Helping Preteens With ADD Succeed: Parenting Strategies for Defusing Tween Power Struggles

Whether your attention deficit tween is acting up in school, starting to run with the wrong crowd, or trying to exert more control over his life, the years between early childhood and adolescence can be turbulent. How parents can avoid and resolve conflicts.

Pre-teen, adolescent boy caught in the wrong crowd ©stock.xchng/wendylee03

Your child isn’t trying to be difficult. He’s only trying to protect his self-esteem.

Larry Silver, M.D.

Twelve-year-old Ryan had been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADD/ADHD) and learning disabilities in the third grade. With the help of tutoring and a stimulant, he had been doing well in school. But things became a little shaky in his preteen years.

He stopped doing homework, and refused help at school. Some days, he wouldn’t take his ADD/ADHD medication -- or he pretended to take them and then spit them out. ADHD behavior problems ran rampant. He was calling out in class and getting into trouble in the halls.

It was at this point that Ryan’s parents -- enormously frustrated and worried about their son and his behavior problems -- sought my help.

Is Peer Pressure Turning Your Child Against You?

The problems Ryan had been having, I told his parents, are not unusual for kids 10 to 12 years of age. These “tweens” -- no longer children and not yet teenagers -- have stopped caring about what grownups think of them. Now they’re focused on what their peers think.

Tweens are so eager to “fit in” that they’ll avoid doing just about anything that makes them seem different from friends and classmates. They dress alike, talk alike, and wear the same hairstyles. Take ADD/ADHD meds? Forget about it. Accept ADD/ADHD accommodations at school? Work with a tutor? No way. “There’s nothing wrong with me!” these young people tell their parents. “Why do you want me to learn this? I’m never going to use it anyway.”

As tweens refuse the help they accepted a few years ago, their ADD/ADHD symptoms flare up and their grades go down. How did your sweet elementary-schooler become this...this thing? What can you do to make things right again?

If your ADD/ADHD preteen refuses to take ADD/ADHD medication, make her privacy a priority. Let her know that you understand that it can be embarrassing to be seen taking meds. Explore ways for her to take her pills in private. When she goes to a sleepover, for example, explain the situation to the host parents. (Let your child skip a dose, if necessary, to maintain her privacy.)

What to do if your child is running with the wrong crowd...It's normal for tweens to make new friends. But what if you think their influence is partially to blame for your ADD/ADHD child's behavior problems? Telling your child that you disapprove may backfire; he'll probably want to spend even more time with them.

Instead, keep a close eye on where your child goes and what he does. Encourage him to stick with all of his extracurricular activities. He may decide that he prefers his old friends.

Next: If Your ADD/ADHD Tween Is Acting Up at School...

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TAGS: ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs, Talking with Teachers, Teens and Tweens with ADHD

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