Choose to Be a Supportive Parent

 ADHD Weekly, March 16, 2023

You want your child to be successful. You also want him to remember to turn in his homework. Yet ADHD symptoms get in the way so often that it seems easier to handle your child’s challenges yourself, rather than let him figure out the solutions on his own.

Sometimes it can be hard to know the difference between supportive parenting and overparenting, often called “helicopter parenting”  or “bulldozer parenting.”

When your child struggles with executive function skills—like remembering homework or gym shoes and making good decisions about the present and future—you may find it challenging to straddle the line between fixing the problem for him or holding tight and allowing him to experience the consequences. This is especially true with ADHD symptoms, since they can cause more problems for your child with behavior, grades, and decision-making than his peers experience.

In an attempt to make life smoother for your child, you risk doing too much for him. Children with ADHD often have delayed maturity. It is hard sometimes to know when to let go or when you are needed to direct your child or work with someone else on your child’s behalf.

Supportive parenting or overparenting?

Researchers at the University of Arizona and California State University at Chico examined the concept of overparenting versus supportive parenting. Their results help us understand how helicopter parenting and supportive parenting affect teens and young adults.

The researchers worked with college- students and found overparenting was linked with psychological distress and performance anxiety for these young adults. In addition, they found the students had a sense of entitlement, along with increased self-importance, due to their parents’ over-praise and involvement. By overparenting, the researchers concluded, a parent unconsciously interferes with the age-appropriate development of competence, independence, and a sense of connection to others.

Parents “helicopter” from the desire to improve their children’s success at school and in future life, the researchers noted, but it also happens when parents are highly critical of their children and fail to maintain a boundary between their own lives and the lives of their children. The result can be teens and young adults who become overly dependent on their parents and lack the ability to be self-starters or to develop problem-solving skills when faced with challenges. The young adults told the researchers that although they resented the over-involvement from their parents, they hadn’t had the chance to learn how to overcome difficulties on their own and continued to need parental direction.

Tips to be a supportive parent

Parents who allow age-appropriate independence in day-to-day life encourage creativity, exploration, and responsible decision-making in their children. How can you encourage independence and problem-solving for your child with ADHD? Some tips for being a supportive parent without overparenting include:

  • Listen to your teen and respect his thoughts and opinions. He can disagree with you but still follow your rules and directions. Help him learn to clarify his thoughts and opinions by asking why he holds them.
  • Allow your child to pick his own extracurricular activities, rather than selecting those activities for him.
  • If your child makes a mistake, let him know you will be there to support his efforts to correct it. Talk with him about ways to fix the problem, but step back and let him decide which solution to use. Let your child experience the consequences.
  • Encourage your child to have downtime. Not every day has to have an activity scheduled. Young people need time to explore their interests without structure.
  • Allow your child age-appropriate independence. Establish basic family rules and expectations for behaviors.
  • Have your child take an active role in his ADHD treatment plan. Listen to his thoughts on treatment. Encourage him to talk directly with the doctor and resist the urge to answer on your child’s behalf when the doctor asks him how things are going.
  • Help your child develop a routine and planning system or calendar. Let him plan his activities and work with his system to stay on track.
  • Teach your teen how to prepare his own meals, do laundry, create a budget, and spend money. Allow him to practice these skills without your assistance.

Looking for more on becoming a supportive parent?

Join the discussion: How have you helped your child develop independence while being a supportive parent?