Three Proven Ways to Stay Calm and Assert Boundaries Parenting ADHD

As a parent of a child with ADHD and related challenges, you may face the demanding and stressful mission of sticking to boundariesImpulse control, staying consistent, weathering intense emotions, and self-management are executive functioning challenges that make it tough to establish and enforce boundaries when you live with ADHD.

Setting clear boundaries provides structure and consistency and helps children of all ages feel safe and secure. Even though kids will push their boundaries, testing their limits can ultimately lead to greater self-awareness, positive choices, and thinking for themselves so they can become more independent.

Still, for kids with ADHD and related challenges, adhering to limits and boundaries can be challenging.

Without consistent limits, the balance of control shifts from parent to child, which can create anxiety, distress, lack of empathy, and low self-esteem. Yet, it's common for parents to have concerns or fears about establishing and holding limits.


Here are three proven ways to stay calm and assert your boundaries when you parent a child with ADHD. 


Set Realistic Expectations

Most kids act up but kids with ADHD can push back on boundaries with greater resistance than kids without ADHD. Impulsivity, trouble with transitions, and the ups and downs of intense and fluctuating emotions can make it tough to respect and communicate boundaries. 


Setting realistic expectations appropriate to your child helps you meet your child where they are. One means for determining what’s realistic is to apply the “30% Rule,” a means to pause and evaluate whether your expectations are reasonable for your child.


Most children with ADHD tend to lag roughly 30% “behind” their chronologically aged peers when it comes to executive functioning. (Russell Barkley, PhD, ADHD and Children's Delayed Executive Functioning Age.) This is why you may find your child may not be “acting their age.”


When you apply the 30% rule, you subtract 30% from your child’s age, which gives you the behavioral age of your child. If your son is 10 (subtract 3), your child may be reflecting behavior of a 7-year-old child. Ask yourself: “Is it reasonable for me to expect my 10-year-old to manage the outbursts I’d expect from a 7-year-old.” 


The 30% rule can help you problem-solve to create strategies relevant to your unique child. 


Quick Tips:

• Keep family rules simple and easy to understand. 
• When working on enforcing new boundaries, focus on one limit at a time. Challenges with working memory make it difficult to hold onto too many directions at once.
• Gently using your child’s name or a light touch can be helpful to engage your child.


Be Assertive and Communicate Openly

If your child’s behavioral age reflects your boundaries and expectations, but their actions do not match your expectations, step back and assess what else may be contributing to the situation. 


Kids with ADHD may struggle with being sensitive to the signs that they’ve crossed a boundary. Make sure you aren’t blurring the lines with your child, while inadvertently communicating mixed messages. 


Be assertive when you communicate with your child. The assertive voice tells your kids their limits, while clearly communicating what is permissible and appropriate. It is not an aggressive voice; it is a voice that transparently expresses what you mean, in a way your child can understand.


Developing awareness of your own needs and triggers is essential to reflect on your most important boundaries for you and your family.


Quick Tips:

Give clear, specific information about your boundaries to your child. 
Refrain from asking questions when enforcing boundaries. Questions confuse and give the mixed message that your child has a choice. For example: instead of: “Are you ready to leave? We said we’d leave at 8 a.m. OK?” State: “We need to leave now. It’s 8 am.” Instead of: “Can you put on your seatbelt, please?” State: “Put on your seatbelt.” 
Use “I-Statements” to express your needs and feelings. “I need some quiet time,” instead of “stop yelling, you’re making me crazy.”
Refrain from “you always,” or “You never.” Instead, firmly state the limit.
• Check in with your own inner voice. Notice how you communicate with yourself and whether you use that same inner voice with your kids.
Acknowledge and reaffirm your child’s concerns and keep discussions short to avoid lectures and debates.
Choose a good time and place. Select a fitting time and space for yourself and your child to talk. This is when and where you’re both more likely to be most receptive. 
Reinforce. It's common for individuals with ADHD to need reminding, especially when you’re enforcing a new boundary. Younger children may require a gentle verbal reminder, while older kids may respond best to a texted photo or humorous meme.  
Use visual aids, such as calendars or charts to help you and your child manage and stay consistent. 


Communicate with Calm

You’ve set the boundaries, you’ve managed your expectations, and you’re communicating clearly and openly, but your child pushes the boundaries, and loses complete control, and so do you.

You know must show up as the best version of yourself, but you fear your child’s out-of-control behavior will only further damage your child’s self-esteem and your relationship. 

Although it may not feel like it at the time, developmentally appropriate boundaries provide security and predictability and can boost your child’s confidence. 


When you manage your own emotions by staying calm and soothing yourself, you’re in a better position to communicate your limits more effectively. You’re also modeling how to work through emotions so your child can learn how to manage their own difficult circumstances.  


Still, conflict can trigger strong emotions and lead to discomfort. When we’re triggered, angry, or afraid, our kids can sense these frightening emotions. As they try to take control of their fear, the situation may develop into a power struggle. 


Quick Tips:

If you feel physically unsafe, get to a safe place. Do not try to resolve the situation until you’re settled and calm. 
Listen to the feelings, rather than the facts. This will help you listen more deeply to what’s really going on and connect to your own needs and feelings as well. 
• It’s OK to acknowledge your child’s feelings, even if you don’t agree with their behavior. It’s important to reflect to your child that their emotions are OK even if they make us feel nervous or uncomfortable.
Reflect and connect. When and only when you and your child cool down, is the time to reflect and talk about what happened. You may need to wait a few hours to process through intense emotions. 
• Try language such as, “I can see how that can make you upset.” “You’re really frustrated. I’m here to talk when you’re ready.” 
Be brief. Your child will be more likely to participate when it’s not a long, one-sided conversation. 
• Ask your child how you can help. This will empower your child to learn from the situation and come up with ideas of their own. 
• Use regular situations in everyday life to name emotions, including when reading books or watching shows. This way your child learns to talk about feelings in less emotionally charged situations.


To sum up, establishing and sticking to boundaries for kids with ADHD and related conditions can be challenging. To stay calm and assert boundaries when parenting ADHD:

Set Realistic Expectations
Be Assertive and Communicate Openly
Communicate with Calm






PS. Need support setting and maintaining boundaries and parenting your child with ADHD?

Contact me for an ADHD Strategy Assessment and we can get started on a game plan now!


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