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8 Practical Tips for Parents of Kids with ADHD

8 Practical Tips for Parents of Kids with ADHD

I’m going to make this quick, since you parents with ADHD kids don’t exactly have the time or luxury of sitting around with your feet up, enjoying quiet and leisurely reading. But the school year is back upon us, and I figured you could use a “Great job! You’re doing a wonderful job at something that is RIDICULOUSLY HARD!” as well as a few tips:

1. Manage your expectations

Assuming your child has been evaluated properly, he/she has a legitimate neurological condition that impairs planning, organization, impulse control, focus, and attention. ADHD is not something that can be CURED, but rather, is a condition that can be managed with teaching strategies, making accommodations, practicing difficult skills, and sometimes, medication.

Sometimes parents think that their children “should” be able to follow through on cleaning their room, finish a whole worksheet without being distracted, remember their notebooks, and keep their hands to themselves when reminded. However, these expectations may be unrealistic without interventions and accommodations. And most importantly, these difficulties are due to neurological differences, and do not indicate poor parenting efforts on your part.

2. Meet them where they’re at (AKA provide “accommodations” even at home.)

In the event that a child is unable to stay on task, focus, sit still, organize, control impulses, or plan on his own, parents are tasked with creating accommodations. An “accommodation” is basically a way to assist a child so that he/she can ultimately be successful. At school, that may be anything from the child sitting in the front row away from his friends, to a sticker chart, or to a one-on-one aid.

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Eventually, some accommodations are reduced as the child learns how to attend, focus, organize, control impulses, and plan on his/her own. However, sometimes a child learns how to create his/her own accommodations to continue to use into adulthood. Calendars, alarms, digital prompters, post-it-notes, manipulatives/fidget objects, to-do lists, keeping an incredibly structured routine (homework immediately after school), and mental tricks to use when bored are all examples of commonly used accommodations that kids with ADHD can continue to use into adulthood.

Often the accommodations necessary at home are demanding of the parents. Like when “meeting him where he’s at” requires you to first help him organize all the steps necessary for him to finish his homework, then sit with him in a quiet room during home-work time and give frequent verbal prompts to stay on task. Or when “meeting him where he’s at” includes standing in his bedroom and giving him re-directions every 90 seconds as he holds his written list of tasks (#1. Throw all trash away #2.Put dirty clothes in hamper #3. Clean clothes in drawer #4. Put toys in box #5. Bring plates and dishes downstairs).

3. Recruit Help

In cases where a child needs constant one-on-one assistance/frequent re-directions (if you turn away for two seconds Jimmy will be hanging from the chandelier, and you need to be there to provide negative reinforcement if not to prevent him for cracking his skull open), I often recommend recruiting help. What parent is able to cook dinner, attend to siblings, and live any sort of life if constant re-directions and behavioral interventions are necessary for one (or more) of the children?

This might sound crazy, but what’s crazier is NOT doing it: For about an hour a day, preferably during a time which every day is designated to chores and homework, get HELP. Yes, that’s right. Recruit a paid (high-schooler in the neighborhood for $5/hour?) or unpaid (Aunt Martha?) parent’s helper to help the child organize and stay on task while doing daily chores and homework.

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Discuss with the “helper” the accommodations and interventions that you do with your child (These can be suggested by the child’s therapist. Some examples are: rewarding every two minutes of focus with a sticker, providing exercise breaks every ten minutes, providing visual, not verbal, re-direction cues, spraying him with a squirt bottle when he stops attending– just kidding. Really, but that reminds me that a sense of humor is sometimes all that gets you through it.) This helper will then, for that hour, be responsible for instilling accommodations, rewards, and consequences when necessary.

4. Work closely with your child’s therapist

If you never hear about what your child is supposed to be working on or how you are supposed to be assisting your child with ADHD, I suggest you check in with the therapist to make sure parental involvement is part of the treatment plan.  Parental involvement NEEDS to be part of the treatment plan for ADHD (and if there are no mood or self esteem issues present in the child– two things that often accompany the ADHD diagnosis– the BULK of the therapy may include the parent).

