In many families grandparents are essential members of the childcare team. The relationship that a child has with their grandparent is undeniably unique and special, but when a grandchild has ADHD a grandparent’s childcare role can be complicated. Many parents thrive on “spoiling” their grandchildren, letting them get away with small things that their parents might not allow. For a typical child, this may not cause any significant challenges and is in fact something that makes the relationship between a child and a grandparent so special. But for a child with ADHD, their grandparents may inadvertently be sending mixed messages that make it difficult for parents to implement behavior plans consistently. On the flip side, some grandparents may lose patience with their grandchild’s impulsive or hyperactive ADHD behavior, and lash out at the child or parent. Too often, this adds tension and stress to an already challenging situation. Both of these frustrating circumstances can lead to grandparents undermining even the best ADHD parenting plan. So how can you help grandparents get on board with your parenting strategies and behavior plans? It’s possible with patience, education, and partnership. So take a deep breath and read on.
Start by sharing how much you appreciate the relationship the grandparent has with your child. Express your genuine gratitude for all of the help the grandparent already provides, and let them know that you need their help with managing your child’s ADHD as well. Talk with them about ADHD. Find out what they know about the disorder, and how they think it affects your child. Try to gently fill in the gaps, and ask if they’d be willing to learn more about ADHD and the treatment strategies that you’re using at home. Consider sharing books and videos that you’ve found helpful, or a book especially for grandparents, like Help! My Grandchild Has ADHD: What These Children and Their Parents Wish You Knew, by Judy Kirzner.
Then have a follow-up conversation about the specific strategies that you use to manage your child’s ADHD. Talk about your behavior plan, the clear expectations that you have put into place, and the rewards that are tied to these expectations. Explain why it is so important for your child to have structure in their day, and why they can only receive rewards when they have actually been earned. Grandparents love nothing more than to see their grandchildren happy, so be sure to share the positive effects that these plans have had on your child! Let the grandparent know how much happier, calmer, and more motivated their grandchild is when you’re sticking with the plan. Then ask the grandparent if they’d be willing to help by also following the plan. Support the grandparent’s efforts by posting a visual reminder of the routines, expectations, and rewards at home where it can be seen by everyone.
The next two steps are key: praise and patience! When your child’s grandparent follows through, show your appreciation and let them know how much it means to have them on board. When grandparents receive positive feedback they’ll be more likely to continue to stick to the plan. But remember, grandparents are human and they are bound to make mistakes. So try to be patient. Rather than waiting for them to do everything perfectly, notice and praise the little things you catch them doing right each day. When you need to address something that hasn’t gone well, strive to provide constructive feedback in a neutral tone of voice.
Lastly, help your child’s grandparent continue to do what they do best – occasionally spoil your child! Encourage them to schedule fun one-on-one time when they can indulge their grandchild and take a break from the daily routine. This will allow them to meet their own needs as a grandparent, and will strengthen their bond with their grandchild.
With effective communication and patience, you can help the grandparents in your child’s life become parenting allies and provide your child with the support they need to thrive with ADHD.
Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.
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