‘Sorry, Son, You Have ADHD’: Ending the Excuses

shadow of parent holding hand of childParents often focus so much on their children and teens having attention-deficit hyperactivity (ADHD) that they lose sight of the specific symptoms. As a result, many parents tell their kids that they cannot do something because they have ADHD. Other parents may continually remind their children about their diagnosis. Both of these parenting tactics can lead kids over time to internalize negative perceptions of themselves. In some cases, children and teens, and even adults, may learn to use having ADHD as an excuse to avoid doing certain things or attribute negative behaviors to it.

Clearly, all of this focus on having ADHD can lead to short- and long-term negative consequences. Therefore, it is important that parents focus on specific difficulties that their child or teen has in a domain, rather than blaming everything on ADHD. For instance, if you do not want your 10-year-old to walk with his or her friends to a local convenience store after school, it is recommended that you explain your concerns instead of saying, “You can’t go because you have ADHD.” It may be that your child is not attentive to watching for traffic, so you are concerned that he or she will not be careful when crossing the street. As another example, if you do not want your 13-year-old to go to the mall with his or her friends without adult supervision, explain why. It may be that he/she is impulsive, and you worry about your teen being disruptive or otherwise getting into trouble.

It is also important to look at ways to assist your child/teen to allow him or her to participate in age-appropriate activities. Related to this, you should also determine ways for your child or teen to prove to you that he or she is capable of participating in the desired activity without difficulty. Using the example above of the 10-year-old who wants to go to the convenience store with his or her friends, one could handle the situation in the following manner: Sit down with your child and explain your concerns about his or her ability to watch for traffic. Then, provide opportunities in a controlled environment to prove that he or she can watch for traffic. You could do this by having your child walk places with you and take the lead when crossing the street. Of course, if he or she starts darting out into traffic, stop and discuss the situation in the moment, if possible. Once you feel comfortable that your child can watch for traffic in your presence, have him or her practice crossing the street when with you and a few friends. At 10 years old, it is fairly age appropriate to be walking places with an adult.

Only use the situation with your child’s friends and you if it is deemed age appropriate. For instance, if you are having the same issue with a 17-year-old, it would be much less appropriate to make him or her practice crossing the street with you and his/her friends. Also, when helping your child practice crossing the street in this situation with friends, don’t mention to the friends that you are helping your child practice crossing the street safely. Once your child proves that he or she can cross the street safely with you and friends, consider letting him/her walk independently with friends provided that he/she does not have to cross any major intersections. After a small amount of time being able to walk independently and proving that he or she is capable of being careful, you could allow your child to walk places with friends that involve crossing busier streets.

With the examples above, the point is to explain your rationale to your child or teen if you feel uncomfortable letting him or her do something. It is important that the explanation revolve around specific skills rather than concerns about having ADHD. Furthermore, it is important to discuss ways to improve these skills and then demonstrate success with them. Taking this approach, along with other strategies, will help improve your child’s confidence and make him or her less likely to fall prey to negative self-perceptions due to having ADHD.

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Carey Heller, PsyD, ADHD: Inattention, Impulsivity, and Hyperactivity Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Allison

    June 10th, 2014 at 3:43 PM

    It is one thing to make them aware of the diagnosis because knowing about it is what will help them to manage and overcome it. But to constantly use it as an excuse for bad behavior or for poor grades is not the route that you want to take with your kids.
    I understand that the temptation must be there to always have this as an excuse to fall back on but over time of the parents allow this to happen then the kids are going to do that too. When they do, there is no way that they will ever live up to their full potential because they will come to suspect that they don’t have to have this expectation for themselves to achieve success.
    You don’t want your kids to underachieve just because they don’t think that there are any other options available for them.

  • Katie

    June 10th, 2014 at 5:10 PM

    With children like this you have to find a way to continue to help them believe that thet have a sense of control over this. This is not something that has to make them feel like they are socially or academically drowning. This is a way that they can learn from an early age that things can be hard but if you also work hard it you can discover new ways of thinking and organizing and learning new things about yourself that can help to keep you on track and grounded. This does not have to be that one big thing in their lives or the thing that coems to define who they are; but it can be that one thing that teaches them more about themselves and that can show them that they are not powerless, that they are strong and that this can be beaten.

  • Connie V

    June 11th, 2014 at 4:10 AM

    I don’t agree with using it as an excuse for poor behavior or work ethic but it does at least give you a name for what is happening and gives you something to focuson correcting, and not just randomly thinking that you have this bad kid who won’t behave.

  • ozzy

    June 11th, 2014 at 12:47 PM

    Many times the parents are searching for answers and within those answers they also start using excuses for why the child does this or that.

    It is time to stop using excuses and instead give the children tools that they need to cope and work on their problems. Teach them skills that they need that will actually get them someplace in life and not just an excuse that other people will one day get tired of hearing about.

    We all have problems we have to overcome, some are different than others, and it is all about coming to terms with what those problems are in your own life and devloping methods for not letting them control you.

  • SuSaN

    June 12th, 2014 at 4:22 AM

    I want my children to be successful in the face of adversity. Doesn’t a challenge such as this give you the opportunity to teach them how to do just that?

  • martin

    June 13th, 2014 at 2:42 PM

    You don’t know how many times I hear the excuses like this and they absolutley drive me crazy! It is like we have given people permission to not try their best, to not want to strive to be the best all because that takes an awful lot of hard work. Yep it does- it does take work and life can be a challenge, but it can also be a reward too.

  • Jamie

    June 14th, 2014 at 5:26 AM

    I have a very hard time with the parents who always seem to be making excuses for their kids, saying that they do these things or act this way because of whatever has happened to them or something that they have. When did ADHD becoem this catch all type of excuse? When I was in school, yes it was something that identified maybe some learning and behavioral difficulties, but nothing that really extended beyond the classroom. I am lucky in that I have three great kids who don’t have these problems in school, but I would hope that if any of them did I would not use this as an excuse for them to run wild and be brats. But I think that this is happening to many families and the kids are definitely going to buy into it, because hey, it kind of gives them free reign to do whatever they want to do and usually with very few consequences.

  • mel

    June 16th, 2014 at 4:23 AM

    give the kids tools to use when confronted with these frustrations, not excuses that won’t go very far

  • Carey Heller, Psy.D.

    June 16th, 2014 at 2:07 PM

    Thanks a lot for sharing your thoughts on this issue.

  • Jenn

    June 19th, 2014 at 6:50 PM

    Thank you for this post, I relate. I put my son on Truehope EMPowerplus and it worked wonders. I never wanted to put him on amphetamine (ridalin).

    Here’s the link, they have lots of scientific studies too.


  • 22--Nick

    June 9th, 2015 at 10:35 PM

    Had my parents accepted the fact I had issues like this, and didn’t accept the way I was and try and see past the negative, I would have killed myself. Lol you can’t go to the store with your friends cause you have ADD. What parent would say that in a million years!

    People with ADHD or whatever you want to call it have very high abilities for things….no need to remind them how to do normal day to day things those without ADD have.

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