Our thoughts greatly influence how we feel and behave. Unhelpful ways of thinking, also known as cognitive distortions, can keep you locked in a negative state. Below are common cognitive distortions you may engage in subconsciously, and strategies to help you reframe your thinking. Note that changing your thought patterns will take time and effort — don’t expect change overnight!
Having rules about how you or other people “should” or “must” behave all but guarantees anger and frustration when things don’t happen as expected (or demanded). Mistakes might be devastating to you if you think you “should” avoid them at all costs. (An impossibility.) Thinking that your child with ADHD “should” be able to do things like neurotypical children do could bring up negative feelings on both sides.
How to Challenge “Shoulds”
- Adjust your standards to be more realistic. Think: “Can I accept myself as I am right now? Can I accept others as they are?”
- Switch from “should” to “wish” or “prefer”
- Be kind to yourself if you are not living up to your standards. Say, “I’m doing my best and everyone makes mistakes.”
All-or-Nothing Thinking, Labeling, and Overgeneralizing
“Today was terrible.”
“My child always has tantrums.”
“This is never going to work.”
“I am a bad parent.”
Thinking in extremes is a telltale sign of all-or-nothing thinking that makes issues worse than they might be. Similarly, when you give labels to yourself or others, you ignore individual complexities and overlook the possibility for change. To challenge these distortions, think in shades of gray. Look for contradicting evidence (no matter how small) for a more balanced perspective on a situation. Do you or others really fit the label you’ve assigned?
Filtering happens when you pay far too much attention to the negative and ignore the positive or neutral. Many ADHD families inadvertently engage in this thought pattern, where the focus becomes a child’s challenging behaviors. This is why behavior training programs teach parents to catch their child's positive behaviors. Noticing the good will lead to positive thoughts and behaviors toward your child and yourself.