Inside: Despite living with many daily stressors, parents will learn how to help a child with ADHD not only survive but to thrive both cognitively and emotionally in their life.
I had a knot in my stomach that had been steadily building all morning, and it took me a bit to realize I was holding my breath as we sat the blanket down on the damp grass. We were at my 5-year-old daughter’s first ever soccer game.
Due to her ADHD and anxiety, she often struggled in these types of situations, due to the overwhelm from new stimuli and many complicated social dynamics all happening at once.
The question of how to help a child with ADHD comes up often in my therapy practice. Commonly, parents overwhelmed with an ADHD child want practical advice on dealing with day to day behaviors with ADHD in kids, such as explosive emotions and difficulty following directions.
What they’re often surprised to find out is that certain mindset’s they adopt now will make a huge difference in their child’s success and well-being later in life.
We are the only ones that can see many of their challenges.
That morning on the soccer field, my mind raced with possibilities of potential disasters.
Would she be distracted or overwhelmed if we cheered for her too loudly?
How would she handle being knocked down or the game not playing out according to her expectations? Would this cause a meltdown?
Would she understand and properly interpret social cues in order to follow game rules and be a good teammate?
Every day a child with ADHD walk (or likely jumps) through a world which expects kids to be quiet, sit still and keep to themselves. While these expectations are developmentally incompatible with many young children, they are downright impossible for a child with ADHD, and our children carry the weight of this every day on their wiggly little shoulders.
The looks. The gasps. The hushed whispers. Being loud, active, curious and outspoken gets attention in our culture, mostly the kind you don’t want.
Because of this, we worry when we’re parenting a child with ADHD. We carefully consider how to discipline a child with ADHD and set limits, while also allowing them to be who they are at their core.
We want our child to succeed in a world that views many of their greatest strengths as deficits. ‘
How to help a child with ADHD succeed in what really matters
1.Help a child with ADHD by allowing them to discover and follow their gifts and passions.
When our children are in tune with and connected to what they love doing, they will be in touch with who they are at their core (which by the way is basically the magic key to emotional well-being).
Even though we kinda thought from the beginning (actually in Utero, I swear) that our daughter was built for soccer, if she didn’t get joy out of it, we would trust her instincts and allow her path to veer elsewhere. Although soccer would be a great place to burn energy, this is her path, not ours, and we are honored to be her guides and see where it leads.
2. Help a child with ADHD by letting them live in the here and now.
Kids are naturally mindful beings, soaking in all the good the present moment has to offer. Then parents come in, projecting their own adult thoughts, histories, and anxieties onto their child, speculating about what may or may not happen weeks or years down the road in their child’s life, forgetting that their child’s story is brand new.
When we pull in the reigns of our negative thoughts we give our child the chance to write their own story.
3.Support a child with ADHD by parenting them as a unique child.
There are cultural assumptions about parenting that run rampant through our schools and communities. Raising a child with ADHD requires that we implement approaches that look different, sometimes very different.
When we are out in public and our daughter gets overwhelmed, her fight or flight kicks in. This is anxiety 101 (and is extremely common with any child experiencing ADHD, SPD or anxiety ect). It is completely pointless to attempt to discipline (teach) her in the moment, as none of our feedback would be absorbed and it could actually send her into a full-blown explosive meltdown. We guide her to a quiet place, wait for her cortisol levels to regulate and then firmly but calmly discuss what happened.
When intervening with challenging behaviors in public do your best to ignore the looks, ignore the expectations of others, and repeat a positive affirmation to yourself “I’m doing what’s best for my child, I’m doing what’s best for my child…”
4.Encourage a child with ADHD by focusing on strengths.
While many days are full of challenges like transitioning out the door for school and disruptive behaviors, we often forget to focus on the hilarious, creative, and amazing things are awesome kids are doing. It is highly likely our child is intellectually gifted in some area and has a highly creative mind and fun personality traits. Positivity breeds positivity. When we try to consciously focus our attention on the bright spots with ADHD in kids, an amazing thing happens, the light suddenly starts to grow.
When our hearts and minds are open, amazing things happen.
While my thoughts spiraled that Saturday morning (which is so often helpful, right?) the whistle blew and the pint-sized players were off to a start. Literally within minutes, our spunky, active girl turned to us from midfield, jumping-up-and-down exclaiming “I’m good at soccer! I think I’m winning!!”.
My heart burst. What may have been an ordinary moment for most parents was extraordinary for our girl with many invisible challenges.
Our five-year-old pistol ended up scoring seven goals that game, but honestly, that wasn’t so important to us. Turns out, how to help a child with ADHD boils down to changing a few important mindsets on my part. Meeting a child’s unique needs and helping to draw out thier most positive qualities will score them the goals that really count, thriving and living a fulfilled life.
It took a while to get here, and there are still plenty of days that the darkness brought by challenges makes it hard to find the light, but when I step back and look at the larger picture, I know that her future is bright.
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