Mom and me have ADHD

By Dr Adri van Der Walt

ADHD is a highly heritable condition. In easily 76% of cases, there’s some family member with ADHD. Around 2.5% to 5% of adults have the ‘full diagnosis’ of ADHD (according the strict criteria) but in others, there might be an incomplete picture because some of the symptoms are partially resolved.

In both cases, ADHD will likely still have an impact on parental behaviour and coping with the condition. The core features of ADHD are inattention and poor organizational skills, impulsivity and hyperactivity. This can cause practical problems with parenting, such as procrastination, disorganisation, poorly sustained effort and not completing tasks. It might also include poor listening skills, distractibility and forgetfulness, with regards both items and important events.

Calming the chaos
Constantly being late because of poor time management, living life in a rush, interrupting others, impatience and difficulty reading can bring about challenges for mom and child in studying and managing information.

This can lead to other challenges such as frustration and tempers. Mothers and children with ADHD can be argumentative, disobedient, oppositional and anxious – which could mean a recipe for chaos, as mothers still have the role of organising the family and home. Put two or more people with ADHD into the family equation and it can be rollercoaster of over-control, chaos, guilt and remorse. All this can also lead to feelings of inadequacy, and emotional and self-esteem issues.

ADHD is also linked to higher levels of depression, social isolation, family instability and substance abuse, so it’s easy to understand why two family members with ADHD might present obstacles. However, even with the challenges ADHD brings, there are still ways to manage the condition effectively, to minimise stress and encourage peaceful living.

Taking control
Ensure you fully understand ADHD and how it affects both you and your child. It might be easier to understand what drives your child’s behavior but it’s critical to understand your own reactions and regulate your behavior first.

If you’re a mom with ADHD, you shouldn’t dedicate all your time solely to looking after your child with ADHD, because it’s vital you look after yourself. Get individualised professional help, ensure anxiety and mood disorders are sorted out with therapy or an effective treatment plan from your healthcare professional.

Dealing with diagnosis
Interestingly, diagnosis of many parents often only happens when the child is going through the process of being diagnosed, so if this has been your experience, you’re not alone. Without being picked up earlier, you’d have no benefit of prior intervention and perhaps haven’t had a chance to develop your own coping mechanisms. This can make dealing with the diagnosis of your child’s ADHD all the more tough.

Change your attitude
Be positive about your child and yourself. At times you’ll need to see the humour in the situation. Constant negativity, nagging, ignoring, yelling and punishment is a destructive cycle. Think carefully before giving instructions and how you give them. An instruction might be received more positively when started with ‘maybe’ rather than ‘you must’.

Start with structure
Create structure and routine for yourself and your child. Use visual timers and plans and stick them up around the house. Simplify, organise and break up tasks into small chunks. Prioritisation is essential. Work with your child to come up guidelines and rules – make sure they’re aware of the consequences if they don’t complete the task at hand. A reward system helps children form routine in their long term memory.

Limit distractions and regulate the use of electronics – it allows more time for exercise, play and positive interaction. Promote ‘wait time’, but bear in mind the child’s age and developmental level – no one wants to feel completely ignored. Encourage discussion and out-loud thinking, as it will help you understand the child’s thought processes, allowing you to give guidance on choices made or to be made.

Set limits for discussions, and never discuss important issues when angry or upset. You’ll both need ‘cooling time’ before making critical decisions. Think yellow cards at soccer – what we say in anger is often impulsive and hurtful.

Stick with it
Consistency is crucial, both in discipline, structure and behaviour. Don’t give up when first implementing the practical tips mentioned here. It takes time to make it part of behaviour and long term memory.

Exercise often and do activities together to relieve restlessness. Make time for the things your child enjoys doing with you. Your child needs your attention, time and interaction, not just things you can give them. An ADHD mother and child doesn’t have to create chaos in the home. With the correct treatment plan and management, you can create a household with calm, creativity and fun.