Hey, Parents of Kids With ADHD: Your Break Awaits!

by Sheila M. Eldred Health Writer

As a parent of a kid with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it’s easy to put your own needs second, third, or 33rd! But making sure you take care of you will make you a calmer, more present parent. “It takes a great deal of energy to react with a child with ADHD, so time to rest, not think, and not try to figure things out for a moment becomes very important,” says Marsha Feeney, parent of a son with ADHD.

Ok, ok, but how do you actually do it? We've got advice that totally works IRL.

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Start With the Basics

Do you get your kids to swim lessons on time, but can’t remember the last time you laced up your running shoes? Do you pack an ultra-healthy lunch for your family, then scrounge around for snacks for yourself?

Self-care is about remembering to take care of your basic needs, says Stephanie O’Leary, Psy.D., a psychologist in Mt. Kisco, NY, and author of Parenting in the Real World. That starts with your physical self: Get enough sleep, eat right, exercise. “You can’t parent at the top of your game if you are tired, hungry, or emotionally depleted. Self-care allows you to be the best version of yourself.”

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Swap Places With Your Children

If your child had a headache and fever, you would take her to the doctor. You wouldn’t ignore the symptoms for days, letting her continue on with her daily routine. No matter what your children need, you find a way to make it happen. Self-care includes mentally putting yourself in the same position. Ask yourself: “If my child needed this, how would I make it happen?” Then use those same strategies and resources on yourself, suggests Dr. O’Leary.

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Sneak in a Micro Escape

Self-care means taking care of your emotional needs as well. And that doesn’t need to mean weekend-long spa trips, though that works, too! Tiny moments and decisions can make more of an impact than you think. For example, Dr. O’Leary enjoys the smell of oranges. She keeps a small bottle of orange oil in her purse and when feeling stressed, takes 60 seconds to sit back and enjoy the smell. She also suggests playing a song you love—yes, even if everyone else is requesting something else. Or simply wear a color that brings you joy.

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Schedule Time for Yourself—and Honor it!

Jennifer, a parent of a child with ADHD, blocks off her “me” time in her calendar. “I started with a tiny amount (like 30 minutes a month) and upped it as I got more comfortable with the idea that my family wouldn't fall apart if I was unavailable for a little while,” says Jennifer, who asked that we use only her first name. “Now I guard three hours on Tuesday mornings from all encroachments. It's more challenging in the summer, but I've made it work. And ultimately it's made me a better parent because I'm more relaxed.”

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Hang Out in the Tub 100% Alone

In a recent online discussion, parents shared tricks for carving time out of overbooked schedules. Here's how one mom finds 30 minutes of peace:

“I run our tub full of hot water, add my vanilla-scented oil, turn on the fan for white noise, turn on my favorite music, tell my husband he is in charge, and lock the door,” she writes. “My family knows not to bother me unless the house is on fire. I use my sugar body scrub and my clay mask. It really does make me feel refreshed and better about myself, which helps me handle more of the stress.”

Create an Early-Morning Sanctuary

Another mom sets an alarm clock:

“I wake up at 4:30 every morning to have that quiet time to myself ... even if it’s just to watch some TV.”

Not an early bird? Just setting your alarm clock back 15 minutes so that you can enjoy a cup of coffee in the quiet may be enough to set the tone for the day.

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Just Book That Massage Already!

In addition to exercise, this mom blocks time for a massage twice a month:

“The body absorbs all the stress, and releasing it enables me to come better prepared to every day.”

If you’re not a massage person, make sure you’re protecting time to take care of your physical self in other ways, whether that be your favorite weekly spin class or yoga in your living room—no kids allowed.

Or, Find Things to Enjoy With Your Child

Feeney finds things she and her son both love doing. “It’s hard to enjoy the tantrums, the melt downs, the frustration that comes along with ADHD, so you have to implement moments for fun and ways to enjoy the little things life has to offer,” she says.

The trick is to find the activities that bring joy, not frustration: “Sitting down and reading a book at the library was not an option for us, but a game of tag or picking wildflowers was thrilling for him,” says Feeney. You do what works!

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Steal Ideas From Your Kids' Therapies

Borrow your kid's punching bag. Hop into karate class (with the instructor's permission!) and do a few combos.

And if you're really not into whatever your kid is, try to use the time when your child is at therapy as built-in time for you. Whatever you do, just make sure it’s chill-out time, not get-everything-done time. Bring an actual book or download a podcast. Go for a walk or a run. Your choice!

Sheila M. Eldred
Meet Our Writer
Sheila M. Eldred

Sheila Mulrooney Eldred is a graduate of Columbia’s School of Journalism and a former newspaper reporter. As a freelance health journalist, she writes about everything from life-threatening diseases to elite athletes. Her stories have appeared in The New York Times, Nature, FiveThirtyEight, Pacific Standard, STAT News, and other publications. In her spare time, she and her family love running, cross-country skiing, and mountain biking in Minneapolis.