Video Transcript & Notes:
There are 5 truths parents of kids with ADHD really need to hear. And even though ADHD is different for everyone, these 5 truths are universal and can be applied in whatever way works best for your child and family. If my child were to have ADHD, these are the truths that I would live by and keep coming back to. So, based on some of the content in my Relationships First ADHD Masterclass, this video has a lot more detail to give you a better idea about how to use these five essential truths. So be sure to come back and re-watch it whenever you need to. And if you need more support or you’re not sure what’s next, take a look through all of my resources, both on YouTube and on ChildBehaviorClinic.com. So, let’s get started with truth number 5.
Let’s imagine for a second that you’re putting together a new piece of furniture, and it has some of those round wooden dowel pins that help align and attach parts together. Pre-drilled, round holes, make it easy to tap them in. The system that’s already in place, the round holes, easily fits your round dowels. This is how most of the world works for people WITHOUT ADHD. Systems and norms in our society, the round holes, are set up for people who are round dowels, if you will. They can sit still, and be quiet, and focus through long, boring things. They can easily follow pre-set rules, and can adapt quickly. But what if you were building that same piece of furniture, and the store happened to send you square dowels, if there were such a thing. As hard as you try, it’s just not quite the right fit. You can really jam them in there to make it fit, but it’s not easy and doesn’t work as well. That square dowel is kind of like a person with ADHD. Sure, they can kind of fit into the round hole, but it always takes a lot of effort and never feels quite natural. You know what would be so much easier, and also better for someone’s self-worth? If instead of trying to fit into the round hole, there was just an option for a square hole, one that just felt and worked better for your needs.
Kids with ADHD need the people around them, especially their parents, to understand a very important truth – that as we understand it right now, ADHD is about having a brain that’s wired differently. And different brain wiring, requires a different system, accommodations, and support. It requires a change, like making a square hole for a square dowel. ****And this is an idea we need to keep coming back to and reminding ourselves of over and over. This is why, if you’ve watched some of my other ADHD videos, you’ve probably heard me repeat this in almost every one.
I think one of THE most important things about parenting a child with ADHD is to have this mindset – about how to think about the ADHD and how you think about your child. The mindset that ADHD brains are wired differently; that ADHD is part of who they are. This wiring genuinely makes regulating and controlling themselves, like their behaviors, their attention, their body, and their emotions, more difficult than for a person without ADHD. Trouble with something called executive functions, including self-regulation and self-control, as well as things like working memory, organization, time management, planning, and flexible thinking, are at the core of ADHD. And sometimes this is so tricky to recognize and acknowledge because of our expectations, or past history, or just the way our round-hole society generally operates and the ideas it’s ingrained in us. But, when you do have this mindset, that ADHD brains are wired differently, you can safely assume that the majority of the frustrating or challenging behaviors of kids with ADHD are not actually intentional. They are not doing these things on purpose. It’s just harder for them. Their brains think and behave differently. When you adopt this mindset, you can also safely assume, they need a different way to approach something or a different way to solve the problem, a different system. Kids with ADHD need the grown-ups around them to be flexible with, to adapt to, and to accommodate for these differences. They need their grown-ups to recognize it’s perfectly ok to need a square hole and provide them with that so they can feel and be successful.
So, as the parent, how do you do this? What do you do, to live by this truth, that ADHD brains are wired differently? It’s actually less about what you DO, and really about how you think. Having this mindset means to let go of preconceived notions or judgments about ADHD and replace it with, “This is who my child is. These are the things that make them wonderful, and these are the things that are hard for them. Their brain truly has more difficulty with some things.” Having this mindset, also means continually reminding yourself of this truth whenever you need to. To do this, it’s important to have things that you can say to yourself in the heat of the moment, when things get tough, or confusing, or sad. And say these things to yourself when you find yourself escalating, or worrying, or spiraling. You’ll need to find phrases that feel genuine to you and your child. But it might be something like, “She’s showing me she needs something else right now.” Or, “he’s having a hard time, not giving me a hard time.” Or, even just, “her brain has trouble doing it like that or getting through this.” Your mantras should remind you, in a gentle and loving way, that your child is not doing something on purpose. They are trying their very best. They just need something different. As a part of my ADHD masterclass, we’ve got a feature that helps you keep track of your mantras and gives even more ideas.
Our beliefs and our mindset, are what drives our reactions and our behavior. Remember it’s not really about always knowing what you’re going to do. It’s more about how you’re going to be. And we control how we’re going to be with our kids by what we think, our mindset. It all needs to start with your mindset.
