Summer Sanity: Managing ADHD in Teens and Young Adults
3 sure-fire tips for arguing less and getting along more as your child matures.
Posted June 29, 2018
Now that school’s over and everybody’s around the house more, you are, once again, facing daily negotiations about putting stuff away, when kids are coming or going and who’s actually sitting down for the dinner you rushed to make after work. Perhaps your teen or college student with ADHD hasn’t found a job yet and spends most of the day gaming. Maybe they’re leaving food-encrusted plates in their room and then complaining about ants on the floor. Whatever the issue, you'd like it to change.
You see that your kid’s executive functioning skills still need your support: they can’t figure out what to do with their stuff from this past year, where to find a summer job or how to make their own haircut appointment. But when you say something, they scream for you to stop nagging them. It’s hard to know when to step in and when to stand on the sidelines. What can you do differently?
1. Consider their developmental stage. They’re doing a typical, awkward dance between connection and autonomy with parents, caregivers and other adults. But as teens and emerging adults with ADHD, they’re also living with brains that don’t finish developing until around the age of 25. This means they have a lag of almost three years compared to neurotypical peers because most of this growth occurs in the frontal lobes and executive functioning capacities—the areas most affected by having ADHD. Key skills such as planning, prioritizing, time management, goal persistence, sustained attention, emotional control, motivation, judgment and self-awareness simply take longer for ADHD brains to develop and that process is uneven.
2. Practice self-control. When you react to their provocations, you throw gasoline on their growing fire. Since kids this age with ADHD are still struggling with a limited capacity for emotional and/or
verbal regulation, you’ve got to rely on your fully-formed frontal lobes to avoid a full-blown escalation. This means creating a plan to follow when your thinking brain is overwhelmed by agitation with your son or daughter. In a calm moment, think about what happens inside of you when you feel triggered. Does your stomach tighten, your breath quicken or your heart pound? These signals are telling you to press the pause button. Figure out what helps you calm down. Whether it’s breathing exercises, listening to some favorite songs, washing your hands in the bathroom or stretching, put this list on your phone and use it! When things heat up, take a break by saying: “I don’t like where this going. I need a quick break to think about things and I’ll be back in X minutes.”
3. Work together on building executive functioning skills. Many young adults still need help learning the skills related to independent, adult responsibilities such as making medical, hair or dental appointments and managing their finances. They don’t have much, if any, experience doing these things and likely need some guidance from you. In the moment, they may accept or reject your aid—it doesn’t matter. You never know what they’re absorbing and when they’ll use it. To make this process go smoothly: Sit down in a calm moment and discuss a skill that you both think needs improving. Brainstorm ideas about how to approach this, try one of them out and regroup in a week to assess your progress. If things aren’t getting better, make necessary adjustments or pick another approach.
Sometimes having a teen or college-age student at home means two steps forward and one step back. The more you can focus on improving their skills for independent living, the better things will go. Instead of judgment and criticism, adjust your expectations, offer them tools and stay patient. Keep your sense of humor on hand at all times: A good laugh together goes a long way towards building connection!