“How Curiosity Became the Antidote to My Boys’ ADHD Shame”
“By making curiosity a habit, you demonstrate how much you value and enjoy filling in your knowledge gaps instead of being ashamed of them. School is famous for embarrassing students when they don’t know something. You need to counteract this.”
As a father of three boys with ADHD, one of my highest priorities is modeling how to accomplish your life’s goals while managing ADHD challenges — and never making excuses. I follow one simple rule: I won’t ask my kids to try a strategy that I haven’t tried, successfully, first.
That said, I make a point every day to model curiosity in my life. Knowing my boys will likely fall more often in life than their neurotypical peers, I teach curiosity as a healthier and more productive alternative to shame — as a way to keep learning with an open mind and an open heart. Curiosity about ADHD — how and why we do what we do — helps them approach a fall or setback with resilience and understanding. I believe it’s key to developing the mindset of welcoming and learning from life’s difficulties with humility and gratitude.
Why it’s So Hard for People with ADHD to Ask for Help
Many people with ADHD are accustomed to receiving a constant stream of negative feedback. It’s demoralizing and makes them scared to ask for help. A common refrain is, “I don’t like asking for help because people will think I’m stupid.”
In my experience, most people are flattered when given an opportunity to share what they know — especially when their input will help someone else. But I’ve noticed that generally speaking, people with ADHD when faced with a problem, get too upset too quickly to ask for this help. They don’t get upset because they don’t know how to solve a problem; they get upset because the problem exists in the first place. People with ADHD are sick of having so many problems!
This can be frustrating, but it’s also reality — living with ADHD is challenging every single day. To avoid getting stuck, you need strategies to help you navigate through those challenges and one of them is being able to ask for help when you need it.
The Power of Curiosity for ADHD Minds
Given my complicated mental and physical health history, I know a thing or two about overcoming adversity. In addition to surviving cancer as a teenager, I was diagnosed with ADHD at the age of 42. I also have Multiple Sclerosis, dyslexia, and a painful, connective tissue disorder called Ehlers-Danlos.
A long time ago, I decided that one thing I refused to be was a victim. I wanted to make sure my sons saw me take an empowered, proactive approach to managing my challenges. I work hard to model honesty, acceptance, self-advocacy, humility, gratitude, and curiosity.
Tell a child you have something to teach them, and chances are you will face resistance. Why do kids with ADHD push back especially hard? I believe it’s because they see our efforts to help as just another round of criticism.
So I use indirect instruction as a sneaky way to teach them something without risking more shame. Modeling curiosity is a great way to achieve this. Parents (most adults for that matter) enjoy showing off what they know. Curiosity leverages this.
It sounds like this: “Hey, Dad, do you know about so and so?”
If you don’t, try responding like this: “That’s an interesting question. I don’t know anything about it, but I know how to find out. Would you like to find out together?”
Then proceed to Google it, visit the library, or call an expert you know together. Include your child in coming up with search terms or questions. When seeking input from another person, use phrases like, “My son and I are wondering…” or “Thank you for helping satisfy our curiosity.”
By making curiosity a habit, you demonstrate how much you value and enjoy filling in your knowledge gaps instead of being ashamed of them. School is famous for embarrassing students when they don’t know something. You need to counteract this.
When you are curious, you also model self-advocacy — speaking up for what you need, without shame. The key is this: Celebrate an enthusiasm for discovery over having all the answers.
It’s powerful for a child to see a parent behave this way, especially a child with ADHD. The willingness of an adult to be vulnerable, to risk being brushed off, or to risk being criticized can appear heroic.
The fact you’re practicing curiosity together helps them feel safe and supported in taking the risk. Create opportunities to discover together and gradually encourage them to take the lead. Be sure to ask them questions in their areas of interest and express your gratitude for their knowledge — and their generosity in sharing it with you.
Being a parent is tough enough. So allow yourself some grace. Not knowing it all is the perfect position to be in when raising a child with ADHD.
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