My child has ADHD – How do I manage my own emotions during tough parenting challenges?
I have a passion for children and adolescents with ADHD. They are often larger than life, fun to be around and have so much to offer to any who take the time to tune in. However, the growing-up years can be tough, particularly when a child is wired differently and emotional resources in the family are drained. Despite the inevitable challenges involved in raising a human with neuropsychological differences, there is incredible scope for parents to build a strong and resilient bond. In fact, most therapeutic approaches prioritise supporting parents. One skill fundamentally important to the parent-child bond is the ability of a parent to regulate their own emotion. This is essentially an ability to calm oneself down, or pick oneself up, in response to overwhelming emotion. The good news is, like many psychological skills, emotion regulation can be strengthened with a little know-how and practice. When parents become self-aware and model a healthy relationship with their own emotion, they give their children a powerful gift!
Read on for some key principals, and food for thought.
What to Do
- Take care of stress, sleep, and self-care – a parent who is well-rested will find emotion more tolerable, and won’t need to control the environment around them to keep themselves feeling comfortable
- Stay in the present moment – cultivate a habit of sticking with what is currently happening in front of you, and make no room for emotions that belong in the past (whether it be this morning, last night or last year)
- Monitor your emotional ‘dashboard’ – our emotions send us important signals that guide our behaviour – it takes practice to interpret this information so that we can make wise parenting decisions and look after ourselves
- Make a deposit in the ‘attachment bank’ – use plenty of eye contact, physical touch, words of affirmation and the gift of your time and interest to communicate unconditional positive regard to your child – a healthy attachment relationship with your child will help you return to a happy equilibrium on ‘those days’!
- Practice ‘grounding’ techniques ready and have them ready to whip out when you find yourself in the middle of an emotional meltdown – try a few and see what works well for you
What to Avoid
- Unrealistic expectations – take the time to really understand the problems causing frustration in the relationship – is your child able to meet the expectation, or are there lagging skills and problems that need solving? Auditing how ADHD impacts each area of your child’s life is an empathy-building exercise, and where empathy exists, negative emotion is short-lived
- Power struggles – while it’s tempting to ‘make’ a child meet an expectation, this will inevitably lead to an increase of emotion in both parties – it is OK to come back for a conversation when everyone is calm
- Unintentional reinforcement – both positive AND negative emotion in the parent-child relationship will increase the frequency of a behaviour – Eg Correcting a child with frustration for table manners may lead to more of the same behaviour … and more frustration!
- Forgetting to have FUN! All children/teens/parents need time to laugh together, and especially families facing challenges
If you are struggling to manage your emotions as a parent, why not reach out to our team for help?
Sarah Hindle (M Psych (Clinical), B Psych Sci (Hons), Grad Dip Psych) brings her warmth, wisdom and rapport to the individuals and families she sees; the knowledge that a strong and collaborative therapeutic relationship is foundational to the successful outcome of any intervention. Sarah has experience working with adolescents, adults and families facing a range of mental health difficulties including depression, anxiety, attachment and parenting issues, eating disorders and the management of stressful life events and adjusting to change. As a former classical musician, Sarah also has a particular interest in the treatment of musical performance-related anxiety, a topic on which she has delivered individual therapy and psycho-educational seminars. Sarah also has a particular interest in working with children/adolescents and families facing challenges related to learning difficulties and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).