Sometimes, even with the best mindset or intentions, things can still feel super stressful or cause conflicts between you and your kids. So, the next truth parents of kids with ADHD need to hear is – You can reduce stress and conflict with consistency, predictability, and simplicity. Raising a child with ADHD requires a lot from parents. Kids with ADHD often need more support from their parents because of their difficulties with executive functions. And it often requires parents to be more creative and flexible, and sometimes persistent in their approach to support their kids. It can be hard and very demanding at times. So it makes sense that families dealing with ADHD have more conflicts and higher stress.
Having consistent and predictable routines and habits, and making things simpler and easier, can alleviate some of that stress for both parents and kids, and reduce potential conflicts. Building good habits around things that are essential for our well-being is a great place to start. Things like good nutrition, sleep, and exercise, help to support our mental health, especially when done consistently. I dive more into specifics for each of these in my Child ADHD Masterclass.
Another way we can make things easier and more predictable for kids with ADHD is by how we organize our homes and families. Make your home environment and life one that caters to ADHD. Make accommodations and adaptations for the things that are biologically more difficult. For example, it’s easy for kids with ADHD to forget things or lose things. Use visual reminders and cues to keep kids on track without nagging and with fewer verbal directions. Have a system that organizes all the things that are used frequently, that’s easy to follow. Like, you can label bins and store only one type of toy in each for easy access and clean-up. You can also make sure everything in your home has a “home,” a designated space where it belongs and is always kept when not in use. And whenever you can, make its home at the point of need. Like, keep shoes on a shelf and backpacks on their hook by the door. When it’s time to leave, they’re right there. Or keep all the things they need for dance class – shoes, leotard, tights – inside their dance bag in the closet.
Sometimes though, even with labels or bins or visual checklists or color coded schedules, it’s still difficult to follow. If that’s the case, try asking yourself – could there just be too many things or too much on the agenda? Continually assess for areas that could be simplified. Do they really need to choose from 5 different coats each morning, or would two be enough? Would play time be more enjoyable if we just kept a few toys out at a time, instead of everything we own? Could we reduce the number of extracurricular activities to give our family more quality time to together? When you’re struggling or your child is struggling, reducing the load or number or items or appointments might help. Keep things simpler whenever you can. Simple helps to reduce that stress and conflict.
Another thing is that for kids with ADHD, they often have a harder time with the mundane and boring tasks, which can cause conflicts in families. Sometimes some things just need to get done. So, regularly pair the things that are boring to do with stuff that’s more interesting or rewarding to make it more enjoyable. For example, can they save their favorite music only for when they walk the dog? Can they bounce on the trampoline while memorizing state capitals? Could you have a rule that after they put their dishes in the sink, then they can have screen time? Make it part of the routine to pair the boring stuff that has to get done, with something that’s more appealing and fun for them.
And speaking of screen time, let’s spend a second talking about setting and holding your boundaries. To reduce stress and conflict in the long-run, you need to consistently hold your boundaries around things that need boundaries so kids know what to expect. Screen time is a great example because it often causes conflicts for families, like how much, and when. For things that regularly cause more conflicts, have clear expectations and boundaries around them ahead of time. For example, screens can be used for one hour after dinner or after homework. And stick to your rule. Maybe in this case, it means you need to have parental control for screen time limits on their device. While boundaries sometimes cause conflicts in the short-term, consistent expectations and predictability will work best for an ADHD brain and reduce ongoing and long-term conflicts.
And now, speaking of conflicts, let’s move to the next truth about ADHD that parents need to hear. This one is all about big reactions and emotions. But, before I tell you about this and what you can do about it, I want to ask you to take a second and tap the like button. This way this video can spread to more families who need it and support the many hours and effort it takes me to keep making videos.
When you have ADHD, regulating emotions is genuinely harder. Dealing with emotions is all about your self-regulation and self-control over your mind and body. And we know that because of how the ADHD brain is wired, it has more trouble with this. So parents need to adjust their expectations about how kids with ADHD are able to handle their emotions and they have to be more patient and put in more time and effort into teaching how to respond to emotions. We often see kids with ADHD go from 0-100 in a split second, like a racecar with bicycle brakes. We see them get more upset and be upset for longer than a peer or sibling might in the same situation. It’s kind of like that emotion just hijacks their brain and takes up all the space in it. They can’t see any other way and there’s no reasoning with them because they can’t access the logical side of the brain in that moment. Another piece of this is that kids with ADHD are often more sensitive to perceived rejection or negative feedback than their peers. It’s more painful for them to hear something critical or when think they’ve disappointed someone or themselves, which as you can imagine, adds to the difficulty in getting back to a neutral or calm emotional baseline.
