It is especially helpful to be a proactive parent when you are raising a child with ADHD or other executive function challenges. This can go a long way towards relieving some of the drama and stress that comes with the territory.
Being a proactive parent essentially means thinking ahead and putting rules and strategies into place to address negative behaviors before they occur, rather than reacting to the negative behaviors after they occur.
There are several ways to do this. Here is my top 10 list:
1. Create house rules.
Having stated house rules is the first step to setting clear boundaries for your child.
Have 2-3 non negotiable rules, mainly those that address safety and health.
Limit yourself to a few simple rules.
Write rules that say specifically what not to do (e.g., "no food in the living room", or "no swearing").
Create one standard for all children in the home so it is perceived as fair and does not single out the child with ADHD.
Post rules where they are visible to everyone and can be referred to.
Discuss new rules with your child and collaborate with them as appropriate.
2. Establish clear expectations
Rules and requests should be clear, consistent and provided in advance of the situation. This increases the chances that your children will comply and cooperate. Examples of vague requests with an older child might be "Drive safely". This means different things to different children and your child may not know exactly what behaviors are required to comply with the request. To clarify your expectations, you might say, "do not drink and drive", " stay within the speed limit", "stay 2 car lengths behind the car in front of you" or "look over your shoulder before changing lanes". These are examples of specific behaviors that a child can then comply with. Examples of vague expectations for younger children may be "Behave well". What specifically does your child need to do to behave well?
3. Communicate clear messages
To set effective boundaries for our children, we need to communicate clear messages. To do this:
Tell the child exactly what behaviors are unacceptable. Focus on a specific behavior.
Tell the child exactly what will happen if the child engages in those behaviors.
Deliver the message in a calm matter of fact tone and communicate why it is important to you (health, safety etc.)
Check in with your child. Have the child reflect back to you what was said. You want to make sure that your child heard you in full and understood the message.
4. Administer consequences consistently
Give immediate consequences; most kids with ADHD have a poor sense of time and will not connect a delayed consequence with the behavior that earned it.
Be consistent. Make sure the consequences is given every time it should be given.
Keep your consequences in proportion with the behavioral offenses. Too big or too small a consequence can cause resentment and be counterproductive to reinforcing the expected behavior.
5. Increase positive attention
This is one of the most important things you can do to help your child succeed.
Focus on catching your child being good.
For every negative message your child hears in a day, he needs to hear 5 positive messages to counter the negativity.
Use any strategy you can to remember to genuinely acknowledge the things your child does right, and the effort he puts into following rules and displaying appropriate behaviors.
Be specific in describing the choice that your child makes and the character strength or value he demonstrates when he makes that choice. This will focus his attention on making more such choices and increase his sense of self worth.
6. Give your child the benefit of the doubt.
Children with ADHD get into trouble so often that we automatically assume that they are suspect when things go wrong. Consciously make an effort to start with a clean slate after each incident so that your child does not become the victim of a self fulfilling prophecy. Do not expect bad behavior in the future because of bad behavior in the past. Asses each incident fairly in the moment without bringing up the past. Support and reinforce your child's ability to make better choices for themselves in each moment.
7. Be less hands on.
When your child struggles with executive function skills, it is very easy to become the parent who nags, bribes, lectures, berates or hovers over your child. Unfortunately, this leads to more resistance and power struggles with your child. Your child can also become overly dependent on you and not build his own skills.
Instead, help your child succeed by:
Setting up more systems and structures that support your child (e.g., voice reminders, visual charts, timers, daily routines etc.)
Expecting your child to do any part of a task they can do by themselves
Helping only as much as you absolutely need to,
Reinforcing and acknowledging their effort even if the performance is not perfect,
Compromising and agreeing on the checks and balances (e.g., how often you check their work).
8. Create cues and prompts with your child
Children are sensitive to being reprimanded or reminded in front of others. You can support your child who needs reminders in social situations by creating cues or prompts with your child ahead of time. Select cues that are subtle. and personalized. For example, clearing your throat, nodding, a hand on their shoulder, a gesture etc.
9. Practice pausing
All of the above strategies require you the parent to keep your cool, as challenging as that can be sometimes.
Find a strategy to pause, e.g., deep breathing, taking a time out for yourself, focusing on a reminder phrase etc., and practice using it regularly to make it a habit.
Focus on the behavior and why that is upsetting rather than directing your emotion at your child.
Avoid handing out spontaneous consequences when you are upset. Wait till you have calmed down and refer back to the house rules and agreement you had already made with your child.
Apologize when you do lose your cool. Let your child hear you "think out loud" about your own behavior in a fair and compassionate way. You are modeling for him how you want him to use his "self talk" in a healthy way when he makes mistakes.
Pick your battles. Focus on the behaviors you are working on at the moment. You do not need to address all the issues at the same time. Let some stuff go.
10. Take care of yourself
Parenting is a demanding calling and we can truly serve our roles better if we take time to nurture our own well-being. Exercise, take a nap, take a few minutes a day to do something that energizes you, call a friend, meditate, laugh and get support and help for yourself when you need it. Be especially mindful when you know your child is going through a tough time himself and may be extra emotional and need extra support.
For a more in depth exploration, please see Parenting with ADHD in Mind. and Self Care for Special Moms under our services.
Tips for this blog adapted from information from Fundamentals of ADHD Coaching for Families Course, (c) ADD Coach Academy and Caroline Mcguire