Parenting a Child With Attention Deficit Disorder

TIMEOctober 1, 2015
Daily vigorous exercise is a great way to channel an overly rambunctious child's excessive energy into a positive safe activity. Afterward, the child will normally be in a better state of mind for concentrating on more mundane tasks. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
Daily vigorous exercise is a great way to channel an overly rambunctious child's excessive energy into a positive safe activity. Afterward, the child will normally be in a better state of mind for concentrating on more mundane tasks. (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

In my previous article on the subject of Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD), I talked about ways to view it from a more positive and comprehensive perspective by looking for the hidden strengths in people with ADD. This also has profound implications for how to parent a child with ADD.

This article is not meant to be a comprehensive parenting plan but rather to plant the seeds for some new perspectives in raising children with ADD, and to point you in the right direction for finding parenting solutions that work.

Emphasizing positive traits and developing useful coping mechanisms to overcome the difficulties is a far superior strategy than simple reward and punishment, or trying to discipline the ADD out of the child, or allowing the child to walk all over you.

It’s important to develop discipline; however, your approach needs to be much more comprehensive, as harsh discipline can lead to constant power struggles and probably tremendous amounts of resentment and damage to your personal relationship.

Channeling Positive Characteristics

With ADD it’s important to emphasize all of the positive traits you can see, and to build upon those strengths to overcome challenges.

Remember, many people with ADD are flexible, creative, and energetic. They’re good at accomplishing tasks with small bursts of energy. They’re good problem-solvers as they are able to look at problems from a variety of perspectives. They’re often fearless and courageous.

Also, while people with ADD are distractible, they can also hyper-focus in certain situations. So, if you want a task done, think of ways you can highly motivate the person and get them to chase after it.

Start to pay close attention to all of the positive traits you can find in your child. Make it into a list and begin to creatively think about how to channel those traits in positive directions.

Developing Coping Mechanisms

It’s also important to recognize the areas where ADD is negatively impacting your child and those around them. You can teach your child ways to cope with and handle these situations better. Heavy, vigorous exercise is often an essential coping mechanism for people with ADD. It can both burn off excessive physical energy and allow for more sustained periods of concentration afterward. If you can find a way to get a child with ADD to exercise with full force for 90 minutes or more a day, you will see a different child.

Organization is often the key to helping a child with ADD in school. Maintaining organization is one of their biggest challenges. They tend to be quite disorganized and easily lose things necessary to complete certain tasks. Instead of focusing solely on grades and completing tasks, try focusing on developing a system for remembering things and putting things in place. If the child can develop and maintain a system for keeping track of and filing their papers, their grades will naturally improve.

Remember that what a child actually learns, and how much they love learning, is always more important than the grades. Reduce power struggles and allow them to maintain their creative spark by making learning fun, instead of criticizing them when they fall short. The love of learning is always the way to create a truly educated and intelligent person, while a jaded child that hates school is sure not to have any academic ambitions.

One often overlooked aspect of ADD is the difficulty it causes in social relationships. Normally a child with ADD is very outgoing and loves social interactions. However, they’re often poor at reading subtle social cues and understanding complex social norms. These basic social skills need to be explicitly taught, as being socially ostracized or made to feel socially awkward can be devastating to a child’s self confidence.

Emphasize teaching the child empathy for others rather than strict rules. This is a concept that can take time to develop, but it’s a really important conflict resolution skill.

Some children with ADD often have very rambunctious behavior that can be dangerous, destructive, and hurtful to others. Instead of focusing on the behavior, focus on personal safety. Emphasize the rights of others to feel safe from harm and the consequences of dangerous, destructive, and hurtful actions. Rambunctious behavior is not a problem when it is channeled properly. Think of ways the child can do things safely and appropriately.

Some parents who don’t emphasize discipline go too far in the opposite direction and allow their child to walk all over them. You should vigorously maintain and defend your own personal rights and physical body. By doing this you are setting appropriate boundaries and teaching the child not to hurt or harm others.

This is just a beginning list of coping mechanisms you can use to parent your child. The main point is to always look for ways to channel the positive traits in your child to overcome their challenges. Your teaching should focus on helping your child develop successful strategies for overcoming their difficulties.

Make sure you’re allowing your child to be the best of who they are, rather than trying to turn them into someone else altogether. If you have any interesting experiences to share about parenting a child with ADD, please send a message to attention Michael Courter.

Michael Courter is a clinical social worker, family therapist, and entrepreneur in Northern California. All the advice and answers provided by the columnist are general in nature and are intended to be used for educational and/or entertainment purposes only. Information provided in this column is not intended to be used as a substitute for specific medical or psychological advice, nor should you consider it as such.

Michael Courter has a master’s degree in Social Work with distinction from California State University Chico and is certified in Parent Child Interaction Therapy. He has been treating individuals and families since 2006.