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Help Your ADHD Child: Change Your Perspective

I have ADHD. My daughter and one of my sons have ADHD. I think that people with ADHD represent some of the most fascinating, fun, and fulfilling of all the people I meet. However, words such as structure, supervision, reminders, and persistence don’t even begin to describe the magnitude of the task people with ADHD have to tackle every day, especially kids.

Children need their parents to understand their difficulties, and teach them to overcome those challenges. As parents, the best way to help your child is to start by changing your own thinking about ADHD.

Barriers Parents Face: By far, the biggest barriers for parents are denial, ignorance, and a refusal to learn. Dads and moms can dig in and simply refuse to listen to facts or reason. If this goes on too long, children can suffer severe damage, and families can be destroyed. The stakes are high, not only for the child, but the whole family.

It is usually the mother who seeks help. Often, the dad denies there is a problem or says, “He’ll grow out of it.” Sometimes the dads are even harsher, saying all the child needs is more discipline. When these dads have ADHD themselves, they tend to believe their struggles made them strong. Parents should help a child avoid unnecessary suffering, as that breaks kids rather than builds them up. It takes time, and effort, but it’s worth it.

Steps for Parents to Change Your Perspective

1. Look for that special spark: In my daily practice, I see and treat kids with ADHD. Just being with them usually makes me smile. They invariably have a special something, a spark, a delightful quirk – which they sometimes try to hide, but which I usually can find. Then they relax, brighten up, and make me laugh and learn.

Look for that special something and help your child feel good about who s/he is. Identify his/her talents, strengths, interests and dreams. Teach him/her to see and believe in what s/he can do, and avoid the tendency to focus on what s/he can’t do. When you believe in your child, it makes it easier for him/her to believe, too.

2. Unconditional Love: Let your love for your child carry the day. Tune out the diagnosticians and labelers and simply notice and nourish the spirit of your child for who s/he is. Providing this unshakable base of support will set the tone for all interactions to come. This is what builds self-esteem, confidence, and motivation, which in turn create joy and success in life.

Several studies suggest that loving acceptance by parents is the most important thing teens with ADHD need in dealing with symptoms. Make sure that your child knows, every day, how much you love her. Showing your love and affection will buoy your child’s sense of hope and help the family weather criticism from outside sources. This is what these kids need more than anything else: love that never gives up.

3. Reframe Challenges in terms of Mirror Traits: Remind yourself and your child of the positive sides of the negative symptoms associated with ADD. By recognizing the mirror traits, you avoid the ravages of shame and fear.

Negative Trait                                  Positive Trait
Associated with ADD                        Associated with ADD

Hyperactive, restless           →            Energetic
Intrusive                                →             Eager
Can’t stay on point              →             Sees connections others don’t
Forgetful                               →             Gets totally into what s/he is doing
Disorganized                        →             Spontaneous
Stubborn                              →              Persistent, won’t give up
Inconsistent                        →              Shows flashes of brilliance
Moody                                  →              Sensitive
Impulsive                            →              Creative

4. Avoid Toxic Worry: Worry gets extremely toxic when you worry alone. Talk to someone. Join support groups. Tell trusted others about what you’re up against. Build a team. You cannot do it alone, nor should you try.

Worry is usually based on wrong information or lack of information. Get the facts. Make a plan. If you have a plan, you automatically feel more in control and less worried. It doesn’t matter if the plan fails, just make a new plan. Life is all about revising plans. Just always have a plan to deal with the problem. Stay out of the passive position. Toxic worry feasts on people in passive mode.

5. Surround yourself with Laughter: Laughter is the best medicine. Surround yourself with people who can laugh. It is important to be able to regain a perspective that allows you to see the humor in all of the messes and fixes these kids can get into. Why wait to look back on something and laugh at it – go ahead and enjoy the ridiculousness of the situation in the moment.

When our kids begin to laugh at themselves, and not take themselves quite so seriously, it allows them to learn humility without shame, and adds to their moral character and their enjoyment of life.

Conclusion: As a parent, how you approach your child’s ADHD will set the tone for how your child manages it his or herself. When you show them compassion and understanding, you teach them to love themselves and see their strengths. That will help them find the motivation they need to take control of their ADHD, one strategy at a time.

Adapted from Superparenting for ADD: An Innovative Approach to Raising Your Distracted Child, Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. and Peter S. Jensen, M.D., Ballantine, 2008.

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