Penny Williams was first introduced to SOAR when she and her Family came to our Family Weekend Adventure in 2012. Since then we have had the pleasure of working with her in many different ways. Penny helps other parents on their journey as they parent children with ADHD and Autism. Below is a blog written by Penny about adopting the right mindset to effectively parent a child with ADHD. For more on Penny please visit ParentingADHDandAutism.com.
When my son, *Ricochet, was little, his dad and I were constantly saying, “Why can’t you just (fill in the blank — whatever we expected that he wasn’t doing)?”
“Why can’t you just put your dirty clothes in the basket?”
“Why can’t you just follow my instructions?”
“Why can’t you just listen when I talk to you the first time?”
“Why can’t you just sit still at school?”
And on… and on…
We were following the parenting experts’ advice, and nothing was working. Punishments didn’t change his behavior either.
Once he got diagnosed with ADHD, we started down a better path. I read everything I could about ADHD every moment I could. I was desperate to help my little boy. I was ADHD-obsessed trying to “fix” it for my kiddo. Now I know Band-Aids can’t heal every wound.
After a couple years and a whole lot of trial by fire, I realized there was no “fixing” ADHD. I was approaching my son’s struggles all wrong. That’s why we’d spun our wheels in the muck of ADHD for so long, despite me pouring myself into “fixing” things. I finally discovered that implementing parenting norms was not the best approach for raising kids with ADHD. In fact, it’s highly detrimental.
The realization that I needed to change my thinking was the catalyst for finally making a measurable difference for my son. Casting out all the parenting norms I grew up with and that society places on us made room for me to see exactly who my son is — not just his true weaknesses and strengths, but also how he learns and processes the world.
When I had a good grasp of my son’s personal truth it became very clear what I could do to help him. It became very clear that we must think outside the box when it comes to parenting *Ricochet. Using his truth as my parenting compass adjusted my mindset, and continues to empower my parenting. Now I can focus more energy on the positive (his strengths, talents, interests, and passions) than the negative (ADHD, learning disabilities, behavior), boosting his confidence and self-esteem. Now I understand just how stressful school is for him, and why. Now I recognize that his emotional outbursts are a lagging skill to work on rather than a display of disrespect or poor character.
Here are the steps you can take to adjust your thinking to a more effective mindset for parenting a child with ADHD:
- Let go and trust the process. We get so hung up on norms and perfection that we can’t accept our special brand of parenthood and be happy about all the good. Yes, I’m asking you to find the silver lining — there’s a reason that’s such a classic cliché.
- Let go of perfection. Let go of your preconceived notions of parenthood. Holding on to those norms and trying to hold your child to expectations that are unattainable for him is detrimental. Don’t compare your child to other kids or your family to other families. Your story is not their story. And, I guarantee you they have struggles of their own.
- Decide to look beyond imperfections. If you are thinking about the negatives all the time, well, you’re thinking negatively all the time. That’s no way to live. Accept that imperfect can be great, that it is great. Consciously start considering life with a child with ADHD a beautiful mess.
- Learn all you can about your child’s personal truth, and accept Learn more about ADHD, and the reasons for your child’s particular struggles. Ask your child how you can help them when they are struggling. Show compassion and validate your child’s feelings. Empathy is one of the most powerful parenting tools.
- See behavior as communication. Behavior expert, Ross Greene, PhD, teaches that behavior isn’t the problem, only a symptom of the real problem. Yes, behavior is problematic, but it’s not the problem to be solved. The reason why the behavior occurred is the problem to be solved. Implementing this approach will swiftly turn your mindset in the right direction.
- Be a survivor, not a victim. This depends solely on your thinking. You can choose to focus on the negative and wallow in it and be a victim. Or, you can choose to stand proud, fight for a better tomorrow, be optimistic, and be a survivor. You can’t change many of your circumstances, but you can change your reaction to them. I promise you, being a survivor feels a whole lot better for everyone. And, it teaches your child the power of choosing that mentality, as well.
- Adopt less harsh parenting approaches. A 2017 study published in Clinical Psychological Science found that teaching parents of preschoolers with ADHD less harsh parenting approaches improved behavior. Negative parenting included critical statements, physical discipline, and commands that gave children no opportunity to comply. Reductions in negative parenting were found to drive improved behavior in children. Again, empathy and compassion are two of the most powerful parenting tools available.
- Be kind to yourself. You are doing the best you can with the knowledge and resources you have at this moment. That doesn’t mean you’ll always do the right thing, rather that you have the right intention. As Maya Angelou said, “Do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” Forgive yourself for what you don’t know. And forgive yourself for making mistakes and being human. Those parenting mistakes are teaching moments for your child — apologize and talk about how everyone makes mistakes, but it’s what you learn from those mistakes that counts.
- Recognize the power in calm. You actually have a much greater impact on your child when you are calm than when you are displaying your authority through raised voices and mean glares. Intense emotions only create more intense emotions and shut down the cognitive system. No problem can be solved without cognitive functioning. Parenting shouldn’t be about power and control, but about raising a kind, compassionate, capable adult. Raising the best version of your child he or she can be. What helps me stay calm in challenging moments is to remember that *Ricochet is having a hard time, not giving me a hard time. I don’t take it personally.
- Take care of you. Self-care is engaging in activities and behaviors that have a positive effect on your mental and physical wellbeing, not just a spa day. You must take care of your own mental and physical health before you can truly devote yourself to your family. In addition to making time for yourself and things that you love, optimism, resilience, hope, and self-compassion are all part of self-care, too. They all contribute to your wellbeing.
When you work through these 10 steps, you will have the most powerful mindset for parenting a child with ADHD — powerful for your wellbeing, and your child’s.
About Penny Williams
Penny Williams is an ADHD-obsessed momma on a mission, honored to help families on this always chaotic, often stressful, anything-but-ordinary parenting journey of raising kids with ADHD. Through her award-winning books, online parent training programs, and parent coaching, Penny helps families survive and thrive in the face of ADHD. Visit her at ParentingADHDandAutism.com.