A diagnosis can be a key milestone for a child and their parents, here’s what you can do to offer support
Support is one of the cornerstones of relationships, be it with your family or even your friends. In fact, support is so important, several studies have shown that good support has the ability to reduce the incidence of mental health conditions, and can improve our mental wellbeing on a daily basis.
Parenting a child is hard, but it can be especially difficult when the child (or children) has been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Parents and caregivers can feel at sea as they navigate this new journey. Helping them as they work through the diagnosis can provide the support that they need to make life better for the whole family. So, here’s how you can support a friend after their child has received a diagnosis.
Understand that the child isn’t being naughty
Behavioural issues are often associated with ADHD. Some of the behaviours such as meltdowns (kids with ADHD do not have ‘tantrums’), anger, impulsiveness, and the inability to sit still, are hallmark features of the condition. Learning to understand that these are a result of the condition, and not because the child is being naughty, can allow you to make strides in helping support your friend and their family.
Some kids have more hyperactive traits, others will have traits associated with inattentiveness, and some will have a combination of both. Ask your friend how ADHD presents in their kid, and how you can recognise when they may need some help.
Ask your friend what you can do to make their life a bit easier
Kids with ADHD can struggle with relaxing or quiet time. Their brain and body may constantly be on the go, which means their parents may be constantly on the go, too. Most parents can struggle with asking for help, and they may only do so when they have reached rock bottom. Offering, or providing help without being asked, can make such a difference when someone feels like they desperately need a break. Bringing the child to a place they can use up some energy safely, cooking a meal or two, and just being there to listen are all great ways to help make their day a bit easier.
Be a sounding board for the times when life gets tough
Your friend needs someone who will listen and not judge them. Who understands that sleep is hard to come by, and there are only four foods their child will eat. That sometimes the only place you can go with your child is the same park you have already visited 127 times, and your friend needs to know that it isn’t a big deal. They don’t want you to know everything, they just need to know that their family is safe with you – in whatever form that may take.
Include the child in activities and outings
As mentioned before, children with ADHD are often seen as naughty and misbehaving, when we know that they can be struggling with their emotions, reacting to being overstimulated and sometimes just being kids. Culturally, these children are seen to be ‘bouncing off walls’ and disrupting others, but for many children, this is not how they behave.
Not all environments are suitable for a person with ADHD. Sensory overload in the form of noise, colours, people, or smells can be very triggering, and the child can find it hard to move past this and may become overwhelmed. If you are including the child in your family activities, it may be useful to speak with the parent to see if what you are doing would be suitable.
Read books and blogs, and learn about ADHD in the ‘real world’
One of the most important things I learned when I was training to be a mental health nurse is that what we read about in textbooks and what we see in practice can often be vastly different. In my opinion, this is never truer than when we speak about the brain. A great way of getting real insight into ADHD and how it affects children, and their families, is by reading or watching the lived experience of others. More and more people are talking about their experiences and how living with these conditions impacts their day-to-day lives. The benefit of this is that it is so much easier to access great information that will help you get a better understanding of what the child and their family are going through. And that’s where you’ll really start to make a difference.