To take good care of your child, first take good care of yourself.
If you are a mother with ADD, your first step should be to get treatment for yourself. A mother’s usual tendency is to focus on her child’s difficulties while neglecting her own. Just as the airline flight attendant instructs you to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting your child, you must first get help for your own ADD before you can effectively deal with your child’s problems.
A recent study suggests that parent training programs are not very helpful when the mother has untreated ADD, lending even more weight to the importance of treatment for women with ADD.
For more information about ADD in women, check out the following:
- Understanding Women with AD/HD by Kathleen Nadeau and Patricia Quinn
- Gender Issues and AD/HD by Patricia Quinn and Kathleen Nadeau
- Women with ADD by Sari Solden
Look for a professional who understands ADD in women
If you are a woman seeking diagnosis and treatment, you may need to make an extra effort to find a professional who can give you the help you need. Many professionals overlook or misdiagnose ADD in girls and women because it sometimes looks different than it does in boys and men.
Keep in mind:
- Misdiagnosis of women with ADD is common. Studies show that as a woman with ADD, you are more likely to be misdiagnosed with anxiety or depression.
- Anxiety or depression may be part of the ADD picture, but not the whole picture. Treating anxiety and depression doesn’t address the feeling of being overwhelmed or the disorganization that results from having ADD.
- Women with ADD need to self-advocate. Educate yourself about ADD. Armed with this information, you will be better able to discuss your symptoms with a professional who may know little about how ADD presents in women. If you can not find a professional who is already experienced in treating women, look for one that is open to learning more. Let them know about books, articles and resources that are available for women and girls with ADD.
Don’t shortchange yourself when you seek treatment – effective Treatment usually involves a variety of interventions and supports.
Among adults, ADD rarely occurs alone. There are many conditions that frequently co-occur with ADD. Effective treatment for ADD should also focus on any related conditions you may have, such as anxiety and depression.
Look for therapists, coaches and organizers who can work with you and your family to create a more ADD-friendly home environment. While symptoms of ADD often quickly respond to medication, effective treatment for all aspects of ADD can be a complex process. There are no easy answers. At various times, you may need to focus on different issues that require parent or couples counseling, coaching and/or the help of a professional organizer.
Professional organizers can be located through the National Association of Professional Organizers at www.napo.net.
ADD coaches can be found through a number of organizations including:
Build a network of support
Find or form a women’s ADD support group. Sharing your struggle with a group of women who understand can be a very helpful, healing experience.
Seek out allies who are ADD-friendly – people who are not hypercritical or competitive; people who see your gifts and understand your ADD.
Get the support that you need. You may need more support to manage your daily life than a woman without ADD. Look for creative ways to find support.
Arrange for a mother’s helper. To manage your own ADD and to be a calm and consistent mother, you’ll need regular breaks from being “on-duty” with the kids.
Anticipate high-stress times – for example your PMS week or times when your partner is away – and plan ahead for extra support from a babysitter, a mother’s helper or a friend.
Emphasize your gifts, the things you love to do. Find others who can join with you in making these positive experiences a greater part of your life.
An excellent source of online support for women with ADD is www.flylady.net – a website that provides online personal coaching for women.
Many women’s ADD support groups have developed across the country. To find a support group near you, try searching the Internet using google or yahoo.
Reduce stress in order to reduce ADD challenges.
As stress increases, ADD symptoms tend to increase for both you and your child. Symptoms such as disorganization, forgetfulness and poor management of daily tasks are often magnified by stress. But the reverse is also true. When you reduce stress in your life, ADD becomes easier to manage. Do a stress-analysis of your daily life. Make a list of the things that cause stress – both large and small. Then use this list as a guide for reducing stress.
For example, you might consider:
Reducing your commitments; Changing spending patterns to get out of debt; Getting more sleep and exercise; Simplifying your daily patterns; or Spending more time with supportive people.
Simplify your life.
In today’s fast-paced world, every woman looks for ways to simplify her life. As a woman with ADD, your need to cut back is even greater. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Get rid of items you don’t really use.
- Choose low-maintenance clothing for the whole family.
- Select sturdy family-friendly home furnishings.
- Look for easy ways to increase household order. Do you need coat hooks in the entryway? More storage in the kids’ rooms? A storage bin to neatly store bottles and newspapers for recycling?
