ADHD Help for Parents
re you frustrated that your teen does not appear to take school seriously?
That homework assignments are often late?
That books and assignments are forgotten at home, instead of taken to school?
Perhaps your teen is going to bed well after midnight no matter what you do?
And you are tired of teachers telling you that your teen is simply not working to their potential?
Help for Parents of Teens With ADHD
In addition to dealing with the situations listed above, many parents of teens with ADHD feel tired, worried and helpless. They cannot even unwind at the end of the day because they have to make sure their teen has finished that day’s homework assignment. Parenting a teen who has difficulty doing what they know they are supposed to do can feel like a never-ending battle.
This is because parenting a teen with ADHD means more vigilance, more time spent organizing, following up, and meeting with teachers—and you are never sure when the next shoe will drop. There is a persistent worry that if your teen does not do better in school, they will fail at life. Make no mistake, it often feels like it is up to YOU to ensure they do well in school.
The saddest part is the increased conflict at home.
Arguments can erupt over tasks not done, deadlines not met, and poor choices with friends. It can feel like your relationship is so strained that you wonder if the closeness you once had will ever come back at all.
Let Yourself Off the Hook!
ADHD is not caused by poor parenting. This is a fact. You can, however, make a huge difference in your child’s success—and you can begin to relax more.
First, know the most important facts about ADHD, whether or not you have a diagnosis.
Fast Facts About ADHD in Children and Teens
- The rate of school-aged children affected is 5-12%, or 1-3 students per class. (CADDRA, the Canadian ADHD Resource Alliance).
- ADHD is more prevalent in boys than girls by a 3-1 ratio. Impulsivity and hyperactivity show up more in boys, so their symptoms tend to be noticed earlier than girls’.
- Impulsivity in girls often looks like talking a lot—the “Chatty Cathy”. Their ADHD difficulties are often first interpreted by adults as anxiety and depression.
- ADHD lasts a lifetime but symptoms may subside over time. Learning executive functioning skills for coping and managing improves outcomes.
- Symptoms typically begin to show between ages 3-6 in boys and around 9-12 in girls.
- The cause is not yet understood, but it does run in families.
- 50% of those with ADHD will also have 2 other conditions such as anxiety, depression, or a learning disability
- Teens who do not receive treatment for ADHD are at a 4 times higher risk for addiction.
How to Spot Possible ADHD Symptoms in Your Teen
1. Look for patterns of behavior that cut across several domains of your teen’s life. For example:
- Is your child disorganized at home and at school?
- Are they doing better in highly structured places?
- Are they more emotionally reactive than other teens you know?
- Are they fidgety or in constant motion? Is their speech continuous, without pause or structure?
- Is there a history of anxiety? (Remember, 50% of people with ADHD also have anxiety.)
- Have you noticed that your teen tends to report that things are actually better than they are? Do they appear convinced of this despite the evidence?
- Does your child follow through when you ask them to do something, or do they wander off as if they had not heard you?
- Does your teen avoid what they do not like?
2. Talk to your child’s teacher. Notice if they sound frustrated: this is often a good sign that their efforts to “teach” your child appropriate skills and behaviours are not working. Notice
what they say to you—for example:
- Your child is not working to his potential.
- Your child needs to work on organization.
- Your child is not working in class.
- Your child is not studying (You know they are but teachers often equate low test results with low effort.)
- Your child needs to focus more.
- Your child is lazy.
3. Talk to your teen. Do they say that they are often bored? Do they describe themselves as lazy and say that they just don’t feel like working? How hard is this for them? What’s the emotional charge? If it is high, this is a reliable indicator of possible ADHD.
4. Check in with yourself and trust your instincts. How frustrated are you? Your own emotional response is often a good indication that there is something going on that may be beyond regular parenting frustrations.
Adults whose ADHD was not treated in childhood often experience poorer outcomes. This is because ADHD is highly impairing and affects many aspects of one’s life.
How a Diagnosis Can Help
Do not wait to get an evaluation if you spot the patterns above. Children do not grow out of ADHD. They must learn to manage it, and waiting will not make it better.
Here are the benefits of a diagnosis:
- A diagnosis can accurately identify ADHD and any other difficulties that may be getting in the way of your child’s success. ADHD is complex; an evaluation is the best way to clarify what is actually going on.
- Students who obtain an ADHD evaluation are usually more open to getting help because they already understand what is happening. When I meet them, they often express relief at knowing that they are not lazy or flawed. The evaluation process validates their experience and shows them that there is something they can do to have more control over their life.
- Schools are required to provide accommodations, such as extra time on exams, if recommended by your professional. Your child’s report is kept confidential and only used for the purposes of providing what your child needs to succeed. In my experience, schools respond very well when parents are open with them about their child’s needs.
Is There a Downside to Obtaining an ADHD Diagnosis?
Are you worried that an ADHD evaluation will lead to a label that will follow them the rest of their life? Are you concerned that it will limit your child in the school system? That they may be misunderstood?
These are all good questions.
Here is what I know to be true from my years of experience in and outside of the the school system.
