As a caregiver, working with your child’s school can be an ongoing stressor, especially if the child’s teacher changes and their structure is changed.
- Behaviour – Whilst children with ADHD don’t go out of their way to misbehave, sometimes, their behaviour can be unacceptable and needs to be managed. Understanding the difference between a child misbehaving and a child exhibiting ADHD symptoms and knowing which parenting approach to take can be hard.
- Family conflict – Every family has conflict, but having a child with ADHD can take a particular toll on your family as a whole. The additional attention and care needs of a child with ADHD, as well as some of the behavioural issues that it can present, may cause increased conflict within your family dynamic, specifically between siblings.
- Social pressure – As a parent or caregiver, you’ll be aware of the pressure to be a perfect parent. It can feel like you’re being watched and judged all the time, and this may be heightened if your child has ADHD. You might find you’re on the receiving end of unwanted and rude comments from other parents and those around you, only adding to your overall stress.
- Future prospects – It’s natural for parents to worry about their children’s future, but even more so for caregivers of children with ADHD. You might be concerned about their social and professional prospects, particularly if their symptoms are more persistent and severe.
- Treatment – Finding the right treatment for children with ADHD can be tricky, and this can cause additional stress as you try to find the correct doctor and level of support for your child. As your child grows and develops, their ADHD treatment may also change, meaning this stress remains constant throughout their life.
With all of the above in mind, it can be extremely difficult to maintain a positive and supportive attitude around your child. There may be times when you lose your temper, revert to unhelpful discipline/parenting methods, or feel stressed to the point that your own mental and physical health starts to be compromised.
Research shows that parents with high stress levels are more likely to engage in permissive parenting styles which are less structured and more arbitrary. In the case of ADHD caregivers, this was linked to worse executive functioning. This resulted in more parenting stress and thus created a negative loop for both caregivers and ADHD children.
There will always be times where you feel stressed or in a bad mood, and you may well get angry or frustrated, but for the healthy development and treatment of your child, it’s important to try and keep your emotions under control. Things like joining support groups, engaging in family therapy sessions, reminding yourself that this is a medical diagnosis and not a conscious choice to be difficult made by your child, and taking time out to recharge can be helpful.
You might also find personal therapy or parenting classes can help you better regulate how you’re feeling – all of which is normal and okay. What’s important to remember is that, as a caregiver, how you approach your child can have a direct impact on their ADHD symptoms and their behaviour, making it vital that you take steps to regulate your emotions and try and stay positive where possible.
Managing Difficult ADHD Behaviours
It’s not easy to manage difficult behaviours associated with ADHD, and you’re not always going to get it right, but there are steps you can take to try and mitigate problematic behaviour patterns.
First and foremost, it’s useful to enrol in parent training sessions and behavioural management classes. These can help to give you a better understanding of why your child is acting the way they are, how to recognise the difference between poor behaviour and ADHD symptoms, and how to create positive interactions.
Positive reinforcement can be an effective tool for managing behaviour problems in children with ADHD, but this needs to be consistent in every environment, including at school and at home. With this in mind, liaising with teachers and education providers to determine a structured approach to managing behaviour is essential.
Sometimes, medication can be the most useful treatment for children with ADHD who struggle with their behaviour. If you find that at-home behaviour management isn’t working as well as you’d like, medication could be a route to consider.
Navigating the Challenges of School and Education
School is often the environment where children with ADHD struggle the most. They may feel misunderstood or like they’re being penalised for things that are out of their control, and this can cause behavioural problems. One of the most important steps for the caregiver of a child with ADHD to take is to advocate for the child at school.
This means pushing for necessary accommodations to be made that can benefit the child. Some accommodations may include:
- Sitting at the front of the class so distractions are minimised
- Positive reinforcement for good behaviour
- Additional breaks
- More time on tests and longer deadlines
- Personalised instructions and step-by-step commands
It can be incredibly frustrating for children with ADHD when they can’t do something or don’t have accommodations to give it a fair shot like everyone else. This frustration can lead to poor behaviour, and as a caregiver, this can cause stress for you and result in a lack of patience. For example, you might think that answering 10 questions for homework is easy, but for your child, getting through 10 questions in a row can be hard because their brain might be thinking about six other things at the same time. Understanding this and having provisional breaks or making it easier to follow directions can make all the difference, and the same goes for all aspects of education.
The Importance of Self-care for Caregivers of Children with ADHD
As mentioned, as a caregiver, your mood and general approach can have a significant impact on your child and how their ADHD presents and is managed. If you begin to feel overwhelmed and lose structure, as in, if you start taking a reactive approach to parenting and behavioural discipline as opposed to keeping the status quo, your child’s behaviour will become ad hoc as well. Your mood can directly affect your child, so it’s important that you’re able to regulate how you feel.
If you’re burnt out, your own mental and physical health will suffer and this will impact your family dynamic, as well as cause issues for yourself. Not just this, but when you’re not feeling your best, you won’t be able to advocate and support your child to the best of your ability, either.
Taking time out to yourself is essential. Everyone needs a break. Caring for a child with ADHD is a full time job and it can be demanding in every aspect, so it’s important you have time to reflect and recharge.
The Benefits of Seeking Professional Help
A lot of caregivers feel like asking for professional support is a sign of weakness or failure, but this isn’t the case. ADHD management is a joint effort between caregivers, teachers and doctors. Working with therapists and healthcare professionals and liaising with educators is a great way to provide the best outcome for your child whilst easing the burden of care solely on you.
There are also lots of support groups where you can speak to other ADHD caregivers and form friendships and share knowledge that way.
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