“My ADHD kid behaves at school but comes home and is a tyrant!”
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“How come my ADHD kid can behave for his teacher/coach/other parent but not me?”
It’s been asked, I imagine since ADHD became a valid diagnosis for childhood behavior problems.
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How come your ADHD kid behaves at school but has meltdowns at home?
They save all their bad behavior for mom, or dad or whoever is the primary caregiver at home. What gives? Why do we as parents get the short end of the stick?
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Well, the truth is, because we are doing a lot of things right.
I know, I might lose you here but hang with me.
If ADHD is an executive function problem, and executive function is the ability to stamp out emotional fires. Then ADHD is the reason they’ve been given a water tank half the size of their peers.
They’ve been putting out their own little fires all day.
Their tank is getting low, and then they come home.
Home. Their safe space. Their resting place.
Where mom and dad love them unconditionally. Where they can be themselves. Where they don’t have to sit still and pay attention and focus. Focus.
Is it any wonder why they can no longer put out their flames?
Their water tank is on empty. Their reserves are gone.
So no, it’s not surprising that your ADHD kid behaves at school and becomes a complete mess when they get home.
As a parent, the next question is; What can we do?
Well here’s a few things to consider:
Don’t ask them to do homework right away.
Yes, homework is essential, but they need to refuel their tank. A healthy snack and some physical play will help your ADHD kid refuel enough to tackle their homework a little later. You’ll want to find that sweet spot time slot between after school, dinner, and bedtime where they aren’t too tired. A child with ADHD who is tired has an empty tank, and they won’t be able to comprehend their homework or recall the information on how to complete it.
Do allow them to play outside.
Free play, large motor skills, anything where they can just be a child and not have to put too much effort into planning and precision. All the better. Add in a sport that helps them learn to focus that they enjoy doing (think basketball, soccer or baseball), even bigger win!
Don’t require they do chores first.
What?! But Lacy!
Yes, most households that is how things are done. But trust me, you are just going to have more arguments with a child about coming straight home from school to responsibilities. You will win more if you just give them a break they need and revisit it in a bit.
Do an activity WITH your child!
Even just 15 minutes of your undivided attention can go a long way in helping prevent those attention-seeking behaviors. I understand, sometimes when they get home, you’re already overwhelmed thinking about how things will go. If they are ready for your attention right away, give it to them. Sometimes you can combine their physical exercise with your attention. Go watch your child ride their bike and show you their new tricks. Go play catch with them for 15 minutes. Tell them to draw you a picture on the sidewalk and come get you so they can show you. 15 minutes of your undivided attention can help them put out fires the entire rest of the day. But don’t make them compete with you doing dishes, or over your phone screen. It’s ok, I’m guilty too. But you can do it for 15 minutes.
Don’t ask them, “How was school?”
I guarantee their answer will be “Fine.” and then if you say “well, what did you do?” Their response will be “Um. Not much.” or something of the sort.
Do ask them pointed questions about things that happened throughout the day:
“What was your favorite thing that happened today?
“What was your least favorite thing that happened today?”
If you really want to get creative, over dinner, play Two truths and One lie. You can
It’s our favorite dinnertime game to get conversations started about everyone’s day, and kids love it when the parents play too.
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I know it feels like you must be doing everything wrong when your child acts out for you and not for others.
But you’re not. You’ve likely created an environment of complete acceptance and love, and they know that. Unfortunately, they will take advantage of it. Being effective in your parent strategies will help curb those outbursts as time goes on. But try to see it from your child’s perspective.
Their day is over, they don’t want to have to make their brain do something stressful for even one more second, and they know you love them. So they check out and turn off.
Find ways to help them restore some of their reservoirs, and you’ll see that happy, cheerful kid again.