All in the Familyby Tracy Middleton Health Writer
The A.M. Hustle
Maria: We do as much as possible the night before. We put everything Jack needs in his backpack and lay out his clothes. He loses track of time so we have a morning checklist: Get dressed, eat, brush his teeth.
Penny: When I gave Luke a chart and a marker, he’d check off things without doing them. So I laminated a 4x6 card that had pictures of everything he had to do in the morning: a toothbrush for brushing his teeth, a clothes basket to remind him to put his PJs in the laundry. I put a jumbo paper clip on the side that he could slide down as he did each task. If he got it all done by a certain time, he earned screen time before school, which was very motivating for him.
Billy: When Isaac was little, a play therapist told us to give him physically exhausting things to do: Take him swimming, have him push the grocery cart. When he was 4 or 5 he started playing football. Now he plays rugby too. For Jayden, sports teach him to be organized. He keeps his helmet, mouthguard, and jersey in a bag, so there’s only one thing to remember to grab.
Maria: We tried soccer for a few years, but Jack would get upset if someone kicked the ball away from him, even though that’s how the game works. It was frustrating instead of fun. So we switched to karate and baseball, which he loves. The positive reinforcement of earning a karate belt boosts his confidence, and being part of a baseball team has been positive socially.
Penny: I always try to figure out what’s driving Luke’s behavior. If I give him a 40-question math worksheet and he throws it on the floor or in the trash, my inclination might be to get angry. But there could be many reasons for this. He could be hungry or have not slept well. Or maybe 40 questions feels too overwhelming. Instead of yelling, I say, “I can see that you’re angry, or frustrated. How can I help?” Even if he yells at me, I have validated his feelings—that’s a huge piece of helping kids with ADHD.
Billy: Jasmine is a chatterbox, which is common with ADHD. So sometimes we get messages from her teachers about her talking. We know she can’t help it—suppressing the urge to talk is like holding a beach ball under water. But the behavior isn’t acceptable. We give her multiple chances and try to understand. But if it keeps happening, she’ll have consequences, like not having TV for the night.
Maria: When Jack was younger, I tried to defuse a lot of situations. If he was playing and got upset because his friend didn’t want to play the same thing, I’d call the parent and say “They played handball today. Can they do what Jack wants tomorrow?” But now I’m letting him sort it out. He has to see that the other kid doesn’t want to play with him because he flipped out.
Penny: My daughter is a few years older than Luke. When she was younger she had anxiety from watching her brother’s public meltdowns. She wouldn’t sleep anywhere but home, not even with her grandparents down the street, because she felt neglected. At her first therapy appointment she talked about how we should build an altar to him. It was one of the most profound parenting moments I’ve ever had. After that we were more conscientious about carving out time for her.
Billy: Our kids bicker all the time, and the ones who have diagnoses take up a lot of our physical and mental time. Jasmine, who is under evaluation for ADHD, is driven by quality time. We can spend 12 hours with her at a water park and she still wants to be together. So sometimes we have to be firm with her that it’s the siblings’ time. But we never shame her about needing us.
Maria: Jack’s sister Lily is 8, but often she’s the more mature one. He loses patience with her easily, but she often isn’t fazed. Maybe he’ll get stuck on something, like he wants to go to Carvel and she wants Baskin-Robbins. She’s pretty good about going along, but sometimes we’ll go both places.
Penny: When Luke started high school, he was getting so assaulted, sensory-wise, that he’d hide in the bathroom or text asking me to pick him up. He couldn’t get anything done. So I asked the school if he could do online classes part time at home. I had zero hope they’d agree to it, but they did. I see a huge difference. On the work he does at home, he gets As; he often gets Cs and Ds at school, where he doesn’t get enough help.
Maria: If I don’t give him a break after school, getting Jack to do homework is a struggle. He’ll walk around or fidget. I let him decompress by shooting baskets or playing with a neighborhood friend. Sometimes he’ll watch TV, but he stands up to do it. Once he’s had down time it goes more smoothly. It’s difficult for him to focus on writing or reading. He also fatigues easily when writing. His handwriting is illegible, so he gets occupational therapy at school. At home he uses a pencil gripper, and we use graph paper to show him how to stay between the lines.
Keeping Your Cool
Penny: You’re the last thing on your own mind when your child gets an ADHD diagnosis, and everything feels like it’s falling apart. But it’s so important to carve out time for yourself, even if it’s just an extra 5 minutes in the bathroom to breathe.
Maria: I try to make sure I do something for myself—get coffee, go to the gym, take a shower—before I address what I need Jack to do. When I’m calmer, I can better explain and am less likely to yell.
Billy: It’s hard not to let exhaustion deplete you, and to remember how much joy these kids bring. Sometimes my wife and I tell the kids, “Mom and Dad need some time.” It’s also important to talk to other parents of kids with these diagnoses. We have to connect so we know we’re not the only ones who can’t always keep their cool.