Empower Your Young Adult with ADHD in Three Inspiring Ways

You may remember those conversations with your parents as a young adult about moving out on your own. If you are currently a parent of a child or young adult with ADHD, you may be all too familiar with those discussions (and catastrophic thoughts) that often focus on whether your child or young adult with ADHD will ever leave the house.  

On the other hand, it's important to recognize that the pandemic has begun to shift the stigma of young adults living at home. Rather than holding the expectation that one is supposed to become an adult at 18 or 22, it’s useful to address what they can gain from life at home as parents balance support and independence.  


Young Adults with ADHD and Executive Functioning Skills  

Executing functioning is the ability to plan, focus, shift attention, retain and use information, resist impulses, and set priorities. We aren’t born with these skills, but we can facilitate supportive environments to build and practice executive functioning skills.

For a young adult with ADHD, who is typically three to five years behind developmentally than their chronologically-aged peers, their brains are still developing well into their 30’s and even beyond. In fact, our brains are still malleable as we age, and neural pathways can strengthen and grow depending on how much our brains are stretched.


It's also important to hold in mind that excessive stress, chaotic, unpredictable environments, trauma, and/or substance abuse can adversely affect the development of executive functioning skills. 

According to Jeffery Jensen Arnett, (Emerging Adulthood, 2015), More than ever, there is no reason to hurry into adult life and set artificial deadlines. The norms for when you get married, have children, and become fully employed, are a lot more relaxed than they used to be. Now we can use that to our advantage and take some of the pressure off.” (The Atlantic, 2020, Pinkser, The New Boomerang Kids Should Change American Views of Living at Home).

What can we do to adapt to and use these more relaxed norms to our advantage?  How can we build these core executive functioning capabilities in our young adults so that they take ownership of their responsibilities and successes? 


Here are four inspiring ways to empower your young adult with ADHD so they can take more ownership, develop resilience, and ultimately become independent. 


Create Connections 

Stress, anxiety, and trauma can negatively affect the development of executive functioning skills.

Coping mechanisms are not often well-developed, leading to sidestepping uncomfortable experiences, and doing the bare minimum to get by. This tendency to avoid difficult challenges creates more suffering, rejection, and loneliness.  
Quick Tips:
• Support your young adult to engage with their discomforts by collaborating with a few “must do’s.” 
• Involve your young adult in family day-to-day responsibilities such as making meals,  feeding your pet, and cleaning up. 
• Engage your young adult in connecting with someone outside of your home, such as a cousin, grandparent, or friend.  
• Encourage your son or daughter to plan a family outing of his or her choice.

Focus on Strengths  

Overwhelmed by a history of failure and missed opportunities, a young adult with ADHD can struggle with low self-esteem.  They hear feedback given with the best of intentions as a sign that they are not measuring up, disappointing the people most important to them, including themselves. 

As kids, our young adults have been raised in a society where a message is sent that we expect them to be good at everything. Now that they are young adults, they are beginning to find opportunities to hone their skills on the topics that interest them. With their laser-focused brains, they get to be specialists where they can zero in on their passions and strengths, and shine. 
Quick Tips:
• Rather than focusing on deficits, help your young adult see their gifts
Think of a behavior that frustrates you and see if you can see something positive. For example, if your young adult is stubborn, you may find strength in persistence, or if your young adult is a risk-taker, you may find the strengths of being adventurous or entrepreneurial. 
• Most young people with ADHD hear a lot of “no.” Aim for five positive, strength-based comments to one negative/task-focused comment.

Accept Failure

Failure tends to have negative connotations, but there’s opportunity in failure. We need to help our young adults adopt the attitude that failure and mistakes are going to happen. It’s what we do with our failures that matters. 

At the same time, it can be extremely frustrating when our young adults miss deadlines, sleep through appointments, and don’t seem to be following through over and over again. 

