Caregivers & Supports

Ten Ways to Parent a Child with ADHD

My five-year-old son, Charlie, is the most amazing, creative, kind little boy. He is compassionate, sweet, and sensitive. He is now conquering 500+ piece jigsaw puzzles in an afternoon, focusing for hours on end on putting all of the pieces together. And he can build an intricate castle with his MagnaTiles that rivals anything on Game of Thrones. But he’s also extremely impulsive, prone to occasional outbursts of anger where he responds physically, by hitting or pushing.

At three years old, Charlie was diagnosed with ADHD. Through therapy, medication, and a lot of patience, we’ve managed to get it under control 90% of the time. I finally can breathe easy that he’s ready to start kindergarten this year. Here are a few of the things that have helped us navigate parenting a child with ADHD: 

  1. Get outside every day. Charlie thrives when he’s outdoors and in the fresh air. Studies show that kids with ADHD respond remarkably well when they are able to get outdoors for at least thirty minutes a day. Even when it’s raining, we try to get outside so that he can run around and get some of his energy out.
  2. Run, swim, or do something physical every day. Along the same lines as getting outside, make sure your child is able to do something physical every day. For us, that can be playing tag outside, riding a bike, or playing a game of freeze dance in the playroom. Whatever you do, just make sure your child is active and has an opportunity to “get the sillies out.”
  3. Explore their passion. Of my three children, Charlie is by far the most creative, and when we allow him to focus on something healthy, it keeps him out of trouble and the end product is amazing. For us, art has been a lifesaver and he loves spending time drawing, painting, making collages, and coloring. It’s important to find whatever makes your child tick and to give them the freedom to create.
  4. Learn to redirect. This one is easier said than done, but it’s one of the most important lessons we’ve learned as parents through therapy. As frustrating as it is to watch your child lose control and throw things or hit their sibling, yelling and screaming in response is not the answer. First, it sets up an awful dynamic in the house, where it’s okay to scream and yell to get your way. But second, it just doesn’t work with a child with ADHD. Instead, redirect them. We turn our son’s attention to a new activity, or tell him to look out the window because we see [insert whatever interests them here] outside.
  5. Form relationships with your child’s educators. One of the best and more helpful things I’ve done is form positive relationships with each of my son’s teachers. At the beginning of the school year, I make it a point to speak with each teacher about my child, explaining his strengths and weaknesses, and make myself available should there be any issues or should they need help reinforcing something they are working on in school at home. It’s really done wonders to include his teachers as part of our team, working together to help Charlie learn and thrive.
  6. Set up social interactions. Whether it’s a barbecue with another family, a play date with someone from your child’s class, or a dance class, make sure your child interacts with his or her peers. This allows him or her an opportunity to make friends and to learn what is appropriate in social situations. Even if you have to initiate the interaction, it’s important to teach your child how to have friends and act appropriately. 
  7. You are what you eat. I check the ingredients on every single thing we keep in our house. I’ve found that when my son eats a lot of artificial ingredients, especially anything with any of the colored dyes, his impulsivity gets triggered and I have a much harder time keeping his behavior under control. I printed out these lists of the best and worst foods for children with ADHD so that our childcare providers are on the same page, and it has really helped set Charlie up for success. 
  8. Try puzzles or mind games. I’m not sure if it’s just my son, but if I set him up with a new puzzle or sit down to play a game of checkers with him, he can focus for hours. This is especially helpful if I need to take care of something for one of my other kids or if I need to get dinner ready.
  9. Use positive reinforcement. Rather than constantly telling your child to stop doing something, focus on praising him or her when they do something good. Whether it’s controlling himself when his brother antagonizes him or finishing a puzzle by herself while you were busy, let him or her know you are proud and noticed! 
  10. Be their biggest cheerleader. My son knows that if something is wrong, he can come straight to me for a hug or to talk. And, when he receives an award or has had a great day, like last week when he was named MVP of his t-ball team, I’m the first person he shares the news with. I plan on making sure we maintain this relationship forever. The world is a scary place and there’s so much fear and uncertainty, that I want my son to feel confident that he can always come to me with any problem or victory.

What are some strategies and tips that have worked for you?

Jessica has served in her role as the director of marketing and public relations at Sheppard Pratt Health System since October 2013. She has more than 15 years experience working in marketing and communications, and has been responsible for the planning, strategy, and development of all brand and marketing collateral. While there are many things Jessica loves about working at Sheppard Pratt, her favorite part of her job is educating the public about mental health in order to fight stigma and help people get the help they need to heal and recover. A mom of three kids under the age of six, Jessica is an active member of the Baltimore community.