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“It Turns Out My Angry Child Needed a Worthy Challenge.”

A psychologist told us many years ago that my daughter – bright, passionate, and diagnosed with ADHD and anger issues — needs to be challenged. That became our goal, leading us to incredible programs like Destination Imagination. Along the way, I adopted my mantra: “Be the guardrails, not the driver.”

young girl playing ice hockey

I remember the phone call from the psychologist who had completed my daughter’s neuropsychological testing, “She’s very bright, to the point that it’s hard to accurately measure her IQ.” This sounded like good news. Then there was the “But….”

My seven-year-old daughter, who initially enjoyed the challenge of the testing, had become bored and frustrated and decided to end the session by throwing the large yoga ball she had been sitting on at the psychologist.

The exercise ball, intended to allow kids to move and focus during testing, was a projectile in my daughter’s hands. The nice neuropsychologist chuckled, “I’m sure there have been other children in my office who thought about doing it, but your daughter is the first who did.”

There I was — a psychiatrist raising a child who hadn’t yet started second grade but was now diagnosed with ADHD, anxiety, and anger management issues.

My Daughter Needs to Be Challenged

That was 10 years ago. We’ve come a long way since then. We were fortunate to have met many qualified doctors, therapists, teachers, and coaches on the journey. That psychologist was the first to tell me, “She needs to be challenged.”

[Free Parenting Resource: How to Deal with Anger From Your Child]

It became our goal, and it led me to a wonderful parent-run organization called Destination Imagination. DI is the world’s largest creative problem-solving organization with about 200,000 children participating worldwide each year supported by more than 35,000 adult volunteers. The Destination Imagination program encourages teams of young learners to have fun, take risks, focus, and frame challenges while incorporating STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), fine arts, writing, research, and service learning.

DI found ways to keep my daughter intellectually and physically challenged. We signed her up for taekwondo and girls’ ice hockey. My task was to support her while redirecting her iron will. Destination Imagination helped me do that. Martial arts shaped her character. Somewhere between kicking a bag and breaking boards, she learned about honor and respect. She wasn’t like her peers on the ice — she was short with a slight build. But her hockey coach said that she’s “all heart, and she plays as if she is a foot taller. She doesn’t know she’s small.”

As for Destination Imagination, her team, full of “passionate” bright kids, fought with each other almost constantly for eight long years. Despite all the arguing, or perhaps somehow because of it, they earned a spot at the nationally hosted Global Finals three times, competing with students from around the world. Then, in her final DI year, her team faltered during their performance and “lost.” But they walked across the convention center stage before 10,000 people, having stood out for their teamwork.

“Be the Guardrails, Not the Driver.”

We too became a team at home, partners in managing her ADHD. Besides keeping her challenged, my new mantra became “Be the guardrails, not the driver.” Knowing about the frightening statistics about ADHD and car accidents, I was nervous when she recently obtained her driver’s license and first summer job. But I didn’t grab the wheel; she’s coping.

[Read: Steps to Independence for Teens with ADHD]

With the encouragement of her ADHD coach, she asks me, “Mom, can you get me a clock for the bathroom?” Done. I synced our phones with the family schedule, then she stunned me by asking for paper calendars for her room and the kitchen to write on. Really? I asked. She explained, “When I scroll a schedule on my phone, I end up down a rabbit hole.”

My daughter is now 16 and still has ADHD and anxiety. It may never change, but it is well managed. Perhaps I learned as much as she did from Destination Imagination. Sometimes what we fear as a loss is really a win; it’s what you make of the journey. Just ask my daughter.

Here is the quote she chose from a movie about Alan Turing to post at her middle school graduation, “Sometimes it is the people no one imagines anything of who do the things that nobody can imagine.”

Angry Child with ADHD: Next Steps

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