Does it ever get better?

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    • #88029

      I have a 13 yo daughter and 10 yo son both of whom have ADHD. Both take meds, with varying degrees of success. One in therapy; the other soon to be. I guess I’m just feeling really worn out because no matter the effort I put into parenting them I can’t help but feel like watching them — particularly in social situations with friends or in basic interactions with people — is like watching a train wreck. Last night my son had a sleepover with one of his closest childhood friends, who’s moving away soon. Rather than spend time having fun with his friend he was hell-bent on doing the sleepover the way he wanted — playing fortnite until late, watching videos past bedtime — knowing that he wasn’t allowed to do these things past bedtime. Instead of having a nice last hurrah with his friend he spent much of the time arguing frantically with us about why he should be allowed to do these things and how we were wrecking his last night with his best friend. In fact, his behavior was more off-putting to his friend than the propsect of not being on screens past 11. This morning I found him watching videos on his iPad at 5am with his friend sound asleep. Again, he said it was because he wanted their last sleepover to be as fun as possible. Yes, we have some issues with screen addiction but more pressing is how he gets incredibly intense around friends and always wants things a certain way. His behavior is tough for them to stomach sometimes when he gets really loud, argumentative, and obsessive about things that they don’t care about. It’s painful to watch and I’m worried that as he goes into middle school it will cost him a circle of buddies that will support him during the tough middle school years. My daughter had similar experiences. Do these kids ever just figure this stuff out without constant intervention? And as a parent do I just watch the train wreck or try to stop it? Typically I do the former, which tends to add fuel to the fire but I’m really just trying to protect the friendships he already has. I’m worn out….

    • #88032

      It happens a lot with ADHD, or any kind of difference for that matter, that such a person will have fewer friends. In my own experience, that has meant fewer, but higher quality friends.

      My speculation based on limited information:

      I know it was annoying, but he really was trying to make the most of it, which to him meant staying up all night and doing all the things he normally gets a “no” for — one final epic adventure with his pal. His friend probably would have liked it too, except he didn’t like the resulting conflict it created — kids without ADHD are less prone to feed off of conflict. I don’t know your son, or how well he reacts to the occasional allowance of rule breaking, but in this case it might have worked out better if you cut him some slack and let him stay up all night with a friend he needs to say good bye to (even if just by looking the other way rather than explicitly saying he’s allowed). We ADHDers often need things to be extreme when we have emotions to deal with (because our emotions are extreme in these moments). When all else fails, conflict is always available to make it extreme. So, whatever you can provide other than conflict will really help. Giving him the impression that he got away with something could have provided a less stressful outlet for everyone.

      All that said, I know there are kids that will take a mile when you give an inch. So this may not be what would work for your son.

    • #88113

      Having ADD can very much look and feel like a train wreck on repeat. I don’t think that intervening in the moment is always helpful, as it can be embarrassing and damage self-esteem. You obviously love and care for your son very much and want to protect his friendships <3, but at some point he’ll need to learn how to manage them. He’ll have to learn by trial and error. Having your support will help him bounce back. He’ll probably lose some friends, as most kids do over time, but he will make new ones.

      Maybe talking with him after he struggles with a social situation would be helpful. You can’t stop the train wreck, but maybe you can help him pick up the pieces and put the train back on its tracks. He probably doesn’t even know how his actions are being perceived, let alone how they are affecting his friends. ADDers seldom know how to change our actions when we do find out we did something socially wrong. We need others to gently guide us. You could ask him questions like, “What do you think Johnny thought about the way you yelled at your sleepover? What could we have done instead?” We often struggle to see things big picture, and being able to reflect on a mistake and learn from it with a caring non-judgmental supporter can help us learn to modify our behavior in the future.

      That’s why therapy with a good ADD specialist is so helpful. Medication is like putting on glasses for people with ADD. It brings things into focus. But if we don’t know where to focus, what skills we lack, or how to learn them, we continue to struggle.

      Living with ADD is like being an athlete. We need coaches to teach skills and remind us to practice. We also need our family: cheerleaders to encourage us to keep going when it gets hard, keep our spirits up when we lose a game, and celebrate our victories with pride. <3

      It helps too to learn how to repair the social damage. Saying “I’m sorry, I won’t do it again” never works for people with ADD. It’s an empty promise. We will definitely do it again! We didn’t mean to do it the first time. We neurologically can’t help it. But we can acknowledge that our actions hurt a friend and thank them for being patient with us as continue to try and learn. This seems to make relationships stronger in the long run. We need compassionate and understanding friends. And we are generously compassionate and understanding in return.

      I think ADDers make great friends! We really have a lot to offer. We are fun, enthusiastic, adventurous, humorous, intelligent, intuitive, loyal, compassionate. Focusing on these great qualities, and encouraging them in your son will help boost his self-esteem and confidence. Confidence, coupled with some impulse-control skills will help him maintain quality friendships.

      Ned Hallowell has some amazing insight into the ADD mind and has found tons of useful tips that help. I’d recommend his books Connectedness, Superparenting for ADD, and Driven to Distraction. He may have some advice that will help your son.

      One last note. It sounds like you and your son had very different expectations for how the sleepover would go. Having a quick, casual conversation about what the “plan” is earlier in the day might have helped curb some of his arguing. It’ll give him the opportunity to beg to stay up all night without his friend present (saving embarrassment and the friend’s discomfort), and it gives you the opportunity to address his wishes within reason. An extra 10 minutes of game time could acknowledge the special event and give him a feeling of self-control, without disregarding the structure you’ve put in place (and he so desperately needs).

      It does get better. With a lot of hard work, research, patience, cheerleading, and hope, it gets better. And the struggle is so worth it. <3

    • #88216
      Penny Williams

      It sounds like there’s some anxiety influencing his behavior. He’s trying to grab as much control as possible, because he feels so lost without any. Make sense?

      I’ve taught my son some social rules. He’s a real stickler for following rules and a very concrete thinker, so this works well for him. For instance, when you meet someone new, you say, “Nice to meet you, my name is L, what is your name?” When you have a friend over, they always get to choose the first activity because they’re your guest. Things like that have helped a great deal.

      Time blindness can also be a factor here. My son dominated the play with friends because he felt like he never got his share of the time, when it was just the opposite. We used a timer and each person chose what to do and got 30 minutes on the timer, then you switched. He couldn’t argue that he didn’t get equal say or that it wasn’t fair, due to his poor sense of time. Of course, that was when he was younger (he’s 15 now).

      Lastly, kids with ADHD often have trouble seeing the big picture and seeing more than one way of doing something. All they can see is the thought they’re having. This looks like they’re bossy and domineering on the surface, but it’s just the narrow vision of their brain.

      There are some good tips in this article to help social relationships:

      Coaching Kids Toward Lasting Friendships

      ADDitude Community Moderator, Parenting ADHD Trainer & Author, Mom to teen w/ ADHD, LDs, and autism

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