It happened again. Tonight when you went to take your daughter’s phone for the evening, she argued with you. Even though, you’ve had this conversation for the millionth time yesterday, she pushed back again today. Exasperated by her lack of recall and self-control and expecting a different outcome, you lost it. The evening ended in a collective meltdown.
Expectations, whether they’re reasonable or unrealistic, often lead to frustration, disappointment and anger. When you wish your child was acting differently, when you notice that they’re unable to consistently perform a task or when you inadvertently set a goal that they can’t achieve, it’s not only discouraging but also demoralizing. Like Goldilocks and the three bears, it can be tough sometimes to know what task levels are just right for your child’s growing capabilities.
Ideally, you want your child or teen with ADHD to have a variety of tasks in their lives. These include things that they can do easily and independently, some things are challenging that require some adult support and a few things that are reach items. Reach items are tasks or chores that kids can’t do without your help and you’d like them to learn. It’s really important that you assess their abilities in relation to these different levels of tasks so that you can express support rather than judgment.
Instead of expressing your frustration with their inability to put their clothes in the hamper today when they did it for the past three days, your goal is to notice their efforting–their attempts to work on a desired goal. Is three days in a row better than one day last week? Neutral expectations–ones in which you expect progress amidst inevitable setbacks–are what matters most. You acknowledge when your daughter clears the table without asking tonight but you don’t expect that this is the new normal immediately until you see it unfolding more often than not. It takes extra time, repetition and cueing for the ADHD brain to learn routines and life skills. Paying attention to the positive helps encode these behaviors more effectively.
Life with a child or teen with ADHD is filled with periods of two steps forward and one step back. Rather that being surprised and disappointed by this pattern, expect the stumbles. Remember that your son or daughter is doing the best they can with the resources available to them in a given moment. If they can’t follow through, it’s because they can’t access the right thing to do right then due to their executive functioning skill challenges. These abilities takes more time, repetition and patience to develop than for neurotypical brains.
By reframing your expectations, not abandoning them, you acknowledge your child’s progress and nurture their self-esteem.