Tips for Parenting a Child with ADD/ADHD
As a parent, your actions shape the life of your child. A child with ADD/ADHD, however, relies more heavily on your special parenting skills. Here are some tips to establish ground rules and routines in your child's life.
By Cynthia Ramnarace
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Parenting can push anyone's patience to the breaking point at times. This is especially true for parents of children with attention-deficit disorder (ADD)/attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
Getting a child with ADD/ADHD to pay attention and complete a task can be the greatest challenge. This is because parenting skills that work for children without the disorder don't have the same effect on kids with ADD/ADHD. If you ask the average child to get dressed for school, odds are he or she will do it, sooner or later. Ask a child with ADD/ADHD to do this and he or she will likely be distracted by something else or forget the task altogether.
But the good news is that there are parenting techniques specific to ADD/ADHD that can help restore peace and order to your household. "If you treat a child who has ADD/ADHD as if they don't have it, this will end up in disaster," says Sharon K. Weiss, behavioral consultant and author ofFrom Chaos to Calm(Penguin Group, 2001). "Like all kids, those with ADD/ADHD benefit from structure and predictability. The difference is that for kids with ADD/ADHD, these things are essential."
Here are some strategies you can use if you're the parent of a child with ADD/ADHD:
A reliable routine is essential for helping children with ADD/ADHD succeed. "These kids benefit from repetition and constancy," says Weiss. "Routines mean that they function more effectively."
Children with ADD/ADHD respond well to visual prompts, so create a schedule that lists the day's events. If getting your child with ADD/ADHD to school on time is a challenge, make a list of all that must be accomplished before he or she is on the bus. If the list is too long, pare it down by figuring out what can be done the night before. As your child ages you can add more expectations, such as "make your own breakfast." But in the beginning, create a manageable list that sets your child up for success despite having ADD/ADHD.
Each offense should have a consequence, and the consequences should be levied each time there's an offense. "If your child learns that what you say doesn't get followed up on, they'll just do whatever they want," says Adam Winsler, Ph.D., professor of developmental psychology at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.
A child with ADD/ADHD requires constant reminders of what is inappropriate behavior. Give him or her a chance to correct what's wrong before practicing discipline. For example, if you ask your child to set the table and he or she doesn't do it, give one warning of discipline before levying it.
Don't just point out what your child with ADD/ADHD is doing wrong. For example, if fighting has been a problem in your house, reward your child each time he or she is able to get through a ride to the grocery store without pulling a sibling's hair. For everyday chores, create a task list with a star chart and provide rewards for getting stars in all the boxes. This way negative behavior isn't the only way for your child to get attention.
Parenting a child with ADD/ADHD is a challenge, so it's crucial that parents — as well as grandparents, nannies, and other caregivers — agree on a firm set of caregiving techniques specific to ADD/ADHD. "If one parent is too lenient, your child has one expectation from one parent and something else from the other, and that's very confusing," says Sandra Sexson, M.D., child analysis psychiatrist with the MCG Health System in Augusta, Ga.
Video: Helping Your Child With ADHD Succeed at School: Jennifer Mautone, PhD and Stephen Soffer, PhD
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