There is no perfect step-by-step guide book on how to raise a child, so instead we’re left on our own to sort through the conflicting advice we encounter in the world. When a child has ADHD, the stakes for parents are raised. Bumps in the academic road persist and become mountains, exhausting in scale. Instead of a single bad grade or a passing fight with a friend, children with ADHD encounter chronic academic failure, or struggle to maintain friendships.
A broad approach to ADHD starts with a proactive plan to address the most obvious ADHD symptoms, and then continues much further. It helps children build self-esteem and healthy relationships with parents and peers. It helps you manage your own stress because under stress, none of us acts at our best. It helps you examine your actions and cultivate skills that lead you and your children to be adaptable and resilient. You cannot erase your child’s medical condition, but you can make astute choices about what to do next, for your child and for your family.
Building your own strength and resilience as a parent benefits your entire family. When you feel on more solid ground, problem solving becomes more flexible. Destructive habits can be broken, and new options become apparent. Your perspective, and your parenting skills can fundamentally change. With an all-consuming problem like your child’s ADHD, these life skills become even more important.
Over recent decades mainstream Western culture and health care have embraced the Eastern concept of “mindfulness” as a means of developing these abilities, separating it from spirituality or religion. Mindfulness is often described as living with full awareness of our moment-to-moment experience, without excessive judgment and bias. It comprises a skills set that helps us focus on life as it happens, instead of becoming lost in distracting fantasies of the future, rumination about the past, or emotional reactions that clutter our minds. Practicing mindfulness, we often discover a sense of inner strength and calm in the midst of storms that come and go in our lives.
We train ourselves to focus our attention where we want, away from mental distraction and onto the situation at hand. This skill can be developed through a type of meditation that is about little more than focused attention—our mind becomes lost in thought, and we bring it back. The art of mindfulness is noticing our mind wandering, and guiding it back to real life and to a sense of balance, without giving ourselves a hard time for having wandered off in the first place. We try our best, our thoughts drift off, and we think of course I got distracted, that happens, and start over again, paying attention.
While our children come first in so many ways, it is important that we take care of ourselves as well. Our physical and mental health benefits them. When stressed, we easily fall into fixed habitual ways of dealing with stress, limiting ourselves and how we interact with people around us, and perhaps not addressing problems as adeptly as we are capable. So in the face of all the challenges of parenting a child with ADHD, protecting whatever small nurturing moments you find for yourself helps your children.
The long-term goals never change—we all want our children to thrive and be independent and happy. In the short term, the most loving and supportive approach is to take an objective, clear-sighted look at a child’s skills and challenges right now, in this moment. From that starting point, an entirely new way of living with ADHD may begin.
Excerpted from The Family ADHD Solution by Mark Bertin, M.D. Copyright © 2011 by the author and reprinted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited.