Positive Parenting

10 Things You Should Never Say to Your Child

Parents aren’t perfect, and we all wish we could take back some things we’ve said to our kids in the heat of the moment. But there are some things you should absolutely NOT say to a child with ADHD — no matter how angry you get.

A child with ADHD cries over hurtful comments from a parent or a friend.
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The Most Hurtful Comments

People say some pretty insensitive things. ADHD myths and misinformation don't help. People blame us or our kids for behaviors controlled by the condition, and we know it's wrong. But sometimes frustrating behaviors can push even the most loving parents to say things we quickly regret. Here, our readers shared some of the words that should never be used to discipline an child with ADHD — no matter what.

A dunce cap in a classroom represents the shame many children with ADHD feel over being called stupid.
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'You're Stupid.'

"Are you really that stupid/lazy/crazy? Stop being so lazy! You know what you're doing! How many times do I have to show you? Etc. etc. etc." – Renae

"Stupid, dumb, retarded anything that attacks them personally. 'Always' is a word I try to avoid. I try my best, but we have an understanding that, just like my son gets overwhelmed, sometimes mom does, too. We use my mistakes as learning tools." – Kathy

Low self-esteem and shame impact many children with ADHD who spend their school days struggling to fit a round peg into a square hole. Boost your child's confidence with these tips.

Upset girl with ADHD frowning with mother in background disciplining
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'I Love You, But...'

"Never, ever say '...but...' it should be 'I love you AND I can't let you...,' or, 'You made a bad choice AND I love you enough to...'" – Elyzabeth

"I always pause at the 'but' because I know the second I let it out, he takes all the negative to heart. 'AND' is a great, practical alternative!" –Jennifer

"When a child with ADHD receives a drop or two of praise, it's like rain in the desert. He drinks it in, revels in it," says Dr. Ned Hallowell. Here are his tips for using positive reinforcement more effectively.

[Free Download: 13 Parenting Strategies for Kids with ADHD]

A unique pencil in a bunch of boring ones symbolizes the creativity of the ADHD brain
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'Why Can't You Be Normal?'

"Why can't you be like the other kids?" – Trischia

"Don't ever say 'What's wrong with you?!'" – Eleanor

"Never ever tell them, 'You're not normal.' That is horrible. I have heard it said to a kid, and it totally pissed me off!" – Christina

The social struggles faced by many children with ADHD stem from a feeling of being different and standing out — in a not-so-good way — from the other kids at school. Teach your child that his differences make him interesting and give him the social skills to make friends with other kids who will appreciate his strengths.

Girl with ADHD looking frustrated and grabbing at hair while trying to read
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'If Only You'd Apply Yourself...'

"I try not to say, 'If you'd only apply yourself,' and 'Just focus.' It doesn't work that way with ADHD." – Janet

"You're not even trying." –Mikala

"I was always asked, 'You're so smart and talented! Why can't you just do the work?' My answer was always, 'I don't know.' [Insert long, confusing conversation and emotional meltdown here.]"
– Bridget

Focus is not a matter of willpower for kids and adults with ADHD. It is controlled by brain chemistry. The ADHD brain makes fewer neurotransmitters, like dopamine, which control focus and mood. 'Trying harder' won't change that, but diet and exercise can help.

A parent gives her child a daily dose of ADHD medication.
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'Clearly, You Didn't Take Your Meds Today.'

"Everyone in my house including myself has gotten used to saying,'You didn't take your medicine today did you?' or 'We should've given you your medicine today.' It really hurts his feelings, so we've been trying to correct everyone from doing that." – Mandy

Though ADHD symptoms are sparked by brain chemistry, your child need not feel powerless against them. Teach her about the neurological and physical benefits of a high-protein, low-sugar diet, as well as regular exercise and ADHD-friendly vitamins and supplements.

A sad boy with ADHD sits on the stairs hiding his face
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'I Wouldn't Wish an ADHD Child on Anyone.'

"Worse than, 'I hope you have kids just like yourself,' is, 'I wouldn't wish kids like you on anyone.' That's traumatizing to hear." – Rayne

"Don't ever question your ADHD daughter's ability to become a parent. She'll waste most of her life believing she
'shouldn't' because she can't handle it." – Julie

Justin Timberlake has it. So does Channing Tatum, Lisa Ling, and Karina Smirnoff. In fact, the list of really accomplished people — and parents — with ADHD is long. Share it with your child and challenge him to reach for the stars.

[“None of Us Were Trained How to Be Good Parents”]

A teenage girl with ADHD feels ashamed about her symptoms and sits quietly alone
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'You Should Be Ashamed.'

"I grew up hearing, 'You should be ashamed of yourself' daily. So I was, very ashamed of myself. As an adult with ADHD now I find I'm still fighting low self-confidence and poor self-esteem. It's hard to overcome those old messages." – Joy

"It is estimated that those with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages by age 12 than those without the condition. They view themselves as fundamentally different and flawed," says ADHD expert Dr. Ned Hallowell. Here, he offers advice for overcoming the shame that too often accompanies ADHD.

A child with ADHD arm wrestles with his father.
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'You're Just Like Your Father.'

"Never ever ever NEVER say, 'If I'd known he would get custody of you, I never would have married your father!' I just heard this over the weekend. When parents go through a divorce, it's best to remain neutral to the kids, and avoid talking badly about the other." – Kimberly

Children with ADHD do best when their lives have a predictable and familiar routine. Divorce can be wholly disturbing, and send symptoms into a tailspin. Here are tips for establishing a schedule for every day, even the weekends at Dad's.

Teen girl with ADHD whispering something in ear of friend who is laughing
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[Insert Wisecrack Here.]

"Never, ever laugh at the irrational things that come out of their mouths that they are serious about. We had one heartbroken kid and my husband still feels terrible about it." – Patrice

"I think one of the things a parent should never do is make fun of it or use it as the basis for a wisecrack. That hurts. A lot." – Bob

Humor is not altogether bad. Here are tips for harnessing humor to help both you and your child reduce stress and take ADHD symptoms in stride.

Hate crossed out in favor of love for your child with ADHD.
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'I Hate You.'

"My friend has a son with ADHD and, in a moment of frustration, she said 'I hate you.' It's really hard for those on the outside to understand how frustrating ADHD can be. It's important to try to understand that kids can't control their behavior." – Jennifer

"When my kid says 'I hate you,' I say, 'You ain't no peach either. Go to your room and think about why you're so mad and talk to me when you're ready.' Sometimes it works and I'll receive an apology." – Lori

A red heart with a Band-Aid that represents the damage that hurtful comments can do to a child with ADHD
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DO Tell Them This

"It can be so exhausting, but, 'I love you no matter what' helps." – Kari

"We celebrate my son's uniqueness at home. By 5th grade he really embraced it and is happy with who he is." – Melanie

"Of course I have said the wrong things. I always apologize and tell my kids I made a huge mistake and I'll try harder. Lots of love and a hug go a long way. We all screw up, forgive yourself and try again tomorrow." –Tracy

[Top Strategies for Positive Parenting]

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