- Develop simple weekday menus.
- Reduce the number of newspaper and magazine subscriptions.
- Decrease the commitments of each family member.
- Get your kids involved in finding creative ways to “keep it simple.”
Real Simple Magazine (available by subscription, in supermarkets and on newsstands) offers great suggestions on simplifying your life. Look online for websites that offer items to help organize your space and store belongings, such as:
Help your child learn about ADD from a positive, constructive perspective.
Many parents are uncomfortable telling their child about ADD. Some fear that the ADD “label” will make their child feel bad. Others simply don’t know what to tell their child.
As a mother who has lived with ADD all of her life, you know that it can be very difficult to grow up with untreated ADD. Most children recognize that they are different and blame themselves. They may believe that they are “stupid” or “bad” because they are forgetful, can’t pay attention or remember as easily as their classmates.
Telling your child about your own ADD can be the beginning of positive change. Teach your child that with the right kind of help they can feel better and function better at home and at school.
Good information on how to tell your child about ADD can be found in:
Learning to Slow Down and Pay Attention by Kathleen Nadeau and Ellen Dixon Putting on the Brakes by Patricia Quinn and Judith Stern
Become an ADD role model for your child.
When you take charge of your ADD, you help both yourself and your child. Share your efforts, your successes and your frustrations. Talk about the problem-solving that you do to manage ADD challenges. Let your child know that that the best approach to ADD challenges is to attack the problem instead of attacking yourself. This is a good way to teach your child a positive, responsible and realistic view of how to manage with ADD.
Give your child an ADD role model of self-acceptance and personal responsibility. Together, you and your children can tackle ADD challenges with humor and mutual support.
Work together as a family to meet the challenges of ADD.
- Tackle ADD as a family. Learn about ADD together and set family goals for getting organized and solving the problems of daily life.
- Give yourself and your family a break! Let go of unrealistic expectations and set goals that are right for you and your family.
- Approach ADD foibles with humor in yourself and in other family members.
- Take care of your own and your family’s health.
- Exercising and playing together, eating nutritious family meals and getting the whole family to bed on time can help reduce the negative impact of ADD.
Create an ADD-friendly family.
An ADD-friendly family is one that solves problems and celebrates successes together. How can your family become more ADD-friendly? Here are some ideas:
- Focus on what’s important – being loving, encouraging and cooperative.
- Don’t sweat the details, like who left the wet towel on the floor.
- Be patient with each other. It’s easier to keep trying when you feel that your family is behind you.
- Learn to laugh over ADD-related dilemmas. Humor eases the way through inevitable daily glitches.
- Spend time enjoying each other. Don’t just “work” on problems.
- Accommodate family forgetfulness with notes, message centers and user-friendly reminders.
- Create a family philosophy that it’s OK to be different from one another.
- Make home a safe haven – a place where each family member feels loved and supported.
Work together with your partner to tackle the challenges of ADD.
- Seek ADD parent guidance together. Working with an experienced ADD family counselor can help both of you to understand what is reasonable to expect of your child with ADD as well as to learn effective ways of dealing with your child’s problematic behaviors.
- Agree upon an approach to parenting. Working as a team will allow you to be mutually supportive, even when emotions are running high. If your child knows that you are working together, his or her “divide and conquer” strategy may not be effective any longer.
- Help your partner understand how your parenting may be affected by ADD. For example, you may not always be consistent in your parenting. Work together to create an ADD-friendly atmosphere of support and understanding instead of blame, anger and frustration.
- Keep the lines of communication open. This way you’ll be better able to support each other and be less reactive in the heat of a difficult situation with your child.
- Know when to offer and when to ask for help from your partner. When one parent is under extreme stress, the other parent may need to take over to avert a potentially explosive situation.
Hold regular family meetings for creative problem-solving.
When everyone participates in finding solutions, each person is more likely to be motivated to change. Regular family meetings can create and reinforce feelings of acceptance and belonging.
Family meetings are a time to discuss issues, plan activities and practice problem-solving. Whether meetings are held on a weeknight or weekend, be sure everyone can attend. “No blaming or complaining” is the rule. Instead, use this time to come together to focus on solutions, not problems; on progress, not imperfections.
