How I learned to parent my ADHD child
As I look back on my ADHD Parenting journey, I’ve made loads of mistakes. But, there was one night that completely filled me with clarity and taught me how to parent my ADHD Kid. This is the story I tell everyone!
The ADHD parenting method that didn’t work
Most of us start out parenting our kids the way we were parented.
We think we have to have steep consequences if our kids don’t comply. It worked out okay for lots of us! I was a good rule follower and a bit of a pleaser.
Needless to say, most kids with ADHD are NOT rule followers or pleasers.
Can you relate?
My oldest son is super bright, caring, loves reading, building with anything, has ADHD and can be explosive. EXPLOSIVE.
He pretty much yelled and exploded his way through the late elementary years, with me often mirroring his behavior, trying to show him who was boss.
Some days felt like one long battle.
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Parenting ADHD Kids Equals Overwhelm
My parenting methods just kept backfiring on me. We visited therapist (after therapist) and tried all the things — sticker charts, rewards, big consequences, incentives, peer groups. But nothing was really working.
I really was doing the best I could and come to find out, so was my son.
Then, I read The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene
Ross Greene’s book, The Explosive Child, entered my parenting life about two years after my son was diagnosed with ADHD and well into what had become an emotionally charged childhood .
Ross Greene gave me ideas that were new: “Your child is not giving you a hard time, he’s having a hard time.”
I’ll say it again.
He’s having a hard time.
Greene believes that children do well when they can and all explosive or bad behavior is caused by a child’s lagging skills or unsolved problems.
It’s always easier to believe the theory first.
Yes, I got it. Kids aren’t deliberately trying to make their parents miserable.
Sometimes it just feels like they are.
And it felt like that to me. A lot.
We found the right therapist for my ADHD son and our family
We consulted Ross Greene’s website and found a therapist trained in his CPS method.
Greene’s ideas are simple — discover where your kids are having trouble (Ross calls these “lagging skills”) and gather information from your child to help you understand the issue from their point of view.
Then together, you can brainstorm a solution in a way that meets everyone’s needs and thus, prevent future explosive behavior around this issue.
As you keep solving small problems, your kiddo will gain some really valuable problem solving skills to eventually be able to do it without your help.
Sounds great in theory, you say?
If you are not already a believer, this may just convert you.
Let me give you a concrete example of collaborative problem solving in action — one that showed me how to parent my ADHD kid.
Related: 7 Ways to Calm an Explosive Child
The Night That Changed How I Parent My ADHD Kid
It was time for my 12 year old son to take out the garbage — something he had been doing for months, mind you, every single night.
But on this one night when I reminded him, he refused. Flat out refused.
We went back and forth a bit:
“You have to take it out.” I said.
“It’s your family commitment,” I reminded.
“Sorry, this is not an option. Take out the garbage!” My blood was beginning to boil.
“NO!” This time he threw the bag of garbage on the ground in front of me.
Clearly, my son’s refusal was really triggering me and I was stuck in an old pattern of “Do as I say” authoritative parenting. (Can you relate??)
Thank goodness, something in me said, “Let it go.” One bag of garbage is not worth a huge fight.
So I did.
The words, “Okay.” miraculously came out of my mouth.
I think I even surprised myself.
Using Ross Greene’s Theory on My Explosive Son
We had been seeing our therapist for a few months by now and I felt more confident about putting Ross Greene’s CPS theory into action.
The garbage bag stayed where my son had thrown it and I went back to cooking dinner. My son headed to his favorite spot on the sofa to calm down with a book.
The most important part of digging under the undesirable behaviors to find the root cause is waiting until the storm has passed and everyone is calm.
Trying to get anything rational out of a tween who has just thrown garbage on the floor is useless and would only serve to escalate the situation even further.
My ADHD Parenting Light Bulb Moment
About 20 minutes later, I approached my son and said something like, “Wow, you really didn’t want to take the garbage out, what’s up?”
or I might have said, “You usually take out the garbage, why not tonite?”
