The parent-child relationship issues always seem to include Communication, Parental Sterss, Discipline and Behavioral Management, Emotional Regulation, and Academics
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ADHD Awareness Month 2023
Moving Forward with ADHD
The first thing I want to comment on, with everything that I’m going to be saying, please consider that every child is different. Every person is very different and how ADHD affects them personally is different. Not everyone will have some of these challenges that I’m going to mention. Some might have all of them—and more. Just be aware of how you think about your child, and think about how this affects you, personally.
How Does ADHD Affect Parent-Child Relationships?
So how does ADHD affect a parent-child relationship? When I think of the parent-child relationship, I always see five areas of that relationship that gets affected by ADHD and how that ADHD is manifesting in the child.
One of the challenges I see is communication challenges. I always start with communication, because of the fact that we don’t listen. As a parent, I have to say that sometimes we have thoughts and ideas in our heads, and we don’t listen. A person with ADHD—a child—can have difficulties stopping what they’re doing and to start paying attention to the parent and listening to what they’re saying. And we, as parents, we just make a statement—and we just let it be, and hope that they got it and they do what we ask them to do. Many times, they don’t understand it or they listen to half of it. Part of it is because they’re distracted and engaged in whatever other activity they’re doing. It’s very difficult for them to really grasp everything that is being said to them by an adult, and especially a parent. So communication—learning how to listen, teaching how to listen, and to slow it down—is important.
Another challenge I see is the parental stress. Raising a child with ADHD is not easy and there are going to be a lot of difficulties that we’re going to encounter. As a parent it’s very stressful. We need to understand that there are some demands from our child and from their diagnosis. And we need to know that we have to figure out what kind of support I, the parent, need—especially with my partner. If there are two parents in the home, we need to make sure that we collaborate together. Or whoever else is helping me to parent this child. We need to be talking and making sure that we’re on the same page. This links back to communication and how important it is that my parental stress is managed. How am I being triggered for some of the behaviors, and triggered by other people’s comments? Managing parental stress is really important because it can also affect the parent-child relationship.
Discipline and Behavioral Management
Another challenge I see for parents is discipline and behavioral management. This is when parents are starting to have a lot of calls from someone—a daycare, a family member, the school is calling—and complaining about the child’s behavioral challenges. They don’t know what to do. We start hearing about the child’s inability to self-control their disruptive behavior. They’re not being consistent with what they need to do. We get really frustrated hearing the same complaints over and over. And if the other person’s experience with the child is different than ours at home, that can really have an emotional impact on us as parents, as well. We need to be aware of how we can balance what we hear and not take it personally. How do I teach my child self-control? What is it they need to do and learn to manage those behavioral challenges that they’re having at other places?
Another aspect that is affected here is emotional regulation. Many of you know that emotional regulation is one of those executive skills, and it is the one that we find the most challenging because we don’t know naturally how to identify our emotions and how to express them. We have to be taught. We have to be given the names of emotions. Sometimes it could be frustration or anger, but sometimes it’s sadness. Sometimes it’s, “I’m hurt,” or “I don’t feel good.” The child needs to have the vocabulary to know how to express these emotions. A child with ADHD has weaknesses in how to express their emotions. This is going to create a lot of challenges for the parents because we, the parents, do expect something of our kiddos. Even when we’re calm and we’re talking to them and we get a response that is very reactive from that child, it could trigger us. Then all of my issues might come up because I’m frustrated, too. I’m trying to get school, I’m trying to get to serve dinner, and I’m trying to do something else, and this child is not cooperating and is angry and is frustrated. And now my self-emotional regulation is being triggered by this other person, as well. That is also a challenge between parents and child. How do we manage our own emotions? How do we help the child to understand they need to manage their emotions? And, how do I manage my own?
Then there are also the academic struggles that affect tremendously the child with ADHD and the parent-child relationship, as well as the parent-child-school relationship. Part of the challenge that they’re having in school could be organization, getting started to do the work, either at home—getting started on homework. That’s part of the academics that affects a lot of the parents at home. I, the parent, am responsible for making sure that you sit down and do your homework and do your projects and study for your tests. When the child does not have the skills to do that—and I’m talking about organizational skills or time management or ability to initiate the task or knowing what to do first—we have to be the ones to take the time and teach them how to do that. And it’s important that we know that these areas—really depending on the severity and the intensity of the challenges at home—are going to have an impact in that parent-child relationship.
So, again, there are five areas. I mentioned communication skills, parental stress, the discipline and behavior management, the emotional regulation, as well as the academic performance. Those are big areas that affect the child with ADHD and it will affect a parent-child relationship.
