Divorce is a complex emotional process that is difficult for all parties involved. Сhildren whose parents are divorcing experience depression, irritation, and anger. Some of the children may even blame themselves for the parent’s separation. However, things can get worse when it comes to kids with ADHD.
Facts About ADHD
Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or attention deficit disorder (ADD) is one of the most common behavioral disorders. It is usually first diagnosed in childhood and may persist into adulthood.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2016, 6.1 million children of all ages (9.4%) in the United States had ADHD. Symptoms should be present for more than six months for a diagnosis.
Children with ADHD may be hyperactive and have problems controlling impulsive behavior and concentrating. Some children and adults with ADHD may also have difficulty regulating their emotions.
ADHD in children can deteriorate school performance and relationships with peers and adults. ADHD is a disease that requires treatment, including medication.
What to Expect
Divorce of parents is a challenging test for any child. However, for children with ADHD, the situation turns into a tragedy. It is challenging for them to fully understand the nature of their emotions and cope with impulses.
Support for children with ADHD going through a divorce involves parents’ understanding and accepting the problem. A parent is a reliable support system for a child.
Psychologists identify three main issues that adults and children face:
- Trouble managing emotions. The news of a parents’ divorce can be a real emotional shock for a child. Children with ADHD may find it challenging to deal with anger, sadness, and anxiety during and after divorce. Often this leads to tantrums and possible physical beatings.
- Hyper focusing. Although one of the symptoms of ADHD is impaired concentration, it manifests as the opposite symptom in some cases. Children with ADHD may dwell on negative aspects, such as divorce, and do not let the situation go for a long time. It can lead to depression, low self-esteem, and blame for the parents’ breakup.
- Trouble with flexible thinking. It is hard for children with ADHD to quickly adapt to new changes and adjust their perception of the situation. As a result, it leads to a long-term denial of the parental separation and the rejection of the new rules or new parents’ partners.
You can not protect the child from all the negative consequences. However, understanding the nature and reasons of their reactions to certain factors can help your kids get through difficulties faster and more smoothly.
Strategies to Help a Child Deal with Divorce
The tips below will help parents organize their child care and focus on specific factors that require attention.
1. Work Together with the Co-Parent
Dealing with divorce and children can be difficult for parents because so many things need their attention. However, when raising a child with ADHD, it is vital to adhere to a single system to avoid confusing them.
Children with ADHD quickly lose concentration. Because of this, it is difficult for them to immediately understand complex things, such as the causes and consequences of divorce. As a result, their reaction to unclear explanations or criticism of the other parent can turn into hysteria and ruthlessness. After all, they simply do not know how to respond to family changes.
Parents need to agree on what they will say to their child regarding divorce and further action. At this point, spouses should show the children that they are not the reason for their parent’s separation.
Co-parents’ teamwork can help the child feel less out of control.
2. Keep an Open Dialogue
Many parents mistakenly believe that to help their children cope with their separation, they need to pretend that everything is fine and nothing happened. However, children quickly notice the slightest change in their parents’ attitudes and react to it. For example, frequent whims, poor school performance, protests against meals or walks, and so on.
In this way, children with ADHD try to attract their parents’ attention and become the force that unites them again. It’s like the saying goes: “Nothing brings you together like a common enemy.” The principle is the same.
Parents should talk openly about divorce with their children. However, depending on the child’s age, they need to choose the appropriate tone. The child may not be ready to discuss everything at once. Give them time to think. And then return to the conversation later.
3. Tell Your Child What to Expect
This paragraph is similar to the previous one. However, here we focus on preparing a child with ADHD for the coming changes in home life.
Parents should talk to their children and explain how their lives will change with a divorce. Try to calm the child and assure them that there will be no global changes. Parents, as before, will both be present in the child’s life. To do this, give specific examples like: “Now dad will take you to his place every weekend,” or “Now you will have two houses.”
Parents should not overload the child with information at once, do it gradually. You can also use supportive tools. For example, by reading children’s books about divorce, you can clearly explain why parents can no longer be together.
