Don’t Try to Fix Their Weaknesses. Instead, Try to Celebrate Their Strengths.
During my decades as a school psychologist, I have found five tried-and-true truths about students with ADHD. These touchstones don’t make me the perfect mom (especially during this pandemic), but they do keep my positive parenting strategies from derailing when they encounter a bump or break in the track.
The past few months have been tough. Bedtime anxiety, tears over missing friends, refusing schoolwork, an emotional and frustrated mom trying to work, and also teach. Can anybody relate? There have been beautiful moments, too. Family basketball and daily lunch together, all five of us sitting at a table laughing. But sometimes I veer off course and the negative emotions get the best of me.
Being a school psychologist, I have worked with hundreds of students and found some tried-and-true touchstones. These touchstones are the things I know for sure about working with kids — especially those with ADHD. They don’t make me the perfect parent, or prevent me from losing my temper or being unfair. But when I lose my way, they usually bring me back to the tenets of positive parenting. I hope they work for you.
1. Start with your child’s strengths.
When we work in weaknesses, the best we can hope for is average. When we work in strengths, that’s when people soar! So much of ADHD intervention is aimed at shoring up weaknesses — fixing, solving, troubleshooting. While we want to improve challenging areas, this model causes our children to view themselves as broken. A shift to focusing on their strengths is powerful for that very reason.
To begin, ask yourself the following questions:
- What is your child’s gift?
- What is their unique ability?
- What do they live to do?
Sports, art, words, nature, dance, music? Sometimes the very thing that drives everyone nuts is their “superpower” — their unique ability, their energy, their sensitivity. So if they won’t do a worksheet, maybe they are talented at recording videos. Maybe they can create an art piece on the topic. Maybe they won’t do fractions, but they will cook.
2. Make it fun! For goodness sake, make it fun!
During this time of stress and being home all of the time, completing every assignment exactly as assigned is NOT a hill I would die on. If everyone leaves your school table in tears, get off that hill, and make it fun!
The dysregulated brain does not learn. It does not hear you. It does not problem solve or respond to consequences — and especially not to lectures. So, stop!
How can you tell if a child’s brain is dysregulated? Look for the signs of fight, flight, or freeze. Tears, yelling, storming off, crumpled papers, refusal. These are the symptoms. If you witness this behavior, do not proceed.
Instead, take a break and do something fun:
- Ditch the reading and dig for worms.
- Read aloud from Harry Potter while in costume.
- Stand on your head and make them laugh.
3. Meet your child where they are.
If your child won’t read the book assigned, will they look at a comic? Will they listen to an audio book? Will they listen to you read aloud? Find their entry point for literacy. The thing they will do. The thing they can do. Start there — happily, easily.
Once they are routinely engaging in that activity, add a little challenge. Turn up the heat a little. But first you have to get your foot in the door. We do this by accepting where they are and meeting them there. Kids with ADHD are constantly expected to contort themselves into the neurotypical mold. It is a gift to — for once — take a walk on their path, listen to their drum. I have found that the more willing I am to meet a child on their path, the more willing they are to walk with me on mine.
4. Create rituals and routines.
Family lunch. Reading time. First math workbook, then basketball. Lights out at eight.
Routines and rituals are musts for all kids, especially those with ADHD. Routines lower the cognitive load. They make actions habitual, so things that once took effort and decision-making skill are now automatic. For brains that struggle with efficiency and processing, the more routines we have, the more brainpower is left over for the important stuff. So find your routines and stick to them!
5. Be kind to yourself.
Give yourself a break! If you start one routine and it’s an epic fail, that’s okay. You can adjust. If you mess up — lose your mind or your temper — that’s okay, too!
This is how our kids get self-esteem. This is where they learn to be human — by watching us try and fail and try again. This is how they learn to own themselves — warts and all. They see that humans are imperfect. We are good and bad. Smart and dumb. Right and wrong. Give your kids the blessing of witnessing this.
You are providing your child with a front-row seat to some of the most powerful lesson of their lives right now: What is to be human.
- To make a mess and clean it up.
- To be overwhelmed and persevere.
- To be blessed and troubled.
…All at the same time.
This article first appeared in Tricia Thompson’s blog, learningwithoutlimitsllc.com, on May 8. The author has granted reprint permissions to ADDitude.
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Updated on January 3, 2021