How Personal Issues Affect Ability to Parent Children

Parents with ADHD, or who have suffered traumas, or harbor unresolved conflicts need to identify these issues and learn about their effects upon parenting children.

Parenthood can be compared to a journey of discovery. Many of us embark on the trip with the best of intentions, filled with expectations of satisfaction and images of family harmony. Some of us are better equipped than others to realize these dreams. Necessary equipment includes patience, determination, courage, faith, and about every other parenting virtue one can muster. Often times, our available supply of virtues ebbs and flows, depending upon the stresses of the day and the challenges we confront. Plenty of personal issues also play a role in what we discover along the way. For instance, our own childhood experiences plant the seeds for the parents we become. Sometimes that discovery leads to a conscious decision to do things differently so that those early impressions don't permeate our parenting.

Each parent brings unique personal issues to the journey. Issues shape our capacity to listen empathetically to children, to form warm and supportive bonds, or to provide kid-friendly guidance. Some issues impair our ability to clearly view our children (blindspots) while others leave us at risk for overheating (hot buttons). As parents, our habits, social and emotional traits, and character strengths and shortcomings, are on display, inviting children to follow our lead. Some of this modeling of parental behavior assists our children in their overall growth, but many of us have found that it can backfire, too. Those of us with more complex personal issues may often get stuck with excess baggage, and find the parenting journey hampered by frustration and confusion.

Goal of Parenting and the Job of Raising Children

When I embarked upon parenthood nine years ago, I was fully aware that I would meet up with my share of stumbling blocks. What I didn't realize was that the process of navigating around them would influence the direction of my work in clinical psychology. As I confronted my own issues at different points, I discovered my need for a compass. My own baggage would easily sidetrack my parenting efforts, and leave me temporarily stranded. Eventually, I found that I could get back on track by asking myself one fundamental question, "What do I see as one of the most important goals of my parenting job?" The answer I found reflected my penchant for pragmatism: prepare my child for what lies ahead.


Learning About Parenting From ADHD Parents with ADHD Children

My search for parenting direction led me to refine my answer. I arrived at the principle that one of the most critical jobs of parents is to help instill the necessary skills to guide children's management of the emotional and social challenges they face today, and prepare them for the hurdles of tomorrow. It wasn't long before this premise became an organizing thread in my private practice where I specialize in treating children and adults with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). I recognized how ADHD children are often ill prepared for the unexpected, and how ADHD adults tend to be caught off guard by the twists and turns of life. And when AD/HD appears in both family members, the parenting journey is likely to be characterized by especially rough terrain and challenging obstacles. As one ADHD mother, with four ADHD sons, once told me, "A lot of the rules and structure is twice as hard for us, but the consequences are twice as bad when we don't follow them!"

The development of my parenting compass has been shaped by personal experiences and those relayed by ADHD parents in my practice. These two sources led me to choose the "coach" metaphor to embody the compass. By positioning myself as the Parent Coach, I could better navigate around my own hot buttons, compensate for my blindspots, and even smooth out the bumps ahead by reviewing the terrain ahead of time. Sessions with ADHD parents and ADHD children convinced me that I needed the compass to be more than a guiding principle; the compass must have a form and a practical way of offering directions. This led me to develop Parent Coaching Cards. They provide kid-friendly coping messages and illustrations that translate common childhood difficulties, and parenting dilemmas, into clear and practical tools for social and emotional skill development. Articles in the ADHD Report, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and many other professional and lay publications, have led hundreds of parents of ADHD children to turn to Parent Coaching Cards for help. (Many articles can be accessed via my website:

Parent Coaching Cards were developed to help children cope with the many hurdles they face each day, i.e., provocative peers, dangerous temptations, frustrating demands, etc. But many ADHD parents and clinicians treating ADHD kids have asked, "What if the coach needs just as much coaching; how about cards for them?" One international LD and ADHD expert, who strongly endorsed the cards, observed, "Wouldn't it be terrific to develop a parallel set of cards for the parents to use themselves which would include the daily crises and challenges that parents face in dealing with their kids?"

Help for the Parent Coach

These probing questions have inspired me to pursue the notion of "Coaching Cards For The Coach." Many of my preliminary thoughts have surfaced during counseling sessions with ADHD parents. Here are some of the resulting principles and prototype cards that flow from them:

1. First and foremost, I advise that we take stock of ourselves. This means taking a objective look at the personal issues that we have brought along on the journey. If your child struggles with ADHD it is important to accept the possibility that you may have it, too. Learn about the symptom expressions of adult ADHD, ask those you trust for feedback, and if necessary, pursue an evaluation by a qualified professional. Parents who have suffered traumas, harbor unresolved conflicts, or struggle with some other internal emotional obstacle, are advised to identify these issues and learn about their effects upon parenting. These issues often create "Parenting Blind Spots" that can subvert our journey and subject our children to unnecessary "dumping" of our baggage onto them.

