Helping ADHD Children Learn From Failure

Eight illuminating lessons for children with attention deficit disorder who face challenges in life.

Helping ADD Kids Understand the Upside of Failure

Failure may disappoint and hurt a child, but it shouldn’t devastate him.

Every child wants to succeed. Ace the quiz! Win the soccer playoffs! Get a good grade in math!

The reality, however, is that, whenever we’re involved in competitive activities, either success or failure is possible. We can’t protect our children from experiencing defeat, but, when it happens, we can teach them how to deal with it.

Failure may disappoint and hurt a child with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD), but it shouldn’t devastate him.

Children with ADHD, in particular, tend to overreact to failure. The biology of ADHD may cause kids to experience emotions — both good and bad — more intensely. An ADHD child who has a history of struggle and frustration may not be resilient.

His self-esteem takes a hit because he interprets each negative experience as further proof that he is a “loser.”

It is important for a parent to put such moments in perspective. Here are some comforting words and enlightening lessons to pass along. While much of the advice sounds like it could apply to any child, remember that ADHD kids need the same kind of encouragement as other children, just a lot more of it.

1. It’s frustrating to lose, but don’t beat yourself up about it. It’s OK to be human. The truth is, nobody’s perfect at everything they do.

2. Very successful people fail sometimes — some of them fail a lot. Thomas Edison made 3,000 attempts before creating a light bulb that worked! Do we call Edison a failure? Of course not. We call him a brilliant inventor — who, by the way, probably had ADHD.

3. Every failure can teach us something important. Anna loved playing the flute, and tried out for the school band. She was devastated when she wasn’t chosen. Instead of giving up and sulking about it, she talked with the band director and learned that she needed to improve her rhythm and tone.

For the next 12 months, Anna practiced with a metronome, and she got much better. She easily made the cut when she auditioned the following year. Now she is one of the best flute players in the band.

4. In every negative there is a positive. Find the positive! Ask yourself, What did I do well? What am I best at in this activity? What skills did I pick up, and how can I use them in the future?

5. Even though you fail at something, you are not a failure. You’re still a good person. What do you call a major league baseball player who fails to get a hit seven out of 10 times at bat? Answer: an All-Star. It means that he’s a .300 hitter and probably one of the best in baseball.

6. We can succeed only if we’re willing to take risks and work hard. If you want to win the race, you have to enter the race and train to be a good runner. Winners don’t have a guarantee that they will win every race, but the chance that they will makes it worth it.

7. The only people who never experience failure are those who give up. Star quarterback Tom Brady was a backup player during his first three years of college. He became so frustrated that he almost quit the team. Of course, he didn’t, and he eventually became starting quarterback in his last year — and was drafted by the New England Patriots after graduation. His teams won three Super Bowls, and Tom was selected Most Valuable Player in two of the games. What would have happened if he had quit?

8. Even if you fail at something, you have the ability to improve and succeed. ADHD shouldn’t stop you from achieving anything you want to achieve. Go get ’em next time!


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This article appeared in the December/January issue of ADDitude.
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