Use Summer to Improve Your Parent-Child Relationship

 ADHD Weekly, July 18, 2019

Too often children and parents think of school grades as the sole measure of success for the child. While grades are important and learning is a lifelong process, this view can damage the relationship between a parent and a child. Summertime can offer a buffer and help to improve that relationship. Routines are relaxed and schedules a little lighter. Families often have the opportunity to spend more time together.

“In all parenting, the quality of the parent-child relationship is foundational,” says John C. Panepinto, PsyD, LPCS, NCC. “Rituals and time spent nurturing and developing the relationship are more important than the management and redirection that often dominates how we notice the child in time and space.”

How can you use this this summer break to build up your child and strengthen your bond? Dr. Panepinto and other child experts have some ideas that may be helpful for your family.

Build your child up

Psychiatrist and author William W. Dodson, MD, estimates that by age 12, children who have ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages from parents, teachers, and other adults than their friends and siblings who do not have ADHD.

“By the time children are 7 or 8 years of age, their self-esteem has huge holes and their identity is often centered on not being smart or good enough,” says Dr. Panepinto. “When we consider parenting children with ADHD, it’s important to look beyond actions, executive functions, and what they are doing. It is deeply important to discover, uncover, and support who they are and who they are becoming.”

Letting go of the impulse to correct can be hard, but sometimes that’s what needed. Praising accomplishments and patiently helping with problem-solving can help to build your child’s self-esteem. It can also help your child to see you as the person to come to when there is a problem, rather than someone to avoid in order not to be scolded.

“Your relationship with your child matters most,” say the parenting experts at Kid’s Health, part of Nemours Children’s Health System. “Kids with ADHD often feel they’re letting others down, doing things wrong, or not being ‘good.’ Protect your child’s self-esteem by being patient, understanding, and accepting. Let your child know you believe in him and see all the good things about him. Build resilience by keeping your relationship with your child positive and loving.”

The experts at Nemours stress the importance of spending time every day with your child in a non-demanding situation. That could be taking a walk, working on a hobby, or sharing basic household chores together. Being present together offers a chance to hold space for your child to open up to you.

“Make time to talk and enjoy relaxing, fun activities with your child—even if it’s just for a few minutes,” they suggest. “Give your child your full attention. Compliment positive behaviors. Don’t over-praise, but do comment when your child does something good.”

“This is a ‘just because’ time to be with them to affirm and build relationships,” Dr. Panepinto adds.

Suggestions for strengthening relationships

Dr. Panepinto works with children and their families on improving relationships damaged by the stresses of ADHD symptoms. He often writes about fatherhood and how parents can help build resiliency in their children. His suggestions include:

  • Discover and nurture your child’s interests. This is vital to a sense of competence, self-esteem, and motivation.
  • Work on the brain’s “braking system” with mindfulness, meditation, or martial arts. Learning how to slow down, stop, and be present is fundamental to relationships, executing tasks, and developing competence.
  • Make exercise a central family value. Get outside and move as much as possible.
  • Limit screens. These are often a preference of children with ADHD because of the immediate feedback, novelty, and enjoyment. Unfortunately, screens are not typically helpful for developing focus, attention, and the “braking system.”
  • Getting restful sleep is vital to the day-to-day plan. Lack of sleep can exacerbate symptoms of inattention and impulsivity—in all of us!

From ADHD: Parenting Beyond Behavior, Beliefs, and Grades

Getting through ADHD challenges together

Being a child who has ADHD, who seems to always be singled out for mistakes, can feel lonely. Let your child know he’s not alone in the struggle, says Barbara Frankel at Working Mother.

“Always notice your child’s successes, even the small ones,” she says. “And tell your child often that your love is unconditional and that you will get through this together.”

Looking for more ideas to strengthen your family relationships?

Join the discussion: How do you strengthen family relationships during the summer?