Our Family Meeting Book by Elaine Hightower and Betsy Riley is a great resource to help you structure family meetings. This practical guide offers 52 simple agendas for weekly meetings that are fun and easy for everyone.
Focus on the solution, not the problem.
Older children and teens would rather reach their own plan of action instead of being told what to do. Learning how to problem-solve is one of the most important tools you can give your child. It may also be something that you need to practice as well. Family meetings may provide a time to engage in problem-solving together with your children and partner.
Problem-solving is something you can practice together. Challenge your children to not just bring you problems, but to also bring you solutions. This teaches your child to take responsibility for finding answers instead of making excuses for ADD problems.
Reduce family arguments to make room for positive changes.
Many families with ADD fall into a cycle of frustration, fighting and failure. When you can reduce conflicts at home, there’s more time for problem-solving and enjoyable family activities. If you feel that you and your child are caught up in frequent arguments over rules and punishments, here are some family-friendly tips:
Draw up a set of household rules. Make sure that the rules are clear and spell out specific behaviors such as:
- No hitting or name-calling.
- No taking other people’s property without permission.
- After using something, put it back where it belongs.
- No TV until homework is finished.
- No allowance until all weekly chores are done.
Establish clear consequences for breaking these rules.
- Discuss the consequences for breaking each rule. Everyone should have a say in this discussion. You may be surprised at how fair and insightful your children can be.
- Write down all rules and the consequences for breaking them.
- Display this list prominently in a common area.
This system helps both the parent and child with ADD. The parent is less likely to react impulsively if a clear consequence has been spelled out beforehand; the child with ADD will be better able to learn desired behaviors when rules and consequences are clear.
Be consistent in applying consequences and back each other up.
Don’t establish consequences you will be reluctant to enforce. A consequence shouldn’t be something you threaten when you’re in a bad mood and forget when you’re in a better mood. A “good” consequence is a reasonable response to an undesired behavior – a teaching tool that will motivate family members to change.
Useful tools for developing programs to manage behaviors through reasonable consequences are provided in:
- 1-2-3: Magic by Tom Phelan
- Surviving Your Adolescents by Tom Phelan
Develop daily routines.
When you are a mother with ADD, it’s next to impossible to help your kids develop good daily habits until you learn to develop those habits yourself. Make it a family project, and work with your kids to create better daily family patterns.
Daily life in many families with ADD members can be chaotic. Developing daily routines, particularly a “morning routine” and an “evening routine” can help your family be more orderly. Work on developing these routines as a family and problem-solve as a family when a routine isn’t working.
A morning routine begins with getting out of bed and ends with departing for the day’s activities. Different family members may have different routines, but they need to be coordinated.
- what time each family member should get up in the morning;
- what should be done if that family member oversleeps;
- who needs help getting ready for school and who will help them;
- what time breakfast is served and who prepares it; and
- when each family member should depart.
Problem-solve when the morning routine isn’t working smoothly:
- Maybe the “late-sleeper” needs an earlier bedtime.
- Maybe the “can’t-find-my-shoes” kid needs to lay out clothes the night before.
- Maybe it would help to have healthy grab-and-go breakfasts available for mornings when someone is running late.
Evening routine A successful morning routine depends upon a good evening routine. When you make preparations in the evening and get to sleep on time, your morning routine will go more smoothly. An evening routine should specify such things as:
- “Homework time” for each child;
- “Bath time” for each child;
- Preparations to be made for the next day – preparing lunches, setting clothes out, collecting items needed for school;
- “Get in bed time” for each child;
- “Lights out time” for each child;
- And just as important, “go to sleep” time for Mom.
Many women with ADD sabotage their own morning routines by staying up too late reading or watching TV, then not getting up in time to supervise an organized morning routine for the children.
For ADD strategies to succeed you need support and structure.
- Look for support from family members, friends, ADD support groups, ADD coaches and professional organizers.
- Seek understanding, encouragement and camaraderie as you tackle the hard work of learning to manage the ADD challenges of daily life.
- You may need more support as you begin to make changes; later, you may be able to operate more independently.
- Remember: a housekeeper is cheaper than a divorce.
