ADHD, Adolescents, Anxiety, Articles by Jacqueline McDiarmid, Children, Couple's counselling, Family counselling, Mental Health, Relationships

Help to manage family stress when a child has ADHD

By the time a Family Counsellor like me sees parents of a child with ADHD, they are urgently in need of a safe space to work through the experience of parenting a child who has extra challenges.

Some of you may know that I have a special interest in working with families where there is a child with ADHD. This is because these are some of the most stressed parents I see, and the ones who are mostly likely to separate if they do not get help. Research says that parents of a child with ADHD are three times more likely to separate, and 90% more stressed, than parents of a child who is developing typically.

Some of the reasons why parents are so stressed living with a child with ADHD include:

  • They have already experienced a number of extremely difficult years before referral and diagnosis – therefore lacking any support resources for their family for a long period of time.
  • The behaviour that often goes with this diagnosis is extremely challenging and difficult to manage even for the most skilled parents.
  • Sometimes behaviour can be so extreme that parents feel unable to leave the house or socialise with others leaving them isolated and sometimes feeling like a hostage in their own home.
  • Extended family and friends have implied or suggested that poor parenting is the problem.
  • Other parents/friends/relatives have minimised the problem leaving the parents feeling like they failing as parents.
  • Parents feel unable to leave their child with extended family or babysitters for fear of what might happen.
  • Differing parenting styles and approaches to managing the child causing conflict in the relationship.
  • Financial concerns – it costs more to support a child with ADHD.
  • Lack of time and space for the parent’s relationship because of the energy required to parent their child.
  • Stress on one or both parents as they manage the school system, teachers (who often lack real understanding of ADHD or have the knowledge to manage it) and students as complaints about the child come in.
  • Worry about their child and academic performance.
  • Worry about social isolation that their child might be experiencing.
  • Worry and concern about other children they may have in the family.
  • And last but not least – a parent might have ADHD themselves so also have problems with self-regulation and impulse control.

Most parents feel very worried and scared for their child.  Sometimes by the time I see a family, the parents are also scared of their child.

These are the kinds of comments I hear:

“Where is the joy in parenting?”
“How bad is this going to get?”
“We can’t get a babysitter; nobody could look after him/her?”
“We can’t see our friends as he/she might do something to their kids”
“We (partner) don’t get on anymore, we just fight”

The good news is that there are lots of things that can be done to help a child with ADHD, and a Family Counsellor can really help the parents (and entire family).

Family counselling can help parents learn techniques and strategies to manage the behaviour that often comes with this diagnosis. They can work through uniquely tricky or specific challenges. And they can help parents strengthen their relationship and stay connected.

A Family Counsellor will also help the parents repair, if necessary, their relationships with other members of the family – it is not uncommon for siblings to feel left out and resentful of the energy taken up to parent the child with ADHD.

Some of the areas a Family Counsellor should cover to help parents reduce stress and reconnect include:-

      • Babysitting and respite care.  Many of you are saying “we can’t do that!” – but with the right plan you can and I will show you how.
      • Safety measures you might need to have in the home – for example, some parents put combinations locks on certain rooms so that the child can’t go in there and destroy property.
      • Security measures to manage impulsivity – for example, if your child has run away.
      • Education on ADHD – this is a neurological condition and education and understanding about your child’s challenges will help you both to feel empathy rather than frustration.
      • Time and organisational strategies to reduce stress.
      • Strategies and techniques to manage behaviour.
      • A parenting plan to help you both get on the same page.
      • Communication help to reduce the conflict between you.
      • Guidance to manage the school system.
      • Work to enhance the connection between you both.
      • Work to facilitate positive family and parenting experiences with your child.

One of the biggest mistakes I see in family therapy is parents who put all their energy and resources into their children and don’t do the same for their own relationship.  Ultimately it is then the parent’s relationship which becomes the casualty of the diagnosis as well as the children who may lose their single biggest resource – a team of two “on the same page” parents and an intact close and connected family.

If you and your partner are parents of a challenging child reach out and get the help – you will be surprised at the difference it makes to everyone in the family. Please contact our receptionist today on 02 8968 9397 or contact us and we will support you and your family to reduce the stress and reconnect.

About Jacqueline McDiarmid

Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas.

In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.

Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.

Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.

Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.

Qualifications and Professional Membership

Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.

Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.

Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.

She is a Clinical Member of the Family Therapy Association of Australia and a Clinical Member of PACFA.


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