What Is ADHD Parent Burnout?
Parent burnout can occur when chronic and higher levels of parenting stress and challenges exist. Parents of children and adolescents who have ADHD, Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), and/or other psychological or neurodevelopmental conditions are at greater risk for this due to the challenging nature of these conditions, and particularly when the conditions are not effectively managed. Additionally, the risk of burnout increases with multiple and more severe conditions and if others in the home also have disorders. Parents who have ADHD themselves (or other conditions) and/or have spouses or partners with ADHD are at heightened risk for this burnout as well. When ADHD difficulties pile up and become overwhelming over time, burnout can accelerate and intensify.
What Are the Signs of ADHD Parent Burnout?
- Frequent yelling or screaming at children, teens, and others
- Detachment or withdrawal from others or activities that were previously enjoyable
- Recurrent guilty feelings about parenting or negative interactions with children or teens
- Lingering grudges or resentments toward children and adolescents
- Increased negative thinking, particularly about children, teens or parenting
- Increased feelings of frustration and irritability
- Increased anxiety and stress symptoms
- Increased depression symptoms, including hopelessness
- Increased sleep difficulties
- Increased unhealthy coping behaviors
- Increased feelings of inadequacy or self-hatred (“I’m a failure as a parent;” “I’m awful,” or “What kind of a person am I?”)
- Persistent feelings of exhaustion
- Avoidance of parenting duties
- Increased headaches or gastrointestinal distress
- Increased overreactions or outbursts with children, adolescents, or others
- Increased conflictual interactions with children, teens, spouse or romantic partner
While concerning and unwanted, these are feedback signs that it may be time to do things differently and use other approaches in your parenting. The key is to acknowledge the need to change, be kinder to yourself and others about these challenges, and start to make adjustments. The symptoms of burnout can be an invitation to take a new path through the forest.
Ten Ways to Address ADHD Parent Burnout
- Move toward acceptance of ADHD. A critical aspect of effectively managing ADHD is to deeply understand that this is a brain-functioning condition, and then to grieve that your child or teen has ADHD. The end goal of grieving is acceptance. Acceptance can exist on a continuum and the grieving process takes time. Acceptance does not mean that anything your child does is fine, or that the problems will magically disappear. Acceptance does permit parents to live with ADHD differently and can help release resentments towards the child and ADHD. Do you have appropriate expectations for your child or teen? Is it time to learn more about ADHD and the problems it commonly causes? The additional ways listed below can help with acceptance as well.
- Get support from other parents of children and adolescents with ADHD. Learn more about how others are handling challenges and the opportunities for improvement. Attend a CHADD support group (click here for listing). Other ADHD online parent support groups can be helpful as well.
- Stay positive. Yes, this is easy to say and can be very hard to practice each day. However, you have control over your reactions, even though it may not seem like it. Monitoring and managing your negative thinking is critical. Watch what you tell yourself. Reframe your self-talk to shift from negative messages. Are you telling yourself you can handle your situation, or something else? Practice writing down or telling yourself what you are grateful for each day. Some find taking spiritual perspectives can be helpful. While deeply challenging, families with ADHD are given daily opportunities for personal growth and to practice patience, creative problem-solving, and compassion.
- Create a plan to manage stressful and frustrating parenting experiences when they occur in the moment. You know you will become aggravated with your child, either today, tomorrow, and beyond. So what’s the plan? Minimize reactive parenting as much as possible. When the difficulties happen, plan what you can do to calm down and then parent from a less emotional place. Unless it is a safety issue, most of the time parents can take a breath and a pause, walk away, and do something to calm down and release stress.
- Enhance your self-care. While this is something most people hear and is easy to minimize, it can be essential. The challenge is to make this a priority and commit to integrating this into your life. What are doing for fun and enjoyment? What excites and inspires you to help fill up your gas tank? What’s your plan to take better care of yourself? Are you getting enough sleep? Are there other lifestyle changes that would be good investments? Are there positive people in your life that you would enjoy spending more time with? Winging it and hoping you’ll practice self-care is not an effective approach. Writing these down and scheduling these activities so they aren’t forgotten can help.
- Work on improving your relationship with your child or teen. When burnout occurs, less healthy relationships can result. Typically, crispy parents are yelling, criticizing, threatening, complaining, or withdrawing, and the parent-child relationship suffers. Children and adolescents are more compliant with adults they have positive relationships with and like. A more positive relationship can help to balance the behavioral problems and difficulties in the home and bring more love and joy to the home. There are a number of ways to enhance these relationships, including improving communication skills, reducing negative interactions, and spending more time with the child or teen and focusing on their areas of interest.
- Explore if undetected coexisting conditions exist. If there is significant stress and difficulties in the home, it could be a sign that the child or teen may have other undetected coexisting conditions that are unknowingly contributing to the problems. ADHD is considered a foundational disorder that frequently exists with one or more additional conditions. By diagnosing and treating these, the child and family challenges can sometimes greatly improve. Click here to read my article on understanding coexisting conditions in children and adolescents with ADHD.
- Use more effective parenting skills. ADHD parenting is not average parenting. There are many books, articles, and training courses on improving ADHD parenting skills. If you are struggling with same the behavioral problems at home or with school, create a specific behavioral management plan to address these. ADHD therapists and coaches can help with this.
- Obtain and maximize treatment for your child or teen. If you and/or your child are struggling, it may be time to reach out to behavioral health professionals. This may be a first time or another round of treatment. ADHD medication can be very helpful, or perhaps a second opinion on medication options from a psychiatrist may be needed. ADHD therapists can help with the grieving process, provide parent behavior management training, and address coexisting conditions. Quality neurofeedback providers can have different types of powerful and newer treatments that may enhance brain functioning and permanently improve a number of disorders. ADHD coaches can useful for families as well. Be aware that effective ADHD treatment for children and teens includes active involvement of parents in sessions. The ADHDology 6 Step Treatment Approach (click link for more information) suggests an evidence-based and comprehensive model for ADHD. If you need assistance finding professionals, click here for my article on finding an ADHD Specialist provider.
- Consider obtaining professional help for yourself. This can include individual therapy sessions or speaking with psychiatrists or primary care physicians about medication options. Reaching out to behavioral health providers is part of self-care, and can be a powerful tool in addressing burnout. When parents do better, the family improves.
For more information about these approaches, please read my book Treating ADD/ADHD in Children and Adolescents: Solutions for Parents and Clinicians. Click here for more information.