Parenting an ADHD Child, Age by Age

Filed under: Special Needs, Behavior: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Behavior: Big Kids, Behavior: Tweens, Behavior: Teens

The benefits of following some tried-and-true parenting techniques can provide you with even greater rewards. Credit: Getty Images

Establishing good parenting skills, educating yourself and advocating for your child are the most important tools for successfully raising your ADHD child.

While the challenges you face may be more intense than those of most parents, the benefits of following some tried-and-true parenting techniques can provide you with even greater rewards. Your ADHD child will learn appropriate behaviors when you create clear routines and expectations, as well as set and enforce limits. Don't make things too complicated. Just establish some straight-forward rules and time lines, and your child will be better able to navigate at every stage.

Preschoolers
Because the brain is still developing and few medications are approved for children at this age, this is the period in which parents are most "on their own." Most helpful at this stage is behavior modification and environmental adjustments. In our world of super stimulation, it may be best to minimize your child's surroundings -- a smaller classroom, with less activity, and a definite routine can help improve preschoolers' ADHD symptoms.

The National Institute of Mental Health conducted a Preschool ADHD Treatment Study and found that when parents consistently used techniques such as offering consistent praise, ignoring negative behavior and using time-outs, they were successful in helping their ADHD children adjust to the preschool setting.

School-age
Most children are diagnosed with ADHD once they start grade school because their difficulties with focus and lack of control become more apparent (and problematic) when faced with more formal learning and social situations. For parents, this can actually be helpful because while your child may face greater challenges, it's also possible you'll receive more support. Be sure to talk to teachers, administrators and counselors to see what resources are available to you and your child within the school community.

Children at this stage need to know exactly what others expect of them. Since they can't "read between the lines," they don't do well in ambiguous situations. Behavioral parent training programs can be very effective here. They will help you narrow your focus to a few specific behaviors and help you to set limits, and follow through in a consistent manner.

Tweens
In middle school, a more challenging curriculum and the onset of adolescence can certainly intensify the lives of ADHD kids and their parents. Parents may need to try new approaches, from adjusting medications to developing new strategies to help cope with more complex schedules.

Parents should steer their middle schoolers to take more responsibility for their overall well being. Behavioral therapy should also focus on strategies that kids, rather than parents, can use to get their work done.

At this stage it's also important to reassure your tween that having ADHD is not a fault or a punishment. Remind your child that ADHD is a medical condition, like asthma or nearsightedness, and that, with treatment, she can prevent it from limiting her success.

Teens
Although symptoms may seem less severe in the teen years, it's important for parents to continue to advocate for their children. ADHD students may qualify for accommodations such as being issued extra time on standardized tests in school.

Issues that prove challenging for all teens -- identity, independence, drugs and alcohol, sexuality -- can be magnified for teens with ADHD. If you've been dealing with the disorder since childhood, you may have an advantage over non-ADHD parents in that your child is comfortable with all-important limits and boundaries.

Probably the best thing you can do for your ADHD teen is to help him find his strengths and give him opportunities to experience success. Reinforce some of the positive or "surplus" aspects of ADHD symptoms. Remind your child that impulsiveness can lead to creativity; intrusiveness can be interpreted as eagerness, while sincerity is just plan heartwarming, and sincere.

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Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.