5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Kids with ADHD/Autism

5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Kids with ADHD, Autism

Their Struggle Is Real

Being a kid with ADHD and/or autism is hard. Our kids’ struggles are real! They are constantly bombarded with both direct and indirect messages that they are “less than” their peers. That they are “lazy,” “stupid,” “unmotivated,” or “bad.” When they consistently see their peers succeeding, but they cannot, not matter how hard they try, it takes a brutal toll on self-esteem.

The good news is, there are lots of ways parents can nurture self-esteem in kids with ADHD and/or autism. These ideas are simple, yet impactful.


5 Ways to Build Self-Esteem in Kids with ADHD and/or Autism


#1 Nurture Gifts, Talents, and Interests

What is your child good at? How do they like to spend their time? What are they passionate about? Spend lots and lots of time on those things — as much time as possible. This reinforces for your child that they are good at something, at many things. It offers time succeeding, which will certainly build self-esteem. Gifts, talents, and interests can be anything and everything. Cub scouts, gaming club, robotics club, lego groups, camping, biking, hiking, collecting and studying tadpoles in the creek, learning an instrument, singing lessons, participating in a choir, Science Olympiad, art classes, a mini art studio at home… it really can be anything, as long as your child can feel successful at it.


#2 Focus on Strengths

Every child has strengths. Big or small, there is something every single child is good at — even your child. Many things, I assure you. You need to spend the majority of your days talking about these things, NOT weaknesses and ADHD. The more you focus your child’s attention on what they are good at, the better their self-esteem will be. Again, this can be anything — the possibilities are endless.


#3 Provide Lots of Opportunities for Success

every-child-has-strengthsParents must thoughtfully choose activities for their children with strengths and weaknesses in mind. Remember, your child is 2-3 years behind their peers developmentally. That means they often cannot succeed at mainstream expectations (like throughout their school day). So, parents have to create opportunities for success for kids with ADHD and/or autism. When choosing clubs, classes, or activities for your child, make sure expectations can be tailored to your child’s special needs. Talk with the leader/instructor to guide them on defining appropriate expectations for your child’s participation. #1 and #2 above are also creating opportunities for success.


#4 Implement Positive Reinforcement

Point out when things go well. Offer both praise and a reminder of what it feels like to succeed. Say, “I bet it feels really good to have ______ (whatever their success was).” “I bet it feels really good to have finished your homework without mom hovering and nagging,” for instance. Or, “I like it when you _____.” This can be as small as brushing their teeth without you reminding them, or getting their dirty clothes in the hamper right when they take them off. Whatever behavior goals you’re working on, remind them that they can achieve the goal and to take note of how good it feels to accomplish goals and overcome struggles. Hanging your child’s A or B paper on the refrigerator is another good way to remind them that they can succeed.


#5 Love Them Unconditionally

I know, I know… Love can’t conquer all. You’re right, but love is much more powerful than most people give it credit. Your love is a reminder that there’s good in your child’s life. It’s a reminder that they can feel joy and self-worth. It’s a reminder that you have faith in their successes, and that you are in their corner and have their back. Plus, studies show that feelings of love and affection activate dopamine, the neurotransmitter kids with ADHD need more of. Harness the power of love and increase your child’s self-esteem.