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Claire Nielsen: Parenting an ADD/ADHD child

For the ADD/ADHD mind, it is very difficult to focus on areas that don’t hold any interest, so topics that are boring are often not absorbed.
The best thing a parent can do is be understanding.

Being the mother of a child diagnosed with ADHD, I have had to learn quite a bit about this type of brain.  I don’t refer to this as a disorder because I am in awe of the incredible intelligence of the ADHD/ADD mind and it saddens me when young people think there is something wrong with them. 

Focus issues are a problem in our society, not only in children but in the mass public. Our diets are not brain healthy, we are easily distracted (mainly by our phones), we don’t get enough exercise, we are lacking in sleep, we are more reactionary and we lack connection with nature and interaction with each other. All these areas cause stress for the body and mind resulting in issues with focus and mental wellbeing.

For the ADD/ADHD mind, it is very difficult to focus on areas that don’t hold any interest, so topics that are boring are often not absorbed, but if they are interested in a topic they will hyper-focus and become an expert in their field. Some of the most talented people are diagnosed with ADD/ADHD. Some current celebrities with ADHD include Howie Mandel, Justin Timberlake, Carrie Underwood, Will Smith, Adam Levine, Emma Watson and Michael Jordan. Brilliant innovators and inventors in history who have the ADD/ADHD mind include Elon Musk and Bill Gates.

There is no doubt that people with ADD/ADHD are often very intelligent.  I told my son when he was younger that he has a brilliant mind like a race car that he hadn’t yet learned how to drive yet.

The best thing a parent can do is be understanding (learn all you can about this condition – check out for resources) and be patient and compassionate.  And take nothing personally!  When we react to our overstimulated or agitated child with resistance (because we cannot control them), we forget that it must be very confusing and scary to live in their brains sometimes.  We need to help our children express what they are feeling in constructive ways rather than reacting to the (sometimes very hurtful) things that come out of their mouths or their frustrating actions.   Boundaries and rules need to be put in place with consistent consequences but they need to be fair and agreed upon in a family meeting when everyone is in a good head space. Otherwise, consequences are seen as punishment – and punishments rarely work.

Often with the ADD/ADHD mind comes impulsivity and behaviour issues. Negative impulsive verbal or physical choices made by someone with ADD/ADHD are often followed by shame and guilt, which lowers self-esteem. This is why people with this condition are more likely to eventually self-medicate.  I urge parents to see beyond the behaviour (don’t take it personally) and find out what is causing the confusion, upset or lack in their child. Even if the feelings seem irrational, it is important to validate them and listen (the words Silent and Listen have the same letters).  So often we get caught in a power struggle, and/or use shame and guilt to manage our children with ADD/ADHD. But this just contributes to the cycle of resistance and negative behaviour, guilt, shame, self-esteem issues and more bad behaviour. As a parent of a child with these issues, I own the fact that many of my own reactionary choices have not been helpful to the situation.  Unless we break the patterns of how we were raised, we repeat them. As a parent, if we learn to give space to the child who is having an issue, invite them to talk, listen with compassion and empathy, try to understand where they are coming from, and offer constructive solutions (if they want them). Teens often don’t want solutions so sometimes sharing a story from our own adolescence may help.  More than anything, they just want to be heard and understood. Family counseling is a great option to help build strategies of communication.

It is suggested that reward charts are not the best way to manage kids and get compliance (for chores, homework, etc.) but I think that for the ADD/ADHD mind rewards work quite well.  The deep intrinsic satisfaction of having accomplished something, which motivates one to make positive choices is often slow to develop in the ADD/ADHD mind. But earning stars for positive behaviour or help around the house or homework that can then translate into something they want (screen, items, treats) has been quite effective with the ADD/ADHD mind.

Clear instructions are needed when giving a child/teen with ADD/ADHD a task. Often, the second item in the list or directions are tuned out because of distraction. They can’t help it, so it important to have them state back what you just instructed or better yet, write it down.  Nothing would get done around our house without lists. I am the queen of lists for myself and for assigning chores / tasks. This eliminates the nagging and the criticism for not ‘listening’.  

I also mentioned in a previous article the importance of a healthy diet for the ADHD mind, and many people who cut down on sugar, food colouring & gluten find a huge difference in the mental wellbeing of their children (read Grain Brain).

All my kids have been my teachers but my youngest, with the most pronounced ADHD, has been my biggest teacher. I have learned patience and to pause before I react, I have learned empathy and compassion as I try to understand what things must be like from his perspective, I have learned so much about myself and been face to face with the worst parts of my competitive egoic mind. I have learned to walk away from a power struggle, I have learned not to be a hypocrite, I have learned to let go and most of all I have learned unconditional love. For this I am eternally grateful to my ADD/ADHD kid(s). 

Claire Nielsen is a health coach, author, public speaker and founder of The information provided in the above article is for educational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional health and medical advice. Please consult a doctor or healthcare provider if you're seeking medical advice, diagnoses and/or treatment.