How to Nurture Self-Esteem in Kids with ADHD, Autism

Guest post from Jackie Flynn, LMHC, RPT

February 22, 2016

How to Nurture Self- Esteem in Kids with ADHD and/or Autism

More damage than good?

“Sit down right NOW!”

“Be quiet!”

“Why didn’t you turn in your homework? You are so forgetful.”

“Why do I have to tell you over and over again?  Just do it now.”

“You are driving me crazy!”

“Your backpack is a mess.”

“I don’t want to play with you.”

“Just focus and do your work.”

“Look at Jimmy over there, he’s doing his work.  Be like him.”

“Be still.”

Statements such as these can leave kiddos feeling defeated, inadequate, and incompetent, and with low self-esteem. As parents, we can nurture our children’s self-esteem by making a few shifts in our parenting approach.


Fostering healthy self-esteem

Following are 3 tips to help foster healthy levels of self-esteem in your child. While these tips are supportive for self-esteem development in all children, they are especially helpful for children with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADHD) and/or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

1. Set Your Child Up For Success

Help your child to MANAGE TIME, PRIORITIZE, and ORGANIZE in a helpful, loving way.

Organization – Implement a weekly “backpack dump” to help your child learn organization. I know, that is not the most glamorous name for it, but I think you can visualize it. Take everything out of her backpack TOGETHER, then only putting back in what is necessary. This is a helpful skill that can generalize into other areas, such as keeping a clean room, organized notes, etc. It is important to mention that this activity may evoke negative emotion if carried out in a reprimanding manner, so resist the urge to judge or make negative comments that may cause your child to view this activity as another area of inadequacy. The goal of this activity is to give her a strategy to help her get more organized, not to make her feel bad or less than. Eventually she will be able to do this for herself, which will strengthen her self-esteem as it relates to feelings of capability and accomplishment.

Prioritize – Write down a “to do” list together to help your child learn to prioritize. Teach him how to rank items in terms of importance. For example, he may have three things on his list. Explain to him how to rank the items on the list with numbers. Then, encourage work on one task at a time, while being sure to take care of the the higher ranked items first.  Your child will probably love to check things off of the list. This will set him up for success long-term.

Manage Time – Visual aids — checklists, schedules, and such — really help children and adults, especially those with ADHD and ASD.  Visual aids provide structure, certainty, and a sense of safety. Many parents ask me, “How can I help my child manage time, when I struggle with it myself?” In these situations, I recommend being totally transparent with your child in an honest and empathic manner, while expressing expectations. It may sound something like, “It can be so hard to get all of these things done in the morning. I know you feel rushed and frustrated. I feel the same way sometimes. We’re both going to create and use a checklist to help make our mornings easier. I love you.” Create a simple checklist for yourself and show it to your child, then help your child create one as well.

2. Support Self-Efficacy

Resist the urge to jump right in and do things for your child that she can do for herself.

Encouraging and requiring your child to perform tasks within his ability will give him the satisfaction of accomplishment, as well as the opportunity to feel capable and competent.

Packing lunches, washing clothes, cleaning the dinner table, opening water bottles, running bath water, etc., will not only help him feel like an important member of the family, but it will also help cultivate his self-esteem.

3. Spend Quality Time with Your Child

Let your child know that he is important and worthy of your time. Busy schedules can make this one a challenge for sure, but it is so worth the effort. Carving out as little as 10 minutes per day with your kiddo can certainly support his feelings of worthiness. Activities such as playing, reading, and exercising together can strengthen your relationship and support self-esteem in a really big way.

Many kiddos with ADHD and ASD struggle with reading and do not want to read as a result. Since reading is at the foundation of academic success, it is a biggie. Supporting his love for reading is a great way to help boost his self-esteem through success and learning. For parenting reading tips, sign up for my newsletter and download my free ebook “5 Tips to Foster a Love for Reading” here.

Start by implementing at least one of these tips today, then watch your child’s self-esteem blossom.