The Five Faces of Your Child’s ADHD (as Told By Cartoon Characters)
If you’re frequently frustrated by your child’s ADHD behavior — losing attention, acting impulsively, losing everything — find some levity and humor in these Sunday comics and cartoons!
There are five things that children and adults with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) have trouble regulating: attention, hyperactivity, impulsivity, organization, and emotionality. This leads to some annoying, frustrating, and worrisome behaviors. As parents, we get embarrassed by our kids’ behaviors, unable to understand why they do the crazy things they do.
The truth is, our children’s behaviors are more commonplace than we realize. That can be easier to see when we filter our impressions through a new lens. We don’t need to look any further than the Sunday funnies to find the behaviors our children exhibit every day.
What is annoying in our own kids we see as adorable in two-dimensional characters. When we laugh at the antics of quirky, impulsive, chatty children, it takes the edge off of our annoyance. Not only does it “normalize” our kids’ actions, but it helps us see that things could be worse. Best of all, we realize that we are not alone.
If you’re struggling to understand your child’s ADHD, and getting upset over his behavior, perhaps some cartoon characters will give you a new perspective on the five faces of ADHD:
1. Challenges in regulating attention — the inability to recognize what is important to focus on, focusing on it at the correct time, shifting attention from one thing to another, and being able to stop focusing when it’s time to do something else.
Peppermint Patty, in Peanuts, is a character who struggles with attention. She can’t pay attention to the teacher, is often confused about what action is required of her, and ignores what her teacher says — unless, of course, the teacher is announcing that it’s time for recess!
Cookie Monster, in Sesame Street, struggles in a different way. He hyperfocuses — he thinks only about cookies! Much like our kids who play video games, Cookie Monster doesn’t care much about anything else. He can’t shift his attention away from cookies. After all, nothing else is as interesting!
2. Challenges with hyperactivity. Our kids have a supercharged battery for a brain, which makes it hard to control their brain or body. An overactive brain brings sleep problems, chattering, and constant motion, inside and out.
Think about Calvin, in Calvin and Hobbes, who has an overactive body and imagination. Take him to the doctor, and he slides off the table, turns upside down, with his head on the floor and his feet in the air. Ask him a question and he starts chattering away. He has no clue about what he’s saying, but he’s eager to share all the things he’s been thinking about while the adults were talking. He spews rapid-fire thoughts about school, an adventure with Hobbes, and what he wants for dinner. When the adults start talking to each other again, he slides along the floor like a lizard pursuing a mosquito on the windowsill.
3. Challenges with impulsivity. Our kids’ brain wiring makes adults think that they are rude, disrespectful, or aggressive. In fact, impulsive children are locked in the present, unable to think through what “later” might bring.
Hammie is the precocious brother in the Baby Blues comic strip. His impulsivity creates friction at home, especially with his older sister. He interrupts conversations, messes up his sister’s games, drops dishes and breaks toys, says hurtful things, and gets himself into dangerous situations, like running into the street or climbing on the roof. He doesn’t learn from his mistakes (yet), and his mother feels she can never leave him alone for an instant, much less with a sitter. He can be charming and adorable, but he exhausts those around him.
4. Challenges with organization. Children with ADHD have trouble keeping on top of time and responsibilities. They are unreliable. They can’t plan, prioritize, sequence, or remember what needs to be done. Disorganization affects every aspect of life. Even the basics of self-care — hygiene and taking medication — are compromised.
Zits shows us the mess in Jeremy’s bedroom, with clothes and papers scattered everywhere. He loses things, and he probably needed to replace his winter coat in fourth grade — several times. His tests don’t make it home to his parents to get signed, and he didn’t start brushing his teeth regularly until he met Sara. His parents weren’t sure he’d make it out of eighth grade.
5. Challenges with emotions. Frustration, intolerance, anger management, and heightened sensitivity are problems for kids with ADHD. They have a hard time handling disappointments. Of course, they experience disappointments more than other kids, too.
Daffy Duck, in Looney Tunes, isn’t a good sport. He wants things to go his way, and throws tantrums when they don’t. He is disappointed a lot. After all, it’s hard to be constantly bested by a smooth-talking bunny. He can’t admit his mistakes. Daffy’s emotional intensity leads to overreactions and hijacking situations. It’s hard to feel sorry for him when you’re so busy being embarrassed by him.
When you see these kinds of behaviors in your kids, think about Peppermint Patty or even Daffy Duck. Understand that this is how your child is wired, and know that you’re not alone. Your child needs help to change these behaviors, and, with your understanding and assistance, he will change them, slowly but surely.
Five Tips for the Five Faces of ADHD
1. Attention: “Get Attention Before Giving Direction”
Make sure to get your child’s attention before you give instructions. Don’t holler across the house; instead, use her name, tap him on the shoulder, ask her to look you in the eye, or walk into his room.
2. Hyperactivity: “Allow Your Child to Not Be Still”
Whenever possible, permit your child to stand or move around; save “sitting still” for essential times, like school or important events. Allow standing at the dinner table or jumping around in the kitchen. Let your energizer bunny move!
3. Impulsivity: “Take Brain Breaks”
Our kids’ brains need more breaks than typical kids. Make time for play after school, and between homework assignments. Allow occasional daydreaming to give their creative brains a chance to re-charge.
4. Organization: “Build in Processing Time”
Give your kids time to think about things. Before jumping into “important” discussions, introduce an idea and let kids “noodle” on it for a while — maybe minutes, or even days — so they can pull their thoughts together.
5. Emotionality: “Make Mistakes Matter of Fact”
Our kids get redirected so often they feel they can do nothing right, which is exhausting for them. Let them know that everyone makes mistakes — including you. Show them how you learn from mistakes, instead of trying to hide them.
This article is adapted from the authors’ book, Parenting ADHD Now! Easy Intervention Strategies to Empower Kids with ADHD.
Updated on February 7, 2020