Using Mindfulness When Parenting a Child with ADHD
When your child has ADHD, parenting is hard. Harder, in many ways, than parenting a child who does not have the disorder. ADHD symptoms affect all parts of life and intrude on family dynamics.
Incorporating mindfulness techniques into your parenting approach can help you improve your parenting skills.
“In your efforts to communicate more effectively with your child, awareness of his ADHD can be quite useful,” says developmental pediatrician Mark Bertin, MD. Dr. Bertin discusses how mindfulness can help improve parenting skills in Mindful Parenting: ADHD and Communication for CHADD’s Attention magazine.
Parenting a child with ADHD
CHADD’s National Resource Center on ADHD’s information on parenting helps parents and caregivers (including extended family members who are raising children) with some of the difficulties in caring for children affected by ADHD.
The first point to remember is “Don’t waste your limited emotional energy on self-blame.” ADHD is a brain-based disorder that is almost always inherited, just like one’s eye color or other characteristics. You did not cause your child to have ADHD and your parenting style is not the cause of ADHD (though it can sometime make symptoms seem better or worse).
What can you do instead? Try adding mindfulness techniques to your “tool box” of parenting skills. Knowing what expectations you have of your children and accepting what they are capable of doing helps you to create better experiences for your family.
Improving parenting skills with mindfulness
Mindfulness is a practice of bringing yourself into the moment, rather than allowing your thoughts to move from one thought to the next, unexamined. It helps to keep us grounded on what is happening now, rather than dwelling on what has happened in the past or what could happen in the future. And it’s been shown to help reduce stress and improve our personal outlook on life.
Mindfulness in parenting can help us to see ADHD symptoms for what they are and begin to improve how we talk with our children, Dr. Bertin says. Often, when we are stressed or frustrated by our children’s behavior, we can make the situation worse rather than better in what we say and how we say it.
“No matter how out of control, uninterested, or irrational your child acts at a given point in time, what you do or say can potentially escalate or de-escalate the situation,” he writes. “These choices also teach your child lessons in conflict management and influence how he communicates.”
Instead, he suggests trying mindfulness techniques to calm the situation and use your energies in constructive ways:
- Become aware of your thoughts.
“Remember, thoughts are just thoughts, sometimes accurate, sometimes inaccurate,” Dr. Bertin says. “Fully listening requires setting aside judgments, presumptions, and assumptions and recognizing the other person’s perspective, even when you disagree.”
- Become aware of your emotions in the situation.
“Being excessively angry, upset, anxious, or exhausted is likely to prevent a productive, intentional conversation,” he says. “At these times, the best bet is to take a break and do what you can to ground yourself and allow for more skillful communication. Doing a brief mindfulness practice can be very helpful.”
- Recognize when ADHD symptoms are getting in the way of communication.
“For example, distractibility, impulsiveness, interrupting, talking too loudly, or being overly talkative can all disrupt discussions,” Dr. Bertin says. “Recognizing them as ADHD symptoms may help reduce your frustration and reactivity and increase your ability to facilitate effective communication.”
When you see ADHD symptoms getting in the way, he says it is time to take a step back and make a new plan for parenting in that situation. Reflect on the parenting skills you’ve learned from others and those skills that have worked over time and create a strategy that helps you better address the situation with your child.“It’s hard to remain responsive when you don’t have a solid plan for handling ADHD,” Dr. Bertin writes in Attention magazine. “You may eventually find yourself shouting, giving in, or whatever else you set out not to do. Identifying direct communication strategies to use with your child will make it easier to stick to your intentions. You need both mindfulness and a skillfully constructed plan.
Other things to try:
- Join a local support group, either offered by CHADD or another organization. You can find additional information about ADHD and possible co-occurring conditions, as well as support, by being part of a parents’ support group. Group members offer one another emotional support as well as recommendations for health care providers and other services that can help your family. Other options:
- Join CHADD’s ADHD Parents Together online community
- Call the NRC’s Helpline at 866-200-8098, Monday through Friday, from 1-5 p.m.
- Find professional help. This could be a behavioral therapist who works with you to learn new parenting skills, a mental health professional for you or child to help with some of the emotional “baggage” that often comes with ADHD, or a coach.
- Learn more about behavioral management techniques. An important part of treatment, learning and using behavioral management skills and parent training gives you strategies that can help improve your children’s behaviors and make family life more enjoyable. A parent education program, CHADD’s Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD, which helps parents new to ADHD get a better understanding of the disorder and an introduction to behavioral management for their families.
- Find household help. Family dynamics are often affected by caring for a child with ADHD, and can reflect in domestic disarray. You can get help from a professional organizer, or even find someone to do a periodic “deep cleaning” in your house.
Parenting resources that can help:
- Parenting a Child with ADHD
- Ask the Expert: Mindfulness and Parenting a Child with ADHD
- Psychosocial Treatment for Children and Adolescents
- Mindfulness Helps Some People Manage ADHD
- Parent to Parent: Family Training on ADHD
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