At a glance
Change that comes with divorce disrupts the structure and routine that help kids with ADHD thrive.
Flexible thinking can be challenging. This can make it especially hard for kids with ADHD to adapt to change.
Keeping the same rules between households is very helpful for kids with ADHD.
Divorce is difficult for every child and family. But kids with ADHD may have an even tougher time dealing with it than other kids. That’s because their challenge with can make it hard for them to deal with situations that are upsetting or unsettling.
These challenges include:
- Trouble managing emotions. Kids with ADHD may find it hard to manage their sadness, anxiety, anger, or grief over the divorce.
- Hyperfocusing. Kids with ADHD can have laser-sharp focus, and they can get stuck dwelling on big life changes like a divorce. It’s often hard for them to let things go.
- Trouble with flexible thinking. Adapting to change can be especially hard. They often lack the flexible thinking skills to “shift” and adjust their perceptions.
You may not be able to keep your child from facing the many challenges that come with a divorce. But you can try to make this major transition a little smoother. Here are eight ways to help your child cope with divorce.
1. Agree on a plan.
Conflicting schedules and explanations about what’s happening can be particularly confusing for kids with ADHD. It’s important to sit down as divorcing parents and agree on what you will talk about with your child. Presenting a unified front can help your child feel less out of control.
2. Let your child know what to expect.
Talk about the fact that some things will indeed change as a result of the divorce. Don’t overload your child all at once. But also avoid waiting until the last minute to present info that might feel like a surprise. Describe events that are going to take place, in age-appropriate detail.
For example, “We’re going to go for lunch at Shake Palace on Saturday. Dad is going to join us for dessert and then we’re all going to go over to his new apartment. It’s in a red brick building right around the corner from where Grandma lives.”
3. Keep rules in place and consistent across households.
It may be tempting to “ease up” on your child during this hard time. But what kids with ADHD need most is structure they can count on. As much as possible, keep the same bedtime, rules for screen time, and other routines.
4. Protect rituals and schedules.
Your child’s life will likely be disrupted to some extent. But do your best to maintain a regular lineup of activities: sports, music lessons, or playdates. Keeping the same schedule can help maintain normalcy in your child’s everyday life. And if your child takes ADHD medication, be sure to follow the regular medication schedule.
5. Talk openly about feelings.
Kids with ADHD may have trouble keeping their emotions in check. But one way to help is to encourage your child to express any new — or old — feelings and fears. Give your child your full attention. Try to listen without judging, even if it’s hard to put your own feelings aside.
6. Don’t ignore unacceptable behavior.
It’s important to listen to your child’s feelings. But it’s just as important to set limits on what’s acceptable behavior. It’s understandable if your child feels angry, for instance. But it’s not OK to shove a younger sibling. Talk about healthy ways your child can share emotions.
You may also want to consider therapy for your child. This is an especially good idea if you’ve seen out-of-control emotions or behaviors. It’s also worth looking into if your child won’t be open with you.
7. Be mindful about dating.
Kids with ADHD may become attached to a parent’s new dating partner very quickly. That’s partly due to the loss they’ve experienced. It’s also much harder for kids with ADHD when those relationships go away. Try to avoid bringing people into your child’s life until you’re sure the relationship is solid and committed.
8. Stress that the divorce isn’t your child’s fault.
Many kids take divorce personally, and kids with ADHD may be even more likely to. Make it clear that the problem was between you and your partner and that no one blames your child for what has happened.
Try to make sure that you and your ex-spouse only speak in kind terms about each other in front of your child. And don’t use your child as a “sounding board” for your issues about your divorce.
The upheaval that comes with divorce may be extra hard for your child to handle. Offer reassurance that you (and your ex) will always be there for your child and will help with adjusting to whatever comes along.
Keep up with activities that your child enjoys and is used to. These include sports and other afterschool and weekend activities.
Let your child know what to expect and prepare together, as best as you can, for the changes.
Be sure that both caregivers maintain the same ADHD medication schedule.
About the author
About the author
Peg Rosen writes for digital and print, including ParentCenter, WebMD, Parents, Good Housekeeping, and Martha Stewart.
Stephanie Moulton Sarkis, PhD, NCC, DCMHS, LMHC is an author, licensed mental health counselor, and a Florida Supreme Court-certified family and circuit mediator. She specializes in anxiety, gaslighting, narcissistic abuse, and ADHD.