5 Essential Emotional Survival Tips for Families Living with ADHD during Confinement

It’s hard to believe that we’re halfway through April and we are still living in confinement—all around the world. Although you may have established daily routines (and I hope you have because structure is comforting for kids with ADHD), emotions are probably running high. Each day, we face the same persistent stressors: home-schooling kids who are alternative learners, managing screen time, living with social distancing, trying to do your own work and getting chores among other things. While you manage the daily ins and outs well enough, you and your kids likely deal with the emotional fallout related to this situation regularly. Underneath any anger and anxiety lie sadness, disappointment, loss, frustration, and depression. Confusion about when this unpleasant period will end adds to the intensity of these feelings. What can you do to maintain calm, reduce conflict and offer support to your family?

Thinking all of the time about decisions and actions that used to be second nature is exhausting. How do we grocery shop? Who can I talk to and when? When can I get a minute to myself? Living in uncertainty adds to everyone’s fatigue and fosters helplessness. Sitting all day and spending a lot of time on screens may be necessary right now but it increases feeling sluggish and being cranky. We want to nurture an outlook for your son or daughter that encourages tolerating what’s tough without frequently acting out their frustration and hopelessness.

Follow these steps to improve your family’s emotional stability and foster resilience:

  1. Accept where you are and what you feel: It’s natural for people to have low morale and feel stuck right now. Acknowledge these uncomfortable feelings without trying to fix them. Counter negativity with gratitude. Find one thing your family members appreciate every day, no matter how small: The privilege of eating a yummy dinner, seeing the tulips bloom, riding a bike or playing a game. It’s easy to dismiss what we have in favor of longing for what we don’t. Shift your perspective and help your kids zoom out like a camera to see the bigger picture without dismissing their real feelings about what’s been lost.
  2. Expect friction and strategize: When stuck in situations they don’t like and don’t see ending, people will rub each other the wrong way. Instead of expecting unrealistic harmony, plan for friction between siblings, your partner if you have one or other extended family members living at home. In a calm moment or planned family meeting, create two strategies for dealing with conflict: Option one and the back-up plan. Notice the signs when things are escalating and call a time apart for 10-15 minutes to cool down and regroup. Post a list of acceptable activities and tools to use to regain self-control. Build negotiation skills and practice forgiveness tools by relying on reflective listening (“I heard you say X, is there anything else?”) and focusing on moving forward through making amends and right action. What can your kids do for each other that shows they’re sorry rather than just saying it?
  3. Control what you can: Limit your exposure to the news by checking it no more than once a day. Things don’t change that much and all of the statistics can be frightening and depressing. Consider past difficulties and write down how you overcame them. Do this with your kids too and post this in the kitchen.  They just may glance at it when they’re having a snack and you can remind them about their survival skills if they don’t. Do something zany that injects some levity into the family and breaks up the monotony of our days. Set up a weekly ice cream or movie night; dance while cleaning up after dinner, dress up in costume for dinner one night. Do anything that brings some joy and laughter to your clan. This is what you can control so go for it.
  4. Give people the benefit of the doubt: No child or teen with ADHD wakes up in the morning and thinks “What can I do today that will really irritate my mom or dad?” They are trying their best with the limited resources of their developing brains and executive functioning challenges to get by. Take planned time-aparts: create specific short periods of low stimulation and calm for people to disengage from each other, rest and refuel. Focus on what really matters and shift your standards a bit. Neither kids’ homework nor home cleanliness has to be perfect and previous goals extracurricular activities can be lowered some. It’s okay to make adjustments and then ramp things up when we return to “normal.” We are living in an extended crisis that’s a marathon. Practice compassion for yourself and your kids.
  5. Connect with your posse and help your son or daughter do the same: Reach out to a circle of friends and family at specific times rather than checking Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, texts and emails throughout the day. Instead, set a few specific times to do so and then you can really enjoy your connections. We want to reduce media multi-tasking as much as possible which stresses our brain and leads to further exhaustion. Help your kids go for quality in their peer interactions by encouraging contact with one or two people at a time so there’s a better depth to the connection. Seeing caring faces smile back at you reminds you that we are all in this together: you matter to them and they matter to you.