What came out of his mouth next was the final piece I needed to teach my stubborn brain.
“Mom, it’s dark out now at 5. I don’t want to go out in the alley at night.”
Cue the huge light bulb.
My son had been afraid and was flooded with emotion, unable to be rational in the moment. All he could do was refuse.
He wasn’t giving me a hard time, he was having a hard time.
My son’s explosion had everything to do with his own fears and nothing about me or the garbage.
“Thank you for letting me know” I answered.
Had I stuck to my guns and forced the issue, we would have had a huge blowout fight. and more importantly, I never would have found out the issue behind the outburst.
As long as I do not ask him take the garbage out in the dark, we’re fine. There have been no more arguments about the garbage in the years since that night.
Everyone’s Needs Are Met, Including Yours
Another important part of Greene’s CPS method is to make sure everyones’ needs — including us parents — are met. Taking away my son’s garbage duties was not an option for me, so we had to do a little problem solving.
“Well, I still need you to take out the garbage. Is there a better time that works for you?”
My son thought for a moment and answered, “How about right after school. It’s still light then.”
Perfect. Absolutely perfect.
This example is such a good reminder of how there is always something behind an outburst. ADHD kiddos have a hard time communicating when they are emotionally charged.
Start With Specific Problems
The more specific you can get when addressing a problem, the greater chances of coming up with a solution. I couldn’t have lumped all of my son’s chores into our conversation — we wouldn’t have come up with a solution.
But by addressing one specific problem – taking out the garbage – we were able to solve it and avoid further outbursts — around that one problem.
The process mapped out by Greene in his book, starts by identifying your child’s lagging skills and unsolved problems. A List of Unsolved Problems (ALSUP) is available on Greene’s website to get you started.
Uncovering the root cause of behavior can be tricky. Kids with ADHD are not always the best at being able to decipher whats going on in their head.
They say, “I don’t know” a lot.
Parents who have gone thru this method know that it is not a quick fix. This problem solving process can be slow and time consuming. It takes time to uncover and sift thru a child’s lagging skills.
We’ve been at it about 2 years now. But once you get the hang of it, there is a domino effect and the whole parent/child dynamic can shift, dramatically.
In my mind, using this method is the best and only way to go – with any child. Figuring things out collaboratively with your child not only improves their behavior, but your relationship, as well.
Related: Helping Kids With a Low Frustration Tolerance
Look at Your Own Behavior as a Parent of an ADHD Child
One of the easiest things to do to stop explosions in their tracks is change your own behavior.
Yes, your behavior may be contributing to your kids “bad” behavior.
It’s the simple difference between reactive and proactive parenting. I’ve got another really great, equally powerful, story from my own experience, with my now TEENAGER!! HERE.
This method is worth taking a look at – check out the resources below to get you started.
Resources mentioned in this article
The Explosive Child, by Ross Greene
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This blog / article you write is spot on!!!! I love it and your visuals and personal e smokes with helpful dialogue to model are so good.
Thank you friend:)
KQ with ADHD&U
Thanks Katherine!! We have found such success with the CPS method!
Omg I was in tears…my son is 5 an he so hard to figure out sometimes. An reading this just opened my mind on a hole new level. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences.
Hi Deeh, I hope you can find some tips to help and some solace in hearing my story. Let me know if I can help you in anyway.
I have a 5 year old with adhd too. His whole life people have been telling us “oh he’s just strong willed” or “he’s all boy” but we felt like we were failing him as parents. We started taking him to the Dr. At 3 and they suspected ADHD after checking for sleep apnea and coming back negative. They diagnosed him recently. We still haven’t figured out what works to calm the constant tantrums and defiant behavior. I am just starting this journey to find him help so these articles and comments are so helpful! Thank you
So sorry to hear this Cassie. I’d go for trying to get optimal sleep first, then see if there are any food issues, allergies or try something like the Feingold Diet, getting plenty of exercise and time outside….and working on yourself to not be triggered by the behavior (it’s hard and I’m still working on it) Best to tackle one thing at a time so as not to overwhelm you.
