Self Esteem

Q: “ADHD Has Made Me Self-Critical. How Can I Teach My Child Differently?”

“The first rule of thumb for managing ADHD: Put down the stick.” And other strategies for cultivating self-compassion, especially when you’re raising a child with ADHD.

Black mother and daughter hugging. Self-compassion. Bonding.
Black mother and daughter hugging. Self-compassion. Bonding.

Q: “I have ADHD, and I’m the parent of a child who also has ADHD. Living with ADHD has made me super self-critical, and I don’t want to pass this way of thinking onto my child. How can I teach my child differently? How can I model for them what it looks like to manage ADHD with self-compassion?”

I was diagnosed with ADHD in my 40s, after my kids were all diagnosed one by one like dominoes. (I figured there was no way my husband could be solely responsible for all of their neurology!) So that’s when I went in for an evaluation, and I was diagnosed with learning and attention issues.

I cried for a few weeks after the diagnosis, and then … my whole life made sense. I understood why I had done everything in my life. Honestly, I was amazed by how much I had accommodated for myself all this time, without knowing I had ADHD.

[Read: Your After-Diagnosis Acceptance Guide]

But, like you, I realized that I had also spent most of my life beating myself up. Many of us with ADHD, regardless of our age at diagnosis, learn to hit ourselves over the head with a stick to get ourselves to do anything. We get really good at being tough with ourselves as a kind of motivator. Sadly, this is often the only motivator we’ve ever known. But it’s not exactly a healthy approach.

Cultivating Self-Compassion with ADHD

The first rule of thumb for managing adult ADHD, I believe, is to put down the stick. You’ve got to give yourself permission to be gentle with yourself, and allow yourself space to heal from the stick’s blows. Maybe you can transform the stick into a magic wand and shift your way of being with yourself.

To model for your child what it looks like to thrive with ADHD, I encourage you to be transparent about your everyday challenges and how you navigate them, especially when your child is struggling. It’s powerful to say, “I get that this is hard for you. It’s hard for me, too. This is how it shows up for me, and these are the kinds of things I do to help myself manage.”

This conveys to your child that no one — not even their parents — are perfect. Give your child permission to see you try, fail, and try again, so they can practice failing forward, too, instead of feeling like they have to know all the answers. You might say something like, “I tried that, but it didn’t work, so next time I’m going to try this and see how that goes.”

[Read: Silence Your Harshest Critic — Yourself]

Managing neurodivergence is an ongoing process of figuring out what works for you. So try not to sweat the outcomes. Instead, focus on the process of trying, learning, tweaking, and modifying to find the systems, tools, and strategies that make life easier for you. When you model what it looks like to manage ADHD with self-forgiveness and self-compassion, your child will thank you for it.

Self-Compassion and ADHD: Next Steps

The content for this article was derived, in part, from the ADDitude ADHD Experts webinar titled, “5 Life Skills Every ADHD Young Adult Needs to Cultivate” [Video Replay & Podcast #450] with Elaine Taylor-Klaus, CPCC, MCC and Diane Dempster, MHSA, CPC, PCC, which was broadcast on April 13, 2023.

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