According to the latest research, about 30 percent of children and adolescents with ADHD also meet diagnostic criteria an anxiety disorder. These findings fit with my observations as a clinical psychologist too.
Here are Five Primary Stressors and Must-Do’s to Provide Support to your Child with Their ADHD and Anxiety
In my experience, kids and adolescents with ADHD are often anxious about stressors in one or more of the following five categories:
1. Social Problems
They may lose friends more easily due to impulsive behaviors (e.g., blurting hurtful comments) or inflexibility (e.g., difficulty letting others lead during play).
They may also struggle to keep up during activities, such as a game of soccer or cards because they struggle to follow and retain the rules and/or handle losing.
2. School Stressors
They may have difficulty tracking directions in certain classes due to the fast pacing.
They may have missing homework and worry they’ll never catch up. Many kids with ADHD are dishonest about missing work to avoid getting into trouble or having to hear long lectures.
3. Sensory Differences
They may struggle to concentrate on eating lunch because it’s too loud in the cafeteria.
An itchy tag or constricting pants may throw off their whole day because they can’t focus on anything except their physical discomfort.
4. Medication-related Stressors
Difficulty falling asleep can lead to fatigue and high anxiety during the day.
Medication may trigger low appetite, lethargy, and emotional sensitivity.
Some kids struggle to swallow pills.
5. Misunderstanding their Diagnoses
Some kids with ADHD fear something is terribly wrong with them.
Many feel embarrassed about being “different.”
Now that you have a better idea about what’s driving your child’s ADHD and anxiety, here are 5 ways you can provide support
Provide Social Support
Identify your child’s social strengths and challenges. For example, if your child is a natural leader, help her join activities that allow her to shine as a leader.
If your child struggles with back-and-forth conversation, help her practice small-talk at home. Make sure you focus on the positives (e.g., when she asks an appropriate question, praise, praise, praise).
Seek therapy for your child with an ADHD specialist, such as a child psychologist. This will give your child the opportunity to reflect on her social strengths and challenges and problem-solve about how to grow in these areas.
Advocate for Your Child in School
Seek formal educational supports for your child in school, such as a 504 Accommodation Plan or Individualized Education Plan (IEP). Check out this blog I wrote to help parents navigate special education. If you aren’t sure how 504 plans differ from IEP’s, check out this YouTube video with Amanda Morin. She explains the differences beautifully.
Help your child advocate for herself (e.g., role-play appropriate ways she can request help from teachers, set boundaries with friends, share her feelings appropriately).
Consider finding a tutor to help your child in tougher subjects, such as reading or math. Private tutoring was a game-changer for my son, Will, since reading and writing were both difficult for him in his early elementary school years. If your child isn’t open to tutoring, encourage him to meet with the tutor at least once.
If he still resists, offer a small reward. Most kids see the benefits once they get started, especially if the tutor helps them complete difficult homework and prepare for upcoming tests. Tutors who offer treats for good work and cooperation are the best!
Try to Address Sensory Differences
If your child is easily distracted by background noise in the classroom help him explore options that may help. For example, your child could share his concern with the teacher, use noise-cancelling headphones during work-time, change seating, or politely ask the students around him to stop talking.
Regarding tactile differences, instead of trying to force your child to wear uncomfortable clothing, invest in multiple soft sweats and t-shirts that they hand-pick.
Address Medication-Related Stressors
If your child gets insomnia from medication, make sure you communicate this with his prescriber. Here’s a good ADDitude article on how to address insomnia in children with ADHD.
Many of my clients benefit from listening to calming music or books on tape once they get in bed to settle their minds. Some love the ritual of choosing a favorite essential oil to diffuse in their bedroom.
Since some ADHD medications can cause a reduction in appetite, I tell parents to avoid power-struggles about late-night eating. Instead, I encourage parents to set boundaries with their ADHD child about the food they will allow (e.g., crackers, a yogurt, string cheese, an apple) versus off-limits foods (e.g., anything time-consuming to prepare).
Help Your Child Understand ADHD
It’s very important that your child understands that there is nothing wrong with having ADHD. ADHD is a different learning style that is associated with various strengths (e.g., creativity, the ability to focus exceptionally well on areas of interest) and challenges (e.g., difficulty blocking out distractions or tracking multiple-step instructions). I find that it’s most helpful to keep explanations pretty simple unless your child or teen asks for more detailed information.
One of my favorite books about ADHD for adolescents is called
ADHD & Me: What I Learned about Lighting Fires at the Dinner Table by Blake Taylor. It’s an incredible memoir.
Here’s a link to my resource page, which lists lots of other good books for parents and youth about ADHD.
Your friend and ADHD support,