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What to do When You’re Overwhelmed with an ADHD Child

If you’re overwhelmed with an ADHD child you’re not alone. These foolproof steps from a child therapist (and mom of a kid with ADHD) will move you forward with clarity and confidence. ADHD in kids can be emotionally and mentally taxing for caregivers, but following these 5 tips will help you maintain a sense of perspective and keep both you and your ADHD happier.

little girl in tut spinning around a room - as illustrating an article on overwhelm with an ADHD child

Can I be honest?

Some days I wonder what my life would be like if I wasn’t raising a child with ADHD.

I wonder if I’d have extra patience from not using every. last. drop. on emotional meltdowns and explosions.

I wonder if I’d actually be able to keep my house together from less impulsivity driven sneaking of ice cream and the leaving behind of sticky smelly messes everywhere.

I wonder if I’d be ‘fun mom’ more often not having to provide strict routine and predictability all the time. 

Typically, this pondering occurs on the days I’m overwhelmed with my ADHD child and the role of raising an outside the box kid feels heavy. On these days it seems like other parents just have it easier and that the vision of what I thought family life would look like has been snatched right out of my hands.

I’m thankful that seven years down the road, these days occur much less often. Time helps. Time is full of hope and possibility. Time makes room for growth.

On the days you feel yourself lost in the stormy waters of overwhelm and exhaustion, keeping the following ideas in mind will help you stay anchored to what really counts, the well-being of both you and your child.

5 Steps to take When You’re Overwhelmed with ADHD Child

Pause and let it be

Give yourself permission to press the pause button when your about to lose it. In most instances with your child, it’s not truly an emergency and both you and your child will benefit from putting the breaks on, and then following up when your ready with a more supportive and effective response.

When the world is spinning around you, pause and look within yourself taking note of your emotions and bodily sensations. What emotions are under the mask of anger and frustration?  Are you frustrated and resentful that your child makes the same mistakes over and over? Terrified your child will never learn to clean up after themselves?

Whatever you are feeling is OK.

Accepting your feelings just as they are when overwhelmed with an ADHD child is step one. Emotions are temporary and when we honor them and work through them we allow them to pass. You are not a bad parent for having thoughts and emotions about your child’s challenges.

Being mindful of these thoughts and emotions and not reacting out of frustration and criticism will allow you to show up as the best parent for your child and keep your relationship intact.

Related: 75 Awesome Calm Down Strategies for Kids

Be Kind to Yourself

You weren’t planning on navigating a special needs journey when you set out to be a parent. Coming to terms with the unique challenges brought by ADHD in kids takes time, patience and self-compassion.

Parenting a child with ADHD causes great parents to be really hard on themselves. When you give into the false notion that you’re responsible for your child’s ADHD behaviors it gives the impression that very real symptoms of a neurological condition are actually the result of poor parenting.

When these negative thought patterns creep in, call them out for what they are and squash them with a good dose of truthful and realistic thinking. “I’m doing the best that I can today and so is my child”, “It’s my job to recognize what ADHD symptoms in children are and to place my child’s behaviors in proper context, not the job of extended family or onlookers at the park.”

Find what works for you to work through these complicated emotions such as talking to another special needs parent, journaling, prayer, etc.

Related: The Best Mindset for Parenting a Strong-Willed, Highly Emotional Child

See your child through their behaviors

Knowing how to help a child with ADHD decrease negative behaviors means shining a huge spotlight on their innate gifts and strengths and not only focusing on and bringing attention to negative behaviors. Focusing on your child’s positive qualities will help when overwhelmed with ADHD behaviors during rough days, months or even years.

When loud, defiant and aggressive behaviors dominate your day during a rough patch, remember that your child is so much more than their behaviors. I love this quote from Fred Rogers that illustrates this so beautifully.

Mom and child touching foreheads with overlaid Fred Rogers quote that reads: As human beings, our job in life is to help people realize how rare and valuable each one of us really is, that each of us has something that no one else has - or ever will have - something inside that is unique to all time. It's our job to discover that uniqueness and to provide ways of developing its expression. (as illustrating being overwhelmed with raising an ADHD child)

Getting to discover and draw out the amazing person your child is, is truly a gift, so don’t forget to enjoy it.