So how do you keep this truth in mind – that regulating emotions is harder for them – and help them get through it, hopefully helping them develop better skills ? You’ve got to start with yourself. Your own ability to regulate your reactions and emotions is key to helping them. If you’re reacting with yelling whenever you’re mad or upset, they’re more likely to keep doing that too. Remember, kids with ADHD often act on their impulses, whether that’s helpful to them or not. They’re missing that moment to pause and think about their reaction when they’re upset. They just react instead. You have to consciously make effort to pause before you react to your negative emotions. Take a deep breath, and take a bird’s eye view of the situation. You can even narrate out loud the process of what you’re doing. “whew, I’m feeling really overwhelmed with all the loud noises. I’m going to take a second right over there to breathe slowly.”
The other thing about this truth – that regulating emotions is tough for ADHD brains – is that we need to carefully consider how we give kids feedback about rules or when they do something that’s not ok. Keeping in mind that they’re most likely not acting that way on purpose, we need to communicate feedback sensitively, and clearly state the expectation for what we want them to be doing. Like, let’s say your child with ADHD gets upset when their sibling takes something of theirs without asking and then yells and calls the sibling a name. Instead of saying, “hey don’t call your sister names! She’s just borrowing it! Don’t yell at her!” Go to your child and pull them aside privately, acknowledge how they’re probably feeling. State the rule calmly. And then tell them what they can do right then or for the next time. Like, “gosh, that’s annoying when your sister takes your stuff. I can’t let you call her names though, no matter what she does. Calling her a name isn’t going to get your stuff back or get her to ask before taking it next time. So, instead, you could say, “oh that’s mine, can I have it back? Or can I have it back when you’re done? Or I didn’t hear you ask me if you could use that. Please ask me next time first.” With these examples, you’re telling your child you know how they feel. You are not shaming your child for their reactions in front of others. You’re showing them you can resolve conflicts calmly. And, even when they’re upset, there are other things that can do to get their needs met.
So up until this point, the truths I’ve shared emphasize things that are different or genuinely harder for kids with ADHD. And while these are important to understand, I think living through them can sometimes leave parents feeling discouraged or even burned out.
So, I want to make sure that we are balancing the truths we live by with hope, and confidence, and unconditional love and support. Do you know what Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps, rapper Will.I.AM., Fitness trainer Jillian Michaels, Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, and many many more well-known people have in common? They all have ADHD. And I bet, every single one of them had at least one grown-up who recognized truth number 2: Your child is valuable just the way they are. When kids with ADHD have grown-ups who know their worth and potential, despite their differences, and continue to support and encourage them, they will grow up knowing they have value in this world.
Now, one of the unfortunate things, although I know this is slowly changing, is that many people don’t fully understand what it really means to have ADHD and a difference in brain wiring. So often, kids with ADHD are misunderstood. Their behaviors, and reactions, and emotions are interpreted with some other meaning, one that is often negative. There is often judgment about why they are doing something in a certain way or why they *can’t* do something in a certain way. And what ends up happening is these kids get a lot of negative feedback, which can lead to a pretty negative internalized view of themselves. They hear, “why can’t you just pay attention, or turn in your assignments on time, or sit still.” And they interpret that as “there must be something wrong with me, I’m a lazy person or I’m a forgetful person, or I’m just too much for people to handle.” And you can imagine what getting these comments, day after day, year after year does to a child’s view of themselves and their self-worth. So, this is why truth number 2 – “your child is valuable just the way they are” is so important. Parents need to know and recognize this because they are the ones that have to help their children know it too. The have to instill it in their kids, even when the rest of the world might tell them differently.
You don’t need to change them. They are valuable just the way they are. You’ve got to make sure that your approach is full of positivity and genuine connection. You’ve got to balance out the other unfortunate feedback and messages they will inevitably get. There are a lot of ways you can do this through the words you use when giving them feedback and the frequency of your feedback. You can also do this by spending special 1 on 1 time with them and taking interest in and setting aside time for the things that are interesting and enjoyable to them. I cover all of these in detail in my Child ADHD Masterclass. Check out childbehaviorclinic.com/masterclasses for more on how to develop a genuine connection that helps them feel safe and freely express who they are.
I know some of you will hear this, and think, but there are things about the ADHD that cause real problems. How do I teach them about things that are just not ok or how do I get them to not be disruptive at school or at home or in public?
