As a parent, we have many hopes for our kids. We aim to teach them lifelong social and emotional skills while helping them be more efficient and effective in daily tasks. For children, teens and emerging (young) adults with ADHD, learning to manage themselves independently in the face of executive functioning (EF) challenges can be especially tough. Becoming self-reliant while feeling supported means embracing a new model of connected independence and redefining maturity for this generation.
Shifting, flexibility, working memory and metacognition often work together to help growing minds adapt to new situations and apply past experiences to choosing how to understand and respond appropriately to them. You can help foster connected independence in your children and teens by nurturing a growth mindset, self-compassion and confidence. In this blog, let’s look at how my 5C’s framework cultivates parenting strategies that assist kids and teens in building the independence everyone desires so they can manage their lives successfully as they mature.
Skills for positive transitions in maturation
Many people mistakenly think about “launching” issues when their teens are in the last years of high school. This process actually begins long before senior year with each life stage transition that has preceded it. As part of their maturation, children will go through several periods of transition, such as entering primary school, middle school, high school and beyond. At each transition point, kids have to stretch themselves to adapt, adjust and grow.
As parents, you benefit from adjusting your expectations, meeting your youngsters where they are and offering useful scaffolding along the way. Many children, adolescents and young adults with ADHD, learning disabilities, 2E, anxiety and autism spectrum disorders often struggle during these periods of adjustment due to weaker, slower maturing EF skills. Teaching tools for strengthening these lagging skills is not only essential, but it also can be frustrating for everybody. But maturation relies on learning these important skills, among others:
- Verbal impulse control
- Emotional regulation
- Social adjustment
- Planning, organization, motivation and persistence
- Medical management (for older teens)
Of course, each person will develop at their own pace. Our role as parents is to offer support, guidance, strategies and positive reinforcement throughout the process. How can you do this?
Nurturing Connected Independence with the 5C’s Foundation
I developed the 5 C’s framework as a foundation for refining skills and fostering independence in ADHD children and teens. It’s a compassionate, collaborative approach to parenting that relies on working with kids for solutions to common problems to increase their buy-in and cooperation.
Here is a summary of the 5C’s framework:
You manage your own feelings first so you can act effectively and teach your child with ADHD to do the same.
Meet your youngster where they are, not where you expect them to be. Accept the ADHD brain, empathize, and try to understand what it’s like to walk a day in their shoes. Just as important is to have self-compassion – acknowledge when you’re struggling, when it’s time to pause and reset, and what support you may need.
Work together with your child or teen and other important adults in their life to find solutions to daily challenges. When they are included in the process, they are more likely to cooperate in working with you and not against you.
As much as possible, do what you say you will do. Instead of aiming for impossible perfection, focus on steadiness. Nurture and validate your child’s efforts to do their best and do the same for yourself. Rely on do-able routines to provide comforting predictability while teaching essential EF skills such as organization, planning and prioritizing.
Notice and acknowledge what’s working by continuously offering words and actions of encouragement, praise and validation. Counteract the ADHD negativity bias by providing positive reinforcement of both efforts and accomplishments.
Connected independence in emerging adults develops over time using the 5C’s
Beginning in middle school and up through college graduation, when kids believe that caring adults have their back, hold empathy for them. Work with them for solutions to challenges, and validate their efforts for self-reliance. Work on these strategies, and they will be far more willing to stay engaged in the relationship. As they edge into their later teens and early twenties, they want to be in the driver’s seat and ask for assistance instead of having you give it to them–even when you think they need to hear it.
I struggle with this myself, particularly when I’m feeling anxious about something in one of my (young) adult children’s lives. Although I believe that I have valuable life experience and advice to share, to be honest, I am mostly rebuffed in my efforts to share it. Instead, I am trying to learn how to ask non-intrusive questions, respect their boundaries and wait for them to approach me.
Sometimes, it’s interesting to see how they figure things out for themselves. Other times, it honestly feels like torture. Gen Z’ers want to live their own lives, knowing that they have emotional and/or physical support as needed. Parents are there for you, but they aren’t running the show.
Of course, this is a developmental process. Your middle-schooler needs more hands-on support than you high school senior: that’s appropriate. The trick is keeping scaffolding in place longer than you think and removing it slowly when you see the desired skill is in place more often than not.
