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Mistakes Parents Make – ADHD Edition

April 26, 2012

As the mother of two ADHD children, I am more than familiar with the mistakes we make.  In many cases, the mistakes we make as parents have nothing to do with our children having ADHD.  Parents are people and therefore we are fallible, even the best parent on the planet makes mistakes.  But when it comes to parenting children with ADHD,  I think there are some very specific mistakes we, as parents, make that exacerbate symptoms and make everyone’s life more difficult than it needs to be.  Here are the most common mistakes I see parents of ADHD child make and what to do instead.

1. Denying Reality

This can manifest in a number of ways.

  • It can be the parent that denies there is anything different about their child and refuses any attempt at diagnosis, support, or treatment.
  • It can be the parent that simply ignores any behavior that falls outside of their idea of “normal” as if it isn’t happening or as if the child, when misbehaving, doesn’t exist.
  • It can be the parent that denies the existence of ADHD outright.
  • It can be the parent who refuses to explore any and all treatment options available for their child (yes I am talking about meds, but I am also talking about those who see medication as a magic pill and doesn’t seek out other options)

The tragedy to me is that the only one this mistake truly harms is the child.  Children, regardless of whether they have ADHD or not, need to be loved and accepted for who they are and these denials makes that kind of acceptance difficult to achieve.

2. You Are Doing This on Purpose

This is one I see all the time and that I was definitely guilty of in our pre-diagnosis life.  The variability of ADHD symptoms and the fact that ADHD is very situational can make it feel like they are doing everything on purpose.  Until you have a solid understanding of ADHD in general and your child’s ADHD specifically, it can be incredibly frustrating to watch your child do something one day without a problem and then fall apart trying to do it the next.  It can feel like they are doing it on purpose.  Trust me, most of the time, they aren’t and in many cases, they may not even understand that they are doing or not doing something in a way that is upsetting you.

3. Taking Other People’s Advice

The best piece of parenting advice I ever got was given to me by the doctor who delivered my oldest son just after he was born.  I was barely 22 with no idea what I was doing and this man who must have been in his 80’s looked me in the eyes and said

“Everyone is going to have a lot of advice about what you should be doing, what you shouldn’t be doing, and what you are doing wrong.  Don’t listen to them.  You know this baby better than anyone else and you know what is best for him.  Trust yourself, you are his mother and you know what he needs.”

It was the best advice I ever got and the only advice I give to my parents of ADHD children.  This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t listen to other people’s experiences or ideas, learn as much as you can from anyone you can, or seek out advice from people you trust.  It means that after all that, at the end of the day, you know your child and you know what’s best for them.

4. Using Traditional Discipline with Non-Traditional Children

First, this doesn’t mean that children with ADHD don’t need discipline.  It means that the kind of discipline they need may not be the same type of discipline that works brilliantly with non-ADHD children.  Let’s take the standard disciplinarian tactic of using the threat of a future punishment to modify current behavior as in, if you run around in the store like last time, you won’t be able to go to your friend’s house tomorrow.  In order for this to work, the child will have to make a connection between now and tomorrow which is difficult for some ADHDers for whom the only times that exist are now and not now.  Punishment as a tool to modify future behavior also has problems.  In order for a punishment to be effective in changing future behavior, the child has to remember the punishment, put their current behavior in context, connect the two events, and then make a different decision.  This can be very difficult for children who have problems with working memory, impulse control, and/or a racecar brain.  The key is finding the disciplinary tactics that work for your child.

5. Never Achieving Acceptance

There is a difference between accepting a child for exactly who they are and giving up on who you want them to become.  Unfortunately, many parents with ADHD children don’t understand that difference. They act as if accepting that their child will never remember to do their homework without some kind of reminder means accepting that their child will never do homework.   Accepting your child for everything they are, everything they aren’t doesn’t limit what they can do, it opens the doors to doing things differently.

Turning Leaf Life Coaching offers coaching for ADHD and Life Transitions over the phone and in person throughout NH, ME, MA, and VT.  For more information, go to


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