It’s important to keep in mind that it can take numerous encounters with similar events and incidences for the ADHD brain to learn and grow from those experiences. This has to do with the uneven transmission of messages between neurons in the ADHD brain and has nothing to do with intellect or capability. 
Quick Tips:
Manage your triggers. If your son or daughter messes up, try not to explode or take it personally. Take some breaths and give yourself some time so you can discuss the situation in a neutral way.
The less you react, the more your young adult will engage with you without fear. They will be more willing to accept that mistakes are OK and will be more open to learning from their failures. 
• Ask your young adult if they want to talk about what happened. If they’re not ready, give them space. It’s important to allow them time and privacy. If your young adult refuses to talk about the situation, let them know you’re there to talk when they’re ready. 
• If and when your young adult is ready, it's best to first talk about what was working. This is a good start for then discussing what wasn’t working. Ask your young adult their opinion about what went wrong. Stay open, curious, and non-judgmental. 
Allow for your young adult to stay in the driver’s seat. Ask your son or daughter, “What’s the next step?” If they need more support,  brainstorm some viable options. 

Set Boundaries with Consequences

It’s important to have boundaries with consequences if limits aren’t met. Know your rights and establish house rules and your non-negotiables. 

If your son or daughter is up on a weekday past 2 am on the online all-night party and then sleeping in past noon, you have a right to hold your ground and set a limit.

The problem is many parents living with young adults with ADHD are overparenting. Afraid of confrontations and mental health concerns, parents can tend to sweep in and overcompensate to take care of their young adults.  Well-meaning parents can unintentionally end up over-functioning while their young adult under-functions.
Quick Tips:
• Set clear, specific, and realistic expectations. As parents, you have a right to your privacy, quiet time, and certain conditions for your young adult to continue living in your home. This can mean help with chores, participating in finances, and seeking professional support contingent on living at home. A written contract or agreement can be helpful so that you all are clear about expectations and consequences. 
The contract can also include house rules concerning substance usage, rules about cars, respect for furniture, cleaning dishes, leaving dirty dishes in certain rooms, when to take out the trash, leaving lights on, leaving the front door/garage door/gate door unlocked, laundry considerations, personal hygiene, medication intake, cleaning common areas, guest visits, and overnight policy, etc.
Support your young adult on how they will "remember to remember" the above, and what is determined as acceptable in your communication. These can include reminders on their phone and photo reminders. For example, you might want to keep a photo of a clean kitchen counter on the kitchen counter. If you see a mess in the kitchen, you can also send a photo to their phone to remind them, rather than telling them, which could be heard as nagging. 
Consequences must be established and given if rules are not followed. For example, if your young adult abused car privileges, the most natural consequence is to take away the keys for a period of time. 
Examples of other rules: no blatant lies, talk straight to Mom and Dad, be home when you say, no name-calling or swearing. 
Be consistent but flexible. For example, your young adult keeps forgetting to lock the front door after she comes in. After talking about it, your young adult decides to try a large sign as a reminder to see if it will help. You decide she are learning from her mistake and is willing to experiment with other methods to improve, so you’re willing to be flexible this time, and not provide a consequence.
On the other hand, if your son is outright refusing to clean up his room, you have a right to impose a consequence, for example, a $10 charge per day until he cleans up.  
If you are requiring your son or daughter to look for a job, be specific about how many jobs they need to apply to per week, what time they need to be up every day looking for their job, and their daily required dress. You may also want to have them keep a log of their job applications and networking information. 
To sum up, rather than holding the expectation that one is supposed to become an adult at 18 or 22, it’s useful to address what your young adult with ADHD can gain from life at home, as you balance support and independence.  To empower your young adult so they can take more ownership, build resilience, and ultimately become independent:

• Create Connections

• Focus on Strengths 

• Accept Failure

• Set Boundaries and Consequences

Experiment with these and let me know how they work out for you!




 PS. Need more assistance with empowering your young adult? 

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can talk about some steps you can put into place right away!


Transforming Parents Lives®

Strengthen Memory Abilities: Five Proven Ways to Really Boost Your Unique ADHD BrainFear of Failure: Strengthen Confidence in Three Powerful Ways Living with ADHD

Back To Top