Teens with ADHD

Q: “How Can I Help My Teen Adopt a Growth Mindset?”

“When we try something, we risk failure. When we avoid it, we ensure it.” Take these steps to instill a growth mindset in your teen.

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Q: “My teen with ADHD has given up on himself. After some setbacks in school, he struggles greatly with motivating himself to stay on top of his academics. We know his self-esteem has taken a hit, but we want to encourage him to keep going despite these and other hurdles he will invariably encounter. How can we help him break free from his fixed mindset and develop a growth mindset?”

Every child wants to do well — in school and in other parts of life. But children and teens with ADHD often struggle with the how. When these struggles add up, they can greatly affect self-esteem.

Motivation is about believing that one can do something and that they have the skills to get there. Right now, it seems like your child has come to expect failure if he makes any kind of effort in school. He lacks confidence, and thus motivation, because he either hasn’t experienced enough successes in school to build his “I’m capable” foundation, or because he struggles to recall the times he’s succeeded in school and apply those past victories to his challenges at present.

[Get This Free Download: Transform Your Teen’s Apathy Into Engagement]

When we try something, we risk failure. When we avoid it, we ensure it. To help your teen foster a growth mindset (i.e., the belief that one can change over time with practice and effort), focus on these steps and insights together:

  • Pay attention to what’s working. Get your teen into the habit of thinking, “What could go right?” instead of, “What could go wrong?” The pull for catastrophizing and predicting failure is strong. We need to balance this by redirecting attention to potentially positive consequences.
  • Identify stressful situations or tasks and explore alternative responses in advance. If your child dreads math homework, they can try working on it for just a few minutes at a time. They can also prepare a list of positive affirmations to recite if self-doubt kicks in. Or they can plan to contact a classmate to do the homework together. The point is to think about an approach that could offer a more positive outcome for your child.
  • Plan for recovery time after a tough activity. Be it taking a short walk, listening to some favorite tunes, watching a few YouTube videos, drawing, coloring, shooting some hoops, or curling up with a book, find an activity that will help your teen self-regulate and return to baseline.

[Read: How to Build Self Confidence in Teens with ADHD]

  • Value process over outcome. For a given situation, your son may want to automatically focus on failures. Instead, emphasize the normality of struggling. There’s no blame when something doesn’t work. It’s more productive to talk about what happened, lessons learned, and to brainstorm next steps and other options together.
  • Remember: Our mindsets influence our mental chatter and vice versa. What we say to ourselves makes a huge difference in our attitudes and our behavior. When we say to ourselves, “Yes, I can,” we start the process of change; “It’s okay if I can’t do this yet” keeps it going.

Growth Mindset in Teens: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “Motivating the Unmotivated: Strategies for Middle and High School Students with ADHD” [Video Replay & Podcast #437] with Sharon Saline, Psy.D., which was broadcast on January 11, 2023.

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