Top Tips for Parenting Children with ADHD by Stephanie Camilleri

Stephanie was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult following the diagnosis of two of her daughters.  A former Magic Circle Lawyer working in Banking, Stephanie is the founder of The ADHD Advocate and co-founder of the ADHD Unlocked Membership Community. She has helped educate and inspire students and their parents, professionals, entrepreneurs and creatives to understand and embrace their ADHD, helping them to create the structures and strategies they need to achieve their goals.

Stephanie is also a former Primary School Governor for Special Educational Needs and Disabilities (“SEND”), former Chair of trustees of ADHD Action and runs the London ADHD Support Group on Facebook.  Stephanie is passionate about raising awareness of ADHD, particularly in the Healthcare and Education sectors.

Top Tips for Parenting Children with ADHD Stephanie Camilleri

Parenting children with ADHD is not easy. What makes it more difficult is not understanding your child’s very special brain. What works for neurotypical children does not always work for our children with ADHD. To get the best out of these very bright, creative and often (very) strategic ADHDers we need to change up our approach. Here are some Top Tips to get you started.

1.“Ferrari Brain, Bicycle Brakes” – Dr Ed Hallowell.

Think of your child’s brain like a car. If your child has ADHD, it is more like a Ferrari. In order for the Ferrari (ie your child’s brain) to run it needs fuel, and that fuel is anything that is authentically interesting/stimulating to your child. Importance… not so much. Children with ADHD have an interest-based nervous system and it will serve you and your child well to remember that!

2. Boredom is to Your Child what Kryptonite is to Superman.

It is actually painful for your child to do something that is not authentically interesting to him. Your child’s brain is like a car remember, and it needs fuel (which is interest) to run. Chances are if you ask your child to clean his room he will either ignore you or protest very strongly.

Resist the urge to shout. Help him by making the prospect more stimulating: Make it a 5-minute challenge. Turn it into a game! Put his favourite music on. Promise him an immediate reward of his choice after the task is done. The same applies to homework. Instead of starting with the more “boring” task first, start with something that your child finds authentically interesting so that his brain has some momentum (and is not going from a stand still!)

3. Engage as many senses as possible.

If your child is not interested in a task, different sensory modalities can help her focus on that task. Your child could try moving about, making noise, listening to music, chewing gum, having white noise in the background such as the tv, or even having another person present (a “body double”). Your child may also benefit from a bit of rough and tumble, a big cuddle, or being turned upside down. Anything that will provide the stimulation she needs to get started… Experiment!

4. Ask, don’t tell.

Don’t tell your child what to do. As soon as you tell your child “do this!” you have taken the idea away from her. She eliminates it as a possibility. It may appear as oppositional behaviour, but it is a fight/flight reaction due to her feeling emotions more intensely. Enlist your child in the decision making so that she owns it (or its her own idea!) Create some visual charts/routines with a theme of her choosing. If you have an Alexa, you may want to set regular reminders and alarms – this is particularly helpful if you are a parent with ADHD yourself.

5. Give Positive Descriptive Praise and don’t criticise your child for what she cannot do.

Most children with ADHD suffer from Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria (“RSD”). Rejection, or just the perception of it can send your child into rumination. The opposite of RSD is “Recognition Responsive Euphoria”. Your child desperately wants to please you and be recognised for what she does right. Try positive reinforcement and descriptive praise and see the difference in her attitude and behaviours. The better your relationship with your child, the better response you will receive, after all, there is nothing more she wants to do than please you. Don’t forget that!

