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Parenting ADHD Kids and Teens

To Understand

ADHD is not just an immature, overly active child; a passive, defiant middle schooler; or an unmotivated, lazy teenager.  ADHD is a neurobiological condition that presents with deficits in self-regulation (attention, focus, over-activity, or impulsivity) starting in early childhood and at times may create impairment in school, relationships, or daily activities.

ADHD is a continuum disorder, not yes/no or black/white.  The Executive Functioning area of the brain (prefrontal cortex) is not fully developed until mid 20’s.  The “ADHD brain” often lags several years behind.

ADHD often co-exists with other behavioral, learning, and psychological concerns (e.g., learning disability, cognitive processing deficit, anxiety, depression, substance abuse, low self-esteem).

ADHD is a lifelong challenge with Age/Stage Implications.  ADHD kids and teens often

  1. Take the scenic route

  2. Display “quick twitch”

  3. Act like “knuckleheads”

  4. Act clueless and don’t make connections

  5. Are high maintenance, high risk, and high reward

…and where do you think this comes from?  (Whose family tree gets “credit”?)

To Remember

  1. The system is the solution (develop a program-e.g., points for positive behavior)

  2. Surprise is not your friend (plan ahead and tell them about the plan)

  3. Kiss the third request goodbye (one or two is enough)

  4. Being right is highly over-rated (power struggles miss the point and will not work)

  5. Keep your mental illness to yourself (control your emotions and language)

  6. If it is not written, down, it doesn’t exist (lists, notes, charts, technology)

To Try

Behavioral/Psychological – Environmental/Life Style

While there is no magical parenting formula, parenting ADHD kids and teens needs to be more proactive, more intentional, and more thoughtful in their approaches.  These strategies apply to parenting all children; however, they are especially helpful with children who have issues of inattention, impulsivity, and over-activity.

  1. First, get their attention (eye contact, prompts)

  2. Structure, structure, and more structure (routines, consistency)

  3. Catch them being good #1 (to reinforce positive behaviors)

  4. Talk and fuss less, behave more (clear expectations, clear consequences)

  5. Run for your life! (or walk, swim, kick, jump, climb, move, exercise)

  6. Teach “executive functioning” skills (study strategies, organization)

  7. Catch them being good #2 (to build confidence, self-esteem)

  8. Find the best school fit, then advocate (504, IEP, Learning Services)

  9. Offer academic tutoring (to build basic skills)

  10. Seek counseling or coaching (for you and your child)

  11. Catch them being good #3 (to shape your behavior)

  12. Teach emotional self-control (don’t assume it)

  13. Don’t over-schedule (to provide down time, rest, and sleep)

  14. Catch them being good #4 (to help break the negative cycle of behavior, punishment, anger, avoidance, loss in self-esteem, depression, acting out)

And finally…

  1. CELEBRATE THE GOOD NEWS OF ADHD (intelligence, creativity, independence, out-of-the-box thinking, “quick twitch” athleticism, sense of humor, energy, enthusiasm)


  1. Taking Charge of ADHD, Taking Charge of Adult ADHD, 3rd Edition, Barkley

  2. ADHD Workbook for Parents, Parker

  3. Spark, Ratey

  4. The Gift of ADHD, Honos-Webb

  5. ADHD in Adolescence, Robin & Barkley

  6. Smart But Scattered, Dawson & Guare, and Smart But Scattered Teens, Guare, Dawson & Guare

  7. Give your ADD Teen a Chance, Weiss


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