Blog Post | Apr 21, 2020

Managing ADHD Tendencies for Children and Parents

By Tammy R Gipson, MS, OTR/L
By The Austin Hatcher Foundation
Managing ADHD Tendencies for Children and Parents

This isolation is getting tough. All of a sudden, we have experienced so much in so little time, and we are now realizing where our children get their attention difficulties – is it from us as parents?

In a time that lacks a normal schedule, routine, or even a normal family, we are so challenged to try to move forward positively. We are troubled by our children’s lack of ability to focus. But then, you realize you had started folding the laundry, answering an email, and cooking dinner, while actually none of the three things had been completed – and then it hits you! I am ADHD! It is my trait they have inherited – what will I ever do?

Since the description above is certainly about me, here is my advice. Let’s strive for progress, not for perfection. Embrace and understand your personal qualities so you can prepare yourself and your family for them. Below are some of the qualities that I have (and so do my children). If I am more aware of these, it helps me to better prepare for each day and actually conquer some of the items on my to-do list while also helping me to help my children better as they attempt to accomplish some of their own personal goals.

1.  Extreme Sensitivity to Disapproval

I often become quickly immersed in one salient emotion and have problems shifting my focus to other aspects of a situation, which can lead to misinterpretation and hurt feelings. Did you know that perceived criticism and withdrawal of love and respect is just as devastating as the real thing? In fact, social anxiety is another chronic difficulty experienced by more than one-third of teens and adults with ADHD. They live almost constantly with exaggerated fears of being seen by others as incompetent, unappealing, or uncool.

2. Carried Away with Emotion

I don’t suffer from a lack of awareness of important emotions, but from an inability to tolerate those emotions long enough to deal effectively with them. Sometimes I become caught up in behavior patterns to avoid painful emotions that seem too overwhelming - looming deadlines, COVID-19, etc. I may go into a panic or completely avoid the situation entirely. Deep breathing, limiting my time watching the news, and making a list of prioritized items are very successful for me in regulating my emotions (this has also worked for my children as well).

3.  Emotions and Getting Started

Emotions motivate action — action to engage or action to avoid. I often can only readily mobilize interest only for activities offering very immediate gratification. I find relief if I can somehow see or reflect on how a long-time commitment has helped me in the past. (Getting my degree, training for long runs, etc.)

4. Emotions and Working Memory

Working memory brings into play, consciously and/or subconsciously, the emotional energy needed to help us organize, sustain focus, monitor and self-regulate. Many people with ADHD, though, have an inadequate working memory, which may explain why I am often disorganized, lose my temper, or procrastinate. Really not a success story here – just stay aware, is the most helpful thing I have found for both me and my children

This all said, I just recommend that we are aware of characteristics in ourselves so that we can more readily anticipate and help with the difficulties we find our children are experiencing.

Additionally, here are some suggestions to help cope – these are great to use for yourself or for your entire family.

1. Manage your stress. Everyone feels stressed out and overwhelmed sometimes. To the extent that you can, try to limit how many demands you have pressing on you at any one time.

2. Avoid over-committing yourself. Everything seems interesting until we find that we have too much going on. You can minimize crunch time stress by taking on fewer commitments and by graciously bowing out of some when necessary — and with enough warning.

3. Get enough sleep. We are more positive and less reactive when we’ve had enough shut-eye.

4. Exercise regularly. Physical activity is a great stress reliever. It doesn’t matter how you exercise, as long as you do it regularly. Even doing a set of push-ups or going for a quick walk around the block can clear your head and put things in perspective.

5. Make time for yourself. It’s important to set aside time for you to do something for your own pleasure. If you don’t recharge the batteries, you will burn out.

6. Treat co-occurring anxiety and depression. Adults with ADHD are more likely to be anxious and depressed. Untreated, these conditions may make your emotional control worse, so it is smart to address these professionally.

7. Avoid emotionally provocative situations. It is harder to calm a strong reaction than it is to avoid it in the first place. This does not mean that you should avoid every uncomfortable or difficult situation, but you should know that some situations aren’t worth the trouble.

8. Create a plan ahead of time for how to respond to a situation that you know will evoke some strong feelings. Think about how you can respond to different things the other person might do, as well as what outcomes you hope to achieve. Review the plan right before you go into the situation and keep it in your mind during the situation. If possible, bring in some written notes.

9. Take a break. If your two choices are to blow up or walk away, it’s always better to walk away. Even five seconds may be enough to help you calm down and gather yourself. If you are feeling angry at someone with whom you have an ongoing relationship, explain to him or her that a break will help you collect your thoughts and lead to a better outcome for everyone.

10. Train others to talk you down. If you know you will get emotional in certain situations — political discussions, sales at certain stores — train some of your family and friends to talk to you about the bigger picture or another person’s perspective, so that you can catch yourself before things get out of hand.

11. Remind yourself that, no matter how strong the emotion you are feeling, it will fade. This could be a positive feeling, like being excited over a potential purchase, or a negative feeling, like a date that went badly. You will still have the feeling, but know that you will feel differently.

12. Remind yourself of the other person’s perspective. We react to people we are closest to. As much as we like to think that we’re justified in our feelings, there are times when we react to someone for reasons that have little to do with that person. Don’t take things personally that have little to do with you.

13. Separate feeling from acting. Our emotions often drive our behavior, but there doesn’t have to be a direct connection between the two. Although it’s easier said than done, it’s possible to notice the feeling that you’re having and what it makes you want to do without acting on it. Mindfulness training teaches people how to do this.

14. Educate others about your emotional patterns. Explain to family members, and close friends, and perhaps some coworkers, that your initial reaction tends to be stronger than that of other people, but that you settle down quickly and can have a productive discussion. This helps them not to overreact in turn.

Resources interpreted from an article on