Strategies to Improve Your Parent-Child Relationship
Open and Honest Conversation
Let’s talk about some of the strategies. What is it that we can do? With a child—and some of these are also for adolescents—for us to improve our relationship, I mentioned communication. The first strategy is to have open and honest communication. You start by being honest with your kids when they get the diagnosis. And I have to emphasize, parents, let’s not hide the information from our children. Our children listen and they know something is going on and they will come up with their own conclusions if it is not explained to them. Sometimes it’s very negative self-talk that is going to come up if we don’t explain what’s happening and what the diagnosis means. I’m going to say that at the moment a child is diagnosed with ADHD, regardless of the age, we start talking. You talk at the level that your child is going to understand, but have an open conversation and be very honest about the diagnosis. Let them know that you will explore more about how this affects them together, and what are the things that they can do, and that you’re there to support them. They need to knowing that talking with us is a safe place and it’s okay, and that we’re not going to judge anybody. This is important here. That’s part of open and honest communication.
Active and Reflective Listening
Teaching communication as active listening and how to be empathetic and how to provide feedback; I think that’s very important. For me, a tool I use a lot is from Ross Greene in his model of collaborative proactive solution, or collaboration between parent and child. Really, he talks about a Plan B. Basically, what he says is you have to understand that the more we collaborate together and the more that we talk about this challenge that we’re having—this is the problem, and this is the outcome that we would like to see. What are we going to do? What is it that you want about this situation to be different? Then, listen to what the child has to say. I think that that’s really, really important—listening to them and modeling for them how to listen. Modeling for them how to do reflective listening, which means, “How do I say to them what I’m hearing them explain to me?” I might say, “So, I heard you say that you didn’t write down the assignment that you have to do, that you forgot at that moment when the teacher was talking. Okay, so what else can you do? What will help you to remember?”
It’s having that open conversation but also making sure that you understand the child, that you tell the child, “This is what I heard. Is it correct that this is what you said? Yes? Okay, let’s move on about what can we do.” I like to always do a lot of brainstorming with this communication so they can form ideas on how they can solve their problems and know that I have ideas. My idea is not better than theirs. It’s about what’s the best idea and which idea the person is willing to try, which one is that child willing to try first? That’s part of that communication.
Consistent Routines and Structure
I think it’s very important, also, at home as a strategy to be consistent and to establish routines and structure.Every time I say this to the parents, people always react like: “Oh, here we go—routines and structures. We can’t do that. It doesn’t work.” And I always say, “Tell me what you do every time that you wake up in the morning—because everyone has routines and structures.”
They might work or not for you—it doesn’t matter at this moment. It’s that you have them. I want you to hear yourself talk about “this is what I do in the morning, when I wake up, I wake up the kids, I get them ready for work.” You know, tell the child to get ready, get dressed up, and I go and prepare breakfast, and that’s your structure in the morning.
I’m not asking to do anything really different. I’m asking you to be very consistent in that structure. For example, if you want your child to do the homework after dinner, then be consistent and the homework is done after dinner. Don’t come one day and say we want to start doing the homework before you have dinner because you already told them that they’re going to do it after dinner. Be consistent because they’re going to follow your lead. If you change what you have set up, they’re going to challenge you because you’re not being consistent. Oh, and they’re not going to remember. “What is it that you want me to do today? You’re going to change it. So, I’m not sure.”
The routine is important, especially the more predictable it can be for simple things like mealtime, shower, homework, and bedtime. That’s it. Be as predictable as you can with those four things. Start there and then you continue to improve with that structure. Once you have your evening structure set and it works for you, then you can think about how do I want the morning structure to look like? The structure and consistency—this is really important for a person with ADHD and for any child, period. This is very important. And one more thing I want to mention about this structure: make sure that you discuss it with them ahead of time. Don’t create it yourself and say, “Okay, this is how I want to do it” and not have that conversation with them. You want to prepare them. A person with ADHD and challenges in their executive functions will have difficulty with flexibility at times and transition, so they’re going to need your help to know, “Okay, so this is what we’re going to do now at home.”
On a weekend, you might have a conversation and say, “Starting Monday, after school Monday through Friday, this is going to be the routine that we want after school. This is how we’re going to do it and that’s okay. Put it in practice. You have to give yourself time to do this.” Do not give up because it takes more than 30 days for them to start realizing this is what we’re doing on a consistent basis at our house.
Another strategy is setting very realistic expectations. I want to remind you, or let you know if you don’t know, that a child with ADHD is typically three to five years behind the chronological age of their peers—in maturity level, in grasping how to do some things—and that has nothing to do with intelligence. So, please know that. But it’s more about this maturity level on how your child can really follow through with expectations that are for an eight-year-old. You know, when we look at developmental stages and an eight-year-old is supposed to do A, B, and C. Maybe your eight-year-old is still behaving like a five- or six-year-old and is not doing what is expected developmentally of an eight-year-old—yet. He will get there, she will get there, but just give yourself and your child time. So that’s what is important—to set up very realistic expectations. Consider their ability, their strengths, and what are their limitations, as well.
When I say this to parents, sometimes they comment to me and say, “But I need to lower my expectations for my child.” And I say, “Don’t ever lower. Don’t do that. Don’t lower your expectations—that’s not what I’m saying here. What I’m saying here is that you can have an expectation for your child, but just make sure that you’re giving them the opportunities to grow up to achieve those expectations. That you are putting into place what they need in order to get to that next level. You have to take into consideration their ability, their strengths, and their limitations—that’s all what I’m saying at this moment.”
