Positive Parenting

Mom’s Cool with Staying Calm

My teen daughter’s bad decision left me ready to blow my top – but I’ve learned to back away from overreaction when her attention deficit sparks it.

After a long day at school, Lee usually yanks open the door and throws her backpack into the car. She jumps in after it and yells, “Let’s go! Hurry!” So, on a Monday afternoon, when she slid in quietly, backpack on her lap, I knew something was wrong.

“Are you OK?” I asked, pulling away from the curb.

She was silent for a minute. Then she said, “Don’t overreact, OK? I got a C on my science test. I’m really lucky to get that grade. I thought I’d have a D or F. Let’s just be happy with the C.”

Don’t you love it when you get your own words thrown back at you? When Lee got frustrated and gave in to bursts of emotion and exaggerated behavior, I told her, “Don’t overreact.” Now she was turning it back on me.

I felt the steam rising as the usual stupid questions popped into my mind. “Didn’t you remember to study last night?” Of course, she didn’t. Lee, like other kids with ADHD, needs a reminder to jog her working memory, and I’d forgotten to give her one.

Or, “How many times have I told you to get out your daily assignment binder and see if you have a test?” Kids with ADHD need to build self-confidence, and that question is a sure way to stomp on it.

Or, “What were you thinking when you played that computer game instead of doing homework?” That’s what ADHD kids do – they follow their impulses, especially when they hyperfocus.

I may sound cool and calm now, but I’ve overreacted many times. I hit bottom in third grade when Lee refused to do her homework with me because, she shouted, “You don’t know anything!”

I yelled like a three-year-old and behaved like one. I got out old thank-you letters I’d saved from former students when I was a high school teacher. I’m ashamed to say that I read her every one of them, trying to prove I could help with homework. We ended up crying.

Over the years, I learned how to stand my ground when Lee had a temperamental outburst by going to a calm place within and taking a deep breath. It worked better for me to think about the behavior that had caused my reaction. That allowed me time for my blood pressure to go down, for my heart to stop pumping so quickly, to cool down.

Back in the car, I blew out a breath and said, “Lee, do you have a strategy in mind for future tests?”

“Yeah, Mom. I’ll make sure to never skip a night again without looking at my science assignments. Thanks for not getting mad.”

The steam slowly escaped, unnoticed by Lee, from my ears.