Parents of ADHD Children
Updated: Nov 16
“Stop moving so much!” “Can you calm down?” “I need you to focus!”
Do these sound familiar to you? If your answer was yes, my guess is that you are a parent of a hyperactive, overstimulated, imaginative child that is equipped with high amounts of energy and requires a little more patience from family, friends, teachers and most importantly, you.
You are their number one supporter and if you’re like me, you truly want the absolute best for your ADHD child; however, it can become overwhelming mentally, physically and emotionally which leads us to commands such as “Stop moving so much!” “Can you calm down?” “I need you to focus!” Am I right? Although these phrases may make us feel better and have no affect on us, research shows that statements such as these negatively influence the development of a child’s self-esteem. Clinical Psychologist Caroline Harvey said it best when she said “While having positive or negative self-talk is just part of being human, often times the self-talk that children develop comes from the patterns in which their parents and other loved ones speak to them. So it’s critical that we remain mindful of how we are interacting with our kids in terms of the words we use, the tone we express, and the messages that we convey to ensure that they consistently feel loved, respected, and well supported by parents no matter the situation.” To some degree, there are children who recognize their own limitations which in turn leads them to develop negative self views; however, it would not be beneficial for a child such as this to have negative inner critics from one’s that they have a biological connection with.
It’s challenging raising children with the superpower of ADHD and let’s be honest, we just want them to “act normal,” or “behave like the other kids.” As a mother of a 6 year old ADHD child, I have experienced these thoughts and felt guilty after having this thought but overtime, I have learned to give my son grace, accept the eccentricities associated with ADHD and realized that children with ADHD are unique in their own special way. So let’s talk about alternative ways to communicate with our children so that they are able to execute what we ask of them without affecting their self esteem. Ready, set, here we go!
“I need you to focus!”
Children with ADHD may not be able to comprehend the concept of controlling their bodies due to the differences in their brain - the prefrontal cortex to be exact. The prefrontal cortex of an ADHD child’s brain causes a delay in their executive functioning which makes it challenging for the child to regulate themselves. By saying “I need you to focus,” this may tell a child that you think they are intentionally choosing not to focus. Children may find it more difficult to believe in themselves if they feel that you don't think the same way. They could question whether they should be able to focus more effectively.
Here is an alternative statement that you can make:
“Even if it's difficult to concentrate, this task must be completed. It's okay if you need to take a break and return to it later.”
“Can you calm down?”
Anxiety makes it difficult to control feelings. Children diagnosed with ADHD may respond strongly before considering if those feelings are appropriate in the given circumstance. Telling children that their sentiments aren't acceptable makes it difficult for them to feel good about themselves. Furthermore, telling a child to calm down without offering to help them figure out how to do so can make them defensive.
Here is what you can say instead:
“I understand that you have strong feelings about this. When you're able to speak with me more calmly, we can discuss it.”
“Stop moving so much!”
It can demoralize children to be expected to control something they haven't yet mastered. And as a result, they might find it difficult to feel pleased about the moments when they have control. When they do manage to sit still, they might wonder if you notice.
Here’s an alternative:
"You're probably trying and I know it's not always easy for you to sit still. I think using one of your fidget items or tapping your feet would be a good idea for you. What do you think?”
Remember to give yourself as well as your children grace while practicing these techniques and always know that you are not alone in this!
Looking for additional strategies to support your child’s development of self-worth? Look no further:
If you would like to schedule an appointment with one of our therapists please click the link below.
Harvey, Caroline PsyD. (2019). The Way We Speak to our Children Becomes Their Inner Voice. Kurtz Psychology.