As a parent of a young adult with ADHD, I know just how much most parents must be involved in their ADHDer’s life to help them succeed. Throughout childhood and adolescence, your ADHD son or daughter has had to lean on you to make decisions, get organized and manage life’s complications. As a result, when your child has ADHD, you continue to exercise a lot of influence in her life much longer than most parents, often far beyond her teen years.
Then They Pull Away
And then one day, she begins to pull away, wanting more autonomy. Normal, yes, but this can be a very distressing time for you. Every parent feels a twinge of rejection, but it may be worse when your child has ADHD. Most parents worry about the decisions their adult child will make, and since your ADHDer has needed your involvement more than most, you worry even more. How is she going to manage college or university on her own?
Normal, Not Easy
First, let me reassure you. Your son or daughter’s desire for autonomy is normal and healthy; it’s not a reflection of their feelings for you. They are not rejecting you, they are embracing their own independence, albeit sometimes awkwardly. Of course, you struggle with your desire to protect them from that big bad world out there, while at the same time, wanting desperately for them to spread their wings and fly on their own.
Life Lessons by Any Other Name
However, despite your ADHDer’s desire to make her own decisions, she is not transformed into a good decision-maker, organizer or time manager overnight. You fear she’ll make mistakes (News flash! She will!) as she learns to think for herself, or worse, rather than thinking for herself, she’ll seek “help” with her decisions, so that rather than thinking for herself, she’ll resort to the wrong help and potentially jeopardize her chances of success at school, at work, in life.
This is especially true if your child is pursuing higher education. As they prepare to begin their post-secondary education, this is often the first time young adults face decisions that can significantly alter their life path. Here are seven strategies to help your ADHD adult child on the road to independence.
Seven Strategies to Help Your ADHD Child Succeed
Strategy #1: Keep the lines of communication open. Make her understand she can discuss anything with you, and the best way you can make sure they understand this is by demonstrating that you are a good listener (not a lecturer!) Ask non-leading, non-judgmental questions that help her clarify her decision.
Strategy #2: Declare (and demonstrate) your intent to encourage and respect her independence. Be available to discuss things with her if she needs to, and when you are discussing things, also understand that you are NOT always right. Your beliefs may not be her beliefs.
Strategy #3: Treat her like the adult she is becoming. Have adult conversations with her, ask her opinion about current events or other topics she is interested in, and engage in activities together as two adults rather than parent and child. Children with ADHD often lag behind their peers in maturity and suffer rejection because of it. However, this often leaves them with fewer mature roles models whose behavior they can emulate. You can provide that example.
Strategy #4: Help her make decisions without trying to influence them. When she does come to you for help making decisions, don’t step in to make the decision for them, don’t even try to influence their decision. Ask questions that allow her to notice blind spots she may have in her thinking. And unless the object of the decision is illegal, unethical, immoral, support it. If it is a decision where you KNOW the outcome will have a HUGE impact on her life, ask if you can present your views, and then, with permission, make your case and then support her, regardless of the decision she makes.
Strategy # 5: Seek out specialized ADHD help and training. ADHDers usually need a different approach to things like managing time and getting organized. ADHD coaches are trained to help ADHDers effectively plan their lives, get organized, manage their finances, use effective study skills and learning strategies, become better at self-advocacy and make better decisions. Unlike you, a coach is not emotionally attached to the results and so won’t force a decision one way or the other. Coaching is meant to empower your ADHD son or daughter, not make them more dependent.
Strategy #6: Help your ADHD adult become their own advocate. Speaking of empowerment, give your ADHD adult the information she needs and encourage her to make her own calls for appointments, make her own requests for accommodations and so on. Yes, you may need to sit beside her on her first call, but with practice, she’ll be able to make it on her own.
Strategy #7: Celebrate every success! Celebrate each step toward independence, each happy result, each effort made toward her goals. Be on the lookout for and notice anything she does well. Helping your ADHD son or daughter make it on his or her own is an important part of your role as a parent. When a decision does not provide the desired results, help her see the lessons learned.
Challenges… and Rewards
Being a parent has its challenges, but being the parent of an adult with ADHD can make it even more challenging. Remember that regardless the direction she takes in life, you want to come out the other side of this period of transition with your relationship intact, changed, yes, but strong and loving.
If your relationship is strained because you don’t see eye to eye, it may be time to bring in an ADHD-trained neutral third party, leaving you to play a (perhaps more comfortable) supportive role in her quest for autonomy. The reward, and your ultimate objective (the objective of every parent), is for your child to have a happy life doing something they love.