Focus on structure and passions when raising a child with ADD/ADHD

Raising a child diagnosed with ADD/ADHD can be challenging. However, when parents focus on advocating, structure and finding the correct tools, these children are able to find their passions and thrive. This article offers some key pointers for parents raising children struggling with ADD/ADHD.


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  • build structure into every area of life
  • consider alternative forms of education
  • focus on strengths instead of weak areas
  • be your child’s coach and greatest role model
  • set clear expectations for behavior with rewards and consequences

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  • feel discouraged when change comes slowly
  • overwhelm your child with too many to-do lists, events, hobbies and distractions
  • let others make decisions regarding what is best for your child
  • box in kids by making all of the decisions for them
  • allow a label to define or confine potential

Kimberly Kulp‘s recommendation to ExpertBeacon readers: Do

Do build structure into every area of life

All kids—especially those with ADD/ADHD—greatly benefit from structure and predictability. Because attention often impacts memory, the more routine you can make your children’s days and activities, the more likely they will feel successful, comfortable and able to regulate.

Structure provides the environment that kids need to feel safe and secure, and makes their daily tasks more manageable. Do the same things at the same time each day, and you will find yourself repeating instructions less and less. Providing visual reminders of the structure can increase its effectiveness. Written or picture schedules, daily to-do lists and visual cue cards can serve as daily reminders of your family routines. The more hectic your life, the more important routines become. The key to structure is to stick to a consistent routine.

Do consider alternative forms of education

Sitting in a chair for long periods of time and being surrounded by distracting noises, colors, lights and other students can mean academic disaster for students with ADHD. Traditional classrooms rely heavily on auditory learning and don’t provide opportunities for students to use the whole body, which is essential for those with ADD/ADHD.

Traditional schools are bound by regulations that often require all students—regardless of age or ability —to focus their attention. This is simply beyond what ADD/ADHD students are capable of. Studies have shown that kids with ADD/ADHD are often more creative, artistic and learn best through movement, which are difficult areas for traditional environments to accommodate.

Alternative forms of education, including homeschooling, are more customized and can be tailored to focus on the individual strengths and needs of the student. Rather than being forced to learn in a way that is best for the teacher or group, the student becomes the center of their academic journey, making them more likely to reach their full potential and enjoy learning.

Do focus on strengths instead of weak areas

Living with the limitations of an ADHD diagnosis can be challenging, especially when you focus on areas of struggle and consistently compare your child to their peers. Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, choose to build routines that encourage progress and focus your energy on praising and nurturing your child’s strengths.

What we are good at often becomes what we enjoy, and what we choose to do later in life. So when you are feeling discouraged, ask yourself, “What is my child good at?” and “What does he do right?” By encouraging these interests, behaviors and skills, your children will feel more able to tackle and overcome their weak areas and feel proud and confident in their strengths.

Do be your child’s coach and greatest role model

While having an ADD/ADHD diagnosis is challenging, it does not have to be hindering. Children with ADD/ADHD are still exceptional. And you, as a parent, get to be part of encouraging and training that exceptionality. You are your child’s advocate, cheerleader and problem solver. You were their first teacher and are ultimately responsible for helping them reach their full potential. A coach sees the unique skills of each player and allows them to play to their strengths, not weaknesses. A coach encourages growth, trains in skills, and celebrates both victories and defeats as great learning experiences. Most importantly, a coach sees each player’s full potential and believes in each player, even when he or she cannot believe in themselves.

Do set clear expectations for behavior with rewards and consequences

Because ADHD often results in higher levels of impulsivity and distractibility, it is important for behavior expectations to be well communicated and consistent. Knowing what to expect will help children remember rules and aid them in making good choices throughout their day. Using a reward/consequence chart can be an effective visual reminder of what is expected and reinforces cause-and-effect learning.

Children with ADD/ADHD are often emotionally intense. Intensity can be a good character trait when channeled into positive behaviors and choices that can fuel growth. So focus more on rewarding positive behaviors and progress, instead of punishing negative behaviors, and you will find their intensity working to your advantage.

Kimberly Kulp‘s professional advice to ExpertBeacon readers: Don't

Do not feel discouraged when change comes slowly

When you become discouraged, you can guarantee your child will become discouraged as well. Developing positive organizational, behavioral and academic patterns take time for anyone, and these patterns can be even slower to develop for kids with ADD/ADHD. What’s important for you, as the parent and coach, is to focus on the progress your child is making rather than the hurdles you face. Positivity is contagious, so stay positive and consistent, and you will find that your attitude will rub off on your child.

Do not overwhelm your child with too many to-do lists, events, hobbies and distractions

Simple is often best for children who struggle with memory and attention delays. Keeping life simple will help your family stay organized, find a rhythm, and cope with struggles and the inevitable battles ahead. The more children must remember and cope, the more complicated life will be.

Consider how school is affecting your child’s ability to attend. If you cannot pursue an alternative form of education that limits distractions and puts your child’s needs at the center of each day, you must advocate for a simple learning environment and interactions that set your child up for success. These same principles need to be applied in the home as well.

Do not let others make decisions regarding what is best for your child

You were your child’s first and most important teacher–and ultimately responsible for raising him or her. Despite what others know about your child’s diagnosis, you know your child. Choose to be the coach and advocate your child needs to reach his or her full potential. Ask tough questions, seek help and don’t give up. You were made to be your child’s parent, and you have his/her best interest at heart. Allow this to guide you in and through the maze of therapies, doctor’s visits, teachers and more.

Do not box in kids by making all of the decisions for them

Despite the fact that ADD/ADHD does come with higher levels of impulsivity, children with the diagnosis can develop reasoning skills. However, they need opportunities to learn how to make wise, responsible decisions and feel both the positive and negative consequences that result. If you make all of the decisions for them, they will never build the critical thinking skills and confidence they need to become independent adults.

All children need the freedom to learn how to make wise choices and craft their lives in a way that works for them, given their unique strengths and ways of looking at the world. This includes failure. Allowing your children to make a decision that you know will fail on a small scale can actually be beneficial for them. It will help them understand what not to do and how to anticipate negative consequences.

Do not allow a label to define or confine potential

Your child is a unique and wonderful individual, even with an ADD/ADHD diagnosis. So often we sell our children short and allow their limitations to define them, instead of encouraging them to pursue their strengths. A traditional school environment can make this worse because an individualized education program (IEP) can be as confining as it is helpful.

Instead, we should see children with ADHD as exceptional. ADD/ADHD is not a problem to be fixed, but it can be a gift that has shed as much light on your children’s areas of strength as it has their struggles. Push them to achieve and grow, and set the bar high. You will be amazed at what children can accomplish when you believe in them and allow their strengths to shine brighter than their weaknesses


The most important thing to remember is that you, as your child’s parent, serves as his or her best advocate. Raising children with ADD/ADHD can be challenging, but it also can be an immensely rewarding experience as you watch your children grow, conquer obstacles and discover what they are passionate about.

Building structure around your children and recognizing and advocating for their needs will help ensure that your children reach their full potential. Focus on your child’s strengths and don’t let the diagnosis intimidate you. Afterall, no one knows your child like you do.

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