Shift Your Expectations to Manage Complex Kids

Shifting Expectations

“The greatest gift you can give yourself, and your child with ADHD, is to acknowledge that ADHD is one of those bumps on your parenting journey that requires course-correction. It’s not a barrier, but it calls for careful navigation.”  ETK 

Ditch The “Shoulds”

When we get stuck with old ideas about how something “should” be, or how a child “should” behave, it can make managing ADHD harder than it needs to be. Of course, we parents are human, and we feel strangely comfortable with our “shoulds” – so much of our own lives are all too often dictated by expectations set for us from the outside world.

Our challenge is to shift our expectations from what we thought it “should” be like to raise our children, to accept things for how they are. We must establish expectations that are appropriate to our current circumstances.

A Change Of Perspective

Shifting Expectations is NOT to be confused with settling for “less,” or “lowering” your expectations for your kids. You have every reason to set high expectations for your kids. After all, these kids are amazing, and they have extraordinary potential! What’s different, here, is that I am encouraging you to set your expectations in the context of truly accepting your child for who s/he is, not who you wanted him/her to be.

As a parent, you must be willing to change how you’re looking at things in order to help your child with ADHD reach an adulthood of independence and fulfillment. In the Coaches Club call, one mom said it perfectly: “I commit to looking at my own behavior to make sure that I’m setting legitimate boundaries for my child.”

In the ADHD world, we often refer to this as taking a “disability” perspective. Again – I can’t say this enough – this is not about lowering expectations, but shifting them to appropriately match your child where she or he is in development. We often say that our kids are “12 going on 8 or 9” – they are about 3-5 years behind their same-age peers in some aspects of their development. This means that we need to set expectations that will realistically allow our children to be successful, instead of setting the expectations we think they “should” be able to fulfill, only to set them up for failure.

Acknowledge the Disability

Here’s an analogy. If your child were in a wheel-chair, you wouldn’t put him at the bottom of a flight of stairs and tell him to run on up to the top. If you wanted him to reach the top, you’d certainly expect that he would have to find another method to get there—perhaps using his arms to pull himself up, or maybe even setting up an elaborate pulley system. You’d probably expect it to take longer, and his achievement at the top would be all the greater, of course, for his challenge and struggle on the journey. You’d probably celebrate it more heartily than you would a child who could just run on up the stairs.

Sometimes we forget to take the “Disability” perspective with our kids with ADHD. But it’s important, and it shows up in every aspect of their life. Take the emotional realm, for example. These kids are not generally as mature as their same-aged peers, and they’re not as skilled at managing their emotions. When we presume that they “should” be able to behave in a certain way – that they “should” be old enough to know better – we must make sure that we are not telling them to hop out of the wheel chair and run on up the stairs. The same is true for organization, procrastination, following instructions – you name it, there’s an opportunity to shift our expectations to help our children learn to be successful, one skill at a time.

So, as a parent, it is your job to create appropriate expectations based on your child’s ADHD, and hold your child accountable to them. How do you do that? Well, you need to do it systematically, and working with a coach can definitely help. That’s the method that has worked for us  and so many of our clients!

But we’re happy to give you some tips to get you started. You can start shifting your expectations by:

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