Zoom out to a bigger picture

When you’re dealing with overwhelming and challenging behaviors on a consistent basis, it’s easy to become physiologically overwhelmed yourself. When you’re living in a stressful environment your brain starts to function out of it’s emotion area (limbic system) out of survival, instead of using the logical rational thinking area of the brain (frontal lobe).

Yelling, defiance and aggression trigger you emotionally the same way your child is being triggered by their anxiety/ADHD/sensory symptoms and it can feel like you’re getting sucked into a vortex of disruptive behaviors.

Reminding yourself that this too shall pass and that behaviors are only temporary can get you through. Refusing to do homework and punching their brother after school today doesn’t equate to time in juvenile detention 10 years down the road.

Your ADHD child’s pre-frontal cortex which is responsible for planning, impulse control, and self-regulation will continue to develop each year (until age 25) giving them increased executive functioning skills. They will also continue gaining valuable skills from you on dealing with anger and learning how to better manage their emotions and behaviors through self-regulation

With your support and encouragement your child is going to be ok (and so are you).

Related: Disciplining a Child with ADHD 

Enjoy your kid

You know the days it feels like you have no patience for your ADHD child or that you just can’t handle your ADHD child’s behaviors for one more second? Take those days as a sign some relationship repair is needed. A secure warm attachment to a caregiver is a basic need for every child, and especially vital for kids who face additional challenges in day to day life.

When it comes to kids, everything starts with the relationship.

Give yourself permission to step back from your parent ‘control center’ and let the little things go for the day. Do nothing but find a few easy ways to create some fun and laughter with your amazing kid. Connection and laughter are both therapeutic and work wonders when we’re stuck in a relationship or behavioral rut.

When Overwhelmed with a ADHD Child always remember…

Always remember, the greatest lessons come from the greatest challenges.

The gift of time has allowed me to realize that my child’s challenging behaviors have in fact grown my patience by leaps and bounds, that a clean house isn’t what matters most and as it turns out, I really benefit from routine and predictability these days (read- I’m getting old).

Pause, breathe and remind yourself that your child’s going to be just fine. After all, they have the most important thing going for them, a loving, concerned and dedicated parent in their corner.

This post was originally published 12/12/2018 and has been updated.

P.S. More support for your ADHD parenting journey…

little girl playing in a creek with text overlay that reads: adhd symptoms in children (myth vs reality)
little boy being held by his dad and looking at camera with text overlay that reads: child therapist's best tips for parenting a child with ADHD

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  1. I needed to read this today. It has been a rough day and my patience is thin but your article really helped put things in perspective.

  2. I am having a very bad day with my nearly 4year old, and had been all but consumed with anger, but this article just reminded me that this day will pass and my little boy is a special and kind child who struggles to control his own emotions. Very well written and really resonates with me.

  3. Exactly today…and most days, I really needed this, it’s even harder with our son doing virtual school at home mornings are tough, I set alarms in his phone for reminders and have cheer sheets near his door basically his morning schedule but it doesn’t work, and I get frustrated sounding like a broken record ALL DAY LONG EVERY SINGLE DAY. He of course gets numerous chances bc I try to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’ll use his resources and take me seriously but it’s the same 24/7. Something like this is what I need everyday to remind myself this too shall pass and just take it easy on both of us.

  4. If I could tell myself, “This too shall pass” that would be great. We are now in the middle of a pandemic and my 14 year old son is bouncing off the walls and acting like a toddler most of the day. We try to get him to exercise to burn off some energy, but it is a serious struggle every time.Even if the virus was miraculously gone tomorrow, we don’t know where he could go to school. The last school he was at did all they could do, but he refused to participate. I sit and explain to him what our expectations are, but they are promptly forgotten. It’s like a very unfunny version of Groundhog’s Day. I see no end in sight. This too shall pass, ha-ha, very funny.

    1. I needed this reminder. I feel I’ve been a little hard on my 5 year old ADHD daughter and it breaks my heart but I just get so frustrated. I constantly tell her the same things over and over but she just doesn’t seem to grasp it. My 2 year old daughter can do things I ask better than my 5 year old. It is extremely overwhelming for myself and I am trying to cope with her behavior. Thank you for this read.

