Jami Demuth is the mother of three teenage children, all of whom have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Her parenthood 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,” says Demuth. “And I believe it 100%. Yes, there are challenges that come with it. … But overall, being a superpower certainly outweighs those challenges.”
This may not be the case for all children. And it’s still important to manage ADHD symptoms. But often, recognizing positive traits and helping your child focus on them can build confidence and teach them how to overcome obstacles.
ADHD usually manifests in three main ways: inattention; hyperactivity and/or impulsiveness; or a combination of these symptoms.
There are definitely downsides to having excess energy or being easily distracted. But some children can benefit from ADHD behaviors such as:
Flexibility. People with ADHD tend to think of several options at once. This sometimes means they are less likely to settle on one choice. They can be open to different ideas and other ways of doing things.
Adaptability and resilience. Due to their symptoms, children with ADHD often have to find ways to adapt to their environment. It teaches them coping skills and helps them bounce back from challenges.
Creativity. Children with ADHD tend to be extra-imaginative. Thus, they could daydream or get distracted. But they can also notice what most others don’t. This creativity can help them come up with new ideas and solve problems.
Energy. When children with ADHD get motivated for something, they can put a lot of energy into it. They are determined to succeed in the things they find particularly interesting. In fact, it can be difficult to distract them from their favorite activity.
Enthusiasm. Children with ADHD usually have big personalities and are rarely boring. This lively behavior can make them popular with their peers.
ADHD affects each of Demuth’s children differently. For example, she finds that her second child’s enthusiasm and energy boost her confidence. These qualities helped him make friends and succeed socially in school.
Her three children, she says, are good at making thoughtful connections and coming up with original ideas.
“They are such out-of-the-box thinkers,” she says.
Each child with ADHD has a different set of symptoms. And these symptoms can range from mild to intense. This is one of the reasons why it is important to treat all types of ADHD.
“If the negative impacts of the behavior far outweigh the positives, then you’re never going to see the positives,” says pediatrician Max Wiznitzer, MD. 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 just had bad habits,” says Wiznitzer, who is also co-chair of the professional advisory board for Children and Adults with Attention. – Deficit/hyperactivity disorder (CHADD).
How can parents help their children use their ADHD symptoms for real? First, be sure to focus on what your children can do, rather than what they cannot.
As a parent, it’s easy to pay more attention to what kids are doing wrong, Demuth says. But since children with ADHD receive so many negative messages about their condition, it is important that parents encourage them.
“I think you really need to catch up. Don’t start with a negative thing, like their room is a mess,” she says. “Highlight the times when you catch them doing good.”
Wiznitzer suggests that parents make a list of their child’s particular strengths and then identify those that relate to ADHD. This will help you understand what character traits your child can use to help them succeed.
Parents can also encourage good behavior with:
A reward system. Reward your child when he does something good. Depending on your child and what they’re doing, the reward can range from a star on a behavior chart to cash.
Behavioral limits. Some children with ADHD may be popular with their peers because of their energetic personalities. But in excess, it can lead to “class clown” behavior or pushing others away. Parents should encourage their child’s dynamic personality while making sure they understand when to withdraw, such as when they are in class.
A focus on comments. Parents are not always aware of their child’s ability to adapt outside the home. If they stop being invited to friends’ meetings or you start getting calls from teachers, their behavior might cross a line. It may be time to step up the treatment or talk to them about the limitations. But if they’re getting praise for their behavior, they’re probably managing their symptoms well. Encourage them to continue their good work.
With each of these strategies, says Wiznitzer, follow the three basic rules for children with ADHD: “structure, routine, and consistency.”