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Moms and Dads: Let’s Turn All Those Can’ts into Can-Dos

Have you, like me, fallen into the trap of assuming your child “can’t” do something? That’s not how to help a child with ADHD. Instead, I flipped those negatives on their head.

The first thing we are offered when a child is diagnosed with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is a laundry list of all the things he or she can’t do:

Can’t pay attention for long.
Can’t control impulses well.
Can’t succeed as well as his peers socially.
Can’t do well in school.
And on and on…

Right off the bat, we are set up to fail in parenting our kids with ADHD. We are told all the things they can’t do, but not told what to do to survive and thrive, by focusing on the things they can do.

The ADHD diagnosis often initiates an expectation of limitations, and a whole lot of can’ts. That produces a negative outlook and many limiting beliefs.

“My son needs me more than other kids his age, so he can’t go to summer camp.”

[The ADHD Library for Parents]

“My daughter gets emotional too easily, so she can’t go on play dates without me.”

“My son can’t control his impulses, so you can’t get angry about his behavior.”

“My daughter struggles with complex processes, so she can’t play team sports.”

Kids with ADHD deserve the same childhood experiences and opportunities as any other kid. It may take accommodations or special circumstances, but you must not limit them based on your assumptions of what ADHD prevents them from succeeding in.

[Your Free 13-Step Guide to Raising a Child with ADHD]

I have fallen into the trap of relying on the can’ts too many times for my son, Ricochet, who has ADHD, autism, anxiety, and LDs. I have worked diligently over the last few years to be mindful of these instances and stop limiting his experiences.

When Ricochet was in eighth grade, his school took nearly 200 of him and his classmates on a three-day trip to Atlanta (about four hours away). They do an eighth-grade trip each year to foster more independence and give the kids a taste of the accountability they’ll need the following year in high school. The trip is three days and two nights far from home. It involves six young teen boys in one hotel room alone. It means three days without any hygiene reminders from Mom. It means three days without a quiet moment alone or social relief.

I could easily think of a lot of reasons why he shouldn’t have gone on the trip or why he couldn’t succeed at it. I knew how hard it would be for him to be overwhelmed by the noise and chaos of all those kids for 65 hours straight, without quiet refuge. I knew how upset he’d get if he weren’t able to sleep. I knew that just the anticipation of the sound intensity and crowds at the NBA basketball game made him panic.

I also knew that he needed this experience. His friends were going, and he really wanted to go too. We talked about how hard it would be at times, but he insisted he was old enough to handle it. Daddy was dead set against it, feeling sure we’d have to drive to Atlanta and pick him up early. I, on the other hand, wasn’t willing to prevent him from having this experience based on a bunch of what-ifs. I don’t want to limit him based on disability.

I think those three days were harder on me than on Ricochet. I worried every moment about him fleeing the group, getting along with his friends, not being teased and picked on, managing sensory overwhelm and anxiety… He, however, was determined to be a “grown up” and do what his peers could do. And so he went on the trip.

Of course, there were a couple of challenging incidents. One involved me on the phone with the CNN Store (they were at the CNN Center) begging their staff to let me pay for a jacket over the phone for him to pick up there (which they did). His jacket got something “itchy” on it, and he was too cold to last another day without a jacket, and he was out of money. Another involved him burning through all his allotted cell phone data due to his streaming videos on the bus ride there, and not being able to send and receive messages between us. He called me in the arena before the basketball game telling me he wouldn’t stay and I must come pick him up right then.

Fortunately, the teacher assigned to his group of students knows Ricochet well and has a soft spot in his heart for him. He jumped in and helped every time Ricochet needed something. He  sent me a photo of Ricochet standing up and cheering at the basketball game once they got him settled.

Instead of limiting his experiences with all the can’ts, we sent Ricochet on a big trip, as prepared as possible, and did what it took to help him succeed. He came home with a steadier resolve and stronger belief in himself. Oh, and a suitcase full of clean clothes because he wore the same clothes for three days!

[Free Parenting Guide for Moms & Dads with ADHD]