ADHD symptoms are not difficult to recognize. However, ADHD can wind up being a catch-all diagnosis for kids who have more energy or who require more individual attention to facilitate learning. These kids often get referred to as “Hyper” or as “Space cadets” but they are not truly ADHD kids. Children and teens who are formally diagnosed with ADHD not only struggle with their attention, memory, organization, and self-monitoring behavior, they can also be at-risk to secondarily develop signs of anxiety, depression, and low self-esteem. Maintaining a consistently patient and positive attitude as a parent can go a long way to combat this “second wave” of negative symptoms that can needlessly further compromise a child living with the challenges of ADHD.
This “second wave” can get started inadvertently, by getting impatient and snappy with a child who is prone to fidgeting, interrupting, day-dreaming, losing things, or being impulsive. Regular, repeated, stark messages like “Sit still! Pay attention! Calm your body! Relax! Stop that! Take a chill pill! Keep your hands in your pockets!” can negatively affect a child as far as how they think and feel about themselves. They start to believe they can never get anything right or that they can never satisfy anyone. It can be easy to forget that ADHD is a neurological disorder that impacts a child’s ability to focus, to inhibit impulses, to organize information, and to methodically work at problem solving. Imagine how it must be for the child who doesn’t understand why they get extra help at school; why it takes so long to do school work; or why it’s harder for them to make friends. Children with ADHD want to do well and want to make friends. They want to make their parents proud and they want to learn. They are doing their best to keep straight and within the lines despite their brains veering them to the left or right. Typically, they are genuinely sorry when they make a mistake or inconvenience others. Keeping this in mind may help to quell the feelings of frustration or reduce reactivity when working with these little guys. As an adult, it can be frustrating to teach and parent a child with ADHD. Additional instruction is often needed as well as multiple prompts to refocus, sit quietly, and complete tasks. So the question then becomes “what can I do to bolster my child’s self-esteem while learning tools for success?” The following strategies can help to counteract negative self-talk while encouraging positive experiential learning.
Work From Your Child’s Strengths to Encourage Positive Self-Esteem
- Encourage building a variety of skills and interests. Kids with ADHD are often drawn to passive activities such as video games and TV. Active forms of enrichment (athletics, learning an instrument, joining a club or extra-curricular school activity) can offer a great way to skill build, enhance social relatedness, and improve self-confidence.
- Normalize their challenges. Talk to your child about their challenges as a normal part of life, in that we all have shortcomings or areas in which we struggle. We are not limited or defined by our struggles – we learn skills to cope with and overcome them.
- Emphasize your child’s character and what makes them unique and special. Their kindness, intelligence, humor, sensitivity, loyalty, etc., are what you and others appreciate about them and what makes them special. Look for opportunities to praise them for these strengths.
- Appreciate them for who they are. This may seem obvious but, it is the unconditional part that makes this so meaningful. It’s always nice to hear acknowledgement when we get an “A” on a Spelling or Chemistry test, or when we drive in the game-winning run. There should be no shortages of “high fives” and praise. Statements that are unrelated to a positive outcome often mean more and can feel more heartfelt and genuine. Spontaneous statements like “I am really lucky to have you for my kid” or “Thanks for being such a great little guy/gal” are not linked to achievement or a positive outcome; that’s what makes them feel extra genuine and unconditional.
- Give them jobs and keep them engaged. There are opportunities for growth everyday for our kids, but with busy schedules, we may miss them. Including your child in domestic activities can be a source for parent-child bonding as well as confidence building. “Chores” such as cooking, cleaning, laundry, feeding or walking the dog can feel tedious and tiresome. For many children, feeling like a “helper,” or a “partner,” can be fun and empowering. In school, being responsible for sharpening pencils or collecting homework can keep a distractible child engaged and goal oriented.
- Set them up for success. When starting something new, it is likely better to start slow and take it one step at a time. Organization, prioritizing, and memory are more difficult for children that have ADHD. Starting slow will help them experience small accomplishments’ and ready them for more challenges. An example of this is bed-time routine. Responding to the first bedtime prompt, take off and put their dirty cloths in the basket; put on their pajama’s; brush their teeth and get into bed may be too many steps for them to accomplish without getting side-tracked. Because holding onto information and sequencing information are more challenging, start with what they can do and add in additional behaviors at the pace of their mastery.
- Regroup and figure it out. “I thought I could read the 5 chapters and write and edit the report after dinner.” This is not the time to chastise your teen or get angry. A calm talk about time management, planning ahead, asking for help before the deadline hits, and what can be done now to solve the problem will help to promote a corrective experience.