Turns out that in clinical practice I’ve learned that it’s okay to acknowledge that some children are simply harder to parent than others. From what I can tell it’s really true. Often those parents struggling with children with behavioral challenges blame themselves more than is necessary. Sometimes rationale for why it’s harder helps.

There are all sorts of reasons for increased challenge. Chronic or challenging underlying illness, mental health struggles, and/or behavior challenges are a few of the reasons that some parents have a much harder job. I talked with Erin Schoenfelder, Ph.D. a specialist in ADHD and Director of Behavioral Treatment at the PEARL Clinic (Program to Enhance Attention, Regulation & Learning) here at Seattle Children’s Hospital about how parents often NEED a different parenting strategy if their child has ADHD. She outlines it beautifully in the podcast. These 3 reasons and these 5 strategies Dr. Schoenfelder shares can help families support children with the unique challenges that come along with ADHD.

Why do children with ADHD need different parenting strategies?

Normal good parenting strategies (sticker charts, send to room, natural consequences) don’t seem to work for kids with ADHD. Parents need additional strategies. When children with ADHD fail to thrive in typical structures for reinforcement, it doesn’t mean parents are failing. Parenting a child with ADHD can at times be harder than parenting a child without attention challenges.

1. Children may lack internal “self regulation”

  • Kids not regulating their own engines to stay on track. So children with ADHD may be very susceptible to external environments, including distractions, inconsistencies.
  • Therefore, behavior is inconsistent. Kids aren’t able to do what they know how to do.

2. Limited window on time for discipline

  • “Now” versus “Not Now.” Make sure you provide immediate feedback for children with ADHD. If you wait, it may lose relevance or even be lost in the memory bank.
  • Children with ADHD may have a tendency to have their window get “flooded” easily, and they cannot shift forward to predict what will happen next, or backwards to recall what has/hasn’t worked in the past.
  • Children don’t connect behavior and consequence the same way as children without ADHD.

3. Children with ADHD may have different processing of rewards

  • Dopamine is processed differently in the brain of children with ADHD. Therefore when they get the chemical kick of reward, they may experience it differently.
  • Everyday things feel less rewarding and interesting than they are for other kids.
  • Other things (screens) may feel SUPER rewarding…

5 principles for parenting a child with ADHD

1.Increase the positive ratio (3:1)

  • Need to off-set negative feedback and experiences. Praise great behavior 3 to 1 versus criticism or re-direction of undesired behaviors. Celebrate good days, good moments, good wins!
  • Parent-child relationship is protective in the long-term — everything you do to continue to provide your child a place of safety for success and failure is WORTH your investment. Don’t forget it.

2. Anticipate

  • Set child up for success (keep things in the path of the door that they tend to forget, help be a reminder when they want you to be, get them the sleep they need before big days).
  • Parents anticipate which situations will be challenging — so help mitigate stresses when possible.
  • Put structure in place – expectations, routines, reminders, limit distractions whenever you can.

3. Provide frequent, immediate feedback

  • In the moment provide feedback so it’s relevant and sinks in.
  • More positive than negative — think 3 times the sunshine for every rainy day comment.

4. Motivate with incentives

  • Find your child’s currency (it may be screentime, quiet time, card collections, etc).
  • Sprinkle in reward throughout the day (use the currency all day for rewards and as incentives every day even if in very small amounts)

5. Model and narrate the missing skills

  • Show instead of do things for the child. Model being organized, for example, or getting things ready the night before. Do it for your own day instead of telling them how to do theirs.
  • Encourage kids to use organizational skills — this can mean binders, reminders, co-signing homework, help in placing spots equipment in a special bag, etc.

It may be harder to parent children with inattention and hyperactivity but there’s no question your efforts on thinking how your child is “wired” different will be worth it.

Other tips to share with parents not outlined here or in the podcast?