Being a parent is one of the most satisfying and difficult jobs we will ever have in our lives. And yet, most of us never get any training to do the best job we can. Sounds crazy when you think about it that way, doesn't it? And while having children is challenging for most of us, it's all the more difficult for parents of kids with ADD or ADHD.
So here are some simple “on the job training” tips to give you a boost when parenting starts to get stressful. Spoiler alert: they are all about what you teach your child to believe about himself.
Kids' Beliefs About Themselves Have a Lasting Impact
Our children are constantly moving, knocking over things, hitting their siblings, refusing to … (fill in the blank). As parents, we're overworked and underpaid. Sometimes it's just too much, and we end up saying things we regret later. “What's wrong with you?” “STOP IT NOW!” “How many times do I have to tell you?” or “I can't take it anymore.”
While this is totally understandable, it still has consequences. When we say these seemingly harmless phrases to our children, they will ask themselves why. And they will form beliefs about themselves and life from the answers they give themselves. Beliefs like, “I'm not good enough.” “I'm a burden.” “I'm bad.” “There's something wrong with me.” “I'm not capable.” And countless others.
Unfortunately, these beliefs often last a lifetime. People who hold these beliefs are less likely to be confident, successful adults. So we want to limit the lasting impact of our kids' believing negative things about them selves.
I'm not saying that's it's not okay to get angry. I am saying that you must train yourself to use words that express your anger in a way that does not lead to these beliefs. For instance, “It's not okay to hit people. Hitting hurts. If you continue to hit people, sweetie, I can't let you be around them.” Or, “I know that you feel frustrated and want to scream and I understand that, but screaming gives me a headache. Tell me: Mommy, I feel angry, I feel really angry. I wish I could just scream.”
Teach Your Child That Everyone Has Differences
ADHD is a potential hotbed for kids to develop negative beliefs. Because of a diagnosis, or because of feeling different from other kids, your child may conclude, “There's something wrong with me.” “Others are better than me.” “I'm different.” “I don't fit in.”
It's important to let your child know that everyone has differences. Reinforce that he is whole, complete, lovable … and important. Some kids wear glasses, some have braces, some struggle in school, and some are not athletic. Every kid has to learn to come to terms with some part of themselves that is less than “perfect.”
Good Enough. Period.
We always told our children that they were good enough, period! Their good enoughness was not a function of anything they did or didn't do. They would have successes and failures, be good at some things and not at others, and some people would like them and others might not. But we were always clear that their worth, their value -- their good enoughness – did not depend on any of those things.
This is critical: Let your kids know that who they are makes a difference. Acknowledge them just for BEING who they are. For example, let them know that you love how kind they are to their siblings, or how they make you laugh, or what warm, friendly people they are.
People tend to be inspired by others based on who they are, rather than what they accomplish. For every great person we admire, we tend to be inspired by their courage, or their willingness to fail, or their ability to make people feel cared for or included. Oprah Winfrey is one of the most successful business women in the world, but most people are inspired by who she is – her enthusiasm, her generosity, her belief in others – more than by what she's accomplished. In fact, it's who she is that has led her to all of her great achievements.
Parent the Person, Not the Diagnosis
Lastly, remember that your child is a human being with issues, as we all are. She is not her diagnosis. When you stop thinking about her as “my ADD child,” you will be able to see her as “my child who deserves love, attention, affection, acknowledgement and patience.” It may not be an easy journey, but it's the most worthwhile one you will ever take.
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