Guest Blogs

The Truth Will Set Parents Free

Children with ADHD have a much younger developmental age than calendar age. Here’s how parents can learn what to expect.

Parents are guided by the calendar age of their kids to set expectations for them. When your child has a neurodevelopmental disorder like ADHD, that societal wisdom points your compass too far north.

Kids with ADHD are two to three years behind their peers in maturity and in other developmental markers. Age-appropriate expectations are then two to three years ahead of their capability. It’s so important to remember that gap when setting expectations and doling out discipline. Our expectations need to be guided by our child’s development, not his calendar age.

Discovering the right expectations for your child is what I call learning your child’s truth. It involves reading all you can about ADHD and any other conditions he has; documenting and studying his behavior to find patterns and to determine triggers; and learning what motivates him. It’s a long process but, until you discover and accept your child’s truth, you cannot parent him effectively.

Accepting your child’s truth has a big effect on his self-esteem. If you always ask him to meet expectations that are beyond his capability, he will feel incapable and misunderstood. Those feelings lead to anger, outbursts, and other unwanted behaviors.

When you accept a child’s truth, when you know where he is in terms of his development, you support him, show unconditional love, and boost his self-esteem.

Use this activity (found in my book, What to Expect When You’re Not Expecting ADHD) to help discover your child’s truth, positive and negative.

1. List your child’s strengths — ask him or her to help you with this.

2. List your child’s struggles and weaknesses — be specific.

3. Write down ways that you can nurture each of his strengths on the list.

4. Write down ways you can enhance lagging skills and offer scaffolding and support for each weakness and struggle on the list.

I have worked very hard over the last seven years to discover my son’s, Ricochet’s, truth. I know him very well at this point. It took a long time, but I now know what he needs. Getting schools to accept that wisdom continues to be a battle.

Ricochet has been feeling lots of anxiety at school during the last few months. A couple of weeks ago, he harmed himself at school (made himself bleed on purpose) in order to try to go home early. Self-harm behaviors are a manifestation of anxiety, and are also crisis behaviors. Crisis behaviors occur when expectations are greater than capability.

Unfortunately, the school doesn’t accept that. They see that he is super smart, and they expect him to perform to that level, despite his multiple diagnosed learning disabilities and his blatant struggles to meet their expectations. They try to get him to perform by telling him he will have to do the work again if he doesn’t do it right the first time. They think this is an acceptable strategy to get topnotch work out of him. I, and Ricochet’s therapist, know that it is making things worse.

I have worked hard to discover and accept Ricochet’s truth, but the school has refused to do so in many meetings and e-mail discussions this school year. Hopefully, you will see the results of discovering your child’s truth at home and in school.