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“Pride and Joy — Revisited”

As middle school loomed, my son’s love for school turned to resentment, dread, disappointment. Here is how we worked to help him reclaim his self-confidence and learn to love learning again.

A couple weeks ago, our local news ran a story about a middle school student with diagnosed ADHD who received an award at a school assembly that read: “MOST LIKELY TO NOT PAY ATTENTION.” The article quoted the student’s mother, who stated her child was voted, “Most likely to ask a question that has already been answered.”

I worried this could have happened to three of my kids with the same diagnosis. Yesterday, we were all sitting at the kitchen table playing a game and had the following dialogue:

Kid 1: What’s for dinner?

Me: Pizza.

Kid 2: Wait. What are we having for dinner?

Me: Pizza.

Kid 3: Are we having chicken for dinner?

I imagined my kids’ classrooms, with students snickering or teasing my kids for similar behavior. I imagined an exasperated teacher rolling her eyes or saying, “Class? Can everyone please repeat what I just said for our little daydreamer?”

And I reminded myself of how Laurie and I have had to constantly analyze our own parenting. As our kids get older, they’re more attuned to our frustration. You know the scenario: After telling them five or six times to do something, you lose your temper. Or your lectures go on and on, and you find yourself using infinitives like, “Why can’t you just…” and “How is that every single day…” And then you see their faces drop.

Our kids have had teachers and guidance counselors who loved them and embraced their eccentricities. At parent-teacher conferences, we have heard things like “He’s definitely a handful, but I love him” and “She’s got some serious spunk. She’s gonna take over the world.” These educators opened the door for us to discuss our struggles and we collaborated on how to set up our kids for success.

With help from these teachers, Laurie and I learned how to instill in our kids a feeling of pride in their character. We helped them see that having ADHD isn’t anything to be ashamed of. Today, we discuss their diagnoses and medications openly during our daily debriefs of the school day. At appointments with our neurologist, we encourage them to contribute to the discussion and have found they can articulate very effectively how they’re doing in school and how the medication makes them feel.

And we resolve never to forget Isaac’s fifth grade year, when he struggled in both grades and behavior. He often came home with red marks on his behavior folder. He tested for the Gifted and Talented program but only came close to getting in. He went from loving school to dreading it. The end-of-the-year assembly, when students received awards for outstanding achievements, was the final disappointment. We listened for over an hour as name after name was called, but he received nothing. On the last day of school, we took all of our kids for ice cream to celebrate their year. As the other kids talked over one another about everything they loved about the past year, Isaac talked about how glad he was to be done.

That summer, a neurologist diagnosed him and prescribed some medication. In sixth grade, he passed the test for admission into the school’s GT program. We enrolled him in multiple honors classes and he made A-honor roll. Plus, he received no behavioral citations. We could see his dread for school turn back to love. On the last day of school, we took the kids out again for ice cream.

“I had a lot of fun this year,” he said.

“I’m so proud of you, Buddy!” I told him.

Then he asked, “Are you proud of me?”

I scratched my forehead and forced a smile. “I sure am, Buddy.”

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