9 Ways to Be a Better Dad

Some fathers with ADHD have anger problems. Others struggle to follow through or praise their kids. But we know plenty of creative, loving Dads who bring out the best in their kids. Here’s how to follow their example.

A father ties his son's shoes while thinking about how to be a better dad.
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Far from the Tree

Roughly 4.5 million American fathers have been diagnosed with ADHD, and many more are living with undiagnosed symptoms like distractibility, disorganization, and poor anger management that make parenting more difficult. Add to that a general lack of support for Dads and a genetic link that makes ADHD run in the family, and you’ve got a generation of fathers who need special strategies for how to be a better dad. Now, you have them!

A flight attendant demonstrates how to put your oxygen mask on first. To be a better dad, fathers need to care for themselves first.
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1. Healthy Dads Make Healthy Families

Put on your own oxygen mask first, then assist your child. In other words, can't begin to parent effectively until your own ADHD symptoms are under control. What does that mean in the real world? Three important things:

  1. Pursue a diagnosis
  2. Learn how to manage your symptoms
  3. Create a healthy lifestyle
During an exam, a man asks his doctor how to be a better dad.
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Pursue a Diagnosis

An evaluation is first and foremost. Get the right diagnosis from an ADHD expert. Optimize your treatment by using medication, and by learning new skills to cope.

Do any related conditions affect your ability to parent? Mood disorders, poor self-esteem, substance abuse, anger, chronic anxiety, and obsessive compulsive behaviors all commonly overlap with ADHD. If you are living with one of these, or another condition that complicates your treatment and symptoms, you may need an additional therapist to stay on track.

[Free Resource: Parenting Guide for Moms & Dads with ADHD]

An illustration of a man with ADHD asking his therapist how to be a better dad.
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Learn to Manage Symptoms

Find an ADHD coach who can help you develop a personal plan and strategies for success — along with tactics for improving your impulsivity, distractibility, time management, and self-regulation skills.

A good coach can help you learn to set boundaries; improve social, communication and listening skills; and manage conflicts in your life. She can also lend support for self-esteem issues such as guilt, shame, and poor self-image by illuminating your unique strengths and reducing the stress in your life. Coaches can teach you how ADHD affects the brain, and can help you understand how to be a dad with ADHD.

In addition, educate yourself using books, webinars, and conferences — many available at little or no cost. Look for sources of support like ADDACHADD, or family counseling.

A man running on a treadmill to set a good example, part of his plan for how to be a better dad.
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Create a Healthy Lifestyle

Prioritize exercise and proper nutrition. Physical exertion can improve focus, plus it keeps you healthy and sets a good example.

Reclaim authority over your life and your emotional health as well. Learn to love yourself fully and unapologetically. Never give up on achieving your full potential. Decide to embrace the fact that you are okay, that having ADHD doesn’t mean you are flawed. It just means that your brain is wired differently. ADHD does not define you as a person.

A man and woman hold hands facing away from each other after having an argument about how to be a better dad.
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2. Never Ignore Your Marriage

When a marriage is not solid, kids can pick up on that very easily. They know when you and your spouse are upset with each other; they can sense that something is wrong and their anxiety levels skyrocket.

Marital problems are not uncommon when one or both partners have ADHD. Learn about potential challenges, and fight to avoid or overcome them. A healthy marriage leads to happier kids and stronger parenting skills; stress in one area cannot remain isolated.

An illustration of an angry outburst — avoiding these is one tip for how to be a better dad.
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3. Avoid Angry Outbursts

People with ADHD tend to feel things intensely, and can express those emotions intensely, too. Anger can destroy family relationships and erode everyone's happiness. Anger is emotionally exhausting for everyone involved, including yourself.

Be aware of warnings and triggers. Look for times when you are more prone to being emotional – late at night or early in the morning – and take extra caution at those times. Take deep breaths. Get a lot of sleep. Give yourself breaks – music is great for this. Learn to act but not react. Think before you speak.

