Podcast Transcript

Guidance for Uncertain Times: Parenting Children with ADHD During a Crisis

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Podcast date: April 17, 2020

Learning Objectives

  1. Learn strategies for keeping calm at home during times of crisis
  2. Learn strategies for increasing positive emotions with parents and children
  3. Identify ADHD symptoms that can make it more challenging and strategies to cope with them
  4. Learn strategies for parents to help their children with ADHD
  5. Learn strategies for parents managing their own ADHD


Announcer:  You're listening to a special podcast of all things ADHD in response to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Alondra Perez:  I am your host Alondra Perez. Today's guest is Dr. Andrea Chronis-Tuscado from the University of Maryland. Welcome Andrea. Would you like to introduce yourself?

Andrea Chronis-Tuscado:  My name is Andrea Chronis-Tuscado, I am a professor in the Psychology Department of the University of Maryland, and I do a lot of work clinically and research related to ADHD across the lifespan. So, I'm really glad to be here today.

Alondra Perez:  And we are glad to have you. So, you recently wrote an article in Maryland Today about parenting through a pandemic. Could you talk about the tips and strategies you wrote for parents to keep calm and setting the emotional tone for their families during this time of crisis?

Andrea Chronis-Tuscado:  This is such an unprecedented and challenging time because none of us really know when the pandemic is going to end. And so, there's a lot of uncertainty and fear. And I think for parents, it is really important to keep in mind that how we respond and how we react is going to set the tone for our kids. So although we might have a lot of questions running through our head and some anxiety around this, we really need to think about how we can best create a calm environment for our kids and to maintain some of the routines that all kids really benefit from, but particularly kids with ADHD.

So, it's going to be really important for parents to find a way to maintain some semblance of a routine, of course, with flexibility, but just thinking about the basics, like making sure that our kids are going to bed at the same time every night and waking up at roughly the same time, getting enough sleep, getting them outside every day for some exercise, making sure that there's time set aside for connecting with their friends by video chats or messaging. Trying to figure out how at a time when we are all supposed to be social distancing, how we can still find a way to make sure that we are doing the things that we can control. Making time for the kinds of things that we and our kids can enjoy at a time like this.

So, whether it be cooking or doing a puzzle or riding their bike or going for a family walk, I think that it's really important for both parents and kids alike to find what are the things that help me to maintain a sense of positive emotion, behavioral regulation, emotional regulation? As I said, sleeping enough is so important where parents and kids are getting fresh air and exercise, making sure that we're reading and that kids are keeping up with some of their academic skills.

However, at the same time, I think it's really tricky for parents who are trying to work from home and to homeschool their kids, essentially, that they really need to cut themselves a break and just do the best they can. Really making sure that we are helping our kids stay connected to their friends, not face to face of course. We want everybody to be maintaining social distance for their own health and safety, but at the same time, there's so many other ways these days that kids could stay connected to their friends, through technology, through video chats and messaging and playing video games perhaps with their friends. I think it's really just important for all of us to take stock of what are those things that help us to feel better.  I know that I've noticed for myself that it's really helpful to go outside every day to get fresh air, to go for a walk and get some exercise.

And so, I think just taking stock for ourselves as well as for our kids, what are those things that help to make the days go better? And then how can we instill that in the structure of our day to day? I think that parents and children are so used to running around and being so busy that this is an extreme departure from our usual day to day lives and that it's important to also recognize that this is a period of stress, both for the parent and the child. And to be listening for signs of the child saying, "I really miss my teacher," or, "I really miss going to school," or, "I miss playing baseball or gymnastics," and for parents to be able to connect with them over that to say, "I feel like that too. And my share is different than it usually is." And to let them know that it is okay to have those emotions. To be able to acknowledge their emotions and then to help grieve that together and then move on. Those were the majority of the tips.

I think doing things that elevate your mood, socializing with people who make you happy, whether that is, usually that is going to be virtually these days. But I do think that the pandemic also creates an opportunity for parents and kids to spend more time doing things together and to find what are those things that help us connect as a family. Maybe it is eating breakfast together or having dinner together or playing a game together or going outside and kicking the soccer ball around together, going for a nice walk together. Usually in many people's lives, they might not have time for that. How can we use this as an opportunity to really connect with our kids?

