Perhaps this recent scene from my household sounds a little familiar to you…
“Son, check your watch. What time does it say?”
“4:00, Mom!” He is exasperated that I’m about to issue a curfew.
“I must see you home at 5:33 because we have a commitment. You got that?”
“Got it!” he yells, running out the door.
I feel sure he won’t be back on time, but I’m hopeful. 5:33 comes and goes. 5:45 does too. And then 6:00. It’s no surprise really – just frustrating to the max. There go the plans we had for the evening! I jump into the car and scan the neighborhood for his bike. Dad stays home in case he returns. 6:30, 6:45, 7:00. We’ve cancelled our event for that night and we’re both worried and angry. Pacing the kitchen, I systematically think through my process to ensure his timely return. Although this time it was another failure, I’m working on learning from these moments and modifying my approach. A few minutes after 7:00, my son bolts through the door without checking the mood of the room and frantically explains why he’s late. Sometimes he doesn’t even explain, so I’m encouraged that he’s gaining awareness on some level. In that moment I have a choice to make: give an instantaneous consequence when emotions are high and there will be an obvious cause and effect scenario, or delay my response to when emotions are more neutral but be at a disadvantage because … well, because the emotions are neutral. Don’t we all seem to lose our momentum once we’ve calmed down?
Why I Had to Change My Parenting Style to Accommodate ADHD
I’ve raised 4 children ahead of this last one, so my parenting philosophy is tightly in place. I’ve always taught my children to respect authority and obey the first time. In addition, I’ve instilled the importance of family identity, thinking of others first, speaking the truth, and the “why” behind it all, which comes full circle to our faith. When my fifth child came on the scene with a BIG personality and ADHD, I was surprised and shocked to realize I must change the way I parent to maintain a relationship with him – not to mention survive this 18+ year journey as we share space together at home. He’s different, but he’s not broken, and I’ve learned that he needs different tools. My tone has to be different; my approach has to be different. My standards can remain the same, but I must adjust to meet him where he is. I’ve been parenting for almost 20 years, so to completely start from scratch with a new approach takes a stamina I never expected.
That choice I had to make when he arrived home late is one example of a new approach for me. I could not respond to him the way I would have responded to my other children. I just can’t. It doesn’t work. With help from others who know more than me, I’ve learned new strategies that take practice and fine tuning as he and I problem-solve to make curfew work for a 12-year-old. It’s best if I’m intentional about limits while he’s young because this child will be driving in a few years with a curfew later than 5:33.
Why the odd time of 5:33? My answer is it’s a strategy that frequently works for us. 5:33 is an unusual number and stands out more than the typical 5 or 5:30. We have a better chance of seeing him return home on time using this method. Not every time, but often.
What I’m working on with my parenting:
- Controlling my anxiety over the future – and being mindful of how I cope with the present challenges
- Being strong and resolute
- Leading with calm authority
- Spending time cultivating my son’s gifts and talents
What I have learned that helps my son be successful:
- Be specific with directions
- Be firm yet non-emotional
- Say things once, but simplify and slow down
- Use non-verbal communication when possible
- Make lists
- Use images rather than words
- Write schedules on a white board
Changing the Way I Think About My Child Who Has ADHD
I can write about dozens of episodes I’ve dealt with, but what has coincided with changing some of my parenting strategies is changing some of my thinking. My thoughts play an overwhelming role in how well I control my anxiety, how well I’m strong and resolute, and how well I lead with calm authority. I read a quote from an author I admire and he stated that children want to do well. Children want to do well. It was and is an “ah ha” moment every time I think of it.
If God has blessed you with a child who presents special challenges, don’t despair. Seek godly counsel, be willing to change your thinking, and persevere. God chose you to be this child’s mother for a reason and together, you can be testimony to His unchanging grace.