As a parent of a teenager with ADHD, I know firsthand the challenges of managing their moods and some lagging skills. Teenagers can be moody, unpredictable, and easily frustrated, making it difficult to navigate day-to-day life calmly at times. In addition to moods, they face challenges related to schoolwork, social relationships, and overall behavior. It’s not easy having ADHD.
One of the most important things I've learned is to find my patience, pause, and be understanding and supportive. It's easy to get frustrated when you’re repeating yourself and nagging, but I try to remind myself that their behavior is not a choice. ADHD is a neurological condition that affects how the brain works, and it can be tough for them to control their moods and emotions.
I tell my clients to encourage their kids to identify their emotions as well as communicate openly about them. That can be difficult if they suffer from impulsivity and don’t necessarily think before they speak. However, I've found that when they feel heard and understood, their frustration and anxiety decrease and your family dynamic improves. Validation works wonders with kids!
One of the biggest challenges parents may face is helping their teenager with ADHD “succeed” in school. Many kids struggle with focus, organization, and completing tasks, which makes schoolwork overwhelming. However, breaking tasks down into smaller steps, using visual aids like charts or calendars, and encouraging breaks can all help them stay focused and motivated.
It’s also helpful to be super clear and succinct when you ask them to do something. This is one of those times less is more. Setting clear and realistic expectations is also essential. Our kids receive 20,000 more negative messages than their peers by age 12. That is a lot of negativity coming at them. So we need to meet them where they are and that means setting our expectations appropriately. That’s harder than it sounds sometimes. It’s not easy to look at your 16-year-old and think about whether your request is good for a 13-year-old brain.
One example that comes up a lot in my parent coaching is the age-old messy room. It’s infuriating when you’ve asked your teen to clean their room and they just don’t do it. How hard is it to do? Well, pretty hard if you have ADHD. Why? Because they see this huge mess that is completely overwhelming to them. However, if you say “put your sweaters on the shelf and your shoes in the closet,” that they can do! Because while it's important to provide support and guidance, parents should also encourage their teenagers to develop independence and take responsibility for their own behavior and decisions. This can help them build confidence and develop important life skills.
Along those lines, another challenge can be helping our teenager develop and maintain positive social relationships. Teenagers with ADHD may struggle with impulsivity, which can lead to social difficulties like interrupting others or speaking without thinking. We can encourage them to practice active listening, taking turns speaking, and recognizing social cues like facial expressions and tone of voice.
Yes, we need to teach them those skills first, but then let them grow from there. Also, help them develop coping strategies. This might include taking a break when they feel overwhelmed, engaging in physical activity to release pent-up energy, or practicing deep breathing exercises to calm down when their angry or upset. We want to empower them to identify and feel more in control of their emotions.
It’s also important to focus on their strengths and abilities, which are many. They can be so smart, creative, loyal, and able to be present in a situation. Focusing on their positive traits can help them feel valued and motivated. While their moods can be difficult to deal with, they are also capable of experiencing great joy, excitement, and happiness. By focusing on what they can do rather than what they can't, we not only help them but ourselves too. We need to work on our own coping skills to avoid becoming overwhelmed or feeling frustrated and stressed out. So celebrate the small successes and take time to really appreciate the progress your teen makes. Believe me, it will help the whole family!