In terms of ADHD, we know that kids with ADHD are even more sensitive to their environments, right? So, this is a time where if parents are feeling extremely stressed, the kids are going to pick up on it. And it could certainly impact their emotions and their behaviors. So that is why in all of these suggestions, I am suggesting that the parents do the same things themselves. So not only do we want to make sure that our kids are maintaining a regular sleep schedule, but the parents are doing that as well. That they feel equipped to deal with the challenges of trying to work and care for their kids at the same time.

Alondra Perez:  It has definitely been a new lifestyle for a lot of people and especially parents with children and parents with children that have ADHD, but what are some of the symptoms of ADHD, or maybe even other possible coexisting conditions that can make it more challenging at home? And what kinds of strategies could parents use?

Andrea Chronis-Tuscado:  So, the core symptoms of ADHD are first of all, inattention symptoms, right? Second, hyperactivity and impulsivity symptoms, and then thirdly, I think that everyone today would agree that emotional reactivity and regulation is another constellation of symptoms related to ADHD. So, I could go through these one at a time.

First, in terms of inattention, inattention symptoms involve things like disorganization, difficulty planning, difficulty sustaining attention, being very distractible when going through daily routines and the like. So when you think about those types of symptoms, if you imagine that many parents, as I said, are trying to work from home while they're also homeschooling their kids, it's going to be more challenging for a child with ADHD to be able to get work done and to work independently at home and to plan out their day. They are going to need a lot of help and scaffolding from their parents. It is going to be really important for parents to establish a nice, clean workspace for the child to set up and get their schoolwork done each day.

And for kids who are sort of disorganized and have a hard time with moving through their daily routines, the more structure there is in the day is really going to help those kids. So having, as I said, getting up at roughly the same time, eating meals at roughly the same time, having some type of schedule in terms of inside time and outdoor time and academics and things like that is going to be really important for those kids. Helping them to establish a checklist for the day of things that they're going to be doing, making the expectations very clear for them.

Hyperactive impulsive symptoms can also be challenging during this pandemic, because I think in general, kids are getting a lot less exercise than they might be used to, right? So, at school, they're always moving around and many kids are involved in extracurricular activities and are going outside quite a bit. And so, I think it's hard for most kids to be cooped up as much as they have been during the pandemic. And so, again, another reason why we as much as possible want to try to get them outside, to make sure that their bodies are moving. And certainly even under the stay at home orders that we have here in Maryland, you are allowed to go out and ride your bike or to go for a walk or to play outside in your yard as long as you're not interacting with people outside your family.

So I think that particularly for kids with a lot of energy and hyperactivity, it's going to be really important to make sure that they're moving their body. And on rainy days, I know that there are a lot of videos that people have made about working on your dribbling skills or having a dance party in the house, either on your own or with the family. That could be another great way to burn energy.

And then thirdly, this emotional regulation that is really the third group of symptoms associated with ADHD, that's really important in terms of thinking about how the parents are setting the emotional tone for the house and how kids with ADHD are really so much more sensitive to different emotions that might be at play in the home. And so that's why focusing on the parent's own self-care in addition to their parenting is important because when a parent is in a better emotional state, they can be more patient with their kids and they can exude more of a calm than a chaotic vibe to their kids. So, we know that sometimes parenting a child with ADHD can be a bit challenging. The more the parent has their emotional reserves, the better able they're going to be to deal with those stressors.

Alondra Perez:  I really do appreciate you bringing up that emotionality that's connected with ADHD, that many people don't really seem to talk about a lot of the time, and that's really, really important.
And along with that, the routines and the scheduling seem to be something common that comes up that can be very helpful for a lot of different kinds of families along with work, school, and then still making time to do something fun and something that they enjoy. And I think another concern for parents is their own ADHD because a lot of the times when children have ADHD in the household, so do parents. Not all the time, that is a possibility. How can they best cope with their ADHD along with the challenges of parenting during this pandemic?

