When Your Child Wants to Give Up
It can be especially hard for children and teens with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) to stay motivated and build self-esteem. Try these four tips for improving negative thinking and offering praise when your child needs it most.
Ryan walked into my office with his head down. “What’s wrong?” I asked. He said, “I can’t do anything right, and I don’t care anymore. Maybe I should just give up.”
Many parents of children and preteens report problems with keeping their kids confident and motivated. It’s a heartbreaking fact that children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) face more than the usual share of adversity — trouble at school, difficulty making friends. And parents unwittingly add to a child’s feeling of never getting anything right by correcting more often than praising. How can you keep your child from giving up?
- Re-think negative thinking. Help your child with ADHD realize that bad thinking habits make him feel more like giving up. The next time your child expresses discouragement, ask, “What can you say to yourself that would be better?” Encourage him to reframe something he views as a defeat by saying, “What would it take for me to get through this challenge?”
- Outsource some praise. Enlist the help of other adults in your child’s world. Some children say to me, “Of course my mom says I’m great. She has to — she’s my mom.” If an aunt or neighbor makes a positive comment, it may have more weight. You can also let your child overhear you telling a friend about progress she’s made, or a funny thing she did or said, rather than praise her directly.
- Build up an area of success. To improve self-esteem, encourage your child to engage in an activity that he does well and feels good about doing. Twelve-year-old Bill was obsessed with computer games. His parents had been trying to ban computer use, but we instead decided to make it a reward for finishing his schoolwork. Bill’s parents also found a special summer camp that focused on computer gaming. He loved it. He now studies computer programming at college and is doing well.
- Make a plan and a back-up plan. If your child comes home with an “I give up” attitude, sit down for a heart-to-heart and make a plan. Discuss several options and remind her that, if the first plan fails, another can take its place. Focus on action and the fact that the child can help solve her own problem, rather than just assuring her that you think she’s wonderful.
When Susan confided, “Nobody likes me,” her mom said, “Let’s talk about what you can try.” Together they made a list of girls Susan could invite to their house. The first two on the list had other plans, but, to Susan’s surprise, the third girl said, “Sure.” Susan had listed the “popular” girls first, but found that there were other girls who would be happy to have more friends. If she accepted them as they were, they, in turn, seemed to look past her occasionally impulsive or loud behavior. She learned that trying a different approach, rather than giving up, was the answer.