Being a parent is life’s greatest gift. Though, at the same time, it is possibly one of the greatest challenges. Add having a daughter with ADHD and the challenge is double!
As a psychiatrist, and also as a mom of an amazing daughter with ADHD, this is a topic I care deeply about. In this article I offer tips to help you navigate the experience of parenting an ADHD daughter,
Let’s first have a look at how ADHD usually shows in females.
The following behaviors can be the result of either one of the ADHD symptoms (inattention, impulsivity or hyperactivity), a combination of 2 or 3 of those, or the consequence of impairment in the executive functions. Typical presentations in females include:
- Easily distracted, disorganized, losing things, forgetting things, chaotic
- Inability to plan, being untidy, poor time management (often being late)
- Struggling to stay on task, starting but not finishing (losing interest and motivation quickly)
- Difficulty or inability to “start” (procrastinating, avoiding things or situations and even people)
- Speaking without thinking (then regretting it), acting without thinking of consequences (then getting in trouble, risk-taking), falling out a bit too much, being impatient (sometimes demanding too), reacting (acting impulsively), causing a bit of drama, fibbing or embellishing (these last 4 can lead to loss of friendships and break up of relationships)
- Getting bored easily, changing from one thing to another one, keeping busy doing nothing
- Furthermore, the hormonal cycle can lead to increased irritability, tiredness, heightened emotions and dysregulation, frustration, etc.
It’s important to remember that people with ADHD have an endless array of beautiful qualities that make it an absolute pleasure to parent them. Here are a few of the many positive qualities:
- They tend to be very loving and caring, always first to help out anyone they’re naturally generous and giving (of themselves too, their time and support)
- Their sense of humor can be superb; they’re charismatic and entertaining.
- They’re always up for trying anything, they’re enthusiastic and excitable.
- They can be very creative with lots of hidden talents
- They’re resourceful and find it easy “to think outside the box”
Tips for parents of young women with ADHD
And now, how can we succeed as parents to girls and young women with ADHD? I have some tips to support you.
While these may be seen as general parenting tips, perhaps having a daughter with ADHD doesn’t require special powers after all, just loads of love.
1. Establish some daily/weekend structure sooner rather than later.
The best way to do things without much effort, without even realizing, is for those to become “routine.” As much as possible transform “chores” into habits.
It may be challenging at first, and may require you lovingly reminding your daughter of what needs to get done. Try and make sure it always happens at the same time so it does eventually become routine, for example making the bed every morning or doing homework every Saturday morning or practicing a sport/instrument for 30 min everyday… Remember to also encourage her by rewarding her for taking responsibility.
At first it may require a bit of chasing but after a few weeks it will have become routine and you can relax, ha, knowing it’s saved you uncountable future arguments; and that is your reward for your effort and determination.
2. Choose your battles.
Your relationship with your daughter is more important than anything else! Think of the bigger picture and then decide on the “non-negotiables” in your home and what isn’t worth the conflict.
Get in the habit of having regular conversations and agreeing on goals at the end of those. Review the goals and tweak them as needed. Set a date and time for these conversations and discuss any issues that may have come up during the week; doing it this way you avoid arguments in the heat of the moment, which are never helpful.
Open, honest, and non-judgmental conversations are essential for both of you to understand each other and build trust. And this is crucial for any healthy relationship.
3. Don’t try to change her.
Everyone is different, with or without ADHD. We think we know what’s best for others, but do we? As parents, we have a unique perspective, but this doesn’t mean that we are all-knowing or can see from all sides at any given time.
Your daughter with ADHD may take an alternative way to their siblings, peers, and classmates, but that doesn’t mean that their choices are wrong. They’ll get where they need to get in their own way and need some freedom to discover what way that is.
Acceptance & support are essential for healthy development. Everyone longs to feel understood and accepted for who they are as they are. Let her choose her path and try to understand her goals and what’s important to her.
4. Look after yourself.
She may drive you mad by dabbling in every single hobby under the sun. As a parent, it can be frustrating and expensive, but they are people of many passions who are enthusiastic and excitable so they want to try it all even if they lose interest quickly and start thinking about something else.
You can try and influence her behaviour by offering options that would make life easier (but remember, if you tell her what to do instead of offering options, she may completely ignore you and just do the opposite!). These may extend from hobbies to relationships, bedroom decorations, jobs… Yet, anything and everything she tries is new experiences contributing to the development of her as a person.
Don’t forget to also look after yourself and your own needs; accepting others doesn’t mean putting up with everything for their sake or some peace if you do so for too long, it’ll eventually drain you and you’ll pay with your own health and wellbeing. Find how to agree and fairly compromise.
5. Adapt continuously.
Don’t get stuck on the same actions and reactions; try different approaches and see what works for both of you. Explore it together, reflect on it, talk about it and agree on a plan.
It may work for a while and then stop working which may be frustrating but try not to get all wound up; instead, start again; explore it, reflect on it, talk about it, and agree.
If you’re able to maintain a loving, caring, trusting relationship, it will work out for the two of you. Be patient. It’s more than worth it.
6. Don’t take things personally.
Women with ADHD tend to be very hard on themselves in addition to being over sensitive which can lead to getting unnecessarily upset.
More often than not, people’s attitude (including anger, rejection, frustration, and dismissal) is related to themselves and where they’re at in life so don’t make the mistake of taking it personally by assuming it’s about you.
Your daughter is likely going through a challenging stage, feeling confused but having to figure out lots. Give her time, give her space, give her love and just be there for her when she is ready to share. But don’t take her distress as a personal attack.
7. Give yourself permission to get things wrong.
Life is an ongoing lesson, and as a parent you are learning too. Give yourself grace and permission to get things wrong, you’re only human. Ensure your daughter knows that, too. It will help her not to be too hard on herself when she messes up.
8. Give her Super Love.
These girls are super loving, they have SO much love to give to friends, family, and even complete strangers. ADHD girls love big and it can be intense but it really is magical.
But they need to be equally loved so make sure they know perfectly well how incredibly much they are loved! Love and lots of positive feedback will go a long way in strengthening your relationship.
9. Remind yourself of what you wish your daughter to be in life… Happy perhaps?
Practicing more gratitude, acceptance, respect, trust, care, love, and forgiveness (all towards ourselves and others), turns our outlook in life into a more positive one where there’s very little room for thoughts, feelings, or actions that drag us down.
Also, reflect on how you’d like your daughter to describe you… and do more of that, including being tolerant of mistakes (your own too!). Remember, you are her role model.
About the Author
Dr. Luisa Sanz is a psychiatrist based in England with over 25 years of experience working mainly with young people. She is immensely passionate about helping others through understanding, acceptance, compassion, respect and love.
Her passion and devotion is unquestionably the result of having two brothers with schizophrenia. Originally from Madrid, Spain, Luisa moved to England at the age of 26 to specialize in Psychiatry.
Dr. Sanz has a special interest in neurodevelopmental disorders, and has actively contributed to developing services, improving the provision of care for individuals with ADHD/ASD and their families, including developing pathways to optimize diagnosis and treatment.
During her recent career break working as a regional Clinical Director for Mental Health services in the National Health Service, Dr. Sanz founded Mind Yr Life to help eradicate the stigma around Mental Health (MH). Learn more about Luisa and Mind YR Life here.