Self Esteem

How to Invest In Your Child’s “Emotional Bank Account”

Many children with ADHD, battered by daily criticisms and admonitions, have low self-esteem as early as second grade. As that child’s parent or teacher, make a powerful difference with these reframing strategies.

Emotional Bank Account

Children with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) who struggle in school get lots of negative feedback. As a result, their self-esteem is battered as early as second grade. Adding insult to injury, many parents may get caught up pushing their children to work harder to make top grades. This adds another layer of negativity at home.

I lost my perspective when my son was struggling in high school. At times, I found myself thinking that he was lazy and just didn’t care. I was focused on monitoring his homework, hoping he would make better grades. I met him at the front door every day when he came home from school and asked, “Did you bring home your books and assignments?” I never bothered to ask him how his day went.

When he started avoiding me at the front door, by going in through the basement, a light bulb went on. I had lost sight of my most important duties as a parent: loving my son and building his self-esteem.

We should all be investing in our children’s emotional bank account. Your job as a parent is to keep the most important things in mind: nurturing your child’s self-esteem and maintaining a strong relationship with him or her. Your loving relationship may one day save your child’s life.

Investing In and Nurturing Our Children

Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (#CommissionsEarned) and other best-selling books, coined the phrase “emotional bank account,” and Russell Barkley, Ph.D., recently used it in one of his top 10 tips for grandparents of children with ADHD. Just as we make regular deposits into our savings account, so we have money when times get tough, adding to our children’s emotional bank account serves the same purpose. Are you making deposits, or emptying his account?

[Your Free Guide to Parent Training Programs]

Offer lots of positive statements and fun activities. Catch your child being good. When you do, say, “Great job. You put all your dirty clothes in the hamper.” “You’re getting better at making up your bed.” “Thank you for taking out the garbage!” “You make me proud. You’ve been reading that book for a long time, and you didn’t give up when there were words you didn’t know!” Find joy again in spending time with your child. Enjoy a special meal, just the two of you, with no nagging. Attend a concert or sporting event together. Let your child teach you a video game.

Reframe negative thoughts about your child. When your child struggles, stop and look at her in a new light, focusing on her strengths and talents. Remember that your child’s traits, which may not be valued in school, may be useful in the work world. Here are a few examples of reframing: Bossiness may be an indication of potential leadership skills. Hyperactivity may mean that your child can approach workplace projects with high energy and the ability to work longer on more projects. A strong-willed child brings tenacity to his job and career. And who knows? Maybe an argumentative child will one day be a great lawyer.

Recruit others to help you. Parents alone can’t fill this bank account, so enlist willing siblings, grandparents, relatives, friends, co-workers, coaches, teachers, or members of your religious group. If parents are lucky, grandparents can be their strongest and most helpful allies. By calling weekly via “FaceTime,” grandparents can be active in the child’s life when distance separates them.

Believe in the goodness of your child, encourage her, and show affection. Hugs, pats on the back, or holding her on your lap gives the child a sense of self worth. Take photos of your child when she is engaged in happy activities, and hang them on the refrigerator.

[Free Resource: What Not to Say to a Child with ADHD]

Identify and facilitate your child’s interests and talents. If your son is interested in sports, music, dance, drama, or debate, make certain he has a chance to participate in those joyful activities. The successes he will achieve doing something he loves put deposits in his emotional bank account.

Ensure your child’s school success. If your child is struggling and stressed by school, be a persistent detective and advocate. Work with the school to figure out what is causing the struggles. Up to 50 percent of our children with ADHD also have learning disabilities that are overlooked.

How Teachers Can Make Deposits

Greet each student by name as he or she comes into class.

Set the child up for success in the classroom. Talk to the student privately and have him answer the question that will be asked in class the next day. When students know the answer, they feel good about themselves.

Address and accommodate academic and executive function deficits.

Post the names of five students you’ve caught working hard or being kind on the board. Rotate names so everyone gets on the board.

Use “encouraging” words more than praise. Examples include: “Wow! You figured out how to do that.” “You did it. Tell me how you did it.” “This is hard for you, but you are sticking with it.” “Super progress.”

Create a booklet of students’ best work. Print and send the booklet home to parents during the holidays.

Visualize your child’s emotional bank account right now. Is it full or nearly empty? Your goal as parent, grandparent, or teacher is to make regular deposits in the child’s account. And if it gets low, you now know what to do.

Chris A. Zeigler Dendy, M.S., a member of ADDitude’s ADHD Medical Review Panel, is a former educator and school psychologist. She is the author of Teenagers with ADD & ADHD: A Guide for Parents. You can reach her at [email protected].

Advice for Teachers

Avoid sarcasm or criticizing a student in front of the class; drawing “frowny faces” or highlighting mistakes on papers with lots of red ink; making negative facial expressions or gestures; punishing a child for behaviors caused by his disability—inattention, forgetfulness, slow writing and reading, losing papers, and other executive function deficits.

Never withhold recess as punishment. Our children need downtime and outside activity to re-energize their brains. Having recess increases brain activity, resulting in better grades and behavior. The Centers for Disease Control is strongly against withholding recess for any reason.

[For Teachers: A Most Insightful Student Profile]

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