While ADHD can rob children of the executive functioning skills that are pivotal in life, it can also rob both them and their parents of the very relationship that can help improve those skills.
More often than not as ADHD children struggle to complete tasks, remember important items, and focus attention long enough to hold a conversation, their parents find themselves equally frustrated, and most likely, not in the best place to parent them.
What is missing is understanding. In her new book, What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life, Sharon Saline, Psy.D., offers unique insight into the world of the ADHD child — complete with the shame, despair, and frustration that are so common to the diagnosis — to provide parents with not just a new awareness of their child’s needs, but the tools and practical skills to rebuild their relationship with their child and help them find success.
“You may know that your daughter is forgetful and needs multiple reminders to remember her soccer practice and her chores. But do you really understand what having ADHD is like for them?” asks Dr. Saline.
Families with ADHD often miss signals and struggle to find ways to communicate. While children with ADHD can be incredibly creative, energetic, and full of life, they can also feel that their inability to read the nuances of social interactions, organize and complete tasks, and focus their attention are signs that they are not normal.
For the parents of ADHD children, the problem is no less troubling. Dr. Saline writes, “It’s as difficult for you as it is for them.”
What is so frequently forgotten is that, at their core, ADHD children want to be connected and loved by those around them, and they want to be accepted for who they are — especially by their parents.
Yet as countless reminders are forgotten, efforts to help are rebuffed, and antics replace responsibility, parents of ADHD children can also struggle to feel competent.
Dr. Saline suggests parents start with what she calls the Five C’s of ADHD Parenting. Parents must have self-control, they must exhibit compassion, offer collaboration, use consistency, and frequently celebrate what is working well.
“My Five Cs model relies on two things: strength-based thinking and attentive awareness. With strength-based thinking, you focus on your child’s capabilities to help them build competence, self-confidence, and pride… Attentive awareness involves observing, listening to and acknowledging what you child is saying,” writes Dr. Saline.
Facing challenges together is also at the core of finding success for both ADHD children and their parents.
“By including your child in the process of addressing a problem that you have identified either on your own or together, you are demonstrating a basic respect for them — even if they don’t always show this to you,” writes Dr. Saline.
Progress can be characterized by two steps forward and one step back, yet by practicing self-control, parents can learn to respond with compassion and choose forgiveness over anger and blame.
“Even when you are trying to give them helpful reminders or positive feedback, the tone and delivery can make whatever you say feel like criticism,” writes Dr. Saline.
Blame also places power over understanding, finds fault, lowers self-esteem, reduces the ability to take responsibility for actions, and ultimately creates a cycle of fear where children avoid owning their actions.
A better response, Dr. Saline tells us, is for parents to ask themselves what matters most right now.
She writes, “That answer should involve connecting positively with your child and reining in your aggravation. Your solution and plan for dealing with anything will come after this.”
It can also be helpful for parents to reconsider ADHD. Dr. Saline points to the work of Dr. Edward Hallowell, who contends that the typically negative symptoms associated with ADHD have “mirror traits” that represent their positive side — such as distractibility being also described as “turbocharged curiosity.”
“While eliminating negative thinking is unrealistic for anyone, given the high frequency of criticism that kids with ADHD receive, reducing it is critical for fostering self-esteem and resiliency,” write Dr. Saline.
Kids with ADHD can be very hard on themselves and feel intense shame when things don’t go well. Yet when parents join their children in coping with these feelings and finding ways to break down task into manageable pieces, connect with those around them, and accomplish their goals, not only are they more likely to find success, but also a much stronger and more resilient relationship with their child.
Drawing on her extensive clinical experience, Dr. Saline offers parents of ADHD children the clarity, insight, and lessons needed to better understand their children and create the type of relationship that will help them thrive.
What Your ADHD Child Wishes You Knew: Working Together to Empower Kids for Success in School and Life
Tarcher Perigree, August 2018
Paperback, 225 pages