Structure – It comes in many forms: creating realistic to-do lists; setting do-able goals; learning to select smaller tasks and then staying with them to completion; and developing reminder systems that work for you.
Websites to find help to organize and schedule your whole family:
To get things done, create a “Must List” and a “Master List.”
If you’re like many other women with ADD, you’ve got lists scribbled everywhere, but no system for getting your “to-do’s” done. Instead of scribbles and scraps, try using a two-list system: a “Must List” and a “Master List.”
- Make a short daily “Must List” – then get it done. Only write on today’s list what must be done today. These things take priority over everything else, unless there’s an emergency.
- Set a daily goal to complete your “Must List.” Keep shortening your “Must List” until you reach your daily goal. If you rarely complete your “Must List” you are either over-committed or need help to decide what must be done. A counselor, ADD coach or professional organizer can help you set priorities and reduce over-commitment.
- Keep a “Master List” where you write all things that need to be done, now and in the future. Review your master list each day and decide which items should be transferred to today’s “Must List.”
- Keep both lists together and with you at all times.
- Help your kids learn to keep a to-do list. Gradually teach them to keep track of their own “to-do’s” instead of always relying on you to remind them.
Learn ADD-friendly organizing strategies, and teach them to your kids.
An ADD-friendly strategy is one that works with your ADD, not against it. Here are a few ADD-friendly strategies:
- Do it as soon as you think of it.
- A short list is better than a long memory.
- Don’t just tell me, write it down.
- Put it where you can’t forget it.
- Think like a restaurant server – pick up and put away as you move from room to room.
Develop new habits the ADD-friendly way.
To take charge of ADD, you’ll need to develop new habits. New habits are never easy, but here are some tips to help you and your child:
- Tie a new habit to an old one. For example, if your habit is to enter your house by the kitchen door and you want to develop a new habit of always putting your keys in the same place, choose a convenient spot near the kitchen door to place a key hook; then tie the two habits together – “open the door, hang up the keys.”
- Make the new habit as easy as possible. Don’t place the key hook far from the kitchen door.
- Make the new habit hard to ignore. Create a large, impossible-to-miss sign that asks, “Did you hang up your keys?”
- Put reminders everywhere. Put another reminder in the hallway, another upstairs. Post as many as you need until you’ve developed the new habit.
- Visualize yourself doing the new habit. “Practice” in your mind walking in the door and hanging your keys on the hook.
- Make “instant corrections.” Go back and hang your keys on the hook the instant you realize you’ve forgotten, even if it’s inconvenient.
- Problem-solve if it’s not working. If you still forget to hang up your keys, problem-solve. Maybe you’ll be more successful if your key hook is near the place where you put your purse or your briefcase.
- Problem-solve with your family. Other family members may have useful ideas. Asking for suggestions to help with ADD struggles is good role-modeling for your kids.
Combat clutter to create calm.
In today’s fast-paced world, every woman looks for ways to simplify her life. As a woman with ADD, your need to cut back is even greater. Here are some ideas to get started:
- Many women with ADD live with a constantly cluttered environment, and ADD clutter tends to multiply. If you haven’t sorted through yesterday’s mail, you’re more likely to just toss today’s mail on top of the pile and let the clutter grow. There are no easy answers, but here are a few ADD-friendly rules:
- First, clutter no more. Before you tackle existing clutter, start by creating no “new” clutter. Hang up your clothes, sort and process your mail, put things back after using them, put groceries in the pantry, fold the laundry and put it away, wash the dishes and put them away.
- Think small. Don’t take on too much at once – take on “one drawer per day,” or “one shelf per day.”
- Finish what you start. Take on one small organizing project at a time and then stick with it to completion.
- Don’t try to do it alone. You and your kids can work on this together. Ask your kids for ideas and help with your clutter; offer them support in digging out their rooms. Give your children the message that, with ADD, being organized doesn’t come naturally, but together we can do it.
Collaborate and communicate with your child’s school.
Teamwork between home and school is critical. It is important that the school faculty be aware of all that you are doing for your child with ADD. That way, everyone is working toward the common goal of helping your child achieve independence and academic success. The school will need information about your child’s diagnosis, treatment and academic recommendations so that a plan of action can be set in place.
It is critical to establish consistent and open communication with your child’s teacher. Collaborate with your child’s teacher to find solutions for your child’s ADD challenges.