This made me tear up. It’s beautiful and painful. “Because it was dark out”. Oy vey. Thank so much for this. You are helping a lot of people : )
Thanks Lexi, yes, tugs at the heart, but I am so glad to be using Ross Greene’s techniques!
Thank you!! Finally, an article that makes sense!
Thanks Lucy!!! The Explosive Child was really a turnaround kinda book for us!
All these supplements can be taken in one day? They won’t interact with each other or have too much of the same vitamin? Specifically for 8 year old.
Hi Jasmine, Yes, most days we take all of these supplements. When my kids were 8, they were not taking the magmind, but I was rubbing magnesium lotion on their feet at night. I am sure it’s not as much magnesium at the MagMind. KidsCalm Drink Mix is a good place to start if you kid has never taken magnesium before. Most days my kids take the multi, and fish oil in the am and the magnesium and probiotics at night. but it will vary with Kids Calm being substituted in for the multi or the Magmind. They both LOVE the taste of the Drink mix. Hope that helps!
Thank you. And I’m sorry, I meant to post this on the other article. But I purchased the probiotics, the kidscalm drink mix, they already have natural, whole food vitamins, and already take fish oil. I’m hoping I see an improvement. So magmind is not safe for 8 year old? I was thinking of just giving her one at night and use drink mix in morning before school.
HI Jasmine! MagMind is fine for an eight year old if they can swallow it – my younger son, at 11, still can’t swallow the big capsules, so I use the magnesium lotion for him at night. My older son was taking MagMind at around 9, because he could then swallow the pills. 1 MagMind is a great place to start with the KidsCalm in the am. Let me know how it works! Thanks for asking!
This makes so much sense! My 5 year old seems to be displaying some ADHD symptoms and it really is frustrating when consequences and typical parenting advice doesn’t seem to work. I’m looking forward to checking out these resources you mentioned. Thank you!
Hi Emily!! I am glad you found this helpful. It’s not always easy, but so worth it in the end to figure out what is under the behavior.
I am just learning about treating my son who was diagnosed a few months ago. What is megmind and what does it do?
Hi Melissa, Magmind is a magnesium supplement my son takes. It helps with falling and staying asleep. I take it too and really see the results!
My son was just like that as a child we went through hell and back until we found Dr.Ross Greene. He in college and doing well. I’m grateful for his wisdom and understand. Unfortunately my marriage couldn’t with stand the conflicts raising a child with explosive caused.There hope just follow the process you will make it through.
Hi Anna, Thanks for sharing your experience. Greene’s book has been so pivotal for my parenting journey! I think it should be required reading for all teachers and parents. Now more than ever, we have to move away from our old “do as I say” paradigm. Sorry it was so rough for your family. I get it! It affects your entire life, when you have a kiddo that can be difficult to help and “figure out”. Your experience is invaluable.
I just ran across this article on Pinterest. I have a 14 year old with adhd and two younger children that dont. It took a long time for me to figure out why my younger two would listen but my eldest would not. I thought for a long time that I had done something wrong with her and it was my fault she wouldn’t listen we would but heads constantly and end up in big blow outs with both of us in tears and frustrated. I have tried all the things you mentioned in this article with the schools pushing for it. but I still felt like nothing really worked and that there was a wall between my child and me. this article really sounds alot like what i have gone through with her and im excited to check out the recourses you listed.
So glad you found this! Ross Greene’s work has been extremely helpful to our family. It’s not always easy, but in the end makes for such a great way to communicate with my kids. Keep in touch!
I was not diagnosed with ADD until I was 37 and I diagnosed myself. But one time in Las Vegas my mom told me to take the trash out later in the evening and I too scared of the dark, even though I was in fourth grade and about 10 years old. old. She had apparently been watching out the back window and asked me if I took the trash out to the trash and I had taken it out but I put it in our old trailer in the back and was going to take it out to the trash dumpster the next day and this led to getting thumped on for lying and for disobedience. So I can totally relate to this.
