Parenting the ADHD child…with grace and sanity

When I had my third child, one of my sisters said, “You have three children, and I can’t believe how completely different they are?  You would think they would be similar in some small way.” That statement has stuck with me for years and she is completely correct. I have three children with three totally different personalities, and quite frankly, follow birth order rules very closely.

The firstborn and only girl – is stubborn, driven, independent and, at times, a type A personality like her mama. My middle child is quieter than the other two and more reserved when you first meet him. He is content in almost any situation, but has many hurdles to overcome (an entirely different entry). The third and youngest child is our daredevil, a thinker and eerily similar to the energizer bunny. Both my middle child and my youngest have ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). The middle one is straight out ADD (no hyperactivity), and the youngest is a good combination of Attention Deficit mixed with a whole lot of hyperactivity.

Even as an infant, I could have told you that he had ADHD. He slept well, but when he was up…he was UP and full speed ahead. He used to fight naps as a toddler and would literally go and go and go until he couldn’t go anymore. We have several pictures of him sleeping halfway on/off the couch, standing in front of our ottoman with his upper body leaning into it, arms straight down and out cold. He has fallen asleep on the toilet, at the table, in the bathtub and in a grocery cart (multiple times).

This is the same child that hit all of his milestones leap years ahead of my older two. He crawled at 5 months old, and for a minute it was cute, until I realized we needed to update all the baby-proofing gadgets. Those new knobs and locks only lasted less than 15-minutes before he figured out how to take them off or unlock them. At 12 months old, I found him standing on our counter – naked except for the fireman’s hat and boots. From that moment on, our kitchen chairs were tied to the table legs, but that didn’t stop him. He simply taught himself to wrap his little toes around the drawer pulls. After that, he no longer needed the chairs.

When he was 4 years old, we were at our small town 4th of July parade. As I stood watching my older two gather candy thrown to the crowd, a parade official tapped me on the shoulder and said, “Ma’am? He has to get down from there.” I turned around to find that he had shimmied his way up to the top of the light post and sat there waving to everyone as they passed by.

He doesn’t look at the world like the rest of us. He sees everything as a challenge or an opportunity to explore. His favorite store is- Star Supply –  our local surplus junk store because he is always planning something. What 8-year-old asks to go to the junk store? In his mind…a tree with a branch is a chance to hang by your knees, but a tree with multiple branches is a treehouse waiting to be built. If there is something in your way and you can choose to go around it or over/under it, you should always choose the second option. If something can be climbed on and jumped off, you should always try it…at least once. If something can fit in the palm of your hand, you should see how far you can throw it. If you find a stick, a branch or even a broom, you should always offer a sparring match. Screws are meant to be taken out and electronics are meant to be taken apart. An on/off switch an an invitation to play – again and again and again. If you can fit in to it, you should wear it, even if it is three sizes too small or too big. He has his own sense of fashion and enjoys being himself. What’s not to love?

murphy

(Making everyone gasp and laugh at the same time -a God given talent –  at a recent wedding.)

Loving this child and parenting this child are different. This child has my unconditional love and support forever and always, but teaching him to control his impulses, listen and follow directions is quite a challenge. He never does anything to hurt others and his behavior is never meant to disregard rules or disobey in anyway. His behavior stems from the belief that he has a better way of doing things. He is as strong willed as they come, but when it comes to friendship you’ll never meet a more loyal 8-year-old. He won’t ever hurt anyone on purpose, but I’ll be willing to bet he get’s in trouble one day for defending a friend with a swift right hook.

How do you teach an out-of-the-box thinker, constant mover and kinesthetic learner to sit, listen, follow directions, memorize and regurgitate facts for tests not meant for learners like you? I stood firm on the “Anti-Medication” pulpit for a long time and feared the day it would come. That day arrived earlier this year, when I realized this child would never be able to demonstrate how smart he truly is if he couldn’t sit still long enough to prove it. The institution of education is historically a one-size-must-fit-all-approach. Children sit, listen, discuss and demonstrate their knowledge. How do you do this when your body is telling you to move and your brain is constantly thinking? I am beyond grateful for his teacher this year. She knew this was a difficult decision for us and she helped us weigh the pros and cons of medication. As a former classroom teacher and an adult very familiar with ADHD, this should have been an easy decision, but it was quite the opposite. I felt like I had failed my child. I couldn’t teach him those coping strategies that it took me years to learn. I couldn’t watch him struggle, because he physically cannot sit and concentrate.

Finding a balance between behavioral therapy, medication, a good routine, structure and free time is a constant learning curve. Parenting a child with ADHD has taught me to offer praise more often than criticism and see the blessings of that much energy when harnessed for good.

My heart goes out to the parents of a child with ADHD and to the children, like my son, that just have to move. Comments meant to seem empathetic are quite common, even from strangers…Be glad he’s not a twin. Boy, he really keeps you on your toes! He’s very active. Isn’t he?! You’ve got your hands full. Don’t you?! He’s ALL boy! I have heard them all. I wish for one second that the rest of the world could see the child that I see. The child that offers to help no matter how big the job. A child that is more responsible than kids five years older than him. A child that works hard simply to hear the words “good job.”

 

Isaiah 41:10 Don’t be afraid, for I am with you. Don’t be discouraged, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand.

 

Dear Heavenly Father,

Thank you for this beautiful and talented child that you have given me. I am comforted by your encouragement and strength. Help the world to see the child that I see, not the symptoms of ADHD. I pray that he hears words of praise more often than criticism. I know there are many parents struggling with a similar situation, and I pray that they too are comforted by your love and grace.  

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