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How to Handle a Grandchild with ADHD
Q: How would you handle a grandchild who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)?
A: This is a very good question, since grandparents who know how to "handle" a child with ADHD can be a very important part of the child's life. When grandparents understand that this is a neurologically-based problem, it's easier to them to understand why their own "kids" may be having such a hard time being parents. If grandparents educate themselves about ADHD, they can help their adult children by supporting them emotionally, and by sharing information they learn about ADHD.
Grandma and Grandpa can also help parents get much needed relief from the stress of having a child with this condition by offering to baby sit or provide day care services. When this happens, though, grandparents and parents should agree on appropriate ways to manage the child. If grandparents are "softies" who give in to the child and don't set limits on certain behaviors, then the child's parents can have a very hard time when they say "no" or when they set limits at home. This can create tension between the parents and the grandparents, and some kids play this for all it's worth. "Grammy let's me do this when I'm with her" is NOT what a parent likes to hear from their child.
On the other hand, a grandparent who is able to provide consistent and firm boundaries for a child with ADHD can be a very helpful force in the life of a child and his or her parents. Parents need to see how firm and sensitive guidance can help an impulsive, active child who finds it hard to set boundaries and limits for himself. When parents and grandparents work together to form a broad net of support for the child and for each other, this is very helpful. Grandparents may need to respect the parenting skills of their adult children, and unless they see harm being done, they should not intrude or intervene unless they are asked to do so. Grandparents may need to ask parents about the best approach to use, since the parents may have done more reading about the condition and its treatment, and have probably developed their own strategies for dealing with the child. If a child with ADHD is taking medication for the condition, grandparents need to understand the importance and the purpose of the medication. They need to understand that medication helps children gain more self control and that it does not control a child. This knowledge makes it less likely that a grandparent will react to a child who is having a hard time by saying: "Oh, my...you'd better take another one of those pills!"
Remember that ADHD often runs in families, so the behavior of a child may reflect the behavior of a parent...and yes, a grandparent! So work together to understand the condition and how to help children (and adults) who have it.
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Jerome (Jerry) Schultz is the founding clinical director of the Learning Lab @ Lesley University, a program that provides assessment, tutoring, and case management services for children with learning challenges. Schultz holds a Ph.D. from Boston College, and has completed postdoctoral fellowships in both clinical psychology and pediatric neuropsychology.