Self Esteem

Gifted & Talented: Ask Yourself, ‘What’s Right with My Child?’

Seven tools to help parents bring out the absolute best in your their children with ADHD.

Parenting Children with ADHD: Emphasizing Their Strengths
Parenting Children with ADHD: Emphasizing Their Strengths

One parent, troubled that her child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD or ADD) didn’t do as well in school as his classmates, began to look for his strengths. She noticed her boy’s creative and artistic talents, and started to foster those qualities.

Whenever she fell back into the habit of comparing her son with kids who seemed to easily excel in school, she asked herself, “What’s right with my child?” Answering this question always led her back to encouraging him.

Think of your role in parenting as being a coach. A coach doesn’t hide in shame when she sees a player miss a shot or goal. A coach doesn’t punish the person in training for not executing techniques correctly, or yell about what the person needs to stop doing. A coach thinks of her job as building skills and solving problems. She knows that sometimes a simple change in technique can improve performance.

Move your focus from patching up weaknesses to identifying and building strengths in your child. Toward that end, here are seven activities that will nourish emotional intelligence, social intelligence, physical activity, and fun. They contain within them the seeds of positive suggestion and will give your child control over her environment. Finally, they will help you and your family open up to joy and learn how to play in an over scheduled, stressed-out world.

1. A Hearty Whoops!

One of the most important things you can do is motivate your child to keep going when the child goofs up. In other words, teach her to “whoop” the problem. Practice this by having your child make silly mistakes at home, and shout out an exaggerated “Whoops!”

[Positive (Parenting) Charge: How to Reinforce Good Behavior]

Imagine a clown who slips on a banana peel, exaggerating the fall and making silly faces. You want your child to wince and admit mistakes — but not be stopped by them. Take turns with your child practicing a mock pratfall. You can also practice it by dropping a big load of laundry you are carrying on the floor. Then have your child “whoop” the problem in real-life situations — when she brings home a quiz with a mistake in it or makes a bad play in a sporting event. This fun and entertaining activity will teach her not to be failure-phobic, but to rebound from setbacks.

2. The Magic Can

Most children don’t like to clean their rooms, but kids with ADHD take this to a new level. You can coach your child toward taming his messes in a playful way that’s more effective than threatening consequences or nagging. The Magic Can game can develop good organizational habits while increasing the fun quotient of doing it. Create an enchanted receptacle out of a trashcan. Dress it up by pasting photos of his favorite superhero or storybook character — Harry Potter or the Jedi from Star Wars, whatever engages him — on it.

Explain to your child that he increases his magic powers every time he throws out unneeded papers or other things he doesn’t need into his magic can. When he drops an item into the trash can, he should declare, “May the force be with me!” You can create variations on this game with a dirty clothes hamper or a toy storage bin.

3. Can I Do It? Yes, I Can

Bob the Builder, a popular TV and book character for younger kids, has a slogan he uses when faced with a building job that runs into trouble. He asks, “Can we fix it?” And the crew shouts back, “Yes, we can!” The following activity is inspired by Bob the Builder and life coach Anthony Robbins, who developed the term “CANI” to mean Constant And Never-ending Improvement.

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Let your child know that when he comes up against a challenge or problem-homework, sports, or relationships- he can say, “CANI do it? Yes, I can!” This simple phrase reminds him not only to plow ahead with confidence, but to aim for constant and never-ending improvement. Demonstrate this technique for your child when you are trying to solve a problem. When your child is disappointed because someone else is doing better, remind him that the goal is his own improvement (CANI), not to compare himself to other kids.

4. Joy, Joy, and More Joy

Two of the best gifts of ADHD are high energy and emotional intensity. These can help your child pursue what inspires him with a verve others probably don’t possess. Find an activity that combines his interests in a creative way. As one example, my daughter loves Elmo, dogs, drawing, climbing on the couch, and Uncle Eye’s CD. She sits in her Elmo chair (which I put on the couch) surrounded by her favorite stuffed doggies, while she draws and listens to her favorite songs. By increasing your child’s joy, you teach her to live a life guided by pleasure, rather than one of avoiding fear or running away from punishment. Another bonus: Engaging her passions will build skills and the capacity to pay attention and organize herself.

5. You’re the Champ

Children with ADHD often feel defeated by the competitiveness of school life. They see other kids sit still, follow directions easily, and complete school tasks without struggle, and they wonder why they are different. As a coach, you can turn your child’s discouragement around by exposing him to the power of praise. Teach him to say — to himself or to another child — “You’re the champ. Great job!” Show him that he can increase his own powers by asking those who are successful for tips on how they pulled off their achievements. Teach your child to admire and learn from those who are a few steps ahead. This may turn around your child’s school performance, and will also help his social relationships.

6. The Secret Reservoir

Everyone has untapped resources they may not know about. When your child is struggling with a problem, turn the struggle into a search for a resource, relationship, skill, or gift — the secret tool — that can help him solve his problem. Ask your child, “How do you find your secret reservoir?” Let him generate as many answers as possible.

If he gets stuck, ask him the following questions to jump-start the process: Is there a person who can help you solve the problem? Is there a skill that you need? Is there a gift or talent you have that could solve it? Is there a technology that can help? Turn it into a mystery that can be solved. This will help your child gain hopefulness in the face of his struggles, and will reinforce the message that, if he keeps looking, he can find a solution.

7. Brainstorming

Many people agree that the path to a happy and successful life is a career that uses our greatest passions and allows us to help others. Next time you are driving in the car, ask your child to think of an activity that is a lot of fun and that also helps other people.

You may need to coach him — if he says, “Playing video games,” lead him on to think of a way to play video games that would be helpful to others. If he says, “To feed the poor,” help him to figure out how he could accomplish this while maximizing his fun. When you come up with a way, take it to the next level. “How could we make this more fun?” And, “How could we help even more people?” This process will introduce him to brainstorming. Your child will also learn that he can always improve on his ideas. When you come up with an activity that meets the criteria of “fun” and “helpful,” make a commitment to do it together.

[“You Are Wonderful!” How Praise Triggers Better Control in the ADHD Brain]

Adapted from The Gift of ADHD Activity Book, by Lara Honos-Webb, Ph.D. Reprinted with permission of New Harbinger Publications (