  5. I feel like my household is always a second away from disaster, I am drowning most days…
    My morning was a hurricane of melt downs and chaos. I lost my patience and my 10 year old daughter went to school before we could talk it out. I was searching the internet (honestly) for articles and parenting blogs that would reaffirm all the nasty and horrible feelings I am feeling about myself. By the end of most days I’m so emotionally and physically drained I want to escape. Other days I lose my patience completely and raise my voice or use punishment (grounding, no TV time etc), on these days I feel like a nasty beast who isn’t meant to be a parent.

    The hardest part for me is being human, I have strengths and I have weaknesses. I struggle to go with any type of flow, I have plans, contingency plans, and emergency backup plans. My daughter is the exact opposite, she is a what she wants, when she wants it, consequences be damned, blow up and be aggressive until everyone else backs down kid.

    I am still learning to forgive myself for my mistakes. Finding a balance between my being over bearing or her literally running the show feels almost impossible. Give an inch and she takes the rope, ties you to the chair and demands ransom snacks.

    Anyway, thanks for a great article with a few suggestions I am going to try.

  6. Reading this article today did help me feel better in some way. But it’s a exhausting day to day thing with my 7 year old daughter . It’s like the school too dont understand that kids and most of all my little girl loves to talk alot and is hyper.But they are constantly telling me in notes or phone calls that she talks too much and is being disruptive in class I’m so tired and stressed out over all of this in her behavior. I dont know what else to do .taking her to another doctor appointment next month to get reevaluated for adhd.for second opinion the first doctor said she was fine but I dont think she is okay.

  7. I’m reading and trying to find solutions, suggestions, solace, anything. 2 boys a year apart with extremely different adhd. Virtual school and remote working together all day every day for a year.

    They aren’t going to pass, I’m probably going to get fired. The spiral is real and all the patience isn’t saving us. One of us is crying all the time. I love them with every ounce of my being, they are amazing.

    This too shall pass but the wreckage that is left in their wake is real.

    1. I’m so sorry things have been so challenging. Thanks for being vulnerable and sharing your sitution. I sincerley hope you are all getting the support you need and are coming up for a breath. Angela

  8. I needed to read this I am struggling with frustration and I am out of patience. I feel like the worst mother in the world. I have saved some screen shots of this to remind me… this is not about me … it’s about my child that is struggling more than me ?

  9. Thank you for posting this article. I wanted to comment on a factor that is often overlooked in children with ADHD: a parent with ADHD themselves.

    My sister and brother in law have a 4 year old son that we are certain has ADHD. My BIL was diagnosed with it in his childhood. My nephew has so many behavioral issues due to it. He cannot sit still, pay attention, he’s aggressive with other children, hyperactive, and so many other things. His behavior is so bad that I will not even allow my own children around him anymore because I am concerned about their safety, sadly. My nephew has bitten, punched and kicked both of my children (ages 2 & 3). He has been kicked out of 3 daycares so far. His behavior has taken such a large emotional toll on my sister and I have been researching ADHD like crazy recently.

    My sister has been proactive with my nephew (assessments, enrolling him in a special ed daycare, meeting with specialists, ect). But all of these things seem meaningless due to my BIL.

    My BIL has almost no patience, he acts before he thinks, and has a raging temper. He cannot hold a job more than a year at the most due to his behavior. He started spanking my nephew when he was 18 months old. Yes, 18 months. In my opinion no child should be spanked. But an 18 month old? No child that age can understand the consequences of their actions. That’s how short his temper is. After my nephew was kicked out of the second daycare, my dear BIL drove to the facility with my nephew and screamed and cursed at the staff for kicking my nephew out… ALL IN FRONT OF MY NEPHEW.

    Sometimes when my BIL gets frustrated with my nephew, he will let him watch a tablet or tv for countless hours just to keep him quiet so he won’t have to pay attention to him. One day my BIL told my sister he let my nephew sit on their tablet for 5 straight hours. Are you kidding me?

    How can a parent of an ADHD child expect their child to control their emotions and behave appropriately when the parent themselves cannot? My nephew is already facing an uphill battle with ADHD and my BIL’s poor parenting is making it worse.

    My BIL’s own ADHD is obviously detrimental and makes him a less than ideal parent. I rarely see this ever discussed or addresses on ADHD forums and blogs.

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