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It is not uncommon for fathers of boys (and sometimes mothers of girls) with ADHD to report difficulty in their relationships with their children. Commonly, when these pairs try to do something together, they end up arguing, fighting, and getting frustrated with one another. Because ADHD runs so strongly in families, parents of children with ADHD often have a component of ADD themselves. One of the common ways adults with ADD learn to cope with this weakness is to become perfectionistic or “workaholic-like”. Such parents often place too high expectations, demanding a level of performance their children cannot meet and making even “fun time” seem like work. This can often lead to worsening self-esteem on the part of the child (since nothing is more important to a boy than the approval of his father which is often in short supply for an ADD son), and a pattern on both of their parts in which they avoid spending much time together at all. Ways to counteract this include:

  • Lower Expectations: When doing projects together (building a model, playing a game, learning a sport), do not demand that your son “do his best”. Doing “his best” for an ADD boy means paying full attention all of the time which is difficult for him. Be satisfied with “75% of his best” and praise him for it.
  • Avoid setting difficult goals: For instance, if involved in a woodworking project, use Balsa wood, not pine. Cutting and sanding pine is too long and painstaking a process. Balsa wood can be cut and sanded in a few seconds. It is hard to get frustrated with Balsa wood.
  • Play Nintendo together: Nintendo is a great “role reverser”. ADD children tend to be great at Nintendo and it is a rare father who can match their skills. Thus, spending time playing Nintendo together turns the child into the teacher, the expert, the master who can take the father under his wing. This is great for the boy’s self-esteem and it prevents the father from placing too high expectations on his child.
  • Try swimming: Swimming is a great sport and recreational activity for children with ADD. These children often have difficulty with land-based skill oriented sports in which they tend to be too impulsive, distractible or clumsy to excel. This can lead to embarrassment in front of their peers, but, especially in front of their fathers. On the other hand, it is awfully hard to make a fool of yourself in a pool. You can play and splash and be awkward and silly and you just look like you’re having fun. There is nothing to “screw-up”. Avoid getting hung up on lap swimming or perfecting strokes.
  • “Down time”: In today’s society, many families lead lives in which their days are scheduled with activities from sun-up to bedtime. Television tends to be frowned upon and free-time is at a premium. When television is allowed, it tends to be the “baby-sitter” – children and parents rarely watching together. None of this is very good for anybody, but all of it is particularly bad for a child with ADD. A child with ADD needs “down time” and he needs it with his parents. Try scheduling a time to watch TV AS A FAMILY. Pick something light and silly and watch it together with your child. Make it a regular thing that he or she can count on. Just time “veg-ing out in front of the tube” with mom or dad. It will help re-charge your child’s batteries and maybe yours too.
  • Things to Avoid: Long drives, Sunday School, skill and performance oriented sports.
  • Get the child his own computer: Children with ADD often excel working with computers in ways that they cannot excel elsewhere. The computer is a very forgiving teacher. When you make a mistake, it smiles and says try again, it never loses it’s patience and if you make a big mistake, you just re-boot and start over. You can work at your own pace and nobody ever gets frustrated with you. Many ADD children have the capacity to master computers at a level far beyond their parents in a much shorter period of time. However, it is very hard for such a child to compete for the computer with parents or siblings. Faced with having to wait for “their turn” or wait until dad is done doing his work can seem like such an obstacle to them that they give up trying the computer at all. Children do not need the latest, greatest computer – try going to a used computer store and buying a 5-year old model or giving the child a “hand-me-down” when dad upgrades his system.
  • After the child with ADD comes home from school, very often it is helpful to give him some “decompression” time in order to unwind and play before asking him to attempt any homework.
  • It may be helpful if the ADD child is given several choices in regards to activities or tasks that he/she deems unpleasant. This would assist him/her in developing a sense of control over his/her environment.
  • A quiet, distraction-free study area and a consistent, set time for doing homework will be necessary in both of the ADD child’s homes. It would be appropriate to defer other activities until homework is completed at these times.
  • Finally, it can be very helpful at times to formally diagnose the father’s own ADD. If the son knows that his own father struggles with many of the same issues, it opens up lines of communication and empathy between them which can help work out many conflicts.