Kyle, thanks for sharing! We are all still certainly learning – do you have kids, yourself? Your perspective, I am sure, really helps you be empathetic with others.
Hi Shelley, My heart goes out to you. I have felt like a failure with my kids, too. I think many, many parents feel that way. But, look at what you are learning to help you both. You have so much to teach your daughter because you can empathize with her! As far as other people, don’t worry about what they think, that’s their business. You know best for your daughter, mama!!! You were gifted her for a reason. Our therapist always says, feel guilty for 30 seconds and then move on with what you have learned. Please keep in touch!! I’m sending you good mama vibes – I so get what you are feeling.
As a teenager with ADHD, the biggest thing that has helped my relationship with my mom was when she asked how she could work with me to find a solution. Just cause we have struggles doesn’t mean that we can’t tell what’s wrong/what needs fixing. It’s helped me become a problem solver and more emotionally intelligent. I understand myself better, and it doesn’t feel like we’re being corrected, rather we’re troubleshooting. It’s a huge difference.
Thanks so much Morgan! This is so helpful!! I’ve got a teen and a tween and I do want them to be problem solvers. Thanks for your advice.
Hi all, I wish I had read this sooner, (like many years ago) it has taken me a long time to finally connect with my eldest boy 14 ADHD / ODD /VERBAL AND ORAL dyspraxia and worked out this was the best method. For both our sanity. Unfortunately this method doesnt work with my 11 yr boy, he is just a ball of fury but he has kidney failure to contend with as well as ADHD. Interestingly it missed my 10yr girl but my two year girl has all the symptoms that my eldest had. Obviously neither the paediatrician or me can say for definite that does come later but the paediatrician did say well I will be seeing her in a couple of years! Would like to ask a question though to all the parents with teens with ADHD have you still got them on a nighttime medication? If not how are you getting them to bed at a decent time? We did have a routine but that quickly failed.
Night time is so tricky. I can speak for us when I say a weighted blanket is so helpful for calming my son, getting him to fall asleep and stay asleep. So is keeping his room extra cool and taking magnesium about 30 minutes before bedtime. We have a lights out at 9pm routine that we’ve had for a long time. No screens at least an hour before bedtime. It takes a TON of management, to be sure. He used to take guanfacine to help him fall asleep, but it didn’t help at all.
You are so right, in that you have to try stuff out and see what works for your kid. My boys are so different – my youngest is fiery, but falls asleep like a baby with just a little magnesium rubbed on his back. Hope other chime in to give you a few more ideas. Let me know how it’s going!
My mom had me taking melatonin before bed for the longest time and I sort of stopped in Jr High. I’m about to go into my Senior Year and honestly my mom and I have just kind of decided that it’s up to me to go to bed, and if I stay up way late I suffer the natural consequences. She gives me suggestions sometimes (ex. “Maybe you should take a dose of melatonin tonight so you can go to bed, you seem kind of exhausted right now”) but in the end she kind of has let me teach myself because teens with ADHD actually don’t even get tired until 11 or later anyway so I’m learning how to balance that with a healthy sleep schedule. We may still be young and inexperienced, but we’re getting close to being able to live on our own, so giving some guided independence to your teen might be a good thing. Hope that helps!
Thanks Morgan!! Great to hear from someone who has gone thru it.
I have an adult childcI have never been able to get to do shores..he will do anything since zchildhood to avoid and he had a horrible time studying in school…tell me more…I am still dealing with it…
HI Kathy! Read Ross Greene’s Explosive Child or Raising HumanBeings…..his methodology is brilliant!! He’s got a good website and podcast, too, if you want to get started right away.
Let me know what you think!