Your child’s therapist can assist you in creating reasonable and appropriate accommodations for home, and decide when and how it makes sense to gradually give your child more independence. The therapist can also help you navigate behavioral expectations, rewards and consequences which are both realistic and hold the child accountable for growth.

5. Practice self-awareness and self-soothing

There is nothing like a child with ADHD to test a parent’s every last nerve! The worst thing a parent can do is anger to shut a child down or destroy his motivation to keep trying. And unfortunately, frustration and anger are often reactions to dealing with a child who struggles with compliance.

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Parents with ADHD kids often have similar “anger triggers” when they deal with their child. I often hear parents admit that their “trigger” thoughts (the split-second thoughts that fuel their anger) are “He SHOULD be able to do this,” “He’s not going to be successful,” and “I must have failed as a parent.” Pay attention to which thoughts make you even more angry, and replace them with something more realistic such as, “He is doing what he can and I am doing what I can.” Then, in-the-moment, practice self-soothing, such as taking deep breaths or deliberately tensing up and releasing individual muscles when you feel yourself getting angry.

6. Prioritize your child’s sleep, exercise, and nutrition as well as your own

You know how your child does best when he exercises, sleeps adequately, and stays away from sugar? Well, you will be your calmest, most emotionally-resilient, and most patient when you have also taken care of yourself. (Side note: Some parents notice behavioral differences when their kids abstain from certain dyes or gluten, but I always suggest these dietary changes with caution, since I have also heard parents claim they noticed no difference at all when these items are removed.)

7. Validate yourself frequently

Remind yourself that it makes sense to feel the way you feel. It’s okay and understandable to feel exhausted, angry, alone, afraid, and powerless. It is hard work to attempt to teach and manage a child with ADHD, and I say “attempt,” because in some moments, teaching and managing is not even possible. It makes sense that some days you just want to shut the door of your room and stay in bed and cry.

Also, validate your behaviors. It makes sense that you lose your patience sometimes. It makes sense that you make mistakes sometimes, and don’t have all the answers and solutions all the time. You can feel and do all of that and STILL be doing an amazing job.  (I’m pretty sure you are doing a superb job, in fact, as evidenced by the fact that you are even reading this article!)

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8. Seek support

Seek support in your marriage (if you are married), and seek support in your close relationship(s). When you need support, take a deep breath and tell someone how you are feeling (frustrated, powerless and afraid?). And then tell them what you need: Just listen, hug me, hold my hand, give me an afternoon to nap.

And I often suggest in couples therapy, that partners directly ask, “Just tell me I’m not crazy for feeling the way I feel. It makes sense to you that I feel this way, right?” (This is also known as asking for validation; There is no shame in asking for validation, especially when friends or husbands that don’t read my blog, give you a deer-in-headlights look when you betray your vulnerable emotions.) There are also support groups for parents who have children with ADHD, and multiple Facebook pages offering a supportive community. There is something powerfully rejuvenating about hearing other people truly understand your struggles and knowingly rejoice with you in your triumphs.

So in conclusion, parents who must be doing an amazing job since you are, in fact, invested in your child enough to be reading this blog, great job and best of luck!

Featured photo credit: tangle_eye via mrg.bz

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Published on November 14, 2018

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

Why You Suffer from Constant Fatigue and How to Deal with It

With our busy, always on lives, it seems that more and more of us are facing constant tiredness and fatigue on a regular basis.

For many people, they just take this in their stride as part of modern life, but for others the impact can be crippling and can have a serious effect on their sense of wellbeing, health and productivity.

In this article, I’ll share some of the most common causes of constant tiredness and fatigue and give you some guidance and action steps you can take to overcome some of the symptoms of fatigue.

Why Am I Feeling Fatigued?

