As you wash the dishes, you look out the back window and smile at your kids playing in the dirt. Your young son, Damon, is singing and running in circles with that contagious, boundless energy that makes you smile. Your daughter is writing with chalk on the patio while the sun sets. Later, the kids come inside screaming. It turns out Damon has been “annoying” his sister. He has been having issues sharing their outdoor toys and even damaged one. Your son has been having small, fiery outbursts at his sister. They don’t last very long and he is otherwise a well-behaved kid. While you explain to both of them why sharing is important, you notice his eyes look out the window, his foot starts tapping and then he bends down to playing with his shoelace.
We know that Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) affects both the person who has it and their family. Over six million children and adolescents in the United States have been diagnosed with ADHD. While most ADHD profiles are not gender-specific, there are a few key differences between girls and boys when it comes to diagnosis and developing routines or treatment. Because boys are more likely than girls to be hyperactive, ADHD in boys is often displayed earlier and often. The current ratio of boys to girls with ADHD is 3:1, with some studies suggesting 4:1. Noticing that your son is unusually energetic, impetuous or spacey can lead you down the path towards an accurate diagnosis.
Hyperactivity, impulsive behavior, and inattention are all attributed to boys with ADHD. These are also common traits in younger children and preschoolers, who naturally experience difficulty paying attention and following directions. If your child is still in early developmental stages, keep an eye on these behaviors and seek out patterns if there is cause for concern.
Regardless of how ADHD manifests itself in your son, there are ways to reduce symptom flare-ups and actively help him succeed. Here are a few tips to help encourage your growth together.
- Boot the stereotypes.
“Boys will be boys” though, right? Not so much, actually. Learned behavior and stereotype indicators can lend to biases, conscious or otherwise. Yes, historically, boys are more aggressive. ADHD in boys often shows up as more oppositional than their female counterparts. However, this isn’t the case for every male child or adolescent. All small children start out with open hearts and minds, and some mischief in their eyes. Believing boys are more aggressive or shrugging off any signs of aggressive behavior can both enable negative patterns and drive you further from diagnosing anything behavioral-related.
Now is also a good time to address any biases you may have developed on your own over time. Books, peers, and outside sources can really help. But it’s most helpful to make yourself fully aware of the lens through which you are viewing your child.
2. Meet them where they are at.
Aside from unconscious bias, it can often be difficult to approach a child with ADHD during a fallout or in the midst of chaos. It is important – especially in stressful spaces – that you choose mindfulness. Choosing mindfulness in every situation will improve your communication skills with everyone around you, especially a child who may be struggling. This begins with allowing your child space when they need to calm down. If you are mindful of their emotions at the moment, then they will be more open to responding instead of reacting.
The ramifications of ADHD in boys can be excruciating. Even early on, they can be excluded because of increased aggression, or the aforementioned gender bias. They may thrive with attention and want to hold the spotlight a bit more than usual, resolving in aggression from other students and children. However, receiving negative feedback in these instances can be earth-shattering for your son, especially early on in development. Just imagining how this much critical feedback will probably increase your stress levels. Approaching them with compassion can do wonders for their self-esteem.
3. Teach effective coping strategies
Boys often struggle with managing their emotions and can misinterpret social situations or miss social cues. Because of this, they are more likely to resort to humor as a way to deflect their issue or cope with discomfort. Peers may find this annoying. And this is just one key example of acting out. As much as – or even more so than – girls, they need to be taught effective coping strategies for managing limited verbal impulse control and emotion dysregulation.
One of the biggest things to keep in mind is that boys tend to experience fewer problems in an activity-oriented social world. In these spaces, ADHD traits like risk-taking and aggression can be viewed in a positive manner. Finding them a group hobby, like improvisational theater, a team sport or another extra-curricular will encourage social interaction and help with symptom management.
Mindfulness is also a highly effective coping strategy for people with ADHD. Research has largely supported the fact that meditation for mindfulness can expand the brain’s capacity to hold attention. This is absolutely amazing, and something I think all parents can approach at a reasonable pace for both themselves and their children.
Starting with just one minute a day of stillness or silence in gratitude is a great place to start. If your child requires a little more interaction with their senses, try playing a tranquil piece of music that calms them. Of course, like girls, they also benefit from direct instruction about organizing, planning, prioritizing, flexibility, and time management.
4. Set goals in line with their ideas
Building awareness of themselves is key as boys in general mature more slowly than girls. Working together with that awareness can help to empower your ADHD son in navigating his every day. Ask questions that bring focus to how, when, and what more than why. Learning about their likes and dislikes together will help them not only to connect with you but for you to better identify triggers and their ideas of success.
Here’s an easy, useful activity for self-discovery. In a quiet moment, explore these questions with your son.
- What type of learner am I?
- What am I good at and how?
- What is challenging for me?
- When am I able to focus?
These questions will help them to start verbalizing their thoughts and examine themselves–building the foundation for the all-important executive functioning skill of self-evaluation. For school-aged children, the following additional questions are often key to identifying study patterns and habits. They can help you set concrete, achievable goals that will not overwhelm your child. (Or you!)
- What helps me pay attention in class?
- What distracts me during homework or other activities?
- When am I planning to do X and how can we assess the time needed for that?
As always, there are many ways to help your son live with more satisfaction and self-confidence. Check out my 5 C’s of ADHD Parenting for more.