How to Stop Enabling: Three Promising Ways to Support ADHD

It’s tough to know when you're enabling vs. supporting. You strive to assist your child towards independence, but you can get frustrated when it comes to your child taking ownership. You try to help your partner stay organized, but you can get depleted by a parenting role in your relationship. 

What is Enabling vs. Supporting? 

Enabling is the tendency to jump in right away and fix a problem. Supporting is being available for assistance when needed and when asked. 

When it comes to living with ADHD, it’s tempting to enable. Your loved one’s executive functioning challenges make it “easier and faster to do things for them myself.” You tend to feel you’re doing something positive for a person who you care so much about. 

At the same time, enabling disempowers the person needing help so that they become dependent on you and others. 

When you enable, you inadvertently send a message to the person you are helping that they aren’t capable. You end up taking responsibilities that aren’t yours to take. This creates resentment and strain on your relationship.


Here are three ways to support your loved ones with ADHD, so they can become more accountable and you can have a healthier, more connected relationship.  


Let Go of the Need to Fix  

Mary and Joe ask their teen son David about his plans for getting his homework done to encourage his ownership. David commits to getting his homework done after dinner. Mary and Joe notice some homework questions are missing responses. Mary and Joe point this out to their son, but David is eager to be done and turns in his incomplete homework. 
When parents and partners consistently fix, there’s a tendency to inadvertently withdraw agency from loved ones.
Quick Tips: 
• In the above scenario, it was clear to the parents that their teen had challenges with self-monitoring and follow-through, but support to them did not look like support to their child.
Check in with your child or loved one to explore some strategies and treat those strategies as an experiment. Ask for their input to ensure agency and ownership. “Would you like a suggestion for checking your work?" If your child agrees: "One idea may be to experiment with creating a checklist before you hand in an assignment. What do you think?” 
• Try the above approach once. Your child or partner heard your ideas. If they chose to try something else or nothing, that is their choice.
• Rather than pushing their son to follow up on their agenda, Mary and Joe allowed for their son to discover the logical consequences of incomplete work for himself.  
David and his teachers decided to work together by closely monitoring his use of a calendar and assignment rubrics for the completion of homework and projects.

Set Realistic Expectations  

Bob and Jane are frustrated with twelve-year-old Julie’s disorganization. “She’s a brilliant reader, and she loves school, but we still need to remind her to brush her teeth, pick up after herself, and clean up her room.” Bob and Jane wonder if she’s ever going to make it living on her own.    


Because of the way executive functions develop in ADHD, your loved one may be advanced in some areas and have challenges in other areas. When you’re hoping your child or partner can do more than they’re doing, ask yourself if your expectations are realistic given their strengths and challenges.


Quick Tips:
• Bob and Jane decided to be curious and nonjudgmental which helped them problem-solve.  
• Ask yourself what is it about this situation that makes it difficult. 
• What are some more reasonable expectations? 
• Put language to each step-by-step success. “It looks like you really worked hard on cleaning up that section of your room.”
Celebrate successes, which in turn increases motivation and builds confidence.


Make it Ok to Ask for Help

Kate is a hard-working college freshman with ADHD, who has lots of demands on her time. Falling further behind with expanding class work and a part time job, she is pulling all-nighters. Kate is exhausted, upset, scared, and losing confidence. 


Keeping up with the demands of school, work, and everyday living can be tough when you live with ADHD, especially when tasks are emotionally depleting and draining. Individuals with ADHD can experience criticism more powerfully than others. They may tend to hear what’s meant as feedback as an attack on who they are.  Getting help can be scary because of their fear of doing something wrong and being left behind, alone and without love.  


Quick Tips:
Let your loved one know it's OK to make mistakes. Model for your loved ones when you made a mistake. Put language to your mistakes and how you problem-solved.  “I forgot about my appointment today. I didn’t feel good about missing it, but I’m glad I called and rescheduled. Next time I’m going to set a few alerts on my phone to make sure I’m ready ahead of time.” 
Resist criticizing. If you are highly critical of yourself, you may have a tendency to criticize others. Your loved one may resist getting help for fear of not measuring up once the help is in place. 
Let your loved ones know they have strengths. Getting help doesn’t mean your loved one is expected to be perfect or have to excel at everything. 
• Getting help means you're taking care of yourself and is a sign of strength.  
• Getting help is a work-in-progress. Getting help is step-by-step growing.
• For every line of feedback that could be taken as critism, make five positive statements per day. This will not only help your loved ones feel better about themselves but will also create a more connected relationship. Try it. 
To sum up, when you live with ADHD it’s tempting to enable.  To support your loved ones so they can become more accountable, and you can have a healthier, connected relationship:

• Let Go of the Need to Fix 

• Set Realistic Expectations

• Make it Ok to Ask for Help


Experiment with any or all of these and let me know how it goes for you!




 PS. Need more assistance supporting your loved ones so they can be more accountable and you can have a healthier, connected relationship?

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


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