Dear Parent of a child with ADHD,
You may not know this, but if you have a child who has been diagnosed with Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)*, you belong to a whole community of frustrated, exhausted, I’m-going-to-pull-my-hair-out parents. Maybe you’ve looked at other parents and their kids and wondered why everything seems so much easier for them. Perhaps this has even raised some unpleasant feelings about your parenting abilities. In an attempt to relate, perhaps other people have offered clichés like, “Being a parent is hard,” and “Parenting should come with a manual.” But unless they too have a child with ADHD, you’ve probably thought to yourself, You really have no idea. So instead of clichés or solutions that you’ve already tried, I’d like to offer some insight into your child’s world. While no two kids with ADHD are alike, I have found many common experiences. Kids often have a hard time putting words to their feelings. If they could, here are some things I think they would want you to know about them:
- You have more in common than you think.
Whether it’s internal or external—from parents, teachers, schools, or just society in general—a pressure to fit in, to comply, to be “normal” always exists. While your child may seem oblivious to or even unaffected by this pressure, I assure you, they feel it as well. So the first thing I think your child with ADHD probably wishes you knew about them is this: at times, they get just as frustrated with themselves as you do. Maybe it’s that they don’t understand why they can’t remember their homework or why they don’t think before they act or why they’re the ones that always seem to get in trouble. Whatever the case may be, most children want to please the adults in their lives. They don’t like it any more than you do that the school is calling every day or that they are struggling to complete their homework or that they can never seem to get As and Bs in school. So the next time thoughts come into your mind like, they just don’t care, remember that they are trying. They are just frustrated that they can’t live up to your and everyone else’s expectations of them.
- Feelings of failure and low self-esteem can be a perpetual struggle.
Following this frustration comes the battle with self-esteem. Imagine if you were constantly falling short of everyone’s expectations at home, work, and in your relationships. It would be enough to make even the most confident adult challenge their sense of self-worth or question their competence. Now imagine being a child or teenager who has not yet fully formed their identity and had the opportunity to experience a sense of being really good at something. Every experienced failure, criticism, or disappointment can start to become part of their identity. They may actually start to see themselves as a failure. Sometimes they just need to be acknowledged for their effort instead of being compared to everyone else around them.
- ADHD is not the only thing that defines them.
It can be easy for adults to classify or label kids. It’s part of human nature to do so. But there is so much more to your child than the fact that they have ADHD. Unfortunately for so many kids, this becomes the entire focus of their lives and they become the ADHD kid instead of the kid with ADHD. They may feel like the other parts of them go unacknowledged and people don’t care to know them for who they are. This can be very lonely and isolating, especially if they have siblings who don’t struggle with ADHD and more easily get attention for the positive things they do.
- Having ADHD is not all bad.
While it can make functioning in society a challenge at times, having ADHD can be a strength for your child. Channeled in the right direction, the ability to pay attention to many things at once can help a child be very productive or complete complex tasks. High energy can help a kid excel at sports. Being always on the move can provide motivation to achieve goals. Many famous people such as Michael Phelps, Justin Timberlake, and Lisa Ling have talked openly about their struggles with ADHD but also how it has spurred their success. Oftentimes, children feel as if their ADHD is seen only as a problem and not as potential.
- They want your help but they also want to be able to do it on their own.
Building a sense of mastery is an essential part of every child’s development. If a parent does too much for a child, then they can rob them of completing a part of their development. However, children with ADHD can struggle with doing things the right way, on time, or at all. This can tempt a parent to step in more often. While there’s no easy answer to finding the balance, your child has an innate drive toward increased independence and mastery. Like all kids, they want to be good at something and be acknowledged for it. The trick is for parent and child to find the right balance between help and hands-off.
- School is exhausting!
I often hear parents say that their child just cannot focus in school. What I think is important to understand about ADHD is that it’s not that your child can’t focus—it’s that they focus on EVERYTHING. It is often difficult for them to prioritize which things they should be focusing on in a room full of so many noises, movements, smells, etc. Now imagine dealing with a high level of stimulation for 8 hours a day and you can begin to understand that by the end of the day, your child is just depleted. One of the most frequent struggles parents have is trying to get their kid with ADHD to do homework right after they come home from school. What may seem like a power struggle is more likely your child trying to tell you that they just need a break—some time to be alone and decompress.
Unless you have ADHD yourself, it can be hard to fully understand how your child experiences the world. It can be even harder for your child, who has only known life as a person with ADHD, to try to describe their experiences to you. If you’re feeling particularly frustrated, try to take some time to talk to your child, listen, and understand what it’s like to be them. If you need help imagining and relating to this unfamiliar world, try talking to a professional or another adult who lives with ADHD to see if you can begin to see the world through a different lens. Most importantly, remember that you’re in this together.
*It is important to have your child properly evaluated and diagnosed before beginning any type of treatment for ADHD. Other disorders, such as Anxiety or Sensory Processing Disorder can look like ADHD but the treatment can be very different.
About the Author
Kayla Mason, LCSW is a therapist at our Edison Park location. Kayla works with children, teens, and couples. Kayla’s specialties include anxiety, depression, trauma, PTSD, ADHD, behavior management, parent-child relationship issues, grief/loss, codependency, marriage and relationship issues, and HIV/AIDS. If you are interested in working with Kayla, send an email today!