As a therapist, ADHD was never in my wheelhouse. That changed the year my then 6-year-old son was diagnosed with ADHD. This diagnosis did not come as a surprise, my husband has ADHD, but it did open my eyes as a therapist, and as a mother, to the challenges kids with the diagnosis face. Challenges that go beyond the stereotypical image of a child who is easily distracted or hyperactive. There is so much more to ADHD that I have learned along my journey. Here's some of what I have learned:
My kid says "weird" things. Kids with ADHD are often impulsive. This impulsiveness may manifest verbally. Children may blurt out things that may not make sense, or seem strange. They may even blurt out things that seem concerning.
One day my son, who was having a particularly challenging day, was in the midst of a meltdown. With a glint of rage in his eyes, he turned to me and shouted, "I'm going to blow up this house and everyone in it!" The mom side of me immediately got alarmed and wondered if I had a future psychopath on my hands. The therapist in me knew that this wasn't my sweet boy speaking, it was the impulsiveness speaking. The part of the brain that doesn't pause before blurting out whatever words are running around in his mind. Sometimes what comes out of my son's mouth is funny in a "Kids Say The Darnedest Things" kind of way. Sometimes it is so cringe-worthy, I want to dig a deep hole and hide.
What to Do:
Teach children to take a deep breath and count to 10 before talking. This encourages children to not blurt out first thoughts, and gives your child a chance to consider their words.
When you observe your child making impulsive statements, pull him aside and discuss why the statement was inappropriate or harmful. Encourage apologies for any hurtful words. Speak with your child privately, rather than address the statements in front of an audience.
The challenge of friendships. Many kids with ADHD may experience difficulties in making friends. This is often because children with ADHD are impulsive in nature and these impulsivities translate to off-putting behaviors on the playground, such as making unfiltered statements, interrupting others, displaying thoughtless behavior or creating disruptions.
When my son entered kindergarten, his uniqueness became more apparent to peers. Kids were starting to notice that my son was different. Nothing is more heartbreaking than to have your child come home and tell you that the other kids don't like him. Unfortunately, my son, although a sensitive soul, has a tendency to speak without thinking, often saying things that are hurtful. He will intrude on - and interrupt - conversations. He will disrupt a child who is quietly playing. He will walk away mid-conversation. Things that weren't as noticeable in preschool, began to raise eyebrows in elementary. My son's tendency to miss social cues will only become more noticeable with age.
What to Do:
Social skills groups are a great way to learn how to interact with peers. Check with your school or local counseling centers for age appropriate groups.
Role-play common social situations with your child. This will help ease any social anxieties and give your child the opportunity to practice appropriate interactions.
Evel Knievel has nothing on this kid. Children with ADHD can be the ultimate risk takers. Most people expect children with ADHD to be overly energetic, but most do not expect to be witness to impulsivity-driven, dangerous acts. A child with ADHD may run into traffic, climb on top of the refrigerator, hang from the second floor banister, whack a beehive with a bat - the possibilities are endless. The bigger the kids, the more dangerous things become. Teenagers with ADHD are particularly susceptible to engaging in reckless drug and alcohol use, as well as sexual activity.
When my son was still running into traffic at age five, I knew that this was way more than just typical hyperactivity. While you expect to have to use the death grip on a 2 or 3 year old in a parking lot, you don't think of an older child needing as much reminder and supervision about the dangers of moving vehicles. Or, so I thought. My son would catch the gleam of a penny or hear the bark of a lone dog in the distance and would be consumed with one thought - the thought to run towards whatever attracted his attention. He would bolt without warning into a sea of moving cars. My heart has stopped beating more times than I can count.
What to Do:
When a child displays severely dangerous activity, it is best to consult professionals. Seek specialists in ADHD. A variety of therapies are available to help decrease impulsiveness and assist in establishing safer outlets for your child's energy.
You thought nights with a newborn were bad, you ain't seen nothing yet. Children with ADHD often experience challenges "shutting off" their brain. That little mind is constantly filled with thoughts and images, and that doesn't stop just because the little hand on the clock hits 9. You may find your child is refusing to go to bed, stating that he/she is not tired, and if they do make it to bed, they are wide-awake for the majority of the night. Many kids with ADHD - those on meds AND those not on meds - experience sleep issues. For children who are on medication, stimulants are usually the culprit and decreasing or stopping the dosage will typically eliminate sleep issues. For those children not on medication, developing healthy sleep patters requires a bit more trial and error.
My son actually slept like a baby, when he was a baby. Not a peep would be heard out of him until the morning. Then somewhere around toddler-hood, a myriad of sleep issues crept in. Getting him to sleep was an exhausting experience, but only for me as he would be wide awake hours after I would drop into bed out of defeat. I would spend hours begging and pleading with him to go to bed, only to spend the majority of my night escorting him back to his room when he would wake me in the middle of the night requesting snacks, water or "something to do" because he was "bored." We finally found a rhythm that works for us, but the journey getting there was a long one.
What to Do:
Setting a routine will help define sleep expectations for your child. Set a reasonable bedtime and have a set routine for the 2 hours leading up to bedtime. Include quiet time with no electronics or stimulating activity, a warm bath, and downtime by reading a book or listening to soothing music in the routine. Replace bright lights with warm, soft lights to create a serene sleep space.
Low self-esteem struggles. Many kids with ADHD experience low self-esteem. Kids with ADHD tend to have more academic and social struggles. At home, the symptoms associated with ADHD may lend to a tense family dynamic. An overwhelmed parent may become easily frustrated by ADHD behaviors. Children with ADHD are used to being criticized for their lack of attention, forgetfulness, poor social skills and behavior. This criticism from others quickly turns into a nasty inner critic that takes a toll on a child's self-esteem.
Being a parent of a child with ADHD is no doubt overwhelming at times. It's easy to feel frustrated when nothing seems to work to calm your wild child. Before my son was diagnosed, he struggled with an array of social, academic and behavioral challenges. The frustration my son was feeling over his lack of self-control, combined with the frustrations my husband and I were feeling over the challenges, led to a strained home environment. In the midst of all this I noticed that my son didn't seem as eager to try new things for fear of failing and didn't seem as confident. I'll never forget the day my son came to me and said, "I know everybody hates me because I always mess up. I'm dumb and I know it." Talk about a punch to the gut.
What to Do:
Take a step back and look at what you as a parent, may unintentionally be doing to feed your child's self-esteem monster. Don't compare your child to others. Recognize what your child is doing right, and stop focusing in what your child is doing wrong.
Focus on your child's strengths and involve him/her in activities that will allow him/her to excel.
Allow your child to succeed by breaking up tasks into smaller steps, simplifying goals and directions and making accomplishments attainable rather than complicated.
ADHD looks different with every child, and every child's journey is different. With love, support and understanding each child has the ability to excel in their own way. I have learned to find the positive in my son's energetic spirit and cherish all parts of this journey we are taking together.