Fatigue is extreme tiredness resulting from mental or physical exertion or illness.  It is a reduction in the efficiency of a muscle or organ after prolonged activity.[1]

It can affect anyone, and most adults will experience fatigue at some point in their life. 

For many people, fatigue is caused by a combination of lifestyle, social, psychological and general wellbeing issues rather than an underlying medical condition.

Although fatigue is sometimes described as tiredness, it is different to just feeling tired or sleepy. Everyone feels tired at some point, but this is usually resolved with a nap or a few nights of good sleep. Someone who is sleepy may also feel temporarily refreshed after exercising. If you are getting enough sleep, good nutrition and exercising regularly but still find it hard to perform, concentrate or be motivated at your normal levels, you may be experiencing a level of fatigue that needs further investigation. 

Symptoms of Fatigue

Fatigue can cause a vast range of physical, mental and emotional symptoms including:

  • chronic tiredness, exhaustion or sleepiness
  • mental blocks
  • lack of motivation
  • headache
  • dizziness
  • muscle weakness
  • slowed reflexes and responses
  • impaired decision-making and judgement
  • moodiness, such as irritability
  • impaired hand-to-eye coordination
  • reduced immune system function
  • blurry vision
  • short-term memory problems
  • poor concentration
  • reduced ability to pay attention to the situation at hand

Causes of Fatigue

The wide range of causes that can trigger fatigue include:

  • Medical causes: Constant exhaustion, tiredness and fatigue may be a sign of an underlying illness, such as a thyroid disorder, heart disease, anemia or diabetes.
  • Lifestyle-related causes: Being overweight and a lack of regular exercise can lead to feelings of fatigue.  Lack of sleep and overcommitting can also create feelings of excessive tiredness and fatigue.
  • Workplace-related causes: Workplace and financial stress in a variety of forms can lead to feelings of fatigue.
  • Emotional concerns and stress: Fatigue is a common symptom of mental health problems, such as depression and grief, and may be accompanied by other signs and symptoms, including irritability and lack of motivation.

Fatigue can also be caused by a number of factors working in combination.

Medical Causes of Fatigue

If you have made lifestyle changes to increase your energy and still feel exhausted and fatigued, it may be time to seek guidance from your doctor.

Here are a few examples of illnesses that can cause ongoing fatigue. Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a health problem:

Anemia

Anemia is a condition in which you don’t have enough healthy red blood cells to carry adequate oxygen to the body’s tissues. It is a common cause of fatigue in women.

Having anemia may make you feel tired and weak.

There are many forms of anemia, each with its own cause. Anemia can be temporary or long term, and it can range from mild to severe.[2]

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS)

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a condition that can cause persistent, unexplained fatigue that interferes with daily activities for more than six months.

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This is a chronic condition with no one-size-fits-all treatment, but lifestyle changes can often help ease some symptoms of fatigue.[3]

Diabetes

Diabetes can cause fatigue with either high or low blood sugars. When your sugars are high, they remain in the bloodstream instead of being used for energy, which makes you feel fatigued. Low blood sugar (glucose) means you may not have enough fuel for energy, also causing fatigue.[4]

Sleep Apnea

Sleep apnea is a serious sleep disorder where sufferers briefly stop breathing for short periods during sleep. Most people are not aware this is happening, but it can cause loud snoring, and daytime fatigue.

Being overweight, smoking, and drinking alcohol can all worsen the symptoms of sleep apnea.[5]

Thyroid disease

An underactive thyroid gland means you have too little thyroid hormone (thyroxine) in your body. This makes you feel tired and you could also put on weight and have aching muscles and dry skin.[6]

Common lifestyle factors that can cause fatigue include:

  • Lack of sleep
  • Too much sleep 
  • Alcohol and drugs 
  • Sleep disturbances 
  • Lack of regular exercise and sedentary behaviour 
  • Poor diet 

Common workplace issues that can cause fatigue include:

  • Shift work: Our body is designed to sleep during the night. A shift worker may confuse their circadian clock by working when their body is programmed to be asleep.
  • Poor workplace practices: This may include long work hours, hard physical labour, irregular working hours (such as rotating shifts), a stressful work environment, boredom or working alone. 
  • Workplace stress – This can be caused by a wide range of factors including job dissatisfaction, heavy workload, conflicts with bosses or colleagues, bullying, or threats to job security.
  • Burnout: This could be striving too hard on one area of your life while neglecting others, which leads to a life that feels out of balance.

