By Ben Glenn
When a child is diagnosed and labeled with any kind of disorder, this can be just as hard on the parent as it is on the child. As a parent, I know first-hand that there are few things as frustrating, scary and unwelcome as the news that something is wrong with my kid.
Now that I’m a parent, I really feel for my parents. They had it rough with me from the get go.
I decided to come into the world a full two months early and was stuck in an incubator in the hospital for weeks hooked up to all kinds of tubes and wires. After getting released from the hospital, I continued to struggle with asthma.
When I was diagnosed with a learning disability in the third grade, I’m sure my parents were wondering what else was going to go wrong with me. Between trying to put food on the table and keeping up with three active boys, my parents had their hands full and the last thing they needed or wanted was a “special needs” child.
Looking back, I know that my parents did the best they could for me. My mom in particular encouraged me and took an interest in my schooling, but both her and my dad knew very little, if anything about learning disabilities and absolutely nothing about ADD/ADHD. In 1981, when I was put into the special ed classroom, ADD had been known as ADD for just one year, renamed as it was from the completely confusing “Hyperkinetic Disorder of Childhood.” I was not physically hyperactive, so my ADD remained unrecognized until I was an adult, but I spent my school years with my brain racing, my attention wandering and my productivity severely impaired. It was all blamed on my LD, but deep down I knew there was more to it.
Thankfully, now, resources are plentiful and accessible, so you must get actively involved in your child’s quest to manage their ADD/ADHD.
Tips for parents
- Read everything you can get your hands on about ADD/ADHD. Educate yourself first and foremost. Know what options, rights and opportunities your child has open to her. Also, get out and meet and network with parents of other ADD/ADHD children. It can be a wonderful and uplifting experience to be around people who know what you’re going through and other parents can be a great source of ideas and information to help you help your child.
- Make yourself available to share with your child what you know about ADD/ADHD. (You need to be sensitive in your approach based on your chiId’s age and personality. For example, a younger child may need for you to take the initiative to sit down and have “a talk,” ‘whereas a teenager may need more “space” and you should wait for them to come to you to have the conversation). Don’t sugar coat or omit important information, but also, don’t scare them or over-dramatize. The idea is to give your child a sense of control by providing relevant information that will help demystify their diagnosis and prevent their over-active imaginations from going wild.
- Examine your own attitude towards ADD/ADHD and how you now view your child. Are you disappointed? Scared? Angry? Take the time to be aware of any negative feelings and to figure out why you feel the way you do. I know this sounds all touchy feely, but the truth is unless you understand what’s going through your own mind, you won’t be able to offer your child the Ievel of support and encouragement that he needs in order to successfully bring his ADD/ADHD under control. Set aside any expectations and ambitions you may have had for your son or daughter and encourage them to pursue those interests where they show the greatest aptitude and giftedness…even if they are non-traditional or unorthodox.
- Pay particular attention to your child’s self-esteem and work hard lo boost it at every turn. Praise her when she succeeds at even the smallest thing. Remember that ADDers love praise and thrive on recognition. It may be very hard to find praise-worthy things about her, but you must try. This is crucial.
- Involve your child in any decision-making you can. Anything from what brand cookies to buy at the supermarket to the best place in the house for him to do homework. Kids generally feel like they have no say in anything anyway; A diagnosis of any perceived disability will only convince him further that his life is completely out of his control. This may lead to an attitude of apathy, causing your offspring to use the word “whatever,” far more frequently than you can handle. Offering opportunities to make decisions (and then live with the consequences of those decisions), should help him begin to gain a sense of ownership and control over his life.
- If the “techniques” and “strategies” you have been using to help your child are not working, don’t be afraid to try something different. It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because your child is the one with the challenge that she should be the one to make changes in her behavior, but this is counter productive thinking. It’s up to the adults to be creative and think outside the box. Sometimes only after we make changes in our attitudes and behaviors can we open the door for our child to respond in a positive way.
- Create a fun reward system. Along with generous praise, kids with ADD/ADHD are motivated and respond very well to tangible displays of frequent appreciation.
- The parent with the best organizational abilities should partner up with their child to help them set realistic goals in any and all areas of their life. Breakdown big tasks into small chunks and celebrate the completion of every stage of the project. Consistency in doing this will give your child an opportunity to experience and savor the feeling of “success” and accomplishment. That is a reward in itself and will serve to motivate him to continue setting goals.
- Watch what you say to your chiId and how you say it. Become aware of your tone and facial expressions when speaking with her. ADDers are notoriously sensitive and perceptive – they will pick up on the smallest nuances of negativity or sarcasm and spend hours obsessing about the conversation. Never put down or tease your child – they will be hurt deeply and it will take one hundred kind words to undo one negative one. Build ’em up, don’t break ’em down.
- It is entirely possible that you yourself have ADD/ADHD. It runs in families (my mom and both brothers have it). If so, take it easy on yourself. Take the time out to reward yourself for being the best parent you can be. Take a break from your parental responsibilities, even if just for the afternoon, and treat yourself to some “me” time. Parents need to be praised and rewarded as well for all our hard work.
About the author: While in grade school, Ben Glenn was diagnosed with dyslexia and other learning disabilities. After being diagnosed with ADHD as an adult, he immersed himself in the study of ADHD, ultimately developing his simple and easy-to-understand approach, a radical, yet informative, departure from the scholarly books and experts who have come before him. Ben travels the country and globe, speaking to thousands sharing his personal experiences with ADHD. He is the author of “Simply Special, Learning to Love Your ADHD” as well as a three-part guidebook series developed for parents and teachers. He resides in Indianapolis with his wife and two children. For more information, visit www.SimpleADHDExpert.com.