Building self-esteem in children with ADHD

Building self-esteem in children with ADHD is more than just a matter of discipline; it's about shifting perspectives and implementing consistent, positive reinforcement. While it's easy to focus on the challenging behaviors that these children often display, it's crucial to also recognize their accomplishments and efforts. Learn why negative reinforcement doesn't work, and explore strategies for fostering a healthier self-image in your child with ADHD.

The Traffic Light Analogy for Challenging Behaviors

In a way, challenging behaviors are like red traffic lights. Perhaps you can relate to driving down a familiar road, feeling like every traffic light has been red, and thinking “I never realized this route even had so many traffic lights until I had to stop at them all!” It’s easy to notice when there are lots of them, but we often don’t take the time to notice or appreciate the absence of them. Similarly, it’s easy to notice and give negative reinforcement for a child’s challenging behaviors.

The Double Standard of Behavior Reinforcement

For example, if a child is acting impulsively, touching things they shouldn’t, and wandering off at the shops 👉 These behaviors are really obvious, and each behavior is likely to be negatively reinforced. If the same child puts in a lot of effort to control their impulses, resists the urge to touch the interesting things they can see, and holds onto the trolley the whole time 👉 It’s easy to overlook these behaviors, and they aren’t likely to be singled out to be positively reinforced.

The Impact of Negative Reinforcement on Children with ADHD

Unfortunately, people with ADHD often experience criticism or negative feedback for their symptoms that are outside of their control. Often, from a young age, children with ADHD receive negative reinforcement in the form of:

  • 📝Negative report cards
  • 📚Getting in trouble from the teacher
  • 📆Missing deadlines at school
  • 🏠Frustration from parents

The Misunderstanding Surrounding ADHD Symptoms

The symptoms of ADHD can mimic the actions of a person who doesn’t care, isn’t trying hard enough, or is deliberately being disobedient. This means it’s a common misconception that the use of punishments for the symptoms or negative consequences will cause them to ‘just try harder.’

The Emotional Toll on People with ADHD

When people with ADHD don’t understand how their brain is different (and the strategies that work to accommodate it!), they’re often constantly receiving negative feedback and wonder why they’re like this. They can see that their symptoms are hurting the people they care about, but they don’t know how to stop because they’re trying their best.

Internalized Beliefs and Self-esteem in ADHD

A lot of people with ADHD incorrectly believe that the symptoms are their fault. They often have a harsh inner critic and have internalized a deep-seated belief that they are incompetent or there is something inherently wrong with them.

The Importance of Positive Reinforcement

Taking the time to notice and acknowledge good behaviors and accomplishments is important to help build your child’s self-esteem. It’s helpful for parents and teachers to actively look for examples of what the child has done right.

Key Takeaways: Shifting the Perspective on ADHD

It’s also really important to remember:

  • ADHD symptoms are not the person’s fault, a reflection of effort, or a reflection of how much they care.
  • Rewards and positive reinforcement are much more effective for people with ADHD than punishments.
  • It’s never okay to shame a person with ADHD for what they can’t do.

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