Psychological Causes of Fatigue

Psychological factors are present in many cases of extreme tiredness and fatigue.  These may include:

  • Depression: Depression is characterised by severe and prolonged feelings of sadness, dejection and hopelessness. People who are depressed commonly experience chronic fatigue.
  • Anxiety and stress: Someone who is constantly anxious or stressed keeps their body in overdrive. The constant flooding of adrenaline exhausts the body, and fatigue sets in.
  • Grief: Losing a loved one causes a wide range of emotions including shock, guilt, depression, despair and loneliness.

How to Tackle Constant Fatigue

Here are 12 ways you can start tackling the causes of fatigue and start feeling more energetic.

1. Tell The Truth

Some people can numb themselves to the fact that they are overtired or fatigued all the time. In the long run, this won’t help you.

To give you the best chance to overcome or eliminate fatigue, you must diagnose and tell the truth about the things that are draining your energy, making you tired or causing constant fatigue.

Once you’re honest with yourself about the activities you’re doing in your life that you find irritating, energy-draining, and make you tired on a regular basis you can make a commitment to stop doing them.

The help that you need to overcome fatigue is available to you, but not until you tell the truth about it. The first person you have to sell on getting rid of the causes of fatigue is yourself.

One starting point is to diagnose the symptoms. When you start feeling stressed, overtired or just not operating at your normal energy levels make a note of:

  • How you feel
  • What time of day it is
  • What may have contributed to your fatigue
  • How your mind and body reacts

This analysis may help you identify, understand and then eliminate very specific causes.

2. Reduce Your Commitments

When we have too many things on our plate personally and professionally, we can feel overstretched, causing physical and mental fatigue.

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If you have committed to things you really don’t want to do, this causes irritability and low emotional engagement. Stack these up throughout your day and week, then your stress levels will rise.

When these commitments have deadlines associated with them, you may be trying to cram in far too much in a short period of time.  This creates more stress and can affect your decision making ability.

Start being realistic about how much you can get done. Either reduce the commitments you have or give yourself more time to complete them in.

3. Get Clear On Your Priorities

If working on your list of to-do’s or goals becomes too overwhelming, start reducing and prioritizing the things that matter most.

Start with prioritizing just 3 things every day. When you complete those 3 things, you’ll get a rush of energy and your confidence will grow.

If you’re trying to juggle too many things and are multi-tasking, your energy levels will drop and you’ll struggle to maintain focus.

Unfinished projects can make you self-critical and feel guilty which drops energy levels further, creating inaction.

Make a list of your 3 MIT (Most Important Tasks) for the next day before you go to bed. This will stop you overcommitting and get you excited about what the next day can bring.

4. Express More Gratitude

Gratitude and confidence are heavily linked. Just being thankful for what you have and what you’ve achieved increases confidence and makes you feel more optimistic.

It can help you improve your sense of wellbeing, which can bring on feelings of joy and enthusiasm.

Try starting a gratitude journal or just note down 3 things you’re grateful for every day.

5. Focus On Yourself

Exhaustion and fatigue can arrive by focusing solely on other people’s needs all the time, rather than worrying about and focusing on what you need (and want).

There are work commitments, family commitments, social commitments. You may start with the best intentions, to put in your best performance at work, to be an amazing parent and friend, to simply help others.

But sometimes, we extend ourselves too much and go beyond our personal limits to help others. That’s when constant exhaustion can creep up on us.  Which can make us more fatigued.

