How to Parent and Cope with your Child’s ADHD during Virtual Learning
Most parents have a certain amount of dread and anxiety about virtual learning. For many parents of children with ADHD these concerns are amplified with thoughts of “Will my child be able to sit the whole time?” Will my child be distracted by searching You Tube? Will my child be distracted by the toys in their bedroom?” Then there are then the worries of how will they be able to pick up on social cues over the computer and if your child will be distracting to the teacher and other students?
Online learning is a challenge for all children, but especially for kids with ADHD. Virtual learning requires a significant amount of self-regulation and challenges the working memory, two of the most common struggles for kids with ADHD. Many children with ADHD benefit from being in a classroom to be able to collaborate, talk out ideas and having positive peer pressure to learn how to self-regulate. With virtual learning, we are likely to see more impulsive behavior, higher levels of anxiety and more arguments as your child is missing the structure, routine and social engagement that traditional school offers.
As parents, it can be REALLY easy to lose our cool with our ADHD kids, especially if we are seeing an increase of behavioral problems. On a typical day these kids are distracted, they don’t follow through with tasks, they can forget simple day to day things (like brushing their teeth or changing their socks!) and might not be able to remember where they put the packet of work they are supposed to complete. The list can go on…. And now, because your child his home, these challenges are front and center all day long.
Our instincts may be to yell “WHY CAN’T YOU JUST….. (you can fill in the blank here of what pushes your buttons the most)? Well you know what, when we do this, we are having a little adult tantrum, because we know the answer. The answer being because your kid’s ADHD brain is developing differently, and they do not have the skill set to be able to do that seemingly obvious task. Your kids don’t want to misbehave. Kids do well if they can.
Now listen, don’t be hard on yourself if you have yelled, threatened punishments or even made a snarky comment that you immediately wished you could take back. What we experience as anger and frustration, may actually be a warning sign to check in with ourselves and have compassion for the fears we are having as a parent. Fear? Yes, you heard me right, fear.
Fear that our child will never learn how to do a daily routine; fear that our child will not be organized enough to make it through middle school; high school or college; fear that our child will struggle or be an outcast because of their challenges. We fear because we love our kids and we don’t want to see them struggle. We sometimes become angry because that fear feels all consuming and as a parent, and not being able to control and “fix” something that is hard for our kids feels AWFUL.
So, let’s check in. The likely reality is that your child is not going to be a 30 year old who does not remember to brush their teeth, or make their bed or who can’t hold down a job. Kids with ADHD brains develop differently than peers their same age and these skills will come with patience, time and repetition. By validating your own fears, it may help shift what you chose to say and how you chose to react.
What can you do to help parent your ADHD child?
1. Be a positive role model: Show what healthy and positive coping strategies look like. Take deep breaths before you react. Talk about your emotions. Acknowledge when you make a mistake and talk about it and how to problem solve to avoid that same mistake in the future.
2. Take time to connect: Yes, the work from home while homeschooling balance is TOUGH, but your kids need the attention and connection more than ever. Take breaks when your kids are on breaks and do something to engage WITH them. The need for connection and loving interaction is important to your child’s growth, development and emotional wellbeing.
3. Let go: Things do NOT need to be perfect. What are the things you can let go of? Where can you give praise for your child? ADHD kids are used to hearing about what they can’t do, or what they are doing “wrong.” We need to make a shift to instill confidence and build their self-esteem. Instead of “You didn’t make your bed neatly… again!” Try: You’re getting better at making your bed, it was great that you remembered!”
4. Be Curious. When you see a “misbehavior” ask yourself what skill is my child missing to be able to do this task or handle this situation? Remember kids do well if they can and if you are seeing the same “mistake” being made over and over, what skill do they need to learn to be able to do something different? Instead of: “Why can’t you remember to brush your teeth?!?!” Try: “I am noticing you are having trouble remembering to brush your teeth, I am wondering what’s happening that is making it so hard to remember?”
A great resource to help get you in this mindset and thinking about your child’s problems from a skill deficit perspective and how to help teach the skill is a book called The Explosive Child; A New Approach for Understanding and Parenting Easily Frustrated, Chronically Inflexible Children by Ross W. Greene, Ph.D. This is a resource I use with my own children and recommend often to other parents.
5. Make space for your child’s learning needs: Your child may not be able to sit at a desk for the entirety of virtual learning. Allow for movement, allow for laying on the floor or wherever feels comfortable. If your child is easily distracted or needs something to fidget with, help identify what is appropriate to use during virtual learning. Set aside an appropriate time to watch YouTube, so your child can complete their work and have a “reward” when they are finished. You know your child best and it is OK for their learning to be creative!
6. Avoid shutting down their enthusiasm: We all know what it is like when our ADHD child wants to talk obsessively about their favorite thing, or they come bouncing with exuberance wanting to share something with a lot of detail. We may not always be in the mood or even interested in what our kid is saying, but make space for your child to share their interests. Instead of: “All you talk about is Pokemon… can you please talk about something else?” Try: “Tell me more.” It is simple, you don’t have to pretend or be fake, but this allows your child to share their enthusiasm without feeling shame or being ridiculed.
Being a parent is hard and parenting a child who does not fit neatly into the mold creates even more challenges. The same “Rules” stated above, apply to you as a parent as well. Be flexible, be creative, have compassion for yourself and allow space for mistakes and for things to not be perfect. And listen, you will mess up. You will say the wrong thing and you might loose your cool. It is OK to not be perfect. When your FEAR gets the best of you and you act out of frustration, this is a really great opportunity to be a good role model.
One of the most important things about making a mistake with your child is the ability to make a repair. Talk to your child about the fact that you lost your cool and acted before thinking and acknowledge how your words or actions could have impacted them. These moments matter and help to create a loving, connected relationship where it is ok to make mistakes and to talk about them.
And most importantly, remember that kids do well when they can. Our ADHD kids may take some time and may have to learn differently but they WILL learn the skills they need to become healthy, independent adults. Patience and compassion for your kid who is learning and patience and compassion for yourself as a parent who is learning to parent your ADHD child will go a long way!
If you are are struggling with parenting your child with ADHD, please reach out to see how I can help support you and your family. firstname.lastname@example.org or (908) 445-5531