With your busy schedule, it’s not always easy to meet with your child’s teacher in person, so here are some ways to keep in touch:
- Communicate by phone or email on a regular basis.
- Create a notebook that travels back and forth with your child. This allows the teacher to write down any notes about your child. You can also add any important information that you think the teacher should be aware of as it arises.
- Provide the teacher with a set of stamped, self-addressed envelopes. The teacher may use them to mail important information home rather than sending it with your child, who may lose it or forget it.
Learn strategies to reduce homework hassles.
Let your child take an active role in making homework decisions. Homework isn’t optional, but there are many options about when and how to do homework.
- Help your child observe himself or herself so that the child learns when and how he or she works best. Some kids need vigorous exercise after school before tackling homework, while others need to “veg-out.” Still others do better if they complete homework before dinner. Some need to work in the same room with a parent to stay on track. There are kids who concentrate best while listening to music; others need total silence.
- Encourage your child to try different approaches to homework. Together with your child, develop a daily homework plan that best suits his or her individual needs. Then encourage your child to stick to the plan until it becomes a habit.
- Remove distractions that interfere with homework completion. Whether it’s television, the phone or instant email messages, anything that repeatedly interferes with homework should be removed until homework is finished.
- If your child takes medication, it’s important that he or she be on the medication during homework and after-school activities. Be sure that he or she schedules difficult reading assignments and written work for times when the medication is most effective.
- Don’t try to “tutor” your child. That doesn’t mean that you can’t help your child once in a while. But if your child needs a lot of help, has a specific learning disability or has major problems with planning, time management and completion of long-term assignments, he or she needs professional help.
- Don’t do the work for your child. By spending many hours helping your child, and/or doing much of the work for him or her, you are not allowing the child to learn to deal with her ADD. Give your child support and encouragement, along with the message that he or she is strong enough to carry the load.
Make ADD treatment a family affair.
When family members have ADD, everyone in the family is affected. Taking charge of ADD works best when the whole family is learning together.
Spouses and siblings who don’t have ADD need a chance to learn about ADD and to play a role in finding family solutions to ADD problems. Not every family member will be involved in each step of treatment, but no one should be left out of the process.
Medication – Adults and children respond to the same types of medications for the treatment of ADD. Stimulants and newer non-stimulant medications such as atomoxetine have proven to be safe and effective. Keep in mind that ADD is a quality of life disorder that affects you 24 hours a day in your daily activities as well as your sleep patterns.
Because many women have long days, new long-acting medications are often best, helping you to be more efficient and productive throughout the day and evening. Many women with ADD also need medication to treat a co-existing condition such as anxiety or depression.
When a mother takes medication for ADD, her child will tend to be more receptive to taking medication as well. When both mother and child are taking effective doses of appropriate medication, family life will run more smoothly.
ADD-focused psychotherapy – Look for a therapist who works with adults on individual concerns as well as on parenting and family issues related to ADD. To be effective, psychotherapy for ADD should focus on helping you to find solutions to daily life management problems, to understand and accept yourself and to improve the quality of your relationships with friends and family.
Parent/family counseling – Make sure that your family counselor understands how you are impacted by ADD and teaches ADD-friendly parenting techniques. Both parents should participate in parent counseling. At times, it’s important to include the whole family. Being the partner, child or sibling of someone with ADD is challenging too. Everyone in the family should take part in finding ADD family-friendly solutions.
ADD-coaching – A skilled ADD coach can help you set realistic goals, problem-solve and stay on track as your work to make changes. A coach can also work with your children – helping them identify problems, brain-storm solutions and put those solutions into action.
Professional organizing – When you’re trying to get from overwhelmed to organized, a professional organizer can work wonders, working with you in a hands-on fashion to sort and organize your household. Some professional organizers work with parents and children together, making it a family project.
To put it all together, take it one step at a time.
If you’re like most ADD families, there are lots of areas that need to be organized or changed. Be careful not to take on too many projects at once. Build on your successes, one step at a time.
Spouses, teachers, siblings, grandparents.coaches, organizers, therapists and physicians.they are all part of the ADD-friendly environment necessary to ensure success for you and your child with ADD. Together you can learn to love your life and achieve great things