We all want to help and do our best for others, but there needs to be some balance. We also need to take some time out just for ourselves to recharge and rejuvenate.

6. Set Aside Rest and Recovery Time

Whether it’s a couple of hours, a day off, a mini-break or a proper holiday, time off is essential to help us recover, recharge and refocus.

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Recovery time helps fend off mental fatigue and allows us to simply kick back and relax.

The key here, though, is to remove ourselves from the daily challenges that bring on tiredness and fatigue. Here’s how.

Can you free yourself up completely from work and personal obligations to just rest and recover?

7. Take a Power Nap

When you’re feeling tired or fatigued and you have the ability to take a quick 20-minute nap, it could make a big difference to your performance for the rest of the day.

Napping can improve learning, memory and boost your energy levels quickly.

This article on the benefit of napping is a useful place to start if you want to learn more: How a 20-Minute Nap at Work Makes You Awake and Productive the Whole Day

8. Take More Exercise

The simple act of introducing some form of physical activity into your day can make a huge difference. It can boost energy levels, make you feel much better about yourself and can help you avoid fatigue.

Find something that fits into your life, be that walking, going to the gym, running or swimming. 

The key is to ensure the exercise is regular and that you are emotionally engaged and committed to stick with it.

You could also walk more which will help clear your head and shift your focus away from stressful thoughts.

9. Get More Quality Sleep

To avoid tiredness, exhaustion and fatigue, getting enough quality sleep matters. 

Your body needs sleep to recharge.  Getting the right amount of sleep every night can improve your health, reduce stress levels and help us improve our memory and learning skills.

My previous article on The Benefits of Sleep You Need to Know will give you some action steps to start improving your sleep. 

10. Improve Your Diet

Heavy or fatty meals can make you feel sluggish and tired, whilst some foods or eating strategies do just the opposite.

Our always on lives have us reaching for sweets or other sugary snacks to give us a burst of energy to keep going. Unfortunately, that boost fades quickly which can leave you feeling depleted and wanting more.

On the other hand, whole grains and healthy unsaturated fats supply the reserves you can draw on throughout the day.

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To keep energy up and steady, it’s a good idea to limit refined sugar and starches.

Eating small meals and healthy snacks every few hours throughout the day provides a steady supply of nutrients to body and brain. It’s also important not to skip breakfast.

Eating a balanced diet helps keep your blood sugar in a normal range and prevents that sluggish feeling when your blood sugar drops.

11. Manage Your Stress Levels

Stress is one of the leading causes of exhaustion and fatigue, and can seriously affect your health.

When you have increased levels of stress at work and at home, it’s easy to feel exhausted all the time. 

Identifying the causes of stress and then tackling the problems should be a priority. 

My article on How to Help Anxiety When Life is Stressing You Out shares 16 strategies you can use to overcome stress.

12. Get Hydrated

Sometimes we can be so busy that we forget to keep ourselves fully hydrated.

Water makes up about 60 percent of your body weight and is essential in maintaining our body’s basic functions.

If we don’t have enough water, it can adversely affect our mental and physical performance, which leads to tiredness and fatigue.

The recommended daily amount is around two litres a day, so to stay well hydrated keep a water bottle with you as much as possible.

The Bottom Line

These 12 tips can help you reduce your tiredness and feeling of fatigue.  Some will work better than others as we are all different, whilst others can be incorporated together in your daily life.

If you’ve tried to make positive changes to reduce fatigue and you still feel tired and exhausted, it may be time to consider making an appointment with your doctor to discuss your condition.

Featured photo credit: Annie Spratt via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]Oxford English Dictionary: Definition of fatigue
[2]NHS Choices: 10 Reasons for feeling tired
[3]Verywellhealth: What is chronic fatigue syndrome
[4]Everyday Health: Why does type 2 diabetes make you feel tired
[5]Mayo Clinic: Sleep apnea
[6]Harvard Health: The lowdown on thyroid slowdown

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