Parenting When You Have ADHD

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on July 13, 2022
5 min read

About 1 in 25 adults has ADHD, and many of them are parents. Adult ADHD symptoms like inattention, impulsivity, and trouble staying organized make the already tough job of parenting even more challenging. To make things more complicated, ADHD runs in families. As many as half of kids with the condition have parents who share their diagnosis.

What can you do? Let’s look at some strategies.

Treatments like medications and behavioral therapy can help your parenting skills shine, and that means less stress for everyone. The right treatment should help you stick to daily routines, like prepping for the school day, getting homework done, and the many small tasks that must be completed before bedtime. This kind of consistency and structure makes things easier for your kids and for you.

Parents with ADHD may have trouble managing their emotional reactions when their children misbehave. And it’s sometimes harder for them to pay attention to their kids’ positive behaviors, which should be acknowledged and praised. Treatment can help with these issues as well.

If you have one or more children who also have ADHD, getting treatment for yourself should help you help them. When your own symptoms are under control, you’re likely to do a better job of keeping track of their ADHD medications and appointments.

If your child gets behavioral therapy for their ADHD, it’s important for you to be involved. Treatment could help you do that more effectively. One study found that parents with ADHD had trouble paying attention during therapy and remembering to practice behavior strategies at home.

Because you’re prone to distraction, you may not realize that you’re not giving your kids the one-on-one time with you that they need.

Pencil in some “kid time” each day, even if it’s just a short session. Write them down on your planner or set reminders on your phone to help you keep your commitment.

When you’re in charge of the kids, your mind may wander when you’re supposed to be keeping an eye on them. And unmonitored kids are more likely to injure themselves, particularly if they also have ADHD.

Don’t rely on willpower to stay focused. Set a timer to remind you to check on them at reasonable intervals, say every 15 to 30 minutes, depending on how old they are.

People with ADHD often act and speak impulsively. That can mean you respond to your child’s behavior differently each time. That’s confusing for children, and it’s ineffective when you’re trying to manage a child’s behavior problems.

Try this: Develop a list of family rules along with how you’ll respond when they’re broken (do this together with your spouse, partner, or ex if you co-parent). Post the list somewhere you’ll see it often. Refer to it as needed to keep you from going off-message.

If your kids have you feeling stressed or overwhelmed, find a way to take a break. In fact, you should plan regular alone time to unwind. Do you have a hobby? A favorite activity? A club? Schedule time to do these things each week.

Every parent needs to get away from the kids sometimes. But that’s especially true for parents with ADHD, who have more trouble regulating their emotions. Have a plan in place to de-stress when you need to. If you feel like you’re about to overreact, find a quiet room and put yourself in a time-out.

As a parent with ADHD, you need to recognize your strengths and weaknesses and how they affect your parenting skills. If you parent with a spouse, partner, or ex, talk to them about this. If you have a friend or relative who can help, loop them in. Work together to devise an effective division of labor:

  • If you struggle with time management and punctuality, hand off responsibility for things that are time-sensitive, like doctor appointments or school projects with a deadline.
  • Help with homework may not be a good fit for you, especially if your ADHD isn’t treated.
  • If you have trouble focusing when you’re behind the wheel of a car, have your partner or spouse shuttle your kids to school and elsewhere.

That’s a lot to add to someone else’s plate. So in return, take on more chores, especially those that don’t need to be done by a specific time. Think things like laundry, yard work, and home maintenance.

ADHD symptoms vary a lot. Each person may have more or less trouble attending to particular responsibilities, including parenting. Discuss this with your spouse or partner, of course, but you should also talk to your therapist.

Together, you can go over what you consider your parenting strengths and discuss where your shortcomings lie. This can help your therapist tailor a treatment program that addresses the areas where you need the most help.

For example, you may have trouble getting motivated to stick with necessary tasks, like toilet training, when other things compete for your attention. Your therapist can help you develop skills to stay on task.

If one or more of your kids has ADHD, classes can help you learn to manage their behavior. You might try behavioral parenting training, or BPT. These classes address things like house rules and routine, how to give clear instructions, praising good behavior, and more.

Normally, BPT is done over 8-12 hours with a therapist. But parents with ADHD may benefit from a stronger dose.

Research has shown that 12 2-hour BPT sessions may provide better results for parents who have ADHD. That’s because it’s important for adults with ADHD to make the skills they learn automatic. That way, you don’t have to rely on your perhaps less-than-adequate management abilities. Your best bet is a flexible program that gives you time to practice each new skill before you move on to learning the next one.