Don’t try to win arguments, and seek help from a counselor  – particularly if you are lashing out, and becoming physically or verbally abusive. Ask yourself, “What am I angry about?” Focus on the present issue. Choose your battles. Know when you should let things go, and use solutions based language when things start to get tense. Learn to use humor – it can turn that anger around at times. Forgive and forget.

[Calling ADHD Dads: How to Have a Calm, Loving Relationship with Your ADHD Child]

A father gives his daughter a ride on his shoulders in the park, one surefire way to be a better dad.
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4. Know You Make a Difference

You are significant in your child’s life. You are important. Tell your child how much she means to you. Praise your child often. Schedule meaningful time. Teach your child the self-health skills that you use to overcome your challenges.

Kids need to know that you are able to make effective responsible decisions. They must be able to trust you at all times, depend on you, and talk to you about anything. Be a positive role model, and show your child how to work collaboratively to solve problems.

A man puts his head in his hands and wonders how to be a better dad to his ADHD son.
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5. Release Negativity

Don't adopt other people’s negative thoughts in adulthood; they don’t serve you well. Feelings of shame, guilt, and worthlessness can tragically interfere with your ability to parent. Forgive yourself and others.

Let go of people who bring you down – that’s anyone you feel is negative or does not accept you. Let go of the feeling that it’s all your fault, and residual shame from childhood. Make new supportive friends.

When you slip into negative self-talk, think, “Is this thought really true? How do I know it’s true? What is the evidence? Is this thought really serving me well? Who would I be without these thoughts? Am I willing to release these thoughts?”

A father and son hold hands. Showing affection is one strategy for how to be a better dad.
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6. Love Unconditionally

Kids need to know they are significant, capable, unconditionally loved, accepted, and respected. Never impulsively cast shame and guilt on your child for an ADHD symptom. Discipline should always focus on a specific behavior – not on the child’s self.

Never publicly humiliate your child no matter how you were treated by your parents or other people. Your child can’t fill the holes left behind by your own childhood, and your child can’t be perfect.

Love your children not for what they do – or how much they succeed – but because of who they are. Think of love as an action, not a feeling. You need to love yourself unconditionally too and learn to forgive and forget past mishaps. Think about what you can do to love your child today.

A father reads with his two kids in the park. Spending quality time together is one strategy for how to be a better dad.
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7. Listen Actively

Always listen first without interrupting, no matter how strongly you feel compelled to break in. Use the acronym WAIT. Why Am I Talking? If you want your child to listen to you, you must listen first. Stop whatever you're doing. Please no cellphones, don't check your emails, look directly at your child. Pay attention to your child's non-verbal language.

Listen with the intention of building a stronger relationship with your child. Acknowledge your child, mirror back what your child says. Ask open-ended questions that begin with who or what rather than why. Accept your child's feelings, even if they're uncomfortable, and trust that your child is naturally creative, resourceful, and whole.

A father plays video games with his son. Spending quality time together is one strategy for how to be a better dad.
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8. Keep Your Promises

Kids spell love T-I-M-E. So don't just show up. Put your kids first — before any other priorities — and be there for them.

If you struggle with disorganization and procrastination, it can be hard to make and keep promises to your kids. Know that you need to follow through with them so that you both can trust that you’ll meet important expectations.

When you make a commitment to spend time with your child, be on time and give that child your full attention. Always think before you promise, particularly with kids who also have ADHD. They can be more sensitive to rejection. If you're not sure that you can follow through, and show your child that you're dependable, don't say maybe. They can interpret it as yes.

A foam hand that says #1 Dad, a gift kids will give fathers who follow these strategies for how to be a better dad.
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9. Don't Give Up

No problem is bigger than your obligations as a parent. Your child needs you. Your children need you.

No matter what shape you're in, lead the way. You stand the best chance of being the best dad ever. And no matter what has happened in the past, do not ever give up. It is never the end. There is still hope, even if your child is an adult. Building a great relationship with your child is in your power.

[Boys with ADHD Need Their Dads]

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