Here are two things that can help, that also keep a child’s self-worth intact and embody this truth that there is nothing wrong with them, that they are valuable just the way they are. And these ideas come from a documentary called The Disruptors where a well-known ADHD researcher and psychiatrist, Ned Hallowell, explains, “you don’t need to change the ADHD or them, you need to change the systems and the environment around them.” Like if your child frequently forgets things they need for school like homework or their lunch, put a visual checklist of everything on the front door so they have to see it before they head out. You’ve changed the system, the routine from asking them if they have everything and getting an automatic yes, to slowing them down and consciously checking the items off. They learn to accomplish the same thing – taking everything they need to school with them – without negative comments or internalizing negative feedback from teachers and without impacting the view they have of themselves and who they are.
In the documentary, Dr. Hallowell also talks about how the main three symptoms of ADHD – distractibility, impulsivity, and hyperactivity – can be disruptive and cause problems. *But* on their flip side, can actually be assets. And keeping in mind the flip side of each of these can be real strengths of kids with ADHD, can provide them with real value that people without ADHD don’t naturally have. Dr. Hallowell says, when you turn distractibility on its head, you get curiosity. Think about it – if you didn’t care or wonder about all of the other things you notice, you would not be as perceptive or curious. Distractibility can lead to great curiosity. Impulsivity, one of the other core symptoms, turned upside down is creativity, it’s like impulsivity gone right. The most creative thoughts and moments, don’t come whenever we summon them. It’s not like, “oh it’s time to get creative. Boom, here’s my most creative idea. No, new ideas often come spontaneously. They come impulsively. And the other core symptom, hyperactivity, flipped is energy. Don’t you sometimes wish you had the energy of your child with ADHD? It’s a real asset in many situations, especially as we get older and tire more easily. Remember, many of the most curious and creative and energetic people, also have ADHD. And they’ve embraced their value to be successful. Check out the masterclass link to learn more about this and see a longer list of famous people you know that live with ADHD.
As I think I’ve probably made clear, parents of kids with ADHD can have a big impact on how ADHD affects their child and how their child grows and develops and views their ADHD. And that’s a big responsibility. So, this brings me to the final truth parents of kids with ADHD need to hear. You’ve got to remember – you are their leader, *and* you deserve support too. How parents are doing directly affects how kids are doing. It means you have to take care of your own needs too. Honestly though, this is so much easier said than done.
So often, when trying to take care of yourself or get the support you deserve, it might feel like you’re stuck or that you just can’t. I would encourage you to think about two things: your current limitations or barriers and your values – what’s most important to you and your family. Both of these things, your limitations and your values can change over time or with different seasons of life, and that’s ok. It’s why you need to keep coming back to them and reassessing them.
Whatever the situation or season of life is, there are always going to be barriers or limitations. So, when you are feeling stuck, pause and reflect on if those barriers are set in stone or if they just *feel* like they’re set in stone. These can be things like your time, energy, motivation, money, access to outside support, options for schools or childcare or extracurriculars, your own mental health. We want to be realistic in recognizing limitations in our situation. They’ll help us plan and prioritize and make the best decisions for where we are now.
But most importantly, when you’re truly stuck, re-focus on your values. List them out to yourself. Is it feeling close to your kids and family? Is it making sure everyone gets a good education? Is it creating healthy habits with food and exercise? Is it getting a handle on finances? It can be whatever feels like a priority to you. Then put them in order of importance. Let your prioritized list of values guide you through your difficult decisions and the support you need. Let go of the rest. You can only do so much. You might as well take care of the things that are most important to you, the things that make you who you want to be, and keep you on track for the life you want to live.
I know this isn’t always easy though. Which is why I created my ADHD Masterclass – to offer more accessible support for parents of kids with ADHD that not only teaches them practical skills about how to manage it, but also helps parents re-discover their family’s values and prioritize their relationships. I want every parent to be able to feel more connected to their child with ADHD and help them feel more successful in life. So head to childbehaviorclinic.com/masterclasses and check out everything available. While there are programs and treatments that focus on parenting kids with ADHD, there are few that focus on how to help the parents. And how the parents are doing directly affects how kids are doing. So, I hope you check out the masterclass and I’ll see you there.
What to Do if You Need More Support:
I know there can be a lot of options and recommendations to sift through when it comes to kids and ADHD, whether that’s from an evaluation or just from advice you find online. And it can be truly overwhelming. So, I’ve got all the most important ideas laid out in a comprehensive Child ADHD Masterclass for parents of children with ADHD ages 4-12. In this online class, I go through how to get more clarity on what kids with ADHD need, ideas for how to deal with really big emotions, create supportive routines and habits that make sense for your family, and how to have that close relationship with your child even when things are hard and frustrating. So, if you need more support in a clear and actionable way, I really recommend you check that out next.