Teaching My Kid to Cope: Lessons from a Dad with ADHD
When my daughter, who also has ADHD, came to me with a problem, I swore I would be there for her this time — and not wing it.
One of my daughters recently confided to me that when she is bored, she gets depressed. Unfortunately, she confided just as I was getting ready to leave, preparing my other daughter’s medicine, and thinking about dinner. I froze in panic. This conversation now? But, but, but…
I let her know that I understood what she was experiencing and that I wanted to talk to her about it more fully when I came back. I let her talk about her feelings and frustrations while I scurried around the kitchen, always making eye contact with her. What a precious child! I didn’t dare let my ADHD autopilot do any substitute parenting on an issue this important.
Once I flew out the door, I started to think about the problem. How exactly do I help her? Part of the problem was that I didn’t have her problem. The other problem was that I don’t let myself get bored. It is possible that I struggled with boredom when I was her age, but I had gained the coping strategy to overcome it so long ago that it was part of my auto response now, like breathing. Just giving her my coping strategies and calling it good was like giving her directions to the store when what she wanted was a ride. To help her understand how to manage her ADHD and depression, I needed to break the coping strategies into their basic components.
Giving a child advice on how to handle ADHD is different from giving an adult advice. Maturity levels and personality affect the condition profoundly. What I have learned through trial and error is that what is easy for me might be difficult for another, especially a child. The following steps helped me help my daughter:
> Validate your child’s experience by listening, echoing back what they say, and making eye contact. Don’t let your ADHD autopilot ruin an opportunity to bond with your child. Take time to do it right. In this case, I listened to my daughter describe the difficulties she had staying focused in school. I let her know I could relate, and we shared boredom stories. I let her know she wasn’t alone, and helped her laugh about it.
> Break the challenge down to basics, and personalize it. I find I need to think back to the moment before I implemented a coping strategy to explain the thinking process leading up to it. Without being able to explain why or how that particular coping strategy worked, my suggestions are useless to my kids. It’s also important to adapt my coping strategy to their situation. Children often lack the ability to extrapolate from abstract concepts on their own.
My daughter needed suggestions on how to stay focused in class when the lecture bored her. I told her that boredom was a part of life for everybody, and, more so, if you have ADHD. We needed to figure out a way to refresh her stamina when her attention wavered. I had already given her a notebook with room for doodles. We discussed several other productive things she could do, like using a colored pen, to keep her intellect engaged during the duller moments.
> Be patient. You’re teaching your child how to think differently. Imagine how hard it is for a kid lacking your experience to develop new habits while kicking bad ones, all while having the attention span of a butterfly in a field of flowers. Even if you’re frustrated, don’t let it show. Your child needs healthy self-esteem to tackle these issues.
> Follow up and ask questions. A child with ADHD may not remember to follow up on how things are going. She may have struggled with your advice, but she isn’t sure why. She may be ashamed or afraid to tell you that your shining pearls of wisdom didn’t help her. Following up and asking questions teaches a child about self-analysis while also helping you better identify the problem. I asked my daughter after a few days if the colored pen I gave her to doodle with helped her stay focused. It did! We also touched on the other techniques we discussed, so she remembered to keep them in mind.
As I have been writing for years, pills don’t teach skills. However, skills don’t teach themselves, either. We serve our children best when we take time to respond carefully to their needs. They can be similar to us, but they are individuals and will require unique solutions to their problems.