Why are children with ADHD challenging?

Children who have ADHD can be hard to parent. Parents can help their child with ADHD by focusing on their child's strength, keeping their child busy, encouraging outdoor activities, helping their child get restful sleep and creating structure in the home.
Children who have ADHD can be hard to parent. Parents can help their child with ADHD by focusing on their child's strength, keeping their child busy, encouraging outdoor activities, helping their child get restful sleep and creating structure in the home.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, or ADHD, is one of the most common conditions to affect children. A‌bout 8% of American children have a current diagnosis of ADHD. One study estimates that ADHD affects about 7% of the world's children. If your child is one of them, you know firsthand about the challenges that children with ADHD face. You may wonder how to help your child.

First, realize that your child's ADHD is not your fault. Your parenting practices did not cause it. No one knows exactly what causes ADHD, but it seems to run in families. Although you didn't cause your child's ADHD, you can give your child valuable tools for managing it.

As much as you love your child with ADHD, you face some specific parenting challenges. There are three main reasons children with ADHD can be hard to parent.

They are easily distracted. They may not hear your instructions, or they may not remember what they hear. They have trouble following directions, and they need many reminders. You may get frustrated because it seems your child isn't paying attention. It's important to realize that your child's brain works differently.

They are hyperactive. They are in constant motion. Their movements may be large — running, jumping, and climbing —‌ or smaller — fidgeting and tapping. You may long for your child to simply sit still, but that is asking a lot of most children with ADHD.

They are impulsive. They have trouble waiting and sharing. Sometimes, they do things even though they know they shouldn't. They may not have good control over their emotions. Your child's impulsivity can cause problems in your family or in group settings like daycare or school.

Recommended treatment for ADHD

The first thing you can do for your child with ADHD is seek training in behavior therapy.  During training, you'll learn ways of encouraging good behavior and discouraging bad behavior. You'll be doing what all parents do, but you'll learn to do it in ways that work better for children with ADHD.‌

As the parent of an ADHD child, you'll have to decide whether to give your child medication for ADHD. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends a combination of medication and behavior therapy for children over age six. Of course, some parents choose not to use medication. Adolescents with ADHD should be a part of decisions about their medication.

Working with your child's school

The AAP also recommends that school staff should use behavior therapy with their ADHD students. According to parents, however, only about one in three children receives this recommended therapy in the classroom. As a parent, you can advocate for schools to offer staff members the needed training.

You can also see if your child with ADHD qualifies for special services. Children can qualify under either the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) or Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973. Children with ADHD who qualify for special services may:

  • Get extra time on tests
  • Receive assignments that are shortened or otherwise modified
  • Get permission to get up and move around periodically
  • Receive extra training in organizational skills
  • Have access to special technology

Parenting tips for raising a child with ADHD

Of course, you'll give your child with ADHD lots of attention, affection, and positive feedback. That's the most important thing you can do, but you may also use these parenting tips for raising kids with ADHD

Focus on your child's strengths. Help your child to discover his or her talents, whether it be art, athletics, mechanics, or technology. Provide many opportunities for your child to explore these interests. See that your child gets positive feedback for his or her accomplishments. Never withhold these activities as a punishment.

Keep your child busy. Have activities prepared ahead of time. Children with ADHD may get frustrated if activities take too long to set up. Older children may benefit from sports and after-school activities. Keep schedules relatively simple, though, or your child may feel overwhelmed.

Encourage outdoor activities. A 2004 study found that being outdoors relieves the symptoms of ADHD. Activities that can be performed indoors or outdoors were more beneficial in an outdoor setting.

Help your child get restful sleep. Children with ADHD need their rest, but they may have trouble falling asleep. Try these strategies:

  • Plenty of physical activity during the day
  • Consistent early bedtimes
  • A period for winding down before bedtime
  • A caffeine-free diet

Create structure in your home. Keep living spaces organized and clutter-free. Establish routines, and use clocks and timers as reminders. At the same time, resist becoming a perfectionist. Forgive yourself and other family members, including your ADHD child, for occasional lapses.

Take a look at yourself. Many adults have undiagnosed ADHD, and ADHD tends to run in families. If your child's struggles seem familiar, consider being checked for ADHD. It could lead to your being a better parent and a happier individual.


The abbreviated term ADHD denotes the condition commonly known as: See Answer

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Medically Reviewed on 8/18/2021

American Journal of Public Health: "A Potential Natural Treatment for Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Evidence From a National Study."

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: "ADHD in the Classroom: Helping Children Succeed in School," "ADHD Treatment Recommendations," "Behavior Therapy for Children with ADHD: An Overview."

CHADD: "Parenting a Child With ADHD."

HelpGuide: "ADHD Parenting Tips."

Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology: "Prevalence of Parent-Reported ADHD Diagnosis and Associated Treatment Among U.S. Children and Adolescents, 2016."

Nemours KidsHealth: "ADHD," "Parenting a Child With ADHD."