17 Life Hacks for Families with ADHD




  1. The world can be brutal for a kid who moves differently. Parents engineer their kid’s environment and help them negotiate the forces pushing on their self-concept, motivation and goal-attainment. The forces will be many.  Life is like that (for everyone). Most children with ADHD are not disabled.  Their brains are not damaged.  They move through life a little differently than most peers.  So, what?  We all belong.  If we love them well and help them through the hurdles, they can be the most interesting, engaging, creative and innovative people on the planet! I refute the medical model that places them in the victim role.  Right or wrong, it is in their best interest that everyone stays positive, focusing more on strengths than weaknesses. And remember: 75% of parenting is about just showing up, day after day.  They will become exactly who they were meant to become unless their environment brings forth trauma.
  2. Kids with ADHD look different at every age.  Early childhood and elementary can be a whirlwind as their brains are still trying to organize and manage. They have less self-control and aren’t great at organizing.   You will chase often, remind frequently and be exhausted by 7pm. They will not see the target; they will miss the targets they see.  Be there to help them interpret and recover from that.   We fret, but remember: everything prior to 9th grade is “practice”.  High schools toss the records and the slate is wiped clean. Each hurdle is an opportunity to learn and grow. A magnificent goal is that they leave the K-12 educational system liking themselves and knowing what fuels them. The rest?  Small details.  A lousy 2nd grade experience won’t break them.  Nor will that time you lost your temper. These things make great family jokes in adulthood.  Relax. They are watching how you respond.
  3. The first 8 years will be most difficult.  You will have to remind and reteach 1000 more times than your friends, but so what?  Be the calm, broken record. Ignore the future accountant next door. Everyone is on their own path.  They won’t (likely) climb on cars or jump on the couch when they are 18. Adolescence is also tricky.  Be firm about a consistent dinner time every day.  Keep them engaged in activities. Cross your fingers they find good friends. Don’t be afraid to say “no”.  Say it again and mean it.  
  4. The world will want to amplify (and “fix”) their weaknesses.  The world will be urgent about how disastrous it will be if……….(fill in the blank).  You need to be louder than the world.  Know what motivates your child.  Know what kills their motivation.  Know their strengths.  Advocate fiercely for these things. Be vigilant about this, please. Curriculum was written for the average kid.  Average is a myth. So is the arbitrary timeline.  If they don’t offer a course she/he needs, make it happen!IMG_2615
  5. Know what scares them.  Know what puts them in shame.  Protect them from these things .  Teach your kid to identify the source of fear and shame; give them words to understand it all; teach them strategies to avoid, prevent and respond. They will build a life that works for them if they are resilient in the face of fear and shame. 
  6. Don’t put them in places that kill their spirit.  Don’t send them to people who want to  punish them into submission.  There is a whole group of adults out there who believe punishment changes behavior.  They don’t know your kid or how damaging that can be.  Do not be afraid to call it when you see it.  If not you, then who?  Make necessary changes when you do. Move homes, change teachers or change schools if you have to.  There are plenty of spaces and many people who understand. Find them. They will help grow your kid into an awesome adult.  shutterstock_370944752
  7. Seek teachers who are kind, predictable, firm and consistent.  A good sense of humor goes a long way.  Ditto the ability to minimize small problems.  Avoid those who shame, blame and get anxious over small fires.  Most all of the fires are small in elementary school.  Request the right teacher for your kid.  When you are told “all teachers are good” for your kid, request the right teacher for your kid, again.  This single intervention is GOLD. 
  8. Don’t be afraid of temporary medication, especially while young and impulsive. It could save their souls from 100 redirections daily.  See #6 and 7.
  9. If lucky, you will be their “person” for life.  Your vision is large, yet they are writing their own story.  Teachers see them for 9 months and can get anxious about details (tests, curriculum, unfinished papers, preparing them for the next teacher).  You want them to be decent, productive humans at age 30. One test, one missing assignment, one bad day is only a blip. Help them recover well.  Don’t let one person diminish their story.
  10. Don’t ruin your relationship battling about homework and grades.  They either choose to invest in school or not.  Crazy, right?  If they leave the system liking themselves and knowing where their passions lie, they will figure it out once they have to buy their own toilet paper. (see #14)
  11. CHORES and a McJOB teach work ethic. Work ethic is taught at home.  Start early and be consistent. Create chore schedules and be vigilant.  Teach them to do it well. Give feedback and make them do-over until they get it right. Soon they will be on auto-pilot. Jobs at 16 are also important.  Taking direction from someone other than you will prepare them for next steps. #winwin.

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12. ADHD does not make kids angry, aggressive, lazy, disrespectful or mean.  Poorly engineered environments with punitive/non-restorative practices do.  Unresponsive humans do.  Non-restorative practices do.  That said, focus on teaching core social-emotional literacies.   Kids who are self aware can self manage. Kids who are aware of who and how  they are in the social environment build better relationships.  Emotionally literate kids make responsible decisions and build healthy relationships.  We need better humans.  These skills are taught.

13.  Their inconsistent timetable may not jive with other kids.  They are on their own path.  They don’t have to go to college (the US has a shortage of skilled trades).  They don’t have to start college right away. They don’t have to finish in 4 years.  Be clear you will support as long as they continue educating themselves . Do not allow basement dwellers over age 18. Key point:  be transparent about this at about age 15.  

14.  Teach and model life hacks.  Help them take pictures of everything important (social security number, directions , invitation dates, etc).   Store it in google drive. Obtain multiple copies of textbooks (home and school). Have multiple copies of car keys and burying them everywhere.  Automate bill paying (and get overdraft protection). These hacks are like health insurance: they save your hide. This will be a lifelong endeavor. TRUST ME.

15. There is a reason people with ADHD aren’t great with details:  the world only needs so many compliance officers, accountants and lawyers.    Their gifts lie elsewhere.  They need to engineer  their life so that they can pay others to do their taxes, weed their garden and clean their house.  OR be ok with a weedy garden. There are worse problems.

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16People with ADHD often  think “messy”.  Creativity happens in that tangle.  Innovation is born out of that mess.  Remember:  Einstein’s desk was a mess when he died!

                                      Everyone else                                            Person with ADHD

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17. People with ADHD may approach problems in fits and starts (this will always be true).   Others will be more linear. Take breaks while you process things.  Get back at it soon. Create a life that supports this need. You will produce more when the rhythm is right.   Your work day may be longer, but more engaging. 

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5 thoughts on “17 Life Hacks for Families with ADHD

  1. I love this blog because i can relate on it in so many ways. Growing up as a kid with ADHD & having a learning disability i struggled so much and stressed so much as a kid. I always felt like i was being judged i always felt like the looser daughter & looser sister . I lived my whole childhood hating school. SO happy i ran across this.

  2. In my mind, this information is so relevant for anyone who is raising or educating children– especially those amazing, intense, wonderful children who march to the beat of their own drum! Great article!

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