Parenting a Foster Child with ADHD
Dear Selfless Esteem,
A foster child, who has been diagnosed with ADHD, was recently placed in my home. How can I support him?
New at This
Dear New at This,
God bless your heart for opening your home to a foster child! The U.S. Children’s Bureau’s 2019 statistics state that over 400,000 children are in foster care; thus, you are helping meet a huge need❣
You stated that this child was diagnosed with ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, he may be experiencing some or all of the following symptoms:
- Doesn’t seem to listen when spoken to directly
- Often has difficulty organizing tasks and homework
- Often avoids tasks with sustained mental effort
- Often loses things
- Is often forgetful
- Has difficulty staying focused/easily distracted
- Makes careless mistakes/lacks attention to detail
- Talks excessively
- Blurts out answers without waiting for someone to finish the question
- Has difficulty waiting his turn
- Often interrupts
- Has difficulty playing quietly
- Is always “on the go”
- Has difficulty staying seated when required
Sometimes children diagnosed with ADHD feel bad about themselves because they’ve been scolded for these symptoms throughout their lives. For this reason, see the post “Why Selfless Esteem Is Better Than Self Esteem” for concepts that you can teach him about self-image and God’s love.
And read on for 10 suggestions on how to support him while he faces the challenges of ADHD. I also recommend reading, “Practicing the 5 C’s of ADHD Parenting” in Psychology Today.
10 Tips for Caregivers of a Child Diagnosed with ADHD
First of all, ask God for wisdom, and He’ll give it to you in abundance (James 1:5). He created this precious child (Colossians 1:16) and knows every detail of his circumstances (Job 37:16); thus, He’s the perfect helper. Psalm 29:11 states, “The Lord will give strength to His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” You can depend on Him to meet every need that arises (Philippians 4:19). (See the posts, “The Real Truth About God,” and “How To Pray in 5 Simple Steps” for more information.)
2. Love Unconditionally
Remember ADHD is based in neurobiology so don’t take any manifestations of impulsivity, such as anger outbursts or disobedience, personally. Neuroimaging has shown dysfunction in neural systems as described in this article by the National Library of Medicine. In every moment, assume he’s trying with the best of his ability, and give him unconditional love.
3. Partner with Mental Health Service Providers
Foster children are sometimes ordered by the court to have mental health services. If there’s no court order, ask the social worker about the possibility of having mental health services. Then, inform the providers of his mood and behavior, and encourage him to participate by expressing his thoughts and feelings to them.
4. Partner with the School
Maintain close communication with school staff about his academic performance, conduct, and peer relationships. If he’s struggling in school, his biological parents can request an Individualized Education Program (IEP). If the biological parents aren’t involved in his life or if they don’t have educational rights, request assistance from the social worker or an educational liaison at child protective services.
Homework time can be especially challenging so allow frequent, short breaks by using a timer. For example, alternate 10-minute homework sessions with 5-minute breaks.
5. Use Behavior Modification
Clearly define the rules while having realistic expectations of his behavior. The goal isn’t perfection; it’s to prioritize and work on one or two behaviors at a time. Celebrate baby steps of progress with rewards, such as a trinket or privilege (e.g., playing video games). Conversely, discourage misbehavior by reducing or temporarily suspending a privilege.
6. Provide Structure
Here are some tips for creating structure in the home and instilling habits at an early age (Proverbs 22:6) of organizational skills.
- Have a daily routine to help him feel secure and keep his activities on track.
- Help him make to-do lists of school assignments and chores.
- Post kind and simple reminder notes where he can see them.
- Store his personal items in a designated place.
- Provide a study area, which is free of distractions.
7. Break Down Complex Tasks Into Steps
Be sure to give instructions one at a time so that he isn’t overwhelmed. The Positive Parenting Program (Triple P) has a method called Ask-Say-Do as explained in the video below.
8. Provide Healthy Activities
9. Network with Other Caregivers
Seek support groups of other parents raising children, who have been diagnosed with ADHD, and ask which parenting techniques have been effective for them. Request friends and family members to babysit so you can take a break. (In foster care, they would need to be pre-approved and fingerprinted by the social worker, but don’t let that hinder you from building a support system.) For more details, about self-care, see “6 Effective Ways To Manage Stress.”
10. Provide Healthy Snacks
Some studies show that food dyes cause hyperactivity, as described by HealthyPlace. To avoid the risk of increasing hyperactivity, offer naturally colorful, healthy snacks. One of my grandmother’s tricks was setting a bowl of carrots and celery sticks on a table, and then kids actually helped themselves to the vegetables. Hooray! 😉
As I write this post, Halloween is coming up, which usually involves trick-or-treating and lots of candy. However, there’s the Teal Pumpkin Project, in which homes have a teal pumpkin or sign, indicating that they offer other options. See “Best Non-Candy Halloween Treats” by Alicia of Well and Well Traveled for some good ideas, not only at Halloween but all year round. (You may also be interested in “How Food Affects Your Mood.”)
He Is More Than a Diagnosis
As you may know, children diagnosed with ADHD not only have the aforementioned symptoms to some degree, but also they have special strengths, such as creativity, optimism, and a desire to interact with others. Additionally, it’s important to avoid labeling him or lumping him in a category because each child is an individual. Our brains and personalities are as distinct as our fingerprints. For these reasons, be sure to take time to get to know him and help him identify his unique, positive characteristics. He is “fearfully and wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14).🙌
All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New King James Version®. Copyright © 1984 by Thomas Nelson Publishers, Nashville, TN. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This post was originally published on 4/17/22 and has been updated.
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