Hi, I’m actually on the opposite end of this. I’m 29, nearly 30 years old and have going through a lot these past couple years. Much of my life has been extraordinarily difficult. I’ve received no help growing up and definitely had the authoritative style of “parenting” and I’ve suffered in silence for years. Fortunately I have been able to get back up each time I’ve been knocked down and am continually learning about myself. I’ve always just kinda been on my own that way. In the last 6-8 months, I’ve really been understanding more about my past and discovering some memories that have have been pressed down for so long. I’m not certain you can offer any advice but if you can I’d appreciate it. I’m not sure how to approach this new discovery that I have adhd. I’ve mentioned it in recent conversations with several physicians and am trying to explain all my life to one person so they can see that this explains me and is exactly what I have. I hope this struggle ends soon and I can have someone believe me and help me so life does not have to be so difficult.
OH Jackie, I am sending you a big hug. This is an especially difficult time and worse for sensitive souls like us! Do you have a therapist you like? We got ours thru Ross Greene’s website and he is awesome and he believes everything I say about my boys. It might be a good place to start, rather than a physician. Please keep in touch.
By amazing coincidence I had almost the exact same garbage issue yesterday. When I arrived home with my 5 year old the bins were still out so I asked her to help me bring them in and got flat out refusal. I’ve not come across your blog or the book you mention before, but already know from experience when not to push as it will end in a row.
Later when she was calm and relaxed I got an apology and explanation that the bins were smelly and she doesn’t like the smell. I’ll have to find something else for her to help with and will also definitely take a look at Ross Greene’s book and resources you mention.
What a coincidence!!! There is always something under the behavior. Let me know how you enjoy Ross Greenes book. It’s my bible!
Ladies, I’m confused, just because your child has a reason for not wanting to do something doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be done, right? How are we preparing them for adulthood (my son is 13) by letting them make excuses? With my son, I work on coping skills to still accomplish tasks but account for his feelings. He HATES bugs so puts up a fuss taking out the trash, now he wears my garden gloves and pretreats with bug spray. But there are so many areas of life where they need the ability to just do hard things, how do we help them do that without crushing them?
Hi Debbie! Thanks for your comment…I think you misunderstood. The point is to communicate with your kids and find a way for both of your concerns to be met…not for them to get out of doing something. My son was terrified of taking out the garbage because it was dark. So he’s taking it out earlier. The process is about communication and if I would have just blindly kept forcing him to do it my way, we would have kept battling over it.
Sounds like the solution with the gloves is perfect!
Amen to this! My kiddo is a lot like me. I was an explosive child, however, we didn’t know I had ADHD way back when, but now we know after my son was diagnosed, that it’s genetic and well, it came from me. It’s difficult to watch him struggle with the same things as I did and when we both go from 0 to explosive, calm conversation is out of the picture. I’ve had to learn when to leave it alone, which is difficult, sometimes.
HI Brittany! It has been the hardest lesson for me to learn – to stay very calm when my kid is anything but! Thanks for your insight.
Thank you for this. Broke me down to tears, feeling really guilty and all, how I even added up to my son’s anxiety because I didn’t really know it. I have read this post somewhere that you don’t take things personally with them which is basically where you started off but sometimes it really gets the better of you. Thank you again for that good example. Praying for all of us moms who take care and nurture ADHD kids.
Rachel! Dear Mama! I so get your guilt…this parenting journey requires us to forgive ourselves and our children. We are all doing the best we can at any time and things change slowly as we learn different techniques. I was raising my kids how I was raised and kept trying, until I learned a better way. I am still doing the work on myself to be the best mom for my kids and it is not easy!! Sending you hugs as we walk this journey together.
I was just talking to one of our behavior people about this book tonight and how it totally opened my eyes to what my ADHD/ODD/explosive/moody son was dealing with. And how to be a better parent to him. We still have work to do, but I love hearing others talk about it as well, I truly believe Ross Greene gets it with our kids!
Yes! It was so influential for me, so happy to hear others have found the same success with it.
I must have read this article 3 or 4 times since I first found it, years ago (I think). LOL. It always resonates. 🙂 And I discovered Ross Greene too, and I believe he helped me a lot with my oldest son. I should re-read though, and see if I can get back into it. Not sure if it will work with my younger son as well, because he really just shuts down/shuts me out as soon as I try to talk or ask questions. But it’s worth trying again!
