Have you ever watched popcorn pop? It’s random, chaotic, flying all over the place. If uncontained, it spills all over, creating a mess to clean up. This is very much a picture inside the minds of children with ADHD, which can be hard to remember when parenting a child with ADHD. The thoughts of these kids can be random and chaotic, popping into existence and spilling all over whoever is in their path.
Parenting a child with ADHD means working tirelessly to contain those random thought kernels, keeping them relatively contained. With all the distractions in the world, children with ADHD need constant, varied reminders to help them stay on track. While it’s not always easy, here are 5 lifesavers for parenting a child with ADHD.
1. Set alarms and timers…
…because the concept of time is lost otherwise. A child with ADHD becomes quickly focused on anything more interesting than the task at hand. Getting my own child living with ADHD to focus on finishing her breakfast each morning requires cunning and coffee (for me, not her). Kids with ADHD immerse themselves in the things that create their world because whatever seems mundane, like a schedule or the need to be somewhere at a certain time, holds little importance. Setting alarms for bath time, homework time, and bedtime is critical to keeping them from getting lost in other things that are more fun or interesting. But setting the alarm is one part of the process. You have to make it clear when you set it that the sound means it’s time to move on to another task.
2. Post visible checklists…
…because they cut down on questions and the attitudes over constant reminders. Adults balk at reminders of tasks to complete, but we understand the necessity. A child with ADHD feels a deepened need for freedom and dislikes when that sense is undermined. The Institute of Child Psychology suggests a checklist, or several, outlining steps for tasks, in visible places, to give children with ADHD a sense of independence. Checklists give my daughter the freedom to roam about life without Mom breathing down her neck. Checklists with tasks to complete before school, after school, before bed, and the instances in between leave children feeling more in control and parents less harried.
3. Provide personal calendars
because they foster a strong sense of independence. Parenting a child with ADHD requires stealthy creativity. Younger children struggling with ADHD will need constant verbal rundowns of their calendar of activities. They thrive knowing what is expected of the day ahead. As they get older, children with ADHD still thrive on knowing expectations. However, they dislike being reminded by Mom and Dad. So providing children with ADHD with a calendar of their own, strategically placed, allows a feeling of control over the schedule. iMOM has free printable calendars you can use.
4. Build in time cushions…
…because time is a commodity. Parenting a child with ADHD is an act of patience and creative time management. Being punctual is a hard-fought habit that sometimes means thinking outside the parental box. Even with checklists, schedules, timers, and alarms, time is still the common enemy of children with ADHD. Looking at the schedule and creating time cushions is one solution to getting your family members where they need to be when they need to be there. If you notice it takes an extra 10 minutes to find and put on shoes, add that buffer to your schedule. Your child will feel less rushed, and you won’t feel quite as harassed by the ever-present clock.
5. Give them an outlet…
Because that energy needs somewhere to go. A child with ADHD resembles a bottle of soda shaken vigorously. From the moment they awake, the cap is released along with all the pent-up energy. If that energy has nowhere to go, it’s only a matter of time before something explodes. Uncovering interests and fostering them is a way to channel that excess energy. Cognitive and behavioral psychologist Kevin Arnold, PhD, suggests it’s important for children with ADHD to have enough activity to use that energy. Activities like soccer or dance may eat into your time, but the benefit of shrinking that energy reserve is worth it. Depleted stores of excess energy lead to quicker and smoother transitions into nighttime routines like dinner, bath, and bedtime.
Parenting a child with ADHD is all about keeping the popcorn as contained as possible. A few kernels will spill out occasionally. It can’t be helped. But helping your child learn how to navigate life without adding a ton of stress to your day can be a real lifesaver.
What do you do to manage the time and energy of a child with ADHD?
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