Collaboration when a Family Has ADHD: Like Parent, Like Child

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Negotiating your child鈥檚 ADHD when you have ADHD can feel almost insurmountable. The genetics of ADHD are so strong that it鈥檚 not uncommon for a parent to have ADHD (quite often undiagnosed), or to experience traits of it. ADHD impacts executive function, the cognitive skills we use to organize and manage our lives, undermining the exact skills used to manage ADHD in the first place.

ADHD makes planning hard, creating a unique vicious cycle. Executive function is used to prioritize, to identify problems and potential solutions, to adapt plans flexibly, and to manage time while staying on track towards goals. A child with ADHD is not often skilled at handling their own ADHD at first, and therefore depends on routines sustained by adults. But for a parent with ADHD, managing a child鈥檚 ADHD relies directly on executive function based skills that may not come easily.

When both kids and a parent struggle with ADHD even everyday logistics can feel draining. It鈥檚 well and good for someone to recommend a new plan around the morning routine, homework, or anything else. And yet, to paraphrase Dr. Russell Barkley, ADHD isn鈥檛 about not knowing what to do, it鈥檚 about not doing what you know. Recommendations sound useful, but can be hard to make happen. As emotional reactivity is an ADHD symptom, parent-child conflict easily escalates and compounds the situation, making solutions seem out of reach.

One novel solution is switching to a more collaborative model. Instead of locking horns, join forces. We each find this difficult, how can we work together? How about we both slow ourselves down by putting our fork down between bites? Slowly and steadily, whole families can move together towards ADHD solutions.

Here are some ways to re-frame ADHD more collaboratively:

Follow routines together. We both run late in the morning, let鈥檚 try this: By 7, you and I are dressed and have our teeth brushed. By 7:20, we finish breakfast and put away the dishes.

Create reminders together. Let鈥檚 make ourselves a note so we remember that you need to take cookies to school Friday.

Manage time on a wall calendar together. It鈥檚 a busy weekend, so let鈥檚 go look when you can get that project done, and I鈥檒l pay some bills while you work on it.

Work on emotion together. We both lose our cool sometimes. Let鈥檚 remind each other to take a breather when we can.

Get organized and de-clutter together. After dinner, we鈥檙e going to do a two-minute tidy. You put away your stuff as quickly as you can and I鈥檒l take care of mine.

Set intentions together. While you practice piano, I鈥檓 going to learn a new instrument too.

Finding an empathetic, mutual path aims families towards a shared goal instead of a battle, while adults build the same skills they鈥檙e aiming for in their children. Getting a handle on ADHD can feel like a lot even when parents don鈥檛 have ADHD, and may feel near impossible when they do. Yet challenging as it may seem, step by step, parents and children can overcome the impact of ADHD together.