13 Tips for Parenting a Teen with ADHD (cont.)

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13 tips for dealing with your ADHD teen

You face unique challenges parenting a teen who has ADHD. Here are tips to help you with the task.

  1. Live in the here and now. Deal with the current situation or issue. Rehashing prior problems aggravates everyone and accomplishes nothing. Skip the lectures and "I told you so."
  2. Be compassionate about your teen's condition. Teens (like everyone) dislike being blamed or criticized for their behavior. Disorganization and forgetfulness are not purposeful behaviors for teens with ADHD. Better to collaborate with your child and his teachers to lessen such experiences. There are no excusing behaviors that do have a voluntary component. Impulsivity is a basic feature of ADHD; shoplifting or purposefully damaging an item is not.
  3. Keep calm. Shouting matches rarely accomplish the desired goal. Better to adhere to a rationale reminder of expected behavior and enforcement of a reasonable (and already agreed upon) penalty. When in doubt, behave like Judge Judy; make your point and move on.
  4. Anticipate pitfalls. A good general never enters a battle they know they are going to lose. Parents should be one step ahead of their ADHD teen -- anticipate problems and either proactively attempt to resolve the issue or realize that "screw ups" will happen and work out as a couple how you will handle such events in a constructive and calm manner.
  5. Set boundaries and stick to them. Whatever you do as a frustrated parent, don't decree an unenforceable penalty. If this strategy didn't work when he was 2 years old and he couldn't leave the table until he ate his carrots, it won't work 15 years later when you announce he's grounded for the rest of the year. To quote your child, "Yeah, right!"
  6. Focus on the positive! Don't just focus on the negative aspects of your teen's behavior; remember to praise him or her when they do well.
  7. Ditch power struggles. Adolescents do better with concrete information that has a limited option for misinterpretation. Write down basic rules and the consequences for failure to follow through. These "contracts" should be bidirectional -- from parent to teen (for example, car privileges) as well as teen to parents (for example, payment for supervising younger siblings).
  8. Help your teen develop social skills. Teens who have ADHD may have difficulty interacting with others. Help your teen develop social skills such as listening, not interrupting when other are speaking, and maintaining a conversation.
  9. Listen to your teen. Teach your AHDH teen how to explain their feelings. Instead of hurling insults back and forth, let your child rant and rave without any interruptions. The only rule: no profanity, name-calling, or insults. When your teen is done, announce that you are glad you listened to their ideas and need to think about them for 1 to 2 days and would like to talk again about the issue. The only "must" -- you have to have the follow-up conversation you promised.
  10. Stand your ground on important topics. Your teen will understand the concept that big offenses should warrant a big penalty. Fairness and justice require this trade off. Since teens with ADHD are more likely to engage in high-risk behaviors (especially if they are not taking ADHD-directed medication), there should be a zero tolerance for illegal or dangerous behaviors. These high-risk behaviors (for example, driving, use of alcohol/drugs, truancy, etc.) should be addressed in a contract between parent and teen. Demonstrated infraction = non-negotiable penalty. Case closed.
  11. Encourage good nutrition. Eliminate junk food, sugar, and escessively fatty foods from your household. Stick to regular meal times to help maintain your child's energy levels.
  12. Set appropriate boundaries. Much to your teen's frustration, your home is not a democracy. A benevolent dictatorship is a better analogy. A family meeting to discuss acceptable options and the consequences for failure to meet these expectations is reasonable. Enforcement of such consequences should be non-negotiable (for example, "All B's or no keys").
  13. Give your teen choices. Allowing your child to choose between options promotes confidence and autonomy while helping your teen to feel more like an adult.
Medically Reviewed by a Doctor on 3/15/2013


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