Andrea Chronis-Tuscado:  The majority of my research actually focuses on this very issue. So about 25% to 50% of parents of children with ADHD will have ADHD as well. And so all of these things that I'm talking about in terms of remaining calm and being consistent in terms of household structure and routines and helping kids to organize around academic activities, all of those things are more challenging when a parent themself has ADHD. What I would recommend in those situations is first of all, some parents of children with ADHD have sought out treatment for themselves. And I think that that is the ideal situation. If a parent has ADHD and they also have a child with ADHD, they should be sure to be taking their own ADHD medications if they have not. And then in terms of therapy, many therapists are providing the opportunity to receive treatment via telehealth these days, right?

So nowadays, it's possible that a parent who has ADHD could be getting the support that they might need using telehealth services. I think that when a parent has ADHD, they need to be more deliberate in terms of how they structure their time, or will need to keep these to-do lists and try to write out schedules and to be very planful about how they organize their day. Parents with ADHD, really all parents, need to make sure that they are getting enough sleep. They need to be making sure that they're getting the exercise they need, that they have the skills that if their kids are really frustrating them, that they're able to walk away and take a few deep breaths. That they're able to use those types of relaxation strategies that can help them stay cool in stressful situations. Oftentimes, they will really benefit from the support of a therapist in those situations. This is a really important time to stay connected with treatment providers, either a behavior therapist for the child that's providing support around parenting, but also a therapist for the parents to help them to deal with ADHD related challenges.

One of the things that we know about people with ADHD regardless of their age, is that even when they know what to do, they might have a toolbox of different skills that they're supposed to use either with their kids, or in other contexts like work.  But what we know about ADHD is that people who have ADHD often have difficulty executing or carrying out those plans. So, they might have the skills and they're actually using them in the context in which they're having trouble. And that's why the ongoing help and support of a therapist can be really, really important, especially during a crisis situation like we're in right now.

Alondra Perez:  It's important to continue that treatment for the parents and the children so they could continue to try to do these strategies, but also continue to receive that help. Andrea, do you have anything else that you would like to add that you think might be helpful to families and parents?

Andrea Chronis-Tuscado:  One thing that I think is just so important is that we're all sort of in this impossible situation, right? It's tricky. We don't know when it's going to end. There's a lot of uncertainty. And I think that as much as we try to plan and organize things, it's not always going to turn out exactly the way we like, right? And sometimes we might look at other parents and families on social media and it looks like they have this perfect homeschool experience or that they're just having all this wonderful family time. And I think that we need to be kind to ourselves and realize that this is stressful for us, this is stressful for our kids, and those people who are posting on social media are probably posting about the five minutes that day that went well for them.

So, I think we just need to cut ourselves a break and realize that we're just all doing the best that we can and that we shouldn't hold ourselves to such a high standard that we'd beat ourselves up when it doesn't turn out exactly like we planned. And I think everybody's going through this right now, but I think that the challenges are even greater when you have a child with ADHD and you just have to be kind to yourself and not set such unrealistic expectations that you're necessarily going to be disappointed. And that means expectations for yourself as well as expectations for your child with ADHD.

Alondra Perez:  Definitely that kindness that we need, not just for others, but also that we have to do for ourselves. But you really, really named some great strategies that I think could be really helpful for parents during this crisis. Thank you so much, Andrea. We really appreciate you and we loved having you today.

Andrea Chronis-Tuscado:  Thank you so much for inviting me.

Announcer:  CHADD is the nation's leading nonprofit organization serving people affected by ADHD. As home to the National Resource Center on ADHD funded by the US CDC, CHADD offers comprehensive programs and services at both the national and local levels. To learn more, visit CHADD.org. In this time of crisis, we know everyone in our community is facing tremendous pressures and CHADD and its National Resource Center on ADHD are here to help. We are committed to continuing to be the resource on which you can rely. For more information, visit our website at chadd.org, and follow us on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.