ADHD: A Family Affair

By Ellen Littman, Ph.D. with Eve Kessler, Esq.

AT A GLANCE

How you parent your child with ADHD can have a profound impact on his happiness and success • Making family members an integral part of the treatment plan will improve family dynamics and provide the steadfast support your child deserves


The complex dynamics of an ADHD household can be stressful, sometimes overwhelming, and often require a huge emotional commitment of time and energy. You know that your child with ADHD is different from his non-ADHD peers and that he doesn’t fit the norm. But despite good intentions, you may not know how hard to push him or the most effective ways to encourage his best efforts.

The way you parent your child has a tremendous impact on how he will develop and on how your family life progresses. Your effectiveness as both parent and advocate will essentially drive your child’s happiness and successes. So, where do you begin?

Stay Current

Learn all you can about ADHD, especially how it manifests itself in your child. Using an ADHD label as a descriptor by itself is vague, unhelpful, and often harmful. Many people, even those who are well meaning, still buy into outdated myths about ADHD, which are uniformly negative. Today we know that having ADHD is not something your child should be ashamed of, and that these kids are not “lazy,” “stupid” or “just not trying hard enough.”

Inform the Family

For your family to work together successfully and be part of your child’s treatment team, each member should understand at an age-appropriate level how the ADHD brain works and why it has difficulty self-regulating. Family members should also recognize how your child exhibits his own individualized version of ADHD, especially his strengths as well as challenges.

Have Regular Family Meetings

As a family, examine the “big picture” of ADHD, your child’s specifics, and the impacts ADHD has on your household. This will empower your child to gain insight into his own unique academic and social-emotional profile. Through family discussions, he will learn how to explain his behavior to teachers and peers and will develop the language of self-advocacy, which will be a necessary tool throughout his life.

Work as Partners

It is important to be on the same page as your partner when it comes to discipline and support strategies. Together determine which of your child’s negative behaviors should be addressed, set limits, adopt strategies for consistent follow-through, and enforce consequences. You may want to start by agreeing not to punish your child for behaviors that are specific manifestations of his ADHD. Additionally, you may try to stay clear of “good cop-bad cop” conflicts by adopting a clear parenting style with regard to consequences. For example, decide if you want to enable your child by ‘rescuing’ him from his mistakes or if you want to let him live with the consequences of his behavior and perhaps fail in the short run.

Show Steadfast Love and Support

As a parent, your most important job is to value your child unconditionally, make him feel worthy, believe in him wholeheartedly, and cheer him on. Focus on the positive and highlight his strengths: what does he enjoy and do well? Expand your ideas of accomplishment, praise him when he excels, and encourage whatever he is enthusiastic about, even if it’s something off the beaten path.

This article is based on The Impact of ADHD on the Family, a presentation by Ellen Littman, Ph.D., sponsored by Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities, and What the ADHD Brain Wants (and Why), an article by Dr. Littman, published in the Spring 2017 issue of ADDitude Magazine. Eve Kessler, Esq., a criminal appellate attorney with The Legal Aid Society, NYC, is co-founder of SPED*NET, Special Education Network of Wilton (CT), and a Contributing Editor of Smart Kids. Dr. Ellen Littman is a member of the Smart Kids Professional Advisory Board. 

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