As a child psychologist and a parent of a college student with ADHD, I can safely say that I get the stormy waters that often accompany parenting adolescents with ADHD. There was a phase during my son’s high school years when his gynormous schoolwork load felt so daunting that I dreaded coming home from work. I know this sounds crazy given my profession and specialization in ADHD, but it’s true. My son was so skilled at avoiding his work and blame-shifting that by the time I got home from the office, the vibe between my son and husband was panicky and volatile. The good news is that we have made it to much calmer waters.
With COVID-19 in the air and families confided to their homes, parents and their teens are facing an even more challenging situation than I did. Before COVID-19, parents could escape to the office. And adolescents could escape to school to complete the majority of their day and work. Now with the stress of all being home, there is the fact that about 50 percent of parents who have an adolescent with ADHD, also have ADHD themselves. Thus, they too struggle with planning ahead, coping with frustration, staying on task, and organizing work spaces. So, it’s very important to pick your battles when you’re parenting a teen with ADHD.
Here Are My Top 3 Tips for Steadying the Waters In Your Home During COVID-19
#1 Stop Shoulding Yourself and Your Adolescent
I used to “should” myself and my son a lot when he was little, particularly at the kitchen table when I was trying to help him with schoolwork. Once I started to lose my cool, I said things like, “You should be able to write one sentence, Will!” Afterwards, I turned that judgy voice inward onto myself (“You should be able to help your son with his homework without gritting your teeth. What kind of a parent are you?”)
Somehow, I thought my son and I could muscle his ADHD and writing problems (otherwise known as dysgraphia) into submission. It took me several more years to learn that ADHD and dysgraphia require much kinder treatment.
Wouldn’t it seem ludicrous to try to force a visually-impaired student to read from the board like a sighted student? Why should we, as parents, force our kids with ADHD to approach schoolwork like neurotypical kids? These days, when I feel myself getting into a tug-of-war with ADHD, I try to take a step back and keep the disability in mind, something I learned from ADHD expert Dr. Russell Barkley. This bringings me to my next tip.
#2 Keep a Flexible Mindset
My late father used to tease me about my stubborn streak. He knew that once I decided on something, I rarely shifted gears. My natural inclination has always been to set a goal, develop a plan, and stay on course until it’s accomplished. That’s one of the reasons why having a son with ADHD has been so hard for me at times.
When I was a child and I needed to learn my math facts, I made flash cards and memorized them. With Will, in order for him to learn the math fact, he needed to pace around the dining room table while playing his guitar, write his math facts in the sand the next day, and then throw a ball back and forth with me twelve times the next day. And guess what? We sometimes needed to do this for weeks. As a parent of a child with ADHD, you have to let go more, observe more, and then try all kinds of different strategies until you find something that works.
#3 Provide the Right Level of Sensory Support For Your Adolescent
One of the things that parents and teachers often struggle to understand is that teenagers with ADHD need just as many sensory supports as younger kids with ADHD. That’s why one of the first things I do when I begin working with teens and their parents is to learn about the teen’s sensory needs. And then help them set up a sensory-rich study environment at home.
As parents and teachers, when we work with youth impacted by ADHD. Our tendency is to try to remove all distracting items from the teen’s work area. However, as noted in the article from Attention Magazine on how to stimulate the senses in youth with ADHD to help them succeed in school, kids (and adolescents) with ADHD need sensory input to sustain attention.
Here are the sensory supports that I have found to be the most helpful for ADHD adolescents:
- Provide healthy snacks, like low cal popcorn, grapes, or Chomps Grass Fed Beef Jerky Sticks
- Offer a healthy beverage like kombucha, as having a healthier gut has been linked to improvements in ADHD-related symptoms.
- Purchase a few tins of Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty. Get your teen’s input, as the putty comes in different sizes, scents, and colors. Some even glow in the dark! Most teens I know manipulate the putty in one hand while they work, thus the name: “Thinking” putty.
- Have calming essential oils misting in the background, like Kid Safe Essential Oils. And encourage your teen to choose a scent that fits their mood.
- Adjust the lighting to your teen’s comfort level, as many teens with ADHD are particularly sensitive to lighting.
- Find pens and pencils that feel right to your teen. While this may seem over-the-top, you would not believe how many ADHD adolescents tell me that they can’t stand the way certain pens and pencils sound and/or feel. My son loved pencil grips when he was younger because he wrote with so much pressure that his fingers would hurt.
- Consider purchasing noise-cancelling headphones for your teen if they are easily distracted by background noise. But remember to keep a flexible mindset because some teens NEED to listen to music while they work. Everyone with ADHD is different!
Wrapping Up My Tips For Working Parents and Their ADHD Adolescents
In summary, just remember that COVID-19 will eventually pass and your adolescent will eventually grow up and leave home.
In the mean time:
- Stop Shoulding Yourself and Your Teen – Self-love is way healthier
- Keep a Flexible Mindset – Keep trying new things
- Provide Your Teen with Sensory Support– When you feel like locking your distracted teen in a padded room, put on your detective hat and discover what sensory supports they need to FOCUS!
If you, as the parent, also have ADHD, make sure you are meeting your own sensory needs too.
Your friend and support,