Jami Demuth is the mother of three children in their teens, all of whom have Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). His parenting strategy? She encourages them to find ways to use their ADHD symptoms to their advantage.
“I tell my kids all the time, [ADHD] is your greatest superpower,” Demuth says. “And I believe that 100%. Yes, with that comes some challenges. … But overall, it being a superpower definitely outweighs those challenges.
This may not be the case with all children. And it’s always important to manage the symptoms of ADHD. But often, helping your child to identify and focus on positive qualities can build confidence and teach them to overcome obstacles.
ADHD usually shows up in three main ways: inattention; hyperactivity and/or impulsivity; or a combination of those symptoms.
There are definitely downsides to having excess energy or being easily distracted. But some children may benefit from ADHD behaviors such as:
resilience. People with ADHD tend to think of multiple options at once. This sometimes means that they are less likely to settle on one option. They can be open to different ideas and other ways of doing things.
Adaptability and flexibility. Because of their symptoms, children with ADHD often have to find ways to adapt to their environment. It teaches them coping skills and helps them overcome challenges.
creativity. Kids with ADHD are extra imaginative. So they may daydream or become disoriented. But they can also see what most people don’t. This creativity can help them come up with new ideas and solve problems.
energy. When kids with ADHD are motivated about something, they can focus a lot of energy on it. They are driven to succeed in things they find particularly interesting. In fact, it can be hard to distract them from their favorite activity.
Excitement. Kids with ADHD usually have big personalities and are rarely boring. This lively behavior can make them popular among their peers.
ADHD affects each child differently, Demuth said. For example, she finds that her middle child’s enthusiasm and energy boosts her self-assurance. These qualities have helped him make friends at school and be successful socially.
She says all three of her children are good at making thoughtful connections and coming up with original ideas.
“They’re such outside-the-box thinkers,” she says.
Each child with ADHD has a different set of symptoms. And those symptoms can range from mild to severe. This is why it is important to treat all types of ADHD.
“If the negative effects of a behavior far outweigh the positives, you’re never going to see the positive aspects,” says Max Wiznitzer, MD, a pediatric neurologist at Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland, OH.
But it’s important to emphasize good behavior when possible, he says.
“If they develop good habits, their ADHD won’t negatively affect them in the same way as if they only had bad habits,” says Wiznitzer, who co-chairs the professional advisory board for Children and Adults with Meditation. He is also the chairman. Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD).
How can parents help their children make good use of their ADHD symptoms? First, make sure you focus on your kids can do do, rather than what they can’t do.
As a parent, it’s easy to obsess over what kids do wrong, Demuth says. But because kids with ADHD get so many negative messages about their condition, it’s important for parents to provide encouragement.
“I think you really need to catch yourself. Don’t start with something negative, like their room being a mess,” she says. “Highlight the times when you catch them doing good “
Wiznitzer suggests that parents make a list of their child’s special strengths, then identify which of them are related to ADHD. This will help you understand what qualities your child can use to help them be successful.
Parents can also encourage good behavior by:
a reward system. Reward your child when they do something right. Depending on your child and what they accomplish, the reward can be anything from a star on the behavior chart to cold, hard cash.
Behavioral boundaries. Some children with ADHD may be popular with their peers because of their energetic personality. But in excess, it can lead to “class clown” behavior or push others away. Parents should encourage their child’s vibrant personality by making sure they understand when to back off, such as when they are in class.
Focus on Feedback. Parents are not always aware of how well their child is doing outside the home. If they stop getting invited to friends’ gatherings, or you start getting phone calls from teachers, their behavior may be crossing the line. It may be time to pursue treatment or talk to them about boundaries. But if they receive praise for their behavior, it is likely that they are managing their symptoms well. Encourage them to keep up the good work.
With any of these strategies, Wiznitzer says, follow three basic rules for parenting children with ADHD: “Structure, routine, and consistency.”