I’ve said in a thousand times; my 7 year old son’s ADHD is a superpower. So much of the things I love about him — his creativity, his determination, his ability to dive into anything that interests him and learn it completely — stem from his ADHD. But with all the gifts also come some obstacles. Learning to navigate those with my very young son has been challenging at times.
I’ve learned that, especially for ADHD children with Rejection Sensitivity like my son, the way we respond to the hard parts of their ADHD behavior makes all the difference in the world. Responding the wrong way can really erode their self-confidence and self-esteem. Every child with ADHD is different, but I’d like to share some obstacles my son faces and how we are learning to respond to them with grace and empathy. Please understand, dear reader, that these are things I’m working on. I’m not there yet. Parenting is a journey in general, and learning to navigate the challenges is a process. We need to approach that path with grace. So, here are some of the challenging behaviors we deal with, and how I’m learning to respond.
#1. An over-abundance of love to give.
I know what you’re thinking. How on earth could that be a bad thing? Well, for my son, he has these moments where he is absolutely overcome by his love for something. That could be for me and my husband, for his sister, or even for our pets. When these moments of overwhelming love happen, he tends to get overly aggressive with his display of those feelings. He grabs his sister for a hug and squeezes her until she screams. He presses his face too hard into our dog’s chest and makes her whimper. My first impulse when this happens is to tell him no! After all, the people and animals in our house deserved to be loved with gentleness and respect. But I’ve noticed that criticizing his expression of love is very hurtful to him, and I certainly don’t want to discourage my son from showing love! So, what I’m learning to say is:
I can see how much love you have for your sister. I love seeing how much you love her. You need to find gentler ways of showing your love to her. Let’s think of how you could do that.
#2. Constant noise-making.
As a parent with anxiety and sensory issues, dealing with the constant stream of noise coming from my son is probably the biggest area of personal growth I’m working through. It is so hard to respond calmly. My son’s ADHD causes him to make lots of noises, most of which aren’t of the pleasing variety. He makes a lot of droning sounds, like a low and constant off-key hum. Sometimes, he makes loud, disruptive noises — suddenly exclaiming or screaming and causing me to nearly jump out of my skin. I need my son to learn that there is nothing wrong with his desire to make noise, but that there is a time and place for it. I’m working on letting him know that he can make whatever noises he wants in his room, or when we are having family time together. But when he’s out in a shared space where people are trying to talk or concentrate, he needs to try to keep the noise under control. It’s been a tightrope walk. Learning to help him regulate his noise without making him feel like he is a nuisance has been challenging. But with consistent work, we’ll get there.
#3. Emotional overwhelm.
My son feels every emotion at a level 10. When he’s feeling positive emotions, this is one of my favorite things about him! I love to see how loving, excitable, and enthusiastic he is! However, when he’s feeling negative emotions like sadness, frustration, and anger, it can be a real struggle for us. He can, at times, be emotionally explosive. And it seems like once that train has left the track, he can’t get it back into the station. Two things have seemed to help in these moments:
(a) teaching him how to breathe through it
(b) walking him through a sensory exercise that goes like this:
Name 5 things you can see.
Name 4 things you can touch.
Name 3 things you can hear.
Name 2 things you can smell.
Name 1 thing you can taste.
Usually, by getting him to do his slow breathing exercises, and putting him through the sensory exercise that takes his attention off his feelings and onto his surroundings, we can bring him back to the present and out of those strong dysregulated emotions.
#4. Inability to fall asleep at night.
My son has always been a poor sleeper. It was really hard when he was a baby because getting him to sleep each night was often a multi-hour routine, and he was typically up every two hours on the nose. That lasted all the way through his baby, infant, and toddler years. Now that he’s 7, he at least can sleep through the night. But bedtime is still a colossal struggle for us. For me, this one issue has been more about surrender than anything else. I’ve learned that he can’t control his wakefulness, and insisting on him laying in bed wide awake would be a torturous thing to do to him. I’ve learned to tell the difference between when he is overtired and needs to sleep (and in those cases, to insist on him quieting down and laying still), and when his mind just won’t shut off. In the latter scenario, I’ve learned to give him time to stay up if he likes. I’ll let him watch his iPad or sit in bed with us and watch tv for a while. I can’t control his sleep any more than he can, so surrender is the more peaceful and productive way to go.
#5. Restlessness and hyperactivity.
Of course, a classic symptom of ADHD in kids is the hyperactivity, and my son is no exception. I would rather not spend his entire childhood telling him to sit down and get still. So, navigating this element of his ADHD has required learning to help him channel his energy. During the school year, we keep him enrolled in gymnastics. This proves to be an incredible outlet for his energy. I’ve also learned that outdoor time is crucial, as it not only provides opportunities for him to get his energy out, but something about sunshine and fresh air seems to settle him. In the moments when it’s inappropriate for him to wiggle and hop around, we give him fidget toys. He doesn’t deserve to be made to feel like a problem because he can’t control his impulses. So, it’s up to me to help him find appropriate ways to channel them.
As I mentioned above, it’s been a journey. I’m learning and acquiring new resources every day. The most important thing for me, as his mom, is to make sure we get through his childhood years with his self-confidence and self-esteem intact. I have to teach him how to love and embrace the things that make him unique, while still helping him understand that some behaviors are inappropriate or ill-timed. It’s a journey I get to take with him. It’s a joy, it’s a gift. I am proud of this little boy, both who he is and who he is becoming. He and I, along with my husband, are learning how to do this together. And what a journey it’ll be.
Amber Wardell is a doctor of psychology and author who speaks on women’s issues related to marriage, motherhood, and mental health. Subscribe to the free newsletter to get exclusive content delivered to your inbox and to never miss an upload.