Due to a variety of cultural forces over the past few decades, many women have had to take on greater responsibility in the raising of their children; sometimes even assuming the role of both mother and father. This model is not ideal for anyone — it asks too much of mothers, diminishes the influence of a loving father, and deprives the child of a role model they sorely need. It is especially not best for boys with attention deficit disorder (ADD ADHD). Boys with ADHD need their dads.
Boys learn what it is like to be a man and how to act like a man primarily from their fathers. Adolescents might look to other males in their life for guidance, but their father is the primary role model. It is critical that they feel that their father understands and accepts them as they are, ADHD and all. They did not ask to be born with hyperactivity, distractibility, and/or impulsivity — but they were.
They need to learn how to cope and to compensate. They may need to use medication and other forms of help. They must sense that their dad understands and supports all that is being done. If dad does not accept them as they are, how can they accept themselves?
In approximately 50 percent of situations, a parent, another sibling, or a close relative will have ADHD themselves. That someone often is dad. He might be just as active, inattentive and off task, or impulsive. Ideally, this father would understand and empathize with his son and be very supportive. However, there are times when a father gets angry at the child for the behaviors he does not like in himself. Dad, if this describes you, seek help in changing. Your son needs your approval much as you may have needed your father's approval when you were growing up.
Boys learn to be "just like their dad." If dad is critical, not there, or disapproves of the boy's behaviors or activities, how can this son have any healthy image of himself? The adolescent boy learns how to move toward being a man by watching his father and other male authority figures. The role that his father plays is critical to his accepting and respecting himself, and to moving successfully toward adulthood.
This need for father's approval is even more critical when the son with ADHD has poor motor skills. This son might be clumsy and have poor eye-hand coordination. He might not do well in the usual team sports, like baseball, basketball, or soccer. If a boy isn't successful in traditional sports, forming relationships with boys or feeling good about being a boy is hard. They often become loners and have difficulty making friends.
Girls don't necessarily have to share physical activities to bond with other girls — they can make friends and interact through talking. Male bonding does not include talking. Have you ever seen two boys sit and discuss their day? Male bonding is grunting, wrestling, hitting, and playing sports. Boys with ADHD need activities that help them build confidence in their bodies and are healthy outlets for their high energy.
For this child or adolescent, it is critical to find a sport activity that requires less motor coordination while running and minimal eye-hand coordination. Perhaps he could do well in one of the martial arts or with swimming, wrestling, horseback riding, bowling, or golf. It is important to find a sport that he can be successful with, and he must feel that doing something different from his brother or other boys is acceptable.
What a powerful message of acceptance if dad takes the child to practice or maybe helps with coaching. Some martial arts programs have father-son programs. Exercising and participating in sports alongside your son helps them re-focus when they become distracted. Dad can say, "I know it is hard for you to stay on task. Let's try again. How can I help you?"
The child may be easily frustrated by the sport and lash out at his peers, or try to quit before giving an activity a fair chance. This impulsive behavior should have consequences at home. Dad needs to sit down that night and talk about what happened with mom and son. A strong message that the son is understood and accepted must come from both parents.
I do not want to minimize the importance of the mother to a son — but I do want to stress how vital it is for a father to stay involved in his boy's life. Be there. Give unconditional love and acceptance. Help him find a way to be the kind of man you approve of. Tomorrow may be too late.
This article comes from the February/March 2003 issue of ADDitude.