Celebrate “Baby Steps”
Celebrate their success. Baby steps. We have to pay attention to them and celebrate them. It’s something thing that we need to do as parents, and I’m including myself as a parent of an adult with ADHD. Sometimes as I was raising him, we were paying a lot of attention to what was wrong because we wanted to fix it immediately. It took time for me to learn like, whoa, I need to pay attention to things, like, “You were able to put that piece of the puzzle where it goes. Good. You did it. Now you can find the next piece of the puzzle. Okay. Let’s just keep going.” It’s really putting in the effort to notice the little baby steps that they’re taking and what they’re doing, so we can let them know that we’re noticing. They need that feedback from us. Just as we adults need feedback, they need it, as well.
Seek Support for Yourself
Another strategy I tell parents is you need to seek support and education for yourself. Watching this video, listening to podcasts, going to conferences, talking to your therapist, having other providers that support you is very important, as well you knowing how ADHD is manifesting in your child and how it’s affecting your child.
I want to say this: when you meet a person with ADHD, you just met that one person with ADHD. Even if you have two children at home—and I work with families that have three or four children and four of them have ADHD. It’s four different individuals with four different types of ADHD—they might have similarities here and there, but they’re very different. We have to remember that. Just because that strategy that I’m putting in place for this child works really nicely, but it’s not working for this other one, that’s okay. That means that you have to find what are the strategies that work for that second child. This is very important, educating yourself, finding support groups. It is very, very important for the parent.
Practicing self-care is another strategy that I like to invite parents to make sure that they find. “What is it that I can do for myself?” Maybe you need a break. Even if you said fifteen minutes a day or whatever you have—and it might be hiding in the bathroom—so be it. Take those fifteen minutes and do your breathing, put water in your face, just relax for a moment, and then go back out to the family and to be a strong advocate for your children. To do the role as a parent, you have to take care of yourself.
I invite you to find ways that you can recharge your battery. How you can you [do that]? What activities do you like to do? Maybe it’s once a week—reading, having friends that you can go out with once a month. Whatever it is for you. Find it, identify it, and add that to your schedule. I will tell you that you can start. Go set the timer for fifteen minutes, go to the bathroom and breathe and things like that. You can start by practicing breathing on a daily basis and staying away for ten minutes and you can tell your child. You can demonstrate to them how are you taking care of yourself, as well. Again, there’s no better teacher than ourselves for our children and modeling for them.
Collaborative Problem Solving
I think another strategy is collaboration and teamwork.And with that, I mean, involve everybody in your family to help you solve different situations that come up—from your partner, from your own children, including the child with ADHD, from other family members.
How would you do that? Ask them. When you encounter a challenge, a difficulty with the child, ask the child, “What do you want to do about this?” Have that conversation with them. “How can we solve this situation?” And then listen to them, and listen to the explanation if there’s a problem. They got in a fight at school—then listen to what they’re explaining to you, understand their point of view, and say, “Okay, so what are we going to do different?”
This is back again to self-emotional regulation. If there is a fight or something like that, how do I help my child to regulate their emotions? But I am not the only one responsible for finding ways of making things better for my family, you know. I have to include other family members and that also means that I might have to educate other family members. If my parents are involved in raising my child and they see them frequently and they help me with babysitting, I do have to have a conversation with them about my child’s ADHD diagnosis, how it manifests, and what works for them. This is very important because this is when we hear from family members their opinion and they will give it to us very clearly, even if we don’t ask, what they think we need to do or not to do. They may disagree with our ways of raising our children, so you provide information—educate them and slowly help them to understand this is how I want to raise my child. If they’re not supportive of you, then you can just put it aside and have a different relationship, but not necessarily one to help you with your child. But if they understand and they’re a good support and they are there to help you, then use them. Don’t take all the responsibility on yourself. This is hard and this is long term. This is not just at this moment. When we have a child with ADHD and challenges in executive functioning, this is for the rest of their lives, so we need that support long term.
Celebrate Positive Experiences
And the last strategy I want to mention to all of you parents is celebrate.
Celebrate every strength, every creative positive experience, every opportunity that you have to notice and tell your child what they’re doing great.
Say it—celebrate it. It doesn’t have to be a huge party, just saying it, hugging your child, saying out loud what you notice them doing well.
It’s important. So please, please, please. That’s the last strategy that I mentioned here in this series of strategies for the challenges in a parent-child relationship. But don’t forget—it’s the most important one, even it’s the last one. Let’s celebrate!
About the Speaker
Dulce Torres, LPC-S, BCC, ACC, and Founder of Avant-Garde Center
Dulce Torres is a licensed professional counselor-supervisor and a board certified coach and associate certified coach specializing in ADHD, anxiety, and depression. She believes everyone has a right to live a life beyond limitation.
Ms. Torres has been a featured columnist for Spanish-language newspapers and contributed to several English-language books on ADD/ADHD.