Here's the card that flows from this principle:


Every parent has the responsibility to consider how personal issues shape parenting. The past and the present combine to effect how successful we are as parents. Consider the following:

What good and bad experiences from your own childhood may continue to show up in your parenting?

How free are you in your present life to parent effectively?

Try to be honest when answering these questions. The answers help reveal your strengths and weaknesses as a parent. The more you can open your mind to this self-awareness the more you can make choices to enhance your parenting. Without awareness of the truthful answers, parenting blind spots can interfere. Blind spots occur when we avoid accepting certain truths about ourselves, and set the stage for letting our own personal issues interfere.


Here are some typical blind spots to consider:

Over-estimating how much of a parenting load you can handle before you become overwhelmed and resentful. Viewing your child as guilty of some inappropriate behavior without questioning how much you may have acted to precipitate it. Not accessing learning from past parenting mistakes, and repeating them without realizing you are doing so.

2. The second principle is about love. In my Parent Coaching Cards, I repeatedly stress the need for children to keep their "thinking side" in charge, rather than their "reacting side." But for my "Coaching Cards For The Coach," I suggest that it is the parent's "loving side" that also must always be within reach. This is especially true when our children are at their most unlovable, and they want to put distance and conflict between us and them. When that happens, try reading the card that was a joint effort between myself and the mother of an ADHD child:


At this moment, even though Joey is resisting me, I want to think and feel inside of me all the love I feel for him. I must remember those happy times when he showed me love with kind talk, hugs, and kisses, and when we were close. I can remember the pleasures of doing puzzles together, playing music, talking about our love for animals, or just being quiet together during good times.

These thoughts and feelings can help comfort me now, when I feel sad that Joey won't let us be together in a positive way.

When Joey comes close next time, I need to remember his pattern of trying to bait me into another argument. He may try to do it again, and I must not take the bait. Sometimes it doesn't appear that he's trying to start fighting again, and I walk right into the trap. It may seem like he's trying to have a sensible discussion about my decisions when he's really just trying to get me to back down. He can be so relentless about wanting to get what he wants.

But I must be relentless in staying centered in my love for him, and conviction not to let my reacting side take control of me. When I show him love in my voice, in my face, and in my body, we will be connected again before too long.

3. The third principle comes right out my own experiences on the front lines of parenting. The parenting journey often leads us directly to our own hot spots. This is due to our own expectations and emotions that we wrap tightly around our childrens behavior. When they act out in some inappropriate way, we are at risk for losing control of our feelings as a result. Of course, this doesn't help us guide them, but it may reduce our credibility as authority figures. As a way of trying to prevent my own coaching backfires, I make use of the following card:


It happens when I'm least expecting it: one of my kids do or say something that targets one of my hot spots. If I allow it, my reacting side can take control and cause more conflict. In order to prevent that from happening I need to identify my hot spots and plan ahead for their management. Here's some potential ones: when my older child purposefully injures my younger child when my child takes chances with someone else's safety when my child fails to take responsibility for an error in judgment

When these or other triggers occur, I need to follow the coaching response:: Take a few deep breathes. Make gentle physical contact with my child if he allows me. Ask him to tell me his side of the story. When he's done, tell him, "I understand your side." Suggest: "We both can learn something from what happened." Proceed with reviewing the different contributions to the event.

The coaching response stresses the larger picture surrounding the circumstance. Rather than narrowly respond to the behavior, search for the underlying factors that led to the behavior. In this way, the discussion proceeds more like information gathering than an accusation.

These three principles and prototype cards will no doubt be added to in coming months. In the meantime, I encourage readers to try their hand at writing their own cards to share with other parents. Please feel free to e-mail me your samples:

About Dr. Steven Richfield: Known as "The Parent Coach," Dr. Richfield is a child psychologist, parent/teacher trainer, author of "The Parent Coach: A New Approach To Parenting In Today's Society" and creator of the Parent Coaching Cards.

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next: Emotional Development in Children: Where Parents Go Wrong

APA Reference
Writer, H. (2010, May 18). How Personal Issues Affect Ability to Parent Children, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, May 20 from

Last Updated: 2016, March 18

Medically reviewed by Harry Croft, MD