- Not having a diagnosis leads to misunderstandings. When treatments and school interventions are based on an inaccurate picture of the problem, things get worse for the student. Diagnostic “labels” are merely frameworks to understand what is already present; they do not change what is actually happening, but they often lead to better outcomes.
- An ADHD diagnosis is the first step in creating a roadmap for your child’s success. For example, when the results show that visual memory is strong, your teen will know to cue themselves visually as often as possible. They can practice using charts or post-it notes, and teachers can ensure they have written down all the instructions for a project.
- Students who understand themselves feel more confident, make better choices, and advocate more effectively.
When you are debating whether or not to take this step, notice what feelings are coming up for you. Helplessness? Fear? It may be that you need support to understand how best to navigate what you are going through. Take it! Feeling clear in your own mind will help you make the best decisions.
After an ADHD Diagnosis – What You Can Do
Accept that ADHD can be highly impairing AND that it is one of the most treatable conditions.
- Set yourself up for success.
Parenting a teen with ADHD can be an interesting challenge that pulls on all of your weak spots. Make sure you have what you need to remain centered, calm, and focused on the goal of skill-building. If you need help with this, get it. You are part of the solution.
- Make friends with failure
Accept that failure will be part of your teen’s learning experience. Learning new skills is about taking risks and falling, and getting back up again. The bumps in the road provide the best opportunities for choosing better strategies. Model staying the course when these moments occur. Model consistency. When parents comfortably view failure as a learning opportunity, teens are more likely to take responsibility. Teens with ADHD often have trouble accurately evaluating how well things are going, but they do feel the bumps and don’t like them. This is when their motivation is highest, along with their willingness to learn more helpful habits— when they are given the support to do so.
- Resist taking over
Demonstrate to your teen that you have faith in their ability to learn new skills. Do this by resisting the impulse to take over for them when you fear things are not going as quickly as needed. Just as you would with a toddler, let your teen wobble and stumble. Let them feel their way around and learn how to get back up again. Be there with as much loving, nonjudgmental support you can muster. But do not do it for them! Learn to spot when it is OK to step in and when to step back. Giving your teen this space will be an invaluable lesson in resilience and ADHD management.
- Create Structure
- Students with ADHD lack internal structure. Creating external structure becomes very important to their success.
- Be clear about expectations and consequences.
- Speak in explicit, shorter sentences. Being clear does not mean a monologue.
- Be prepared to repeat what you say more than twice. Calmly. (Weak working memory means they may forget what you said moments after you asked them to complete a task, such as taking out the garbage.)
- When a change in routine or a new task is coming, break it down and explain it as many times as needed until it becomes familiar.
- Charts, post-it notes, colour-coding and other creative visual cue are effective.
- Power Struggles: the downfall of well-meaning parents
Decide ahead of time (with your teen) which behaviours you want them to work on. Focus on one or two at a time until the new behavior becomes routine. You can create the new structure with your teen during a calm moment. Their input is invaluable to getting their buy-in. Decide on appropriate consequences if they do not follow through. Write them down and post them. When things don’t go well, you can simply point to the consequences, give the teen a hug, and chuckle, “Yes, that is the agreement.” Walk away. No debate. No renegotiating in the moment. Emotional volatility can be triggered by their failures and how they interpret them.
- Hold them accountable
Hold your teen accountable for how they will do it differently next time. Let them squirm and try to figure things out. Be available with lots of loving support—and then more loving support. If they are still truly stumped, you can offer a suggestion.
- Know the difference between punishment and discipline.
Punishment is about power; discipline is about learning. Holding the boundaries firmly, consistently and lovingly is the key to good discipline. If you are not sure which you are doing, ask yourself, “Do they have an opportunity to learn from this? Is this creating shame for them?” Shame reduces a child’s ability to do better because it sends the message that they, and not their behaviour, are the problem. But asking a teen how they plan to deal with the situation in the future supports their self-worth and healthier decision making.
Living with a teenager who
has ADHD can lead to misunderstandings, short fuses, arguments and frustration.
It’s not easy for parents to keep everything in perspective, say the right words all the time, and provide unfailing support. How many times has a situation brought on by one your teen’s ADHD behaviours resulted in explosive outbursts? Maybe on both sides?
Knowing how to handle these situations wisely and calmly is where you could benefit from coaching. The more grounded and resilient the parents are, the better the teen’s outcome.
To discover how coaching can help you as a parent significantly improve your coping skills and build a strong relationship with your teen, I invite you to contact me for a complimentary, no-obligation coaching session.
I have seen how ADHD, left untreated, can damage the lives of those affected —and impact their family members too. I also know how coaching can reverse those effects. Do yourself and your family a favor: say YES to one powerful complimentary conversation.
You can explore what you want most for yourself in this situation. There would be no expectation of anything further.
Say “Yes!” to a new opportunity to change your family’s relationships for the better.
You and your family are worth it.
Still not sure? Amy, Jeremy and Andrew are students who live with the challenges of ADHD. Read their stories and see how coaching changed their lives and their parents’ for the better.