6 Tips for Succeeding When Both Parent(s) and Kids in Your Family Have ADHD

Chances are good that if there is a child in your household with ADHD then one or both parents also has ADHD.  When this is the case, some strategies work a whole lot better than others to maintain well-being in the household!

It seems we fight a lot…

Research shows that interactions between kids with ADHD and their parents contains more conflict, and elicits more controlling and critical behavior on the part of parents than is the case in households in which there are no children with ADHD.  When an adult also has ADHD, which is common, things are even more complex.  In that case I often see marital conflicts that complicate the situation, such as:

  • Ongoing conflicts around ADHD partner status (parent/child dynamics) that are lived out in front of kids
  • Judgments and arguments around which behaviors are ‘appropriate’ or ‘inappropriate’ including in front of the children
  • Frustration and anger about under-managed ADHD symptoms
  • Resentment in non-ADHD partners that they are ‘forced’ to be the strict, ‘bad cop’ parent while the ‘happy-go-lucky’ ADHD partner is seen as the ‘good cop’

“I fear my child will turn into my partner…”

One side effect of all of this conflict is that parents are often inclined to make sure they ‘teach’ their children to ‘do better’ than the parental ADHD partner did and escape the pitfalls that the ADHD partner experienced.  Sadly, I note that this is mostly imposed along the lines of stricter discipline and ‘consequences’ training – just the opposite of what is shown to actually work for kids with ADHD.

When couples struggle, non-ADHD partners can transfer their concerns about (and dislike of) their ADHD partner’s current behaviors into fears about their ADHD child’s future behaviors.  It seems particularly urgent that they guard against the possibility that little Jimmy’s propensity to be distracted or chaotic be nipped in the bud so that he not become Jimmy Sr. Yes, it is heartbreaking to watch your ADHD daughter struggle in school when you know how smart she is, and to watch your ADHD son suffer the consequences of social isolation and delayed logical thinking maturity.

But today’s ADHD adults, for the most part, had no knowledge of, or support for, their ADHD.  Your child does, and the research is pretty clear –  kids with ADHD can do a great deal better than their parent(s) with ADHD did, particularly if parents follow the following steps:

Tips for family success with ADHD

Treat the parent(s) with ADHD. Research suggests that optimizing treatment for parents with ADHD helps their children thrive.  This isn’t surprising in that treatment makes adults with ADHD both more reliable and less volatile. Download my free treatment e-book for more on optimizing treatment for adult ADHD.

Advocate for your child in school.  Get a full diagnosis so that your child can take advantage of the accommodations that will help her thrive in school, such as extra time for taking tests and the ability to sit closer to a teacher for fewer distractions.  Good resource departments also can teach organizational and study skills for students with IEPs.

Set up great sleep routines vor everyone.  ADHD and sleep deprivation do NOT mix!  Even a little less sleep than you should get can significantly worsen ADHD symptoms.  It’s critical to do everything you can to improve sleep routines in your family.

Listen to the research, not your first response.  When a child repeatedly does something wrong, a parent's first instinct may be to 'teach him a lesson' with punishment. Yet one of the biggest success factors for those with ADHD is developing emotional strength and resilience, so they can handle ADHD issues as they come up.  That is primarily done at home, during childhood.  Research suggests that resilience for kids with ADHD comes from a combination of social acceptance and positive parenting.  That means punishment as a way to ‘teach’ your kids will not work as well as positive reinforcement.  Specifically letting the child cool down if emotionally upset, then working with the child to try to improve the situation. I see this with adults, too, who respond to negative consequences to mistakes by retreating, rather than learning.  This is particularly true if the consequence is set or designed by the spouse.

Remediate ‘well-enough’…  With ADHD you have to pick your battles.  Both kids and adults with ADHD benefit by bringing some skills up to only a ‘good enough’ standard, so that they can then…

Focus on strengthening strengths.  There are some things that ADHD adults and kids do really, really well. What those things are vary widely from person to person, but there is always some area of strength.  Research suggests that one factor for success for everyone, but particularly those with ADHD, is positive (or even modest) self-perceptions of competence.  So pursuing what you love and are good at helps support resilience and build confidence