“My Parents Didn’t Take My ADHD Seriously. Please Don’t Make the Same Mistake.”
“When your child is more likely than others to be bombarded with daily negativity and stigma, it’s your duty as a parent to do everything in your power to not only protect your child from it, but to avoid contributing to the problem.”
The world hurls negative messaging toward those of us with ADHD every day, and we are sadly accustomed to picking up on it. Even the most well-intentioned people in our lives often direct defeating language to us about our minds and our abilities, traumatizing and sabotaging our lives.
I know this because I was diagnosed with ADHD as a child, which put me on the receiving end of my parent’s fears and hesitations about the condition and its influence over my future.
For a good portion of my life, my family didn’t take my diagnosis or mental health challenges seriously. Growing up in this environment caused me to feel ‘less than’ and to believe that ADHD was more of a moral flaw than a medical condition.
If experience has taught me anything, it’s that ADHD, if not properly addressed, can lead to a number of issues, including but not limited to substance abuse, anger issues, self-loathing, and other psychological and emotional difficulties.
As hard as my youth was for me, I learned some valuable lessons about the meaning of words and the importance of compassion. These are lessons that all parents of children with ADHD need to hear to raise healthy, resilient children who feel heard and supported.
The Importance of Compassion
Compassion and empathy are critical to effective parenting.
In Self-Compassion: The Proven Power of Being (#CommissionsEarned), Dr. Kristin Neff describes compassion as learning to take a more empathetic, resilient approach to judging ourselves and others, and the challenges we all face. This means we shouldn’t make or accept excuses, or use unhealthy skills like avoidance or deflection to cope with our challenges.
I love this concept of self-compassion as a tool that empowers us to own up to our challenges by choosing how we define them.
Self-compassion is an incredibly powerful antidote to shame, especially when dealing with an often-misunderstood condition like ADHD. Stressing and embracing the importance of language is one way that parents can help their children cultivate self-compassion and self-acceptance.
Language as an Avenue to Compassion
Language isn’t just what you say to your child – it’s what you say to others, in person or online, and even to yourself. Hold yourself accountable for your words, tone, and reactions, especially as they relate to conditions, vulnerabilities, and other factors out of another person’s control. Your child will pick up on these cues, which will influence how they view their own diagnosis and challenges.
Here’s an example from my life: My parents thought that my ADHD medication would be a cure-all, and that I would have a problem-free life devoid of ADHD. This is clearly not how ADHD medication works. Still, my parents viewed me as selfish and burdensome if I ever mentioned my challenges.
My family’s unsupportive approach eventually caused me to shut down. What’s the point in talking, if I would only get shamed and ridiculed? So I stopped talking, which led to the darkest period of my life.
Most people don’t realize just how much shame and indignity individuals with ADHD put up with in the course of a lifetime. As Dr. William Dodson explains in “ADHD and the Epidemic of Shame,” it’s common for those of us with ADHD, from childhood to adulthood, to feel like failures for not meeting the expectations of our parents, friends, teachers, and others.
When children hear and sense these negative comments, they start to internalize them. They begin to view themselves and the world through these hurtful and harmful comments.
As I near the end of my training as a peer support specialist worker and reflect on my personal experiences, I would like to impart the following lessons for parents of children with ADHD.
- Believe, validate, and respect your child’s thoughts and feelings. Doing so contributes to healthy emotional regulation and builds trust. Validate by repeating back and summarizing your child’s feelings to them. Thank them for sharing their thoughts with you, and work with them to solve the problem. Negating your child’s challenges can only cause harm and resentment in the long run.
- Use strength-based language to combat self-defeating mindsets. You can say, for example, “It’s alright to fail, as long as you did everything you could. I’m proud of your efforts.”
- Empower your child to take steps to address their challenges. Help your child assume a proactive role in their ADHD journey by involving them in problem solving. Ask them open-ended questions about their struggles, and use their perspectives to devise solutions. This will allow your child to build confidence and clearly express where they need support – important components to developing resilience.
- Reinforce the importance of mental health and self-care. Help your child understand that ADHD treatment, be it medication, therapy, and/or another approach, is important to their wellbeing.
- No one is perfect. Show your child that it’s OK to make mistakes. Provide examples from your own life. These simple actions will genuinely mean the world to them. On that note…
- Apologize when you’ve made a mistake. If you lost your cool or inadvertently said something hurtful to your child, own up to it. Say sorry and acknowledge your error.
When your child is more likely than others to be bombarded with daily negativity and stigma, it’s your duty as a parent to do everything in your power to not only protect your child from it, but to avoid contributing to the problem.
How to Be a Better Parent: Next Steps
- Download: Best Discipline Strategies for ADHD Children
- Read: “I Am What I Choose to Become!”
- Read: How to Shepherd — Not Carry — Your Child Toward Fulfillment
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