When my son was in first grade, he came home after school very quiet and withdrawn. I noticed he was picking at his cuticles.
“What’s wrong, buddy?” I asked.
“I hate school!” he said.
“What? Why?” He loved to read, was great at math, and was super curious by nature.
“Every day, the teacher writes my name on the board,” he said, stomping his foot on the floor. “He adds a million check marks! The other kids think I’m bad! No one knows how hard I try!”
He was 6 years old at the time.
Kids with “invisible” special needs are often misunderstood. ADHD kids may be brimming with energy, creativity, and ideas, but today’s expectations make childhood a real challenge. As a parent, I don’t want my child defined by his limitations. At the same time, it’s frustrating when people just “don’t get it.”
Here are 10 things parents of ADHD kids wish you understood:
1. It’s in the wiring!
ADHD is a neurobiological disorder, not a personality flaw.
Kids with ADHD, particularly the hyperactive-impulsive type, have a ton of energy. They may struggle to sit still and stay focused. They are not trying to be difficult. THEY ARE WIRED DIFFERENTLY.
2. They need encouragement.
Getting criticized all day is a self-esteem killer. Kids with ADHD get more than their share of negative attention: “Pay attention! Don’t kick the seat in front of you!” Instead, look for and praise the positive: “I love your enthusiasm! You have a great imagination!”
It’s not just good for ADHD kids; it’s good for all of us.
3. They’re consistently inconsistent.
“He followed along so well yesterday. She was an angel at Grandma’s house last week.”
Kids with ADHD can be especially sensitive to mood, medication, the time of day, and what’s going on around them. Don’t turn a “bad day” into a “bad kid.” Try again another time — you may be surprised!
4. Everyone needs a friend.
Kids with ADHD can have a tough time controlling their impulses. Studies show that they emotionally mature later than others. This can be rough on friendships. Before you cross that “active” kid off the birthday party invite list, consider asking his mom to stay at the party (even if it’s a drop-off). It’s much nicer than not inviting him at all.
5. Don’t take it personally.
“OMG, I can’t believe he said that.”
If an ADHD kid isn’t paying attention, please don’t think he’s spacing out on you. If he’s being argumentative, don’t think he doesn’t respect you. It isn’t personal. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, by its very nature, means he has a hard time paying attention and controlling his impulses. It’s not a free pass to misbehave. Remind him he’s a good guy and you expect him to act like it. These are expectations he can meet.
6. Depression can be a problem.
ADHD and depression commonly occur together. Trying to live up to too-high expectations can make a kid feel like a failure — from a very young age. ADHD issues at school and with friends can lead to depression, especially in the teen years. It takes a village to raise our kids. Keep an eye out for signs and symptoms of depression, especially among teens.
7. Other issues are common.
Diagnosis: It’s complicated.
Depression isn’t the only issue that can occur with ADHD. Research shows that as many as 65% of kids with ADHD will have one or more other conditions at some point in their lives, including anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), bipolar disorder, or oppositional defiant disorder (ODD). If you know a kid — or a family — that needs support, offer it. Something as simple as a kind word can go a long way.
8. They don’t need another Judge Judy.
Impulsive kids figure out what went wrong AFTER it happens. This makes them easy targets for labels, such as “bad kid,” “mean girl,” or “bully.” Try not to judge. Accept an apology. Give a kid a second chance. Or a third. Know that they — and their parents — are working hard (see list numbers 1 – 7).
9. Our kids are listening.
When I was a kid, there was a boy in the neighborhood who had Tourette’s syndrome and would shout out bad words. When we complained, my mother would tell us to “get off our high horse” and go outside and play with him. She’d remind us that he can’t help it and who were we to think we were so perfect?
While it’s true that my mom wanted to watch Merv Griffin, it was a great lesson. Times have changed but our kids are still listening. The biggest influence on how they think about kids who are different is how we think about them.
10. Different is good!
Whether a kid is brilliant, fiery, compassionate, or imaginative, different is good. Kids with ADHD serve as reminders that variety is the spice of life. With the slightest shift in perspective, “bossy” turns into bold; “weird” turns into unique. Learning to appreciate and get along with a diverse range of personalities is a life skill from which all kids — and adults — can benefit.
Cue: ADHD superstar Adam Levine!