No child is perfect. In fact, it’s their imperfections that influence their personalities and really make them who they are. A diagnosis of AD(H)D is no different. It just means that you have to parent that child differently from your other children.
In many ways, the first step is complete! You know that your child has a different way of approaching the world, of learning and of controlling his or her emotions. Now it’s up to you to shift your approach in order to help your child navigate life more effectively and to the best of his/ her ability. Below is a short list of ways to approach this new diagnosis.
Attention Deficit Disorder isn’t the end of the world, although it may feel overwhelming initially. There are many effective treatments to investigate and a great deal of support available. Try to look at the diagnosis as a positive thing. You now have a better understanding as to why your child can’t follow directions like others, why he may be more impulsive than other children, and why she can’t organize and plan like her siblings and cousins. Take a deep breath and recognize that your child is the same wonderful one you’ve always had. You now can be better armed to help him be even better.
Understand the diagnosis
AD(H)D presents differently in everyone. While one child might be more inattentive, another might be more impulsive. One child can organize and another can’t remember a list of instructions. It’s important to understand all the different facets of the diagnosis and how it specifically impacts your child. As noted, all children are different, so you’ll want to clarify which symptoms impact your child specifically and tailor treatment to her.
There are many effective treatments for AD(H)D: for the individual, for the family and within a school setting. Although many believe that medication is the best and most effective intervention, don’t overestimate it. We want children to learn self-modulation and self-control on their own, and not to rely solely on external factors for managing themselves. That’s not to say that medication doesn’t often play an important part in treating AD(H)D. But it’s not the only intervention to consider.
Psychotherapy, especially Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), is often recommended to help those with AD(H)D. It teaches strategies that help an individual identify the thoughts she’s having, connect those thoughts with behaviors and learn how to shift them.
Social skills groups are also often recommended, as frequently, children with AD(H)D don’t read social cues well. Incorporating a group that helps teach these skills has proven incredibly effective.
Additionally, effective parenting is a huge piece of helping children manage their AD(H)D diagnosis. Getting support as to how to change past parenting behaviors, such as learning the difference between punishment and discipline or working with the strengths of your child and managing frustration, is key in translating the work to the home environment. Lastly, work with your child’s teachers to implement any accommodations that might help him succeed academically and socially.
Involve your child
Your child needs to know about his diagnosis. This will help normalize it and allow him to take ownership of the strategies he’ll be learning. Knowing that there’s a reason he has trouble focusing or is impulsive will also be a source of relief for him, especially if he’s frequently yelled at or disciplined for behaviours that he can’t control.
Work with him to understand what AD(H)D is and how it impacts him. Help him to articulate what he needs by way of support and how you can provide that. Encourage him to recognize how this can be a positive diagnosis and how to work within his strengths. Awareness is really important in helping your child feel comfortable with what’s happening and how to be the best he can.
Focus on the positive
It can be challenging to manage the changes that come with having a child diagnosed with AD(H)D. You’ll have to shift some of the parenting strategies you’ve used in the past. In fact, you may have to change them altogether. Remember to take some deep breaths and look at the strengths in your child. Identify how the AD(H)D makes your child unique and different and how she can use that to her advantage. Although there’ll be bumps in the road, if you can keep a positive attitude about it, it’ll all fall into place.
Peter weighs in
Jen has some really good points here. I’m reminded of the line that Mister Rogers used to explain tragedies to children: “Always look for the helpers.” It’s the same thing here. We’re trying to find the positives in ADHD, and if you truly look for them, you’ll find them to be amazingly plentiful. Those are the lessons you can impart to your child: “Your differences make you better.”
There are hundreds of thousands of successful people thriving in their lives thanks to, not despite, their ADHD.
I’d add one suggestion to Jen’s very helpful points above: Try to find some success stories for your child. One of the key points I hear repeated over and over by people who email me after listening to my podcast is that they can finally explain to their child that they’re not alone. They’re not “bad,” or “broken,” and there are hundreds of thousands of successful people thriving in their lives thanks to, not despite, their ADHD. It’s going to take a lot of explaining, and a lot of repeating. Finding success stories can definitely help.
I remember the days of elementary and junior high school for me. Not fun times. My Mom and Dad would constantly repeat to me the mantra, “You walk to the beat of a different drummer.” I didn’t believe them at the time (they were my parents, right?). But as I got older, and truly started to see that my “different brain” worked better than a normal brain, I grudgingly admitted to them that yes, they might’ve known what they were talking about. Next time I have dinner with them, I’m going to ask exactly how smug they feel, knowing that I’m writing, in a book, that my parents were right. (Postscript: I’ve since had dinner with them. Yes. They feel smug.)
But the interesting thing here is this: We’re still in a society that automatically assumes that anything different is wrong. I subscribe to Bill Murray’s line in Groundhog Day, when he finally wakes up and it’s not the same day: “Anything different is good.”
The problem, of course, is that when you’re a kid (and heck, long into adulthood), you’re told that being different is wrong. Growing up on Staten Island, I truly believed that should be their motto, and being different and trying to believe I wasn’t wrong was a defining factor in my going to LaGuardia High School of Performing Arts in Manhattan. I could be different, and for the first time outside of my family, that would be OK. That in itself was totally and completely worth the three-hour round-trip commute for four straight years.
Different is good. Say it with me: Different is good.