Are you a parent with ADHD? Maybe you’re also parenting a child who is neurodivergent? You may have found that there’s a lot out there on how to parent your child. But you might have struggled to find tips for yourself. Here we’ve got some tips for parenting with ADHD from our team member Christina Kozik, a neurodivergent parent raising a neurodivergent child.
#1: Use visual reminders to tackle the “out of sight, out of mind” problem
The ability to remember and visualize things that you don’t see is called object permanence. Many people with ADHD may struggle with object permanence because of a lack of concentration or poor working memory. This makes it easy to forget medications, hard to keep appointments, and hard to remember that you actually own another pair of shoes besides the ones you kicked off in the doorway yesterday.
How can you adapt to keep these things in your line of sight? Christina keeps her meds on her desk so she takes them when she sees them. She ditched her dresser and now keeps her clothes hanging in her closet. She keeps her shoes lined up under her bed.
You could also try creating a launchpad near the door. This is a spot where you keep the things you can’t leave home without: your keys, your wallet, your sunglasses. Maybe you put a little bowl of treats on the launchpad and allow yourself to grab one when you’ve put everything back on the launchpad. (Parenting hack: choose something your kids don’t like or else this treat is gone before you even get there.)
#2: Use visual schedules, checklists, and fail proof processes to remember what’s important
Many of us rely on our memories to keep us in our routines. But if we get distracted or something changes in the routine, it can all go out the window.
Christina’s family put up a small board next to where her son hangs his backpack. On the board she has written tasks like “meds taken?” and “backpack and violin?” She also has a simple checklist of the things he needs every day for school, and they check off items as they get ready in the morning.
She uses an old-school wall calendar that she updates once a month so they all know what’s coming up. She clips important bills, birthday party invitations, and sticky notes to the calendar so they have visual reminders of what’s most important. The more information that is there when they need it, the lighter their mental load.
You can also tie processes you sometimes forget to ones you can’t help but remember. Try putting your keys in the fridge with your lunch so you can’t leave without it. Keep your gym shoes in the trunk of your car and you’ll never exercise in socks again. Put the recycling in front of the door so you can’t open it without taking the bag.
#3: Make technology your friend
Technology can help us with so many things we used to have to remember. (Quick: how many phone numbers do you have memorized that are not from your childhood?) If you’re lucky enough to have the resources for devices, they can go a long way.
You can use smart plugs to make sure you’ve turned off the lights, the hair dryer, or the toaster if you tend to wander away and leave these on when you’re finished.
Smart phone reminders can prompt you to schedule yearly doctor’s appointments, talk to your kids about what to pack for lunch, and sign the permission slip when you get home. Home devices like Echo and Google Nest can instruct your children to brush their teeth at night and tell you to make sure to lock the door when you leave for work.
You can also set up timers to remind you about tasks at specific times: Leave for the bus in 5 minutes. Take your melatonin so you can wind down before bed. Fifteen minutes until screen time is over.
Tracking tools like Tile and Apple’s FindMy can help you track down your keys, your wallet, or your child’s backpack even when you left them in a snowbank (true story), in the door, or in the fridge. (But you remembered your lunch!)
#4: Try body doubling to stay on track
Body doubling is the practice of working alongside someone else (in person or even on-line) to complete a task you might otherwise neglect or avoid. You don’t even have to be working on the same thing – just sharing that space with someone can provide some external motivation. You’ve probably done this even if you’ve never heard of body doubling before. Have you ever talked to a friend on the phone while washing dishes or folding laundry? That’s body doubling.
There are many ways you can body double. Ask a co-worker or partner to just be in the same room as you while you’re working on a difficult task or one you’ve been avoiding. You can join a virtual group online or through social media. When you join Work Buddies on TikTok or Discord, the person leading the session usually sets a timer for focused work time and gives you reminders to drink water and eat lunch. Maybe you body double for your child by sitting in their room while they put away that mountain of clean laundry. If you’ve never heard of this concept, please give it a try. It’s a game changer and something you can do with little effort.
Some of these may work great for you and others may not. Even the ones that work well for you may be hard to implement when you’re struggling or when it’s just… Tuesday, because that’s how ADHD works.
#5: Give yourself some grace
No one is perfect, and when things fall through the cracks, recognize this as just a plain old human moment and forgive yourself. If you’re trying different things and you still don’t have it all together, notice where you want to improve and then move on. We parents have a lot to hold. The point is better, not perfect.
And as a parent, particularly if you are also raising neurodivergent children, you are showing your kids how you’re managing your life and your space in a way that works for you. It shows them they can try skills and techniques, and try again and again until they find out what will work for them. And that’s one of the most important skills anyone can master.