6. Your child is not her ADHD behaviours.

It is your child’s ADHD brain that is responsible for her more challenging behaviours, not “her”.  The challenging behaviours are not who she is. Help your child understand her very special brain and acknowledge how difficult it can be for her to manage her emotions, stay focused, organise herself and be on time. Recognise her efforts and keep on encouraging her to be her best self. It will pay dividends

7. Give your child a sense of structure so that she feels the press of time.

Create and consistently follow routines (or as I prefer to call them “rituals”). Your child will get a better sense of time be happier and more productive as children with ADHD generally love to be busy and get things done, and quickly (“ADHDers are sprinters, not marathon runners”). This will also help with your child’s fear of losing interest and reduce her anxiety. It will also mean you are not telling your child what to do all the time (which will not work anyway)

8. Help your child “be present in the present with all her presence”

Your child with ADHD will more likely than not spend way too much time in their own heads. They need to be encouraged to get out of their heads and into their bodies. This can be achieved through exercise, mindfulness or being in nature – this reduces “mind chatter” and rumination (its easier and more stimulating for the brain to turn to negative thoughts). Another great way of reducing their rumination is to give them plenty of opportunities to help others/contribute.

9. Help Your Child with Transitions

Transitions are very hard for ADHDers. Your child will even find it difficult to make a transition to something that he will like as there is a space in between the activities where he could be bored (remember – Kryptonite to Superman). Enlist your child in plans and ask him how the transition can be made easier for him. Set a Time Timer that your child can see so that he can actually see how much time he has left before the transition.

10. Special Time

Give your child some special time each day and occasionally take her out for a “special day”, particularly if she has siblings. Make sure you do the same for siblings. Special time will strengthen your relationship and in turn, your child will try even harder to curb her challenging ADHD behaviours for you.

11. Accept your child’s unique brain wiring and embrace his “superpowers”

Celebrate your child’s successes and help him remember these. Empower him to self-advocate. Focus on your child’s strengths, what’s working and what he loves. “Where focus goes, energy flows…”

Focus on the positive and see the difference.

12. Set yourselves up for success

As far as possible, prep for the next day the night before. Encourage your child to choose her clothes for the next day and lay them out for easy access. Have a home for everything so you aren’t all scrambling at the last minute looking for homework, water bottles, keys and other needed items. Build in plenty of margin to give yourself some breathing space.

13. Prioritise fun

If your child has ADHD, chances are she is very entertaining and can be a lot of fun to be around. When things get a bit tense, say or do something outrageous/out of character and divert your child’s attention from the negative to the positive. This won’t always work but its worth a try. Create plenty of opportunities for the family to have fun together such as family days out, eating out, movies, cooking, crafts, holidays and new experiences.

Create positive memories for your child – the more she has of these, the more likely that she will be able to overcome her ADHD challenges and harness her ADHD strengths to thrive.

14. Manage your own ADHD

ADHD is highly genetic. If you suspect you may have ADHD, you might also want to be assessed and receive treatment for your own ADHD to enable you to parent more easily. If you are a parent with ADHD, managing your child’s ADHD is going to be quite a challenge. Managing your child’s ADHD aside, you may find it difficult to be present with your child, follow through with what you have said, engage in the activities your child wants you to participate in (particularly if you are not authentically interested in them) and keep your cool when your child’s challenging behaviours present themselves. As they say, you need to put the oxygen mask on yourself first before putting one on your child.

15. Be Kind to Yourself

Accept that there will be good days and bad days. There will be days where you just can’t get it right regardless of how well you have planned. And that’s OK. Keep perspective and keep in mind that by you practicing self-compassion, you are modelling that for your child (who will most definitely thank you when they have kids of their own!)

They say it takes an army to raise a child with ADHD. If you’re a parent that also has ADHD, it is important that you too have the support that you need to not only manage your child’s (or children’s and spouse’s) ADHD but your own.

You don’t have to do it alone (in fact I don’t recommend it!). Build a support network around you. Be open to treatments such as medication which is a very effective treatment for ADHD. Note that “the pills don’t give skills”. ADHD informed therapy, education and coaching can provide the knowledge, tools and structures that children with ADHD need to thrive. The ADHD Advocate can help. If you would like to find out how, visit our website The ADHD advocate and get in touch.