We're all human.

We all make mistakes. Even mistakes when raising our kids. Especially mistakes in raising our kids. Double-especially mistakes in raising our kids when they have ADHD, autism, or some other developmental disorder. {Can I get an amen?}

The beauty of mistakes is that we learn from them, and improve our tomorrows. In the spirit of learning from mistakes, I'm sharing the top five mistakes parents of kids with ADHD make, and how to turn them around.



Top 5 Mistakes Parents of Kids with ADHD (or High-Functioning Autism) Make

#1 — Setting expectations out of scale for a child with a developmental disorder.

What are we first taught about parenting? That there are certain skills each child must have at certain stages of development — milestones. Babies should roll over around 5 months of age, be socially interactive with caregivers by 9 months, and be using 2-word phrases by age 2. By age 5, we're told our kids should be showing more independence (and be successful at it). By adolescence, they should show interest in their future and planning for it.

But, you're parenting a child with ADHD and/or autism. That means your child is likely 2-3 years behind their calendar age developmentally. Consequently, they are 2-3 years behind their peers with social, emotional, and cognitive skills. Too often, we assign expectations to our kids based on mainstream expectations and their calendar age instead of their developmental age.

You must adjust your yard stick, so you and your child can succeed. When considering expectations for your child, ask yourself these questions, and let those answers be your guide:

  • What is my child's developmental age? At what age are they functionally?
  • What are appropriate expectations for a child that is my child's developmental age?
  • What opportunities can I offer that my child can meet expectations and succeed in?


#2 — Assuming our kids simply don't care to do well.

As behavior expert Ross Greene, Ph.D. says, “Kids do well if they can.” Please note the “if they can.” That means, if you're child isn't doing well in a particular area (like school), it's not that they don't care about it, or don't care about doing well at it. It's means they cannot do well at it given their disability, environment, lagging skills, etc., at the present time.

This comes back to my one guiding principal when parenting kids with ADHD and/or high-functioning autism: discover the reason for the behavior (Why is it happening?), and work to address and alleviate that reason. That will help our kids do better — fear and punishment do nothing to address the why.

Always assume that your child cares about doing well and cares what peers and adults think of him. If he's not doing well, find out why, and do everything in your power to address it effectively. This will honor your child's personal truth and pave the path to success.


#3 — Pushing our kids to live our idea of childhood, and participate in our idea of what kids their age should like, be interested in, and do well at.

When you think back on your childhood, I'll bet there are activities and events that make you feel nostalgic — summer camp, team sports, spending summers outside and active with friends, family movie nights, annual 4th of July fireworks… And these things are precisely what our culture tells us kids should be doing. But “should” has no place in the lives of kids with ADHD and/or autism, and their families.

Take out a piece of paper and write SHOULD really big across the page. Then cross it out with a red marker — put a giant and bolded X over it. Hang it up somewhere in your home where you will see it often.

Our ideas of what a childhood should include from our own generation and experiences are not likely what our kids with ADHD and/or autism can participate in successfully or want to participate in. Instead, if your child isn't good at or interested in Little League, accept it. If your child is filled with fear at the idea of summer camp, honor those feelings. If your child would rather be playing with friends on Minecraft than in the neighbor's yard playing football, concede.

By pushing kids to do what we want them to do or what we think they should experience, we are setting unrealistic expectations, damaging their self-esteem, and not embracing who they are.


#4 — Dismissing our kids' feelings.

Again, we need to talk about appropriate expectations. Remind yourself of your child's developmental age when you're about to dismiss her feelings as too intense, too babyish, or not factual. Most kids who are 9 years old are beginning to exhibit good emotional regulation skills. However, since your 9-year-old with a developmental disorder is actually more like 6, he's not likely to regulate his emotions as well as his peers. He could easily react emotionally in a way that seems inappropriate for his calendar age.

Validating our kids' feelings and emotions is a powerful parenting strategy. Rather than dismiss her feelings because they aren't age-appropriate, or are too intense given the situation, show empathy and acknowledge how things feel to her in that moment. Again, honor your child's truth — what's true for him/her. It's transformative.


#5 — Focusing on weaknesses more than strengths.

When my son was diagnosed with ADHD it was all I could think about and talk about. As soon as my husband opened the front door, he received a deluge of what I'd learned that day about ADHD and all the struggles I was worried about. At family dinner each night, we'd discuss ADHD (well, I talked and they tried to tune out). When I spoke to friends and extended family, it was all about ADHD. When I chose a book to read, it was all about ADHD. I had invited ADHD — and my son's weaknesses, by extension — to consume our lives. It wasn't healthy for any of us, especially my son.

Our kids are constantly reminded of their weaknesses. It's our job, as parents, to ensure that they feel like they have more strengths than weaknesses; that they feel they can have successes; that they have opportunities to boost their confidence and self-esteem. Determine what they are good at, what they like doing, and what they're passionate about and give them many, many opportunities in those areas.


# BONUS — Postponing parent self-care.

Parents are taught to put everyone else's needs before their own, especially mothers (sorry dads, but it's true). We receive the message that it's selfish to do something for ourselves when we have kids.

Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. Parent self-care is one of the defining elements in how well we raise our children. When we postpone or reject self-care, we succumb to the effects of stress and dwindling self-worth. That then affects our physical, mental, and emotional well-being, not to mention the negative messages we end up modeling for our children.


Even if you only get 5 minutes a day locked in the bathroom to have time for yourself, do it. It's so, very important.