Bad Parenting or Neurodiverse Parenting? Kids with ADHD Require Different Tactics

Isometric, a small child who loves his mother. TAK/Getty Images
Written by Publishing Team

It is 4 o’clock. My 10 year old son yells: 100 decibels scares the dog. I just passed the parental arbitration; it’s his 11-year-old brother’s turn to use the computer. Almost incoherent in rage, my youngest son stutters like a cartoon character before voluntarily tipping his chair. I threaten to remove all electronic devices if people under 5 feet tall continue to fight for them. He screams that he was not fighting. When I give him a hug to help calm him down, he screams in my face.

“No! Don’t touch me!” He yells, then runs into his room and slams his door. The dogs jump. My youngest burst into tears. I collapse on my couch.

I hug my town crier. I want to cry with him. The other 10-year-olds don’t have epic temper tantrums or yell at their parents. I hear my own mother’s voice: Only doormat parents let their children yell at them. If this was my kid, I would spank him stupidly, and then he would learn how to behave. He needs discipline, not a hug.

Bad parenting is not what they told us it is

My 10 year old has ADHD; he is tired from a long day, and since Focalin suppresses his appetite, he is hungry and does not know it. Any of these reasons could trigger a tantrum. Three together almost guarantee one. I am not a bad parent. I’m not kidding. I’m dealing with a non-neurotypical child – and pretending otherwise hurts both of us.

Maybe, like my 10 year old, I need some time to calm down. Also, maybe, a hug.

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Children with ADHD face emotional deregulation: it is difficult for them to moderate and regulate their emotions in the way we would expect from a neurotypical child. Combined with fatigue and low blood sugar, my son’s control over his great feelings is derailed. It’s no surprise that he screamed and walks away. It would have been surprising if he hadn’t.

But like me, you’ve probably spent your life seeing nods at misbehaving children. Maybe, like me, you were a shaker yourself before you had a child with ADHD. You’ve probably heard these voices that I’ve heard, these people shooting other parents behind the back: Children only do this because their parents allow them to. If they would come forward and do their job, she would learn to behave. It’s his parents’ fault.

We are socially conditioned to attribute a child’s negative behavior to parental failure.

So when our own kids go off the rails, we blame ourselves.

Parental self-blame never improved the situation

This social conditioning probably started when we were children ourselves. If you were the “good kid,” you might have heard your parents blame other parents for another child’s bad behavior. If you had ADHD yourself – since ADHD has a strong genetic component – you may have been humiliated yourself. Why can’t you verify your work? You are the smartest kid in the class, why don’t you get Ace? Why can’t you play your age? Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.

[Read: Never Punish a Child for Bad Behavior Outside Their Control]

These two things make an ugly recipe for parental self-blame.

You may know how to raise a child with ADHD. When they throw, they often need a hug. They might need help getting away. They should not to be humiliated, belittled or threatened. But even as we take them to de-escalation, we hear those ugly voices (maybe literally). You enable this behavior. If you just told her to stop and look her age …

But it’s not your fault. This is developmentally normal behavior for a child with ADHD, and you are doing very well. Seriously. Only other parents with non-neurotypical children really understand what it is – and only other parents with non-neurotypical children understand that society shames us every time our children “misbehave”. Society threw it out so often that we internalized it.

Perhaps you have even had loved ones who gave you death stare when you properly raised your non-neurotypical child. You could practically hear them thinking as you hugged your child out of a seizure. Maybe, like me, you even brought them in, “Oh, you’re too fat to act like that. Stop yelling at your mom.

Maybe you’ve actually heard all this self-blame spewing out on you – from someone you care about, no less; maybe even one of those original voices you’ve worked hard to exorcise. You must have said something, anything, for the sake of your children, even something as simple as “I got it all under control, thank you”. Then maybe you felt worse afterwards because, not only were you verbally blamed for your child’s behavior, but you didn’t stand up for it the way you would have liked.

It’s hard to feel guilty.

But that only makes us feel inferior. It doesn’t help us, and it doesn’t help our children. If we want to be the best parents we can be, we have to get rid of them. Add “confidence in yourself and your parenting” to your list of things parents of children with ADHD need in spades, next to patience, a sense of humor and a good sense of humor. therapist (certainly for your child, and probably for you too, especially if you have this generational cycle of self-blame).

The cycle of shame ends with you

Your child needs help learning to regulate his emotions. If you just blame yourself for his shortcomings, you are not helping him. Parental shame only makes you feel bad. Give it up.

Take a deep breath and remember: My child is emotionally disturbed. My parenthood is not like other parenthood. Sometimes you are probably wrong and screaming.

That’s okay: we all do it because we’ve been socially conditioned to yell at kids yelling at us. It’s not your fault, but it’s something you can work on.

Try this: learn to recognize this bubbling shame and, at that point, take a step back. Imagine that you are someone else, someone who understands ADHD, and give yourself the same grace you would give to that parent you are looking at. Imagine what you would say to this parent doing their best: don’t give up. You are doing a good job. It’s hard, but you got it.

You can break this cycle of self-blame.

It’s hard, but you got it.

Self-accusation of “bad parents”: next steps

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