Yes, Tara! Have you looked on his site for a nearby therapist? We found one about 45 minutes away and it’s so worth the trip!!
This has hit home for sure in my family. Our daughter is 5 and has been diagnosed with adhd and ODD it’s been hard stressful and nights and days where I just cry.. it hard and just like u said you had tried everything. That’s the same here with our family. She will scream at us if it’s a bad day or get so upset that I have to just hug her till she calms down. We’ve gone thru four schools to s of babysitters and some
Preschools.. I feel as her mom am failin bc I can’t figure out how to get her to listen mind.. we are trying to go bout thangs a lot differently here lately we are tryin to get her seen with a therapist.
Question putting ur kids on the vitamins and the other things does it help more or having them on adhd medication help? Our daughter is on adhd medication it helped at first but then it seems like it not working at and she’s only been on the medication since September 2021. Some days are amazing and some days I can’t win for loosing. But I know there is a healing GOD that can do all thangs!!!
But reading this article and feel like this was for me.. no not being “oh it’s only for me” I just think this help and there is some light at the end. Am gonna go get this book and look into his website I appreciate this and you for putting this out there.
Hi Amber, Sorry you are going thru this…meds did not work for my son at all….we tried 7 different things over a year and a half and they’d work for a few weeks and then made it worse. We have found diet, supplements, parenting advice, therapy, exercise, etc. to be much more effective. It’s not easy, but I feel like we are making big headway. Let me know if you have any other questions. You’re an awesome mom!!!
Awww thank you so so much yes we are gonna try therapy aswel.. and maybe try some of the diets and supplements aswel hopefully it will help.. thank you. Am
Praying and hopefully thangs will get easier for all of us!
Thank you again.
I love your communications and website! My 8 year old son has ADHD and it’s a daily struggle. Sometimes we will get in a good groove for a bit but then it reverts back. Can I ask what type of therapy you have found helpful? My son has tried OT, gets social skills help, but I haven’t seen any improvements.
We’ve done OT, with mixed results. By far the best has been reflex integration from a PT and our therapist (from Ross Greene’s website) is so top notch and digs under behavior instead of doing punish/reward systems. Good sleep, good eats, and exercise and sunshine has been our best thing….now just hard to get two teens to comply. : )
Thank you so much for this particle post. I just came across it this morning and it is an answer to my prayers! I have been struggling with my now 7 year old, who is super impulsive and usually not compliant. Nothing we do works with him as far as rewards/consequences and this opened my eyes! We had him tested last year and he has ADHD, but doctors and therapists have told me to not medicate him just yet. However, he struggles at both home and school. I plan to purchase Ross Greene’s book to see how this can help improve my relationship with my son as well as help him with his explosions and frustrations. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and experience. It gives me hope:)!
Let me know how you like the book!!! It has been a game changer for our family.
Yes! I had the exact same journey and found the exact same book. I had read stacks of parenting books and had done a commendable job of sticking to it, having consequences, following through, being consistent. Nothing worked. This book was one that helped me pivot to a stance of empathy, and all of a sudden his behavior started to unlock. We truly have the best relationship now. We laugh at the difficult stuff and I recognize that under the anger is shame and frustration. Yes, I address disrespect or defiance but never in the moment. Slowly we’ve built a healthy relationship. The defiance is way down and the joy is way up. And my son likes himself. He feels seen and appreciated. I will say that from a Christian standpoint, the Connected Families podcast has been incredibly impactful! So many great practical ideas. I feel like I’m leading now instead of reacting. Thanks for your post, this is so true!
What great news!! And so inspirational to us all. Thanks so much for sharing this – BRAVO, Mama!!!
Your articles have been so helpful for me in helping my son. Thanks to you I started reflex integration therapy for my son and now I am looking into this as well! Thank you!!
Fantastic!! Do let me know how the reflex integration goes!