Popular books now are:
- Dinosaurs Divorce by Laurene Krasny Brown and Marc Brown
The dinosaur family explores why parents can get divorced and what happens after a divorce. In the book, you will find answers to common questions that a child may have. It is designed for children from 3 to 7 years old.
- It’s Not Your Fault, Koko Bear by Vicki Lansky
After the divorce of Koko’s bear parents, the protagonist experiences a range of emotions such as guilt, anger, and sadness. On every page, you can find tips on how to help your child identify and express feelings. It is designed for children from 3 to 7 years old.
- Two Homes by Claire Masurel
The book tells about Alex, who lives with his mother and father in different houses. He has two beds, two armchairs, and two favorite groups of friends. With this book, you can help your child understand that they are loved by both parents, no matter where or with whom they live. It is designed for children from 3 to 7 years old.
- Mom’s House, Dad’s House for Kids by Isolina Ricci
A qualified family therapist wrote this book to help teens deal with conflicting home rules and schedules. The story will help children stay neutral when their parents disagree and deal with guilt, stress, and other emotions. In addition, the book includes easy-to-use and straightforward worksheets. It is designed for children 10 years and older.
- My Family’s Changing by Pat Thomas
This picture book talks about the concept of divorce. It also contains questions parents can ask their children to help them sort out their feelings. It is designed for children 4 years and older.
- Divorce Is Not the End of the World by Zoe and Evan Stern
This book is remarkable because it was written by teenagers (with the support of their mother) who coped with their parents’ divorce. The book considers managing emotions, adapting to stepparents, adjusting to rules and schedules in different houses, etc. It is designed for children 8 years and older.
4. Keep Rules
Helping kids go through a divorce, parents can ease up on their day-to-day rules. However, during this period, children with ADHD need parental control. Parents should stick to the usual system so that children do not feel lost and out of control. Even something as small as changing kids’ bedtime can affect your child’s behavior.
5. Protect Rituals and Schedules
Divorce will make adjustments to family life. However, parents that have kids with ADHD should maintain their child’s daily routines. In this case, we are not talking about rules, but about actions such as doing sports, taking medicine, playing a musical instrument, etc.
Some divorced parents may disagree on ADHD medication and refuse to support their child’s treatment. Therefore, in joint custody, parents should agree on the need for treatment, the schedule, and the dose of ADHD medication. After all, their child’s health and further standing in society depend on this.
6. Don’t Ignore Unacceptable Behavior
Everything should have a limit. Parents should understand the emotions and feelings of the child. However, this does not mean kids should be allowed to do what they want without punishment. For example, a child with ADHD may be angry or sad because of their parents’ separation, but don’t let violence or tantrums become the norm.
Parents should talk to their children about healthy ways to express their emotions. They can also get a family psychologist consultation or attend specialized courses to help children of divorce. In addition, parents can turn to medication treatment.
7. Be Mindful About Dating
When parents have a new partner, this can turn into two scenarios. First, children with ADHD may have a negative attitude towards a new beloved and consider this as a parent’s betrayal. It can lead to alienation between the child and the parent.
The second option is entirely the opposite. Children with ADHD can become very attached to a parent’s new partner very quickly, trying to fill the gap of a broken family. And in the end, if you break up with a new partner, it can be a tragedy for the child and drive them into depression.
Parents should refrain from introducing their children to new lovers if they are unsure about the relationship.
Parents should not be afraid of ADHD in children. Your kids may overreact to the changes, but with the right approach, you can help your daughter or son get through a divorce. The key is understanding and communication.
Anna Khmara is a certified life transformation and relationship coach with an in-depth study of transactional analysis and positive psychology. She helps clients understand the essence of the problem, establish healthy relationships, build self-esteem, manifest their dreams into reality, and find harmony.
Anna has published up-to-date guides to changing life scenarios, offering valuable advice on coping with trauma, surviving divorce, setting life goals, and implementing an effective plan to achieve them.