Mindful Parenting of Children with ADHD
First, let’s list some of the ways that a child with ADHD creates challenges for their family and parents. I will name some here. If you are a parent of a child with ADHD, do these apply to you? In what other ways does having a child with ADHD create challenges for you?
- As parents have dreams of how our children will grow and develop into adulthood (typically something along the lines of happy, health, and wise). Yet as our child with ADHD gets older and faces increasing challenges both at school and socially, shooting holes in the sides of our dream, we start to feel stressed and overwhelmed about our child’s future.
- As children get older they develop greater independence in completing daily routines (e.g. getting ready for school in the morning); however, our child with ADHD is likely to require greater assitance. This requires greater time and energy for us as parents, two things that we never have enough of, causing increased stress. This becomes a double edged sward because while on one hand we need greater patience and understanding on the other hand our patience is depleted by the increased stress.
- Parenting a child with ADHD becomes all consuming. As young children we are hovering around them during play dates and other social interactions ready to intervene as soon as they present with challenging behaviors. As they progress through school, struggling to keep up with the increasing demands to independently manage tasks and activities, we take on the often frustrating role of being both parent and tutor. All of this, of course, takes time away from siblings, our spouse, friends, and all of our other responsibilities including taking time out for ourselves. This all-consuming nature of parenting a child with ADHD is overwhelmingly stressful.
- As a parent of a child with ADHD, we often feel judged by others. Don’t you teach them how to behave? Who is in charge? Why are you making excuses for them? Why are you letting them get away with it? Often our perceptions of what others might be thinking is very different from what others are actually thinking. We are our own worst critic and our internal self-talk, the things we say to ourselves in our mind, is much harsher than anything we would every say to someone else or allow someone to say to us. Your child with ADHD has a neurologically based disorder that significantly impairs their development in the area of executive functioning. You did not cause your child’s ADHD and there is nothing you could have done to have made it “go away.” You would not beat yourself if your child had a physical disability or other medical condition (e.g. asthma) and you should not beat yourself up for your child’s ADHD either.
If you are feeling stressed and overwhelmed by your child’s ADHD, you need to give yourself a break. You need to be sure to take time for yourself to do things you enjoy, block of time to nurture your relationships with others, maintain a healthy lifestyle, and talk with others about your experiences raising a child with ADHD. All of these will help to reduce stress and bring greater calm into your life. This in turn strengthens your ability to parent your child with ADHD. Perhaps one of the most effective ways, however, to manage stress is through regular mindfulness practice.
Mindfulness can be simply defined as non-judgmental present moment awareness of one’s experience, including physical sensations, emotions, thoughts, and images. Cultivating this ability allows one to stabilize their mind and quiet the continuous, and often unconscious, “chatter” that distracts one from the present moment. While mindfulness is a simple concept, in practice it requires a significant amount of effort and training to cultivate. The benefits, however, may be well worth the effort. Mindfulness has been scientifically demonstrated over the past 30 years to improve our ability to focus attention, regulate emotions (e.g. stress), improve physical health, and bring about a greater sense of well-being. At Bylund Neuro-Educational Services we work with children and youth to develop greater mindfulness, but we also incorporate mindfulness into parent counseling and training including ADHD coaching and behavioral consultation.