Are there benefits to childhood ADHD?
Jami Demuth is the mother of three teenage children, all of whom suffer from attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Your parenting strategy? She encourages them to find ways to make the most of their ADHD symptoms.
“I always tell my kids, [ADHD] the biggest superpower, says Demuth. “And I believe that 100%. Yes, there are challenges with that. … But overall, being a superpower certainly outweighs those challenges.”
This may not be the case with all children. And it’s always important to treat ADHD symptoms. But often, recognizing positive qualities and helping your child focus on them can build confidence and teach them to overcome obstacles.
ADHD usually manifests itself in three main ways: inattention; hyperactivity and/or impulsivity; or a combination of these symptoms.
There are certainly downsides to having too much energy or being easily distracted. However, some children benefit from ADHD behaviors, such as:
Flexibility. People with ADHD tend to think about multiple options at once. This sometimes means that they are less likely to decide on a choice. They can be open to different ideas and different ways of doing things.
Adaptability and flexibility. Because of their symptoms, children with ADHD often have to figure out how to adapt to their environment. This teaches them coping skills and helps them recover from challenges.
Creativity. Children with ADHD are usually extremely imaginative. So it is possible that they are daydreaming or drifting off to the side. But they can also notice what most people don’t. This creativity can help you come up with new ideas and solve problems.
Energy. When children with ADHD are motivated about something, they can devote a lot of energy to it. They strive to succeed in things they find particularly interesting. In fact, it is difficult to distract them from their favorite activity.
Enthusiasm. Children with ADHD tend to have big personalities and are rarely boring to be around. This lively behavior can make them popular with their peers.
ADHD affects each of Demuth’s children differently. For example, you find that your middle child’s enthusiasm and energy boosts your confidence. These qualities helped him make friends and succeed socially at school.
All three of her children, she says, are good at making thoughtful connections and generating original ideas.
“They’re such outside-the-box thinkers,” he says.
Every child with ADHD has different 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 effects of the behavior far outweigh the positives, you’ll never see the positives,” 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 whenever possible, she says.
“If they develop good habits, their ADHD won’t affect them as negatively as if they just had bad habits,” says Wiznitzer, who is also co-chair of the Professional Advisory Board for Mindful Children and Adults. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (CHADD).
How can parents help their children use ADHD symptoms well? First, make sure you focus on the kids can to do, not what they cannot do.
As a parent, it’s easy to pay more attention to what kids are doing wrong, Demuth says. But because children with ADHD receive so many negative messages about their condition, it’s important for parents to encourage them.
“I think you really need to pull yourself together. Don’t start with something negative, like their room being messy,” she says. “Highlight the times when you catch them doing good.”
Wiznitzer recommends that parents make a list of their child’s strengths and then determine which of those are related to ADHD. This will help you understand which traits your child can use to be successful.
Parents can also encourage good behavior by:
Reward system. Reward your child when he does something well. Depending on the child and what they achieve, the reward can be anything from stars on the behavior chart to cold, hard cash.
Behavioral boundaries. Some children with ADHD may be popular with their peers due to their energetic personalities. But in excess, it can lead to “class clown” behavior or alienate others. Parents should encourage their child’s lively personality while making sure they understand when to pull back, such as when they are in the classroom.
Feedback is in focus. Parents are not always aware of how well their child is doing outside the home. If they stop being invited to friends’ gatherings, or if teachers start calling you, their behavior may cross a line. It may be time to step up treatment or talk to them about boundaries. But if they are praised for their behavior, they are likely to manage their symptoms well. Encourage them to keep up the good work.
With any of these strategies, Wiznitzer says, follow the three basic rules of parenting children with ADHD: “structure, routine, and consistency.”