The Value of a Growth Mindset in Fostering Connected Independence
Nurturing connected independence is a process of trial and error. Everybody tries something. Sometimes it works out, and, other times, it falls flat. That’s okay. The important thing here is the process of efforting: trying something, regrouping if necessary and then trying again. This is the cornerstone of a growth mindset: your child believes that it is beneficial to take a risk and see what happens, learning from their experience.
1. Value effort over outcome
Because a growth mindset values the effort that was put into a task or activity more than the outcome, it enables learning and resilience. This is especially important for kids with ADHD since they tend to lean toward a fixed mindset. In a fixed mindset, people believe their basic qualities, like intelligence or talent, are fixed, unchangeable traits. In a growth mindset, people believe that their learning and intelligence can grow with time and experience.
Acknowledging the value of effort will make it easier to tolerate the discomfort of letting your child try things on their own. Kids will make mistakes–that’s a part of learning. Chances are you’ll have to wipe up spills or drive to school with the forgotten lunch or book. Practice self-care by staying patient and calm.
2. Implement strategies and supports that are appropriate for your child’s capabilities
It’s important to create strategies and supports based on your child’s actual capabilities and not where you think they should be based on comparisons to other kids. Talk with your youngster about one of the maturation skills outlined above. Explore together where they are now and where both of you would like them to be. Identify and collaborate on age-appropriate responsibilities that your child is truly ready to handle. Whether it’s getting ready for school or bed, doing chores, time management, or homework completion, brainstorm with your child and pick one thing to work on first that you both agree on.
3. Adjust your expectations–and theirs–for various skill areas based on your child’s strengths and weaknesses
Lean into their strengths as a place to start. Kids with ADHD are sensitive about their challenges so collaborate with them to give them a sense of empowerment. Remember, their participation increases their cooperation. As you move forward, check in with yourself (and with them) about your plan and make changes together to foster the growth you both want to see. Continue to keep a double focus: on the skill itself and on doing more of what is working. Be sure to acknowledge and celebrate their efforts in the moment and then at your weekly family meeting.
4. Equip your child with helpful resources
Hang resources such as to-do lists, schedules of daily routines or upcoming events, reminders or other visual cues that you create together around the house. Create personal project planners together. Instead of reminding them about a specific task, redirect your child to use these tools. These tools builds sequencing, planning and shifting skills.
5. Collaborate on meaningful incentives to effectively boost motivation
Consider using collaborative incentives that are meaningful and motivating and link a privilege to a completion of a desired task. These teach kids with ADHD who wrestle with low internal motivation that there’s something to look forward to when a dreaded chore or boring history assignment is over.
We know that punishments don’t teach skills. Instead, we want to focus on what fosters initiation, motivation and follow through to build the capacity for connected independence. By shining the spotlight of our attention on teaching rather than taking away and on what’s going well instead of what’s failed, we are nurturing the seeds of self-confidence and resilience.
6. Expect pushback and negotiations (especially from tweens and teens)
Emerging adults may downright yell at you or stop sharing information. You kids may refuse certain tools (calendars, lists, reminder alerts) as part of wanting to do their own thing. Rather than take this personally (even though it is so hard not to), keep your focus on whether choices are effective and working. Stay positive and flexible and model good teamwork for your child and look to your partner, friends, extended family or therapist/coach to deal with your frustrations.
7. Acknowledge your child’s effort
It can certainly be uncomfortable to let your kids, teens and emerging adults try things on their own that you truly believe won’t go that well. Ask if they would like your input or help brainstorming various solutions to challenges. Of course, in cases of health or safety, you are the parent and you have the last word. But, most of the time, coming down as the authority backfires with your creative, outside-the-box thinker. Acknowledging the value of their effort will make it easier to tolerate this process.
8. Practice mindful awareness
Your youngster will make mistakes–that’s a part of learning and, at times, you may need to wipe up any literal or metaphorical spills. Practice mindful awareness: In the midst of an intense moment, stop, stop and breathe. Ask yourself: “How important is it that I jump in here? How can I offer my support without solving this problem? What does showing up for them look like at this moment?” These reflections will help you apply my 5C’s approach to the process of growing connected independence.
Read more blog posts:
- Parenting Older Teens with ADHD: Land the helicopter and focus on scaffolding
- Parenting Neurodivergent Kids with a Growth Mindset: How you can take ‘failure’ out of your vocabulary
- ADHD Misconceptions: How to respond to 4 damaging false beliefs and assumptions about ADHD
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