When parenting children with attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD), many individuals focus on the visible symptoms. These usually relate to children not paying attention and having trouble sitting still. While these are obviously key symptoms in ADHD, understanding in more depth what it is like for children with ADHD is important for effective parenting.
Since children experience ADHD symptoms differently, I encourage you to ask your child what it is like for him or her. Here are some insights—generalizations only—into how many children experience various aspects of ADHD:
- Listening skills: Many children with ADHD have significant difficulty listening to instructions or requests and following through on them. Such individuals likely hear the instruction/request to at least some degree, but don’t fully process it in a way that allows them to take action immediately. For many children, once they forget the instruction/request in the moment, it’s almost as if it never happened. Alternatively, some children remember the instruction/request but have trouble starting the task and are prone to procrastination.
- Thought processes: Many children with ADHD have thoughts in their head that are jumbled, almost like a snow globe that is shaken. They have a bunch of things on their mind or things that they want to communicate, but the mental disorganization makes them difficult to pull out and express.
- Hyperactivity: Many children who have difficulty sitting still or controlling their impulses feel helpless because they may try to regulate their actions but prove unsuccessful. They may feel strong urges to act on impulses and lack the willpower to stop themselves. Many children take action before even thinking about whether they should take that action. As a result, children often become very frustrated in their inability to sit still and regulate their impulses appropriately. Getting into trouble at school or at home for their actions can make them feel worse, and has the potential over time to lead to feelings of sadness associated with depression. In addition, children may develop anxiety about their inability to regulate their actions.
- Motivation: Many parents of children with ADHD perceive their children as lazy. Even children with ADHD sometimes view themselves as lazy. While individuals with ADHD may appear lazy, in fact it may be that such individuals lack adequate stimulation to carry out tasks that they are not interested in. Some children with ADHD can sit for hours playing video games, especially fast-paced action games. Some children can sit and read for hours and hyperfocus. However, these same children often have trouble focusing in school and can’t devote the same focus to tasks that are not so interesting. This difficulty frustrates both children and parents.
Living with ADHD is often not easy for children and parents alike. However, gaining a clearer understanding of how your child experiences ADHD symptoms, getting him or her proper support (behavior therapy, medication if appropriate, extra support in school), and providing strong structure/parenting skills at home can make a huge difference in helping a child to cope effectively with symptoms. With proper support, which is greatly helped by early behavioral intervention, children with ADHD can learn to cope effectively with symptoms, minimize later mental health issues such as depression or anxiety related to ADHD, and achieve their full potential. Finally, the large number of doctors, attorneys, mental health professionals, business owners, and individuals in other fields with ADHD suggests that with proper support, individuals don’t have to let symptoms impede them from achieving their long-term goals.
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