Every child with ADHD is so uniquely different, so how do you keep your family in the loop when you are still learning about your child's intricacies?
The hardest part of helping your family understand your child's ADHD is trying to do so while trying to understand it yourself. The learning curve, combined with educating your family about the new challenges that you are both facing, can make you feel like you are juggling an entire circus. That doesn't mean there aren't tricks to keep everything moving in the right direction.
I think the biggest thing is explaining 'the why' to people. Why does this happen? Why do we do what we do when it does?
There are going to be a lot of people involved in your life, and especially the life of your child. Sharing your knowledge with them is the best way to prepare them for coping with the unique qualities that your child brings to the table. Everything you learn about your child's development should be shared with the extended family and caretakers that are going to be a part of your child's life.
I recently discovered that my child's ADHD is driven by anxiety. Before, I would have never made that connection. But I know that now. So the next step became learning how to reduce the stress that usually comes up when we're going to somewhere new or if there's going to be a transition in the home.
Recognizing that my child's behavior changes when somebody comes into my house, usually because they're trying to seek attention, makes me aware that I need to develop a strategy for helping them calm down. Preparing people to expect this, and sharing my insights, helps them to understand better why my child is acting the way she is, and why I am reacting the way I am.
Understanding comes from gaining knowledge, but I have never had success with having people study ADHD on their own. Arm yourself with information that can be used as your best defense when people are commenting on your child's behavior.
It's a lot more difficult than you'd think to get people to understand your child. Your greatest tool when approaching people is education – be honest, be transparent, and be an open book. Have the conversation with them, not in front of your child, but let them know which behaviors you are really struggling with and what you are working on.
If people are going to be rude or judgemental of your child, then you need to re-evaluate who you're spending your time with.
While teachers are paid professionals who should know about ADHD, your job is still to keep the lines of communication wide open regarding your child. Your main concern is avoiding opportunities for a struggle for your child. For me, that means avoiding exposing my child to one extra second of somebody else having to figure out what I already know.
Let them find new things and help me understand things that I don't. But if there's any piece of the puzzle that I've solved myself, you can bet that I will be sharing that information with my child's teachers. If you don't have that hand-off about what you know to be true, then everyone is going to struggle.
A huge part of setting my child up for success means giving up facts. It means telling the teachers at the beginning of the year how my child will be the most successful. It means not always sitting back and waiting for the teacher to come to me when they have a problem. It all comes back to advocating for your child's needs.
I have five kids. That means that helping my children understand their sister's ADHD is sometimes a fulltime job. This comes down to answering a lot of the same questions that I get from everybody else but in a different form of language.
Children ask questions; it's part of our job as parents to help them understand the world around them. That gets difficult when sometimes we, as parents, don't have all of the answers. While that can sometimes be challenging, it's our job to talk to the other kids about what we do know and help to break down their concerns.
We know that just because one child has ADHD, it doesn't mean that all of our children will. And that's an important point to make. Siblings of children with ADHD will sometimes make themselves sick with anxiety, thinking that they are going to get it because somebody in their family has it.
On top of that, they might not know how to navigate relationships with other children because they've been raised with an ADHD child. "Normal" behavior to them is entirely different from what they might run into with other children.
Helping your friends understand your child's ADHD comes down to not letting your personal feelings of shame, embarrassment, and judgment come at you when you are advocating for your child. We talked about how you should probably not be hanging out with people who are going to be rude and judgemental about your child's behavior. That's step one.
Be clear with your friends about your child's behavior. If you're taking your child to a birthday party, for example, they'll probably have questions. Asking things like, "who's going to be there?" and, "what are they going to have for food?" is your child's way of mapping out their environment.
Spend five minutes when you get there mapping things out with them. Who do we know that is here? Ask your friend about other people who may come over. Help your child settle into their surroundings. In this way, you are teaching your friends how you handle these types of inquiries.
When your child later asks them what kind of food they have, your friend will be less likely to brush them off by asking them just to wait and see. They will be able to say something along the lines of, "We have cheese and crackers. We have some grapes. But we are going to eat at 1:00. How does that sound?"
A simple shift in language will mean the world to a child with ADHD who might be struggling in a new environment.
Helping your family understand your child's ADHD comes down to advocating and educating. You are learning as you go. But as you learn, you also need to teach. You need to give up every piece of the puzzle to the people who are going to be a part of your child's life. This makes everyone in your corner better prepared to work with their needs. Open communication is the key to mitigating all of the problematic situations that might crop up along your child's development.
“I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you”
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