As 21st century parents, we want our kids to share their feelings and talk through their problems with us. We encourage them to let out their feelings and believe that this is basically healthy, which it often is. But sometimes this self-expression is inappropriate and we are surprised, even shocked, by what we hear. My clients have frequently reported their dismay when their ADHD sons or daughters (depending on their ages), have said things like, “I hate you!” “You’re a terrible mother. “Don’t you know anything?” “What is your problem?” “You are so stupid.” Then, there’s cursing, slamming doors, eye rolling, or punching the wall. In today’s world, when many parents want their ADHD children to learn to speak up for themselves and strengthen their own voices, it can be hard to know when things have gone too far. The lines between self-expression and disrespect can become blurred really fast. What starts out as a joke can quickly turn mean and what seems like a discussion can turn suddenly into a shouting match. ADHD kids, because they struggle with impulse control, understanding limits and reading social cues can get carried away or inappropriate without always knowing it. What should parents do?
I think that parents first have to assess for themselves what constitutes disrespectful behaviors. We all have our limits: what are yours? In my house, eye-rolling and name-calling were at the top of our list. Telling me what a jerk I am just isn’t okay. You can tell me that you are angry, that you don’t like what I said or what I am doing, but you don’t get to call me names. Likewise, I don’t get to call you names either–no matter how frustrated and fed up I may be. Clear boundaries are essential for ADHD kids who can’t always monitor their
words and actions effectively. They have big feelings and limited skills in expressing them. They need assistance and feedback based on consistent family guidelines. They also need some concrete tools that reduce disrespectful language and actions and increase more acceptable ones. How can you teach your ADHD sons and daughters to share what is going on for them in ways that other people can hear?
Here are some useful tips:
- Consider what really pushes YOUR buttons as unacceptable ways of speaking or behaving. Write down the top 3 offending actions. (If you have a partner, do this exercise together so you can present a united front with your family.) It’s also important to ask yourself if you engage in any of those 3 behaviors. Be honest because respect goes both ways. Believe me, your ADHD son or daughter will be the first person to point out any of your transgressions.
- Think about (and discuss) what types of self-expression you want to encourage. Would you like your daughter to use her words when she feels upset instead of going to her room and crying? Would you like your son to control his body and stop slamming doors? Be specific about these goals.
- Sit down with your ADHD child or teen. Ask them what they consider to be disrespectful–what they do and what others have done to them. Suggest some relevant recent family or school incidents if they are stuck. “Remember when Sam pushed you on the playground and
called you ‘a crybaby?” Share some of your own earlier reflections. Decide together which of all of these ideas and observations you would all like to see changed first.
- Introduce this alternative method of self expression using this formula: “I feel ________ when you ____________.” It may be awkward and corny at first but it’s important to keep using this so it becomes a viable alternative for appropriate sharing. Usually ADHD kids benefit when you post it in a common space like the refrigerator. Refer to it often, especially when things are heating up. If your kids use it, then let them know you appreciate their efforts.