ADHD can bring different challenges as children develop and have new experiences. Cultivating your role model skills, and helping your child celebrate their unique interactions with the world, lays the foundation for successful parenting at any age.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a common neurodevelopmental disorder typically diagnosed during childhood. It features symptoms of hyperactivity, impulsivity, and inattention that can create challenges with learning, task management, and interpersonal relationships.

Being a parent isn’t easy under any circumstances. Children are regularly faced with challenges as part of growing up. When your child lives with ADHD, learning how to best support them through their development can have lasting effects on self-esteem and self-agency.

The five C’s of ADHD parenting are part of a parenting model developed by Dr. Sharon Saline, a clinical psychologist known for her work in supporting families with neurodivergent children.

Parents following Saline’s framework focus on these five areas intended to help reduce parental frustration and overwhelm:

  • Self-control: your ability to recognize and manage your own emotional responses so that you may teach your child to do the same
  • Compassion: understanding your child’s individual needs and responding with empathy and patience
  • Collaboration: working with others, like teachers and therapists, to create a support network for your child
  • Consistency: setting and maintaining clear boundaries, rules, and consequences, while following through with what you, as a parent, say you are going to do
  • Celebration: celebrating successes, no matter how small, and building upon what’s working every day

Developing these tenets can benefit you as well as your child.

For example, if you actively demonstrate compassion, consistency, and self-control, it helps you learn how to manage parental stress and frustration. Plus, it allows your child to learn from your example.

Children under age 5 years are going through major physical growth and motor development. By the time they enter preschool, their social, intellectual, and emotional development is also growing by leaps and bounds.

Parenting at this stage can be all-consuming and exhausting, especially if this is your first child. Here are some tips:

  • Establish a routine: Amy Braun, a licensed clinical professional counselor from Yorkville, Illinois, has recommended establishing and maintaining a daily schedule for eating, napping, and playing. According to research from 2014, routines can be an important way of providing consistency and stability for children living with ADHD.
  • Learn more about ADHD: Early childhood is your opportunity to learn as much about ADHD as you can. Learning about symptoms, treatments, and available support networks can help you practice compassion and know what to expect as your child gets older.
  • Focus on self-care: Self-care can help prevent parental burnout. “Having a young child with ADHD can be physically and emotionally exhausting,” said Michelle English, a licensed clinical social worker from San Diego, California. “Prioritize self-care by getting enough sleep, eating well, and making time for activities you enjoy.”
  • Start positive reinforcement: Braun noted that positive reinforcement methods are very effective during early childhood. Starting this parenting method early, she said, can encourage good behavior down the road.
  • Read together: Reading together can be relaxing. It also has additional benefits for ADHD parenting. “Reading to your child at this age promotes language development and encourages using reading as a healthy coping skill in the future,” said Braun.

Children ages 6–12 years are grade schoolers. They’re starting to develop their independence, discover their creativity, and test social skills with their peers.

During this stage, there’s bound to be plenty of trial and error — and all the emotions that come with it. Some tips to follow include:

  • Set clear rules, expectations, and consequences: This is the age when children can start expressing independence. Setting and communicating clear rules, expectations, and consequences can help a child living with ADHD learn which actions get what results.
  • Be a part of your child’s independence: By participating in your child’s exploration of independence, you can help them develop it slowly, in a way that prepares them for adulthood. They’re able to make their own decisions, and you can help them learn from their mistakes.
  • Let children participate in their care decisions: English suggested involving your child in their ADHD care process. Doing this helps them learn to communicate openly with their therapist and teaches them that ADHD resources are available.

Teenagers are notoriously tough on parents. Independence-seeking is at an all-time high during this stage of development, and teens are faced with a growing number of responsibilities. Here are some tips:

  • Encourage healthy habits: Promoting healthy habits like exercise, quality sleep, and balanced nutrition is important, said English, because teens living with ADHD may experience challenges with impulsivity and self-regulation.
  • Respect independence: Teens with ADHD are capable of independence. Respecting their desire to make their own decisions and manage their day can help them build the autonomy they’ll need as adults.
  • Work together on time management:Time management can be difficult for teens with ADHD, so it’s critical to collaborate to develop a system that works for them,” said English. “This could include using calendars, timers, and other tools to help them stay organized and manage their time more effectively.”
  • Check-in regularly: Respecting your teen’s independence doesn’t mean closing the lines of communication. Checking in regularly with your teen shows them you care and are there if needed.

Symptoms of ADHD typically appear in early childhood between the ages of 3 and 6 years. Children experiencing severe symptoms often receive a diagnosis earlier, at around an average age of 4 years.

ADHD is not a progressive condition. In fact, symptoms improve for many people by adulthood. Sometimes, parents or caregivers may observe more severe ADHD symptoms, but this may just be because a child has responded to a new challenge in a way parents have seen before.

Parental support can help a child with ADHD throughout their life. According to a 2023 research paper, parents fulfill several important roles during a child’s life, including:

  • manager (taking charge of needs)
  • roadie (helping behind the scenes)
  • superfan (providing adoration and encouragement)

These stages showcase your shift as a parent from directing your child’s life to helping them thrive as they move into adulthood by continuing to show them unconditional love.

Braun explained that parental support offers children living with ADHD:

  • emotional support
  • advocacy
  • routine and structure
  • treatment support
  • skill building

Self-esteem building is another big bonus of parental support.

“Children with ADHD may experience low self-esteem as a result of academic or social challenges,” English said. “Parents can boost their children’s self-esteem by recognizing their accomplishments, emphasizing their strengths, and providing unconditional love and support.”

Parenting strategies for a child living with ADHD can vary by age. Starting your parenting approach off with the five C’s can help you cultivate important practices that not only reduce your parental stress but also help make you an effective role model.

Caring for yourself, setting clear boundaries, and encouraging age-appropriate independence can help children living with ADHD thrive throughout all stages of their lives.