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Parenting with ADHD: Seven strategies from two ADHD parents

Updated: Nov 3, 2021

ADHD comes with struggles in executive functioning that can make it difficult to operate in neurotypical environments such as the workplace or at home [1]. Having kids can arguably make this even more difficult with reduced time, resources, and having to provide organisational strategies for a child who might be neurodiverse themselves [2]–[6]. In one study, 41-51 percent of children with ADHD had ADHD parents [5]. This is why some researchers recommend parents screen for ADHD along with their children [5], [6].


This week our new coaches, Sue and Sarah, both parents with ADHD, have joined to write about their experiences and strategies raising children with ADHD. Remember that every parent and family is different, so this might not all be pertinent to you, but hopefully, you find something helpful.

Sue’s Strategies: Parenting and Attention

You hear your child’s voice call out again, “Can you play with me?”. Before you can stop it, your instant response is out, “In a minute, I’m busy!” The guilt creeps in. You want so badly to connect with your child. Your mind is flooded with parenting advice and memes about how quickly these years go by. Finished, you drag yourself away from your current hyper-focus to play and connect with your child. For a few minutes, you are there in the moment. You feel a rush of gratefulness and try to stay focused on the game. A few more minutes pass, and you find yourself thinking about the things you need to be doing. Your brain is screaming for you to do something else. But then, you see the joy on your child’s face, their excitement that you’re playing with them. The overwhelming and conflicting emotions at that moment are crushing. Every part of your heart wants so much to make them feel valuable and important, to enjoy and savour these fleeting moments. For the 1000th time, you question yourself as a parent, “why can’t my brain just let me be present?”.


1. Set a time limit for playtime

Research indicates that the ADHD brain can have difficulty transitioning between activities [7]. However, if you have a set time in place, this can make it easier to transition into play mode. Having a set end time will also allow you to know how much time remains, helping you stay engaged.


2. Add dopamine to time with your child

Dopamine, a chemical associated with positive emotions [1], can help motivate us to begin and stay engaged in an activity, such as playing with your child. Some ways to do this could include finding activities you and your children both enjoy, which might involve trial and error. If you can’t do it as the main activity, you can also add fun activities as a side. Some examples might be playing music that you love or playing somewhere that you enjoy being (which might mean carting the toys into your room so you can stretch out on your bed or laying a big blanket out in the sun).


3. Add play to boring activities

Bringing your child’s imagination and creativity into tasks, you find difficult to engage with may uncover a unique opportunity to connect. It also develops your child’s self-efficacy (a key building block for resilience) by providing them with the opportunity to help you and contribute. For example, if vacuuming or folding laundry are chores, you can’t stand, invite your child to create a game for them – be honest with them and tell them it’s something you don’t like doing but need to get done. Their creativity will often amaze you. If they are too young to provide ideas, make it a challenge to find a fun way for your child to be involved.


Remember, an invitation to play is an invitation to connect. However, you can’t always drop what you are doing and engage. Nor should you. We also need to be kind to ourselves and accept our challenges and needs. But it can help to make a habit of acknowledging your child’s invitation. Even if you don’t accept it at that particular time, appreciate their desire to connect with you. It can also help if you have “scheduled” some time. If you are consistently committing and following through with this, children will feel confident they will have your one-on-one attention and may be more willing to wait for it.


I hope these help, and I look forward to hearing about your parenting experiences in coaching.

Take care,

Sue.


Sarah’s Strategies: Parenting and Working Memory

Picture this:

You’re getting everything ready to head out the door on a family day trip. Suddenly, your child marches up to you with their shoes, asking for help getting them on. Easy, I’ll just set the cooler down in the kitchen, and I’ll definitely remember to come and grab it before we leave… Right?! You get to your destination and begin to unload the car, but you can’t find the cooler with all of your snacks and drinks. You begin frantically searching, but the cooler is nowhere to be found. Just then, your brain flashes an image of the cooler set down in the kitchen.


How about this?

You’re checking your email to get rid of that pesky notification bubble. Your child comes up and says, “mommy, tomorrow is pyjama day at school, and I can bring my teddy with me!” Murmur, “great, thanks for telling me,” and immediately go back to the tasks you were doing. Fast forward 24 hours, and your child comes home from school crying and yelling, “you forgot about pyjama day, and I didn’t have my teddy!” Defeated, the memory of yesterday’s request replays in your head. That sinking feeling of letting them down, again, washes over you. How do I stop this from happening?


If either of these scenarios sounds familiar, take comfort in knowing that you are not alone. Between working memory struggles and transitioning, our ADHD brains don’t make multi-tasking easy [8]. Below I’ve outlined some tips and strategies you could use to support your memory and organisation in the chaos of parenting.


1. Take a minute to finish or note down your current tasks

When your child comes with a request, ask them to wait before moving onto another task. Unless it is an emergency (think: injuries or toilet accidents), taking that moment will help you transition and avoid forgetting where you’re at.


2. Write it down

When your child says, “I need to bring (x) to school tomorrow,” immediately write it down. You could also consider adding a reminder in your phone with notifications set to go off until you have packed the item in their backpack, ideally the night before.


3. Repeat requests until you complete them

If your children request a specific item, repeat what they’ve asked for. For example, if they’ve asked for a PB&J for lunch, you might say to them, “ok, so you want a PB&J for lunch?” And then keep saying it to yourself as you head to the kitchen.


4. Make the morning routine a family activity

This is particularly useful for school-age children. Get them involved in making their own physical copy of a morning routine and picking a spot where they will see it daily. Whether they can write it out themselves or add pictures/stickers, it can provide a sense of agency when your kids can be involved.


Thanks so much. Hope these tips help, and I look forward to meeting you!

Sarah.


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References

[1] G. Tripp and J. R. Wickens, ‘Neurobiology of ADHD’, Neuropharmacology, vol. 57, no. 7–8, pp. 579–589, Dec. 2009, doi: 10.1016/j.neuropharm.2009.07.026.

[2] L. M. Friedman, M. R. Dvorsky, K. McBurnett, and L. J. Pfiffner, ‘Do Parents’ ADHD Symptoms Affect Treatment for