Parents 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.
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