Are you having a challenging time parenting your child who is diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)? Are you unsure on what type of a parenting approach you should take with your child who has ADHD? To help understand common challenges of parenting a child who has ADHD and for parenting tips, I have interviewed Neuropsychologist Amy Serin, PhD.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
“I direct The Serin Center in Peoria, Arizona and provide a wide range of diagnostic and treatment options for children, adolescents, and adults. My training is in pediatric neuropsychology, which means I am a doctor of psychology with additional training in the brain and how it shapes behavior. I am honored and blessed to be able to help children and families deal with a wide range of issues including parent issues, ADHD, behavioral issues, Traumatic Brain Injury, Developmental Disabilities, and women’s issues. I am a working mother who has learned from trial and error how to parent effectively using researched based principles.”
What are common parenting challenges that parents who have an ADHD child face?
“Parents who have a child with ADHD face many challenges. First, because ADHD is ‘˜invisible,’ it is very difficult to understand what behaviors are due to ADHD and what behaviors are willful. Parents are left to ask themselves if their child misbehaved because he couldn’t control himself, or did he just make a bad choice? Discipline is not as straightforward and often I see parents trying over and over again to use consequences to create behavioral changes. This does not work to change impulsivity so it can become very frustrating.
Second, parents with a child with ADHD have to navigate the confusing options for treatment. There are many expensive, time-consuming treatments that have absolutely no scientific data to back their effectiveness. Although medication is very effective at treating the underlying neurochemical dysregulation that occurs in ADHD, some children do not respond to this treatment. It can be very confusing for parents to figure out what is the best combination of treatment is for their child.
Parents are also taxed with the day-to-day challenges. If their child is hyperactive, she might harm another person or herself accidentally because of impulsive behavior. Parents may be embarrassed by their child’s behavior in public. Parents of teenagers with ADHD may have to deal with increased risk of their teen causing a car accident or engaging in risky behaviors if the ADHD is not treated effectively. Parents may watch their child struggle for hours with a 20-minute homework assignment and may be puzzled as to why the child shows so much variability in their ability to demonstrate what they have learned.”
What type of impact can those challenges have on the parent child relationship?
“Parenting is certainly challenging enough without a dysregulation disorder to deal with! I often have parents in my office who are frustrated and do not know where to turn. Their relationship with their child with ADHD is impacted negatively because no matter what the parents have tried, the child’s behavior does not improve significantly. They tell me it’s like beating their head against a wall. For this reason, we work to help the parent understand why the child is behaving the way they are behaving and what can be done about it. When parents understand the cause of ADHD is neurochemical dysregulation that is beyond their child’s control versus thinking that their child is simply being stubborn and willful, the relationship improves. Parents also need to understand what is effective and what is not in treating ADHD.”
What are some parenting tips you can give to parents who have a child with ADHD?
“Some tips I can give parents are:
1. Make sure your child has been properly diagnosed. Checklist diagnosing wherein someone just reviews a brief checklist of behaviors can be inaccurate. Children who are anxious, depressed, highly intelligent, or traumatized often appear to have ADHD when, in fact, they do not.
2. Recognize that your child probably wants to do well and can’t given their condition of having ADHD. This should help you be patient. Over punishing a child with ADHD does not change behavior because it’s a brain regulation issue rather than a willful choice. The most effective way I have found to discipline a child with ADHD is a combination of rewards and the removal of rewards.
3. Children with ADHD need to be inherently interesting or exciting for their brains to regulate enough to start and finish a task. (This is why they can play video games with no problem — they are fun and rewarding). Creating external motivators like a token economy can help ‘stimulate’ the brain and will increase the likelihood that your child can start and finish a task. Your child will need more structure and supervision to get through tasks. Please be patient and do not expect your child to execute homework, chores, or other tasks the same way a child without ADHD can. Making things fun and rewarding while adding structure to help them stay on track is key.
4. Some studies estimate that medication can work approximately 75-85% of the time in treating ADHD.
5. Before engaging in any treatment, consider the scientific data behind it. There are several treatments that waste time and money. One program that I think is promising is Cogmed working memory training, which appears to change density in d1 receptor binding and may increase working memory capacity and decrease impulsivity.
6. Exercise can help regulate the brain to an extent. Generally, keeping your child as healthy as possible with a balanced diet, no artificial colors, and plenty of protein throughout the day is advised.
7. “Executive function” training is very effective in training the child to become more independent and get through tasks.
8. Expect inconsistency from your child, as his brain will be different from day to day. Don’t expect that if he can do a task start to finish one day that he will be able to do it again the next day.
9. If you seek professional help, nurture your child’s strengths, and help her cope with ADHD, you can expect a much better outcome than if you expect her to be like children without ADHD and let yourself be frustrated. Frustration, intolerance, anger, and denial only make dealing with a child with ADHD worse. With help and structure, children with ADHD can function like those without it but it just takes more effort!”
What type of professional help is available for parents who have a child who has ADHD?
“I recommend that parents educate themselves on the disorder from credible sources such as Neuropsychologists, Psychologists, Psychiatrists, and Pediatricians. Books by Russell Barkeley, PhD, are a wonderful way to become educated on the disorder. Parents should be very cautious about individuals who are selling a product to treat ADHD that has not been studied. Additionally, parents should know that there is currently no cure for ADHD. Anyone who promises a cure is making a highly unethical and untrue statement.
Neuropsychologists and Psychologists can assist parents in creating a structured home environment to support their child with ADHD. Children with ADHD have different challenges so tailoring a specific intervention plan aimed at treating the underlying dysregulation while structuring the environment is recommended. Some Psychologists and Neuropsychologists will actually accompany parents to IEP/504 plan meetings at school to help educate the teachers and school personnel as to how to accommodate the child with ADHD.”
Thank you Dr. Serin for doing the interview on parenting tips for parents who have an ADHD child. For more information on Dr. Serin or her work you can check out her website on www.TheSerinCenter.com.
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