This blog post is written by Explorer Family mom Sian Anderson from @sanderson_lucky. Sian is sharing with us her experience, and tips, about ADHD & Getting Outside with Kids. Sian gets right into the seriousness of ADHD below, and does an amazing job of providing tips for families in the same position. Here is what she had to say:
I had this entire blog post written out neatly documenting all our tips on how and why to get outside with your kids who have ADHD. But then we had one of those weekends that highlights the powerful impact that ADHD has on our lives and the past few weeks have been full of learning once again. So I am reframing this – here is what works for us, but parenting neurodiverse kids is a constant journey of learning, and requires us to adapt and change regularly – please never forget to be gentle with yourself on this journey.
ADHD. Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. These four letters have a significant influence on our family, how we parent, and how we live our lives. And the more I learn about it, the more I even dislike the name and the word deficit. My boys, 13 year, E, and 3 year old, D, both have ADHD. D also has a severe speech delay. Spending time exploring with these kids is not only really important for their health, but also vital for mine. But it is far from easy/ For those who are navigating how to live with ADHD I hope our story can give you some comfort in knowing you are not alone and share how getting outside has helped our family in so many ways. And for those who haven’t experienced life with ADHD I hope this can give insight and empathy into what this neurological disorder actually looks like.
I work full time, am a student, volunteer and am a mother. Being active helps me navigate the demands of our life, and being active with my kids is so important to me as there is only so much time in a week – I need to involve them as much as I can. Our adventures started to help me and my health but have evolved to include the entire family.
Why We Get Outside
To put it simply, because we are happier. My 13 year old relaxes and is grinning with me at the top of a summit. My 3 year old is calmer and more able to communicate when strapped to my back, and when running free is able to take risks and explore. We all seem to calm down without the stress and to do list of being at home and there are no distractions. We learn things about each other everytime we go out. My oldest has experienced periods where he struggles with confidence, self control and suicidal ideation. The physical exertion and the time spent outside provide a space where he is happy and confident, and where we can talk openly without pressure. I cannot fully explain it, but the relaxation and pride I see on his face and in his eyes after some of our more challenging adventures is something that I want to chase for him.
Our 3 year old can challenge us on the daily, but his strength, energy and fearlessness shines bright when we are outside! While he is never easy our days spent exploring are the ones that help fuel the daily battles.
Getting ready & out the door
Packing up and leaving the house can be tough! When we are planning a day hike I always prep EVERYTHING the night before (clothes, food, drinks, everything!). E will help with this and knows what should be in his bag, but I ALWAYS check it. The reality is that he gets distracted and his organisation skills are not fantastic so even though at 13 we are encouraging independence, I do not leave room for him to forget half his gear or to be wearing the wrong clothes. Ultimately that doesn’t benefit our experience.
Transitions can be the time when everything goes wrong in our house, so being packed up and ready to go means we can have a more relaxed start to our day and there is less pressure. My boys travel well so once we are in the car we are normally smooth sailing. Because of this I plan to leave the house early, and literally wake the boys, get them into their clothes and get them into the vehicle that has already been packed up before they have a chance to really know what is happening. We then get their favourite bagels on the way out of town and our day is off to a great start. For us it is a smooth and efficient way to get out the door and aligns with the needs of our whole family. Some kids may need a slower transition to be successful though so what is important here is knowing the structure on which you all thrive.
Medications are a part of our journey and have helped our family immensely. We see the difference on days where meds are forgotten. I make sure I include these in our prep for the morning so they never get missed on our big adventure days!
Keeping it fun
The smooth start is great in theory, but there is often some type of fight over socks, teeth brushing or who knows what, so fun is always a priority from the get go. The kids watch a movie in the car, or we listen to music they want (although with a 13 year old and a 3 year old the requests rarely align). Candy and snacks are one of the tools I am not scared to utilise. If the boys need to snack the entire time we are hiking to be happy then I am ok with that. We always pack a balanced lunch, but the treats are what I pull out anytime anyone needs a boost. Getting tired? Here, have some candy! That rock is the wrong shape? Here, have some candy? I often let them choose their candy for the day, but you could substitute this for any treat that you know they love. I also make sure their packs are light – the more comfortable they are the happier they are. If I can carry a few extra items to help with this I do!
D cried constantly as a baby, except for when on the move. I was so lucky that I could pack him in the baby carrier for 20km hikes and he would be content the entire time. This has not quite translated into toddlerhood. At 3 and a whooping 45lbs he is no longer able to be squeezed into a structured carrier and instead we use a soft carrier that gives more flexibility. He moves up and down constantly, and often doesn’t know what he wants. So although a year ago we could hike 20km, the reality is now that 10km is a stretch, and on any given day we need to change that. So now I approach this with flexibility. When life and the kids are struggling maybe our adventure is city parks, and less mountains. I used to struggle with the disappointment I felt when we had to adapt our plans.
At 3 and 13 my kids have different needs, but they also have very different personalities. We do activities as a family, but I also strongly believe that they need one on one time to thrive and shine. I have come to accept that sometimes our family activities may need to be focused on only one kid at a time for them to get the most benefit.
Do other families inspire me? ABSOLUTELY. But I have learnt to never compare their experiences to ours. When I had my first child I was young and so there were not many of my friends parenting at the time and social media was just starting to pick up – my circle of comparison was small. Now with my 3 year old I am surrounded by amazing kids of the same age and social media filters the messages we receive, which when parently a neurodivergent kiddo can really highlight the differences. I would look at other families and the amazing times they would have and feel that I must be doing something wrong. Now I look at us and our experience. I remember why we do this, and I pay attention to our families needs and what makes the effort worthwhile. When we have to cancel a longer mountain adventure and do something that aligns with the needs of our 3 year old I don’t see this as a failure – I now see this as an adaptation that allows us to remain active despite some days that can be challenging and hard to navigate.
Is it worth it?
Without question, absolutely, YES. I have had my hardest and most challenging days spent outside with my kids, but I have also had the most amazing experiences that continue to remind me how worthwhile it is to put the time, effort and energy. We like to think as parents we are teaching our kids how to live healthy lives, but the reality is that these boys teach me more about myself and how to be resilient than I could ever have imagined.
Parenting a kid with ADHD is hard. It is is really hard. And it can feel lonely. But somehow when we step outside and leave the constraints and expectations of being inside behind there is a shift and a change in each and every one of us that I would trade for nothing.