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Parenting With ADHD
So here’s the thing about my advice on parenting with ADHD. I have an almost 3-year-old at this point, so I can talk about the baby years and the toddler years. Anything beyond that, um, you’re on your own. Maybe I’ll update this as that changes. 🙂
I’ve written in the past about meal planning and kitchen gadgets I really liked. And so those are some good things to check out on my toolbox page. In this post, I’ll be focusing more on the big picture of parenting with ADHD, from a mental health standpoint.
How Does ADHD Affect Parenting?
I think my ADHD actually makes me a better parent. Stick with me here because I know that sounds really far out. Ever since my diagnosis I’ve had to examine how my mind works and receives information. I’ve had to learn what motivates me, what keeps me on the street narrow. I’ve had them really get in touch with my feelings because of the depression and anxiety that was also part of my cocktail of mental health conditions. Basically I feel like I’ve kind of been getting a degree in my brain for as long as I can remember.
Having so much practice parenting my own brain has been helpful when parenting my child’s. Something I quickly learned is there is a temptation to treat baby and toddler brains as if they are fully developed. Practicing self-compassion with my own brain has made the transition much easier. I try to be mindful not to expect too much out of my toddler.
For example, there’s a concept of your primitive brain, your caveman brain. And for us adults, when our caveman brains take over we are a less evolved version of ourselves. For toddlers, it’s their default setting.
As explained in the New York Times piece “Coping With The Caveman In The Crib”:
“In terms of brain development, a toddler is primitive, an emotion-driven, instinctive creature that has yet to develop the thinking skills that define modern humans. The challenge for parents is learning how to communicate with the caveman in the crib.”
When I think of a caveman brain at work in an adult, I picture a couple in a restaurant. The partner looks at someone else, and maybe it’s early in your relationship and you guys haven’t really worked out whether that’s okay yet, and it’s just your gut instinct just to be super jealous and you’re really pissed off. Your caveman brain takes over, you’re not really thinking through the whole thing.
Imagine that state of mind being your kid’s default setting for years. While they are evolving and their brains become more sophisticated, it’s also a very confusing and upsetting process for them. Much like they will struggle with milestones like adjusting to school, right now they’re struggling just to exist in this world.
Even in the toddler years, they’re learning how to communicate. They’re crying all the time because they can’t communicate with you. While I am by no means a parenting expert, learning how to take care of myself has really helped me become better quote to taking care of my toddler.
How Do You Parent If You Have ADHD?
I often think of the person I was before I learned how to meet my own needs to take care of myself. And I think if that person was trying to parent right now, my kid would be in a lot of trouble. Here’s an example:
At one point I was getting treated for um, compulsive binge drinking. And one of the tricks I learned was when I was tempted to drink I had to run down a list of questions using the acronym HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired). If I was any one of these things, I would address that core issue. Funny thing is … that works for toddlers too. When mine is crying, I try to make sure I’ve run down the HALT list, as well as stuff like dirty diapers, etc.
I’ve also learned empathy through treating my own mental health issues. Learning about pain and giving myself permission to feel and express feelings has made me capable of doing the same for my toddler. For example, even if my toddler is freaking out over something that’s not real, I still treat the fear as if it were real. I would want the same compassion shown towards me, so I extend it.
Here are a few books that can help with getting comfortable with your feelings and/or connecting with your child:
- Daring Greatly by Brené Brown – Learn about the science behind vulnerability and how it is the essential building blocks to not just work and relationships but all things parenting.
- The Conscious Parent by Dr. Shefali Tsabary – Instead of being the receiver of your psychological and spiritual legacy, learn how your child functions as ushers of your own personal development. The end result? More peace and less yelling.
- Positivity by Barbara Fredrickson – Research-driven information about the strength of positive emotions, overcoming negativity and thriving.
Does Minimalism Help ADHD?
Even though I’m making book recommendations here, I’m not a huge fan of reading all of the parenting books. Every parent and child is so very different, so unless I have a very specific issue and somebody I really trust is making a specific book recommendation, I take a pass. There just isn’t enough time in the world (even if you go the audiobook route) to take in all the parenting intel out there. And there can be a thing as too much information, as anyone who’s read too many diet books can attest to. In short, you do you.
Another thing that has helped is to keep it simple when it comes to clothes and toys. While I accept hand-me-downs, I have a system in place so that I don’t get overwhelmed when they are passed down. And I’m constantly downsizing clothes and toys so that the clutter doesn’t swallow me whole. I’m not a big fan of doing this all at once, but instead breaking it up into small chunks. I’m also not a fan of being too hard on myself if I don’t stay on top of it. While it’s important, usually stuff like feeding and bathing my kid trump the decluttering until I am motivated by sheer frustration.