On my recent work trip to CA, I had the privilege of meeting with a group of high school students with ADHD, LD and executive functioning challenges. As we talked about their experiences and brainstormed new strategies, one thing became abundantly clear. These kids carry around A LOT of shame about their struggles, more than I had even previously considered. When I asked them what they thought the ratio of positive feedback to negative feedback was in their lives, including what they told themselves, the overwhelming response was 1 to 30: one positive comment for 30 negative ones.
Since the ideal positivity ratio according to Dr. Barbara Fredrickson is actually 3 to 1—three positive statement for every negative one, their revelation deeply saddened me. Why aren’t kids with ADHD hearing and absorbing acknowledgement about their efforts towards meeting responsibilities and goals and their successes when they do as much as what they could be doing differently or better? How can we help them develop healthy self-esteem and resilience when the dominant message is ‘do something or be someone different’?
In my 5C’s of ADHD parenting, I emphasize Compassion, Consistency and Celebration. Compassion: Meet kids where they are and let them know that you understand and accept them even if they don’t understand or accept themselves. Consistency: Notice their efforting as much as their accomplishments. Celebration: Praise big and small accomplishments to counteract the persistent negative self-talk.
Celebration—giving genuine acknowledgment and validation to your son or daughter—matters more than you think it may. Stay in the present as much as you can and keep your worries about how they will manage later in their lives at bay. So much growth and development will happen between now and independent adulthood that you can’t possibly envision yet. What kids with ADHD clearly need most is help NOW feeling better about themselves.
You CAN help them with this. Ask them for 2 or 3 highlights of the day when you pick them up after school or while you’re eating dinner. Give them a high five when they hang up their coat or a quick verbal appreciation when they put their dirty clothes in the hamper. Try to focus more on the good stuff so they can too.