It Might Be ADHD. Now What??
From reading your blog I’ve always been struck by how much you genuinely LIKE all your children, quirks included.
My husband and I are struggling to parent an 8-year-old daughter whom I’m coming to realize might have ADHD. We’re starting the conversations with a Dr., but I was wondering if you had any general parenting tips for managing her. I feel like a lot of what we are asking of her (sit still for meals, stop talking, don’t yell when you get frustrated, just for the love of Christ CALM DOWN) is actually totally beyond her. Do you have any resources to recommend for parents in these situations? 1-2-3 Magic definitely ain’t cutting it!
Thanks for any pointers and links you can provide, and thank you so much for your advice and especially your blog. I know putting yourself out there week by week is hard and often thankless, but I wanted you to know how much you have touched another parent with your stories, and helped me better parent my own children.
First, thank you for your kind words. Second, trust me, there’s plenty of struggling and flailing going on in my household at any given moment too.
You’re (hopefully) right on the cusp of a breakthrough for your daughter. I’ve been there. It’s always the darkest right before the diagnosis. You can do this!
Recommended readings for parents of children with ADHD
My top link for general information, resources, strategies is Smart Kids with Learning Disabilities (smartkidswithld.org). They cover a wide range of learning disabilities, and I’ve found their articles on ADHD specifically to be some of the most comprehensive (but not overwhelming). For you, I’d start with this article on ADHD and girls, this roadmap of a successful treatment plan/strategy, and this slightly more scientific take on understanding (and coping with) the for the love of Christ CALM DOWN triggering behavior.
Why parents should read up on ADHD and the child brain
Back when my oldest was first diagnosed, I found that the more I read about what it’s like — what it’s really, really like — to live inside the brain of an ADHD child, the more my reserves of patience, compassion and understanding naturally deepened.
(Of course, some of that may have been me subconsciously recognizing myself in those articles and first-person accounts, as my own adult ADHD diagnosis wouldn’t arrive until SIX YEARS LATER.)
I’m now parenting two boys with ADHD, one with the “classic” hyperactive/impulsive type and the other with the (often overlooked) inattentive type. And I’ll be honest: What works for one of them doesn’t work for the other. This was true before their diagnoses because they’ve always just been fundamentally two very different people, but it definitely exacerbated the fact that there is no “one size fits all” approach to raising an ADHD child. But I’ll run through the specific behavior issues you listed out, and offer some suggestions — you know your daughter best, however, in the end. But for the purposes of trial and error:
Your child’s behavior goal: Sit Still For Meals
I can usually manage to keep my kids’ butts in their seats at meals now, for the most part, but we have had to get accustomed to there being some degree of bouncing, fidgeting, and restlessness most of the time. (Particularly if they all start talking about something VERY EXCITING.) I’ll add a request for ideas to your list, actually: Does anyone know how I can stop my hyperactive/impulsive type teenager from WILDLY SWINGING HIS VERY LONG ARMS AROUND while talking at the dinner table? (Especially since it’s always well after the meds wear off.) I’m really tired of drink glasses getting regularly knocked over and elbows ending up in food, etc. Or should I just give up and go back to sippy cups?
Your child’s behavior goal: Stop Talking Endlessly
First, read this article on perseveration and persverative behavior and see if it rings any bells. Kids with ADHD (and autism) get “stuck” on their ideas, thoughts, and emotions, and the endless talking can be a result of that. They can’t stop because they don’t know HOW to stop, and forcing them to stop (OMG STOP TALKING RIGHT THIS INSTANT) before they get “unstuck” can be psychically and even physically painful and impossible for them.
This isn’t something you can solve overnight — she’ll need to develop maturity, self-awareness, and self-monitoring skills, all of which take time. We started by treating the behavior like we treated transitions when they were little, by giving them a time limit and then incremental warnings that the time limit was almost up. “You can talk to me about this for five minutes, and then we’re going to change the subject/let someone else talk/be quiet for a little bit.” Then give a warning at two or one minute. This helps them sort of…self-edit the script they’re running through, prioritize the most important bits of information, and figure out how to best get themselves to a natural conclusion and feel “unstuck.”
We do this for the endless “and then, and apparently, and also” descriptions of TV shows, movies, etc. and also when we just sense they’re talking in circles about something that happened at school and are struggling to get to the point with a lot of extraneous words/details. I WANT to hear about what happened (the TV show maybe not so much), but it’s okay to set limits to keep a five-minute anecdote from spinning out into 20 minutes of saying the same thing over and over in a slightly different way.
Your child’s behavior goal: Don’t Yell When Frustrated
This one is hard for ANY kid, to be honest. Remember when she was a toddler and how many times you had to say stuff like “use your words, use your inside voice, hands are not for hitting, we don’t pour applesauce on the dog, etc.”? This is kind of like that. Respond in the volume you want her to use, ask her to try again to tell you what’s frustrating her, take a deep breath, let’s stop and think through the problem, all that stuff. Then do it again the next time it happens, and then time after that.
Make sure she’s getting plenty of exercise and physical activity — ADHD symptoms can definitely get more pronounced and noticeable otherwise. (SOURCE: MY CHILDREN IN QUARANTINE LOCKDOWN, AAAAHHHHHHH.) Also, check out this article on ADHD and diet — we’ve had a longtime ban on artificial food coloring in our house (particularly red 40) because it has SUCH a noticeable impact on our oldest’s ADHD symptoms. Not so much on my younger son, however, so YMMV.
(Note that exceptions are made for special stuff like birthday and school parties, Halloween candy, snacks at friends’ houses, etc. I recognize that I can never fully control what my children eat, and I don’t feel that a short-term, temporary uptick in hyperactivity is worth making a Big Social Othering Thing about. I can check ingredients and be choosy about food we serve at home, and I can try to help my children recognize how different foods make them feel, for better or for worse.)
Your child’s behavior goal: To CALM DOWN!!!
I’m glad you’re starting conversations with your doctor. The Smart Kids website also has a lot of resources and advice on getting help, making sure your child is properly evaluated, and how to work with both doctors and school. I cannot discount how much finding the proper medication and dosage helped our family. I despise that there’s still a stigma around ADHD medications, and that there’s still this idea that parents are just trying to “drug” their parenting challenges and failures away. That’s not how these meds work! That’s not how any of this works!
My husband was initially really nervous about medication, and we spent a couple of years (and so, so much money) chasing down the various “natural” ADHD remedies you’ve probably seen on Facebook or on a shelf at Whole Foods. Trying them probably made US feel better, and I still completely understand the instinct to exhaust any and all options that might possibly make a difference. (And yes, we did find eliminating food dyes helped.)
But in the end, ADHD is a challenge for parents. But it’s even more of a challenge for the child who’s struggling to live with ADHD. Do what’s right for them, and you’ll discover that oh, this is actually right for all of us.