137: Are You Sending Unintended Messages?

Picture of hosted by Penny Williams

hosted by Penny Williams

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spreaker  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

Very often people receive something we say differently than we intended them to. This is even more true for kids with neurodifferences like ADHD and autism. Kids who struggle with social skills, emotional awareness, a sensitized stress response, and an inflated sensitivity to rejection and criticism. Our parenting comes from the best of intentions and love, but it’s often received much differently than intended. Listen in as Penny highlights the pitfalls of unintended messages and outlines how to be more mindful of the ways your messages are received and interpreted to prevent inadvertently hurting our kids. 


Some of the resources may be affiliate links, meaning I receive a commission (at no cost to you) if you use that link to make a purchase.

Subscribe to Clarity — my weekly newsletter on what’s working in business right now, delivered free, straight to your inbox.

Work with me to level up your parenting — online parent training and coaching  for neurodiverse families.


Penny Williams 0:03

Think for a second, take a big, long deep breath. And think for a moment about what you want to say and how your child might receive it.

Welcome to the parenting ADHD Podcast, where I share insights and strategies on raising kids with ADHD straight from the trenches. I'm your host, Penny Williams. I'm a parenting coach, author, ADHD a Holic and mindset Mama, honored to guide you on the journey of raising your a typical kid. Let's get started.

Hi, parents Welcome back to the parenting ADHD podcast. Today, I want to talk to you about unintended messages. And I find this to be a real pitfall for parents of kids with differences like ADHD and autism. And it's one that is very, very important to be aware of, and mindful of, because our kids will assign messages to things that we say, when it's not clear what the message is, or when they misinterpret what our intention and our message is. So it's really, really valuable to be very mindful about the way that your child receives and processes, what you say to them, or even what you do. So a big example for us that I didn't realize for the longest time that I was doing, but my son struggled, so very much in school, he struggled with executive functioning. So planning, organizing, writing down homework, doing homework, taking homework, back to school, turning in homework at school, all of that kind of stuff was really, really difficult. Plus, he has dysgraphia, which is a handwriting disorder. And so any written output, which is most of what school is, was really hard for him. So I was always trying to help, right, I was his assistant secretary really, and I was doing the planning, I was doing the organizing, I was figuring out what needed to be done. And then I was pretty much forcing him to do schoolwork with me or under my supervision, because I knew that if he walked away, and tried to do it on his own, that it just wouldn't get done. Because that was our experience. And so I kept pushing them that way, all through high school, really, and didn't realize, and so pretty much toward the end of it that the message that I was sending to him was that I didn't think he was capable, which was not true at all. I felt like he was absolutely capable, if he one had any interest in being successful at it. And number two, if he had the structure, or the support, that he needed to succeed at it. And that structure and support could have been really not necessarily me micromanaging. But the problem was that he wasn't using the tools he wasn't using the strategies he didn't find school important enough to really get it done. And even sort of graduating from high school didn't feel important to him, until probably the day of graduation. And when we pulled out of the driveway and headed that way, then he felt really proud and excited and realized that it was a big deal. And so it was super, super hard to get him to even moderately succeed at school without a whole lot of help from me. And, I was just trying to be hopeful, right? My intention was that I loved and cared about him. And I really wanted him to be able to pass his classes and graduate from high school, because I can see the greatness in him. And I knew that he just needed to graduate and move on to something he could choose what he wanted to study and when and where. And then he could be successful. But the problem was, again, I was sending this message to him inadvertently, completely inadvertently, that I didn't think he was capable. And it really had a negative impact on him. And so I wish that I had been more aware and mindful of that messaging that I was sending. And that's just one example. Every day and everything we say to our kids, and the tone of voice we use and the facial expression that we have, we are sending a message right but our kids may not be receiving it in the way that we intend them to. So if I say to my child, I need you to

Go brush your teeth. I don't understand why. You can't just brush your teeth every morning, right? Why can't you just when my son was young and before diagnosis, and for a while after diagnosis, that was like everything that ever came out of my mouth to him, and it was 1000 times a day. Why can't you just brush your teeth? Why can't you just put your dirty clothes in the hamper? Why can't you just sit here and eat your breakfast? Why can't you just get your shoes on? When I asked you? Why can't you just sit here and do your spelling work? Right? It was just this constant. Why can't you just and I didn't yet understand why he couldn't do those things. Because for every one of those things, there's a reason why he wasn't succeeding at meeting expectations. But I didn't understand that yet. And I didn't understand why yet. And so I was constantly sending this message that he wasn't good enough. He wasn't meeting my expectations, which is hard for our kids. And he wasn't sort of on the same level as other kids as his peers, right? Because I'm saying Why can't you just do this? As in? Everybody else can do this? Why can't you? Right, and that's what our kids are hearing and feeling. When we say things like that to them. Of course, if we've lost our patients, if our voices raised, if we are yelling, we are definitely sending the message that we kind of don't care. Honestly, if you're yelling at your child, what they are hearing is my parent does not understand me see me hear me, or love me, or care about me. And of course, we don't intend to send that message, right. So the more calm that we stay with our kids, when they're struggling, the better that message is that they're receiving, when we're saying calm, and we're offering support, and empathy and understanding their hearing. While my mom really cares about me, my parent really gets me, she sees me, she hears me, she wants to understand, she wants to help me, those are very different messages, right. And again, all of this is nonverbal communication. This is just what our kids are seeing and hearing around the actual words that we're saying. And we really have to be mindful of that. It's not just about the words, you're saying, one thing that that I get really upset about sometimes, and I'm constantly telling parents to watch the language that you use to describe your child, and to describe behavior. Because the way that you describe your child and their behavior becomes the tone of your thoughts about them, your relationship with them, sometimes what comes out of your mouth and what you say to them. So for instance, if you are even thinking not saying out loud, but even just thinking it is troublesome, if you're thinking my child is so disrespectful, my child refuses to brush his teeth every day, you are giving a specific tone to what is going on there. And it's a tone of judgment, character judgment of what is going on for your child what that behavior means. And really, these behaviors just mean that there's an unmet need, or a lagging skill, or a problem with faulty neuro ception. There's something going on for your child that is preventing them from feeling regulated and connected and safe. And when they don't feel regulated, connected and safe when they feel dysregulated or unsafe. That's where we see these behaviors. And so when we decide that they're just a disrespectful kid, we're not seeing behavior through that brain base lens of them having a hard time they're struggling, we're deciding that it's intentional. And, these things come along so quickly and automatically, that a lot of times it isn't a decision on our part to think, Oh, my child is so disrespectful. What's a decision is to slow down and be mindful and aware and intentional in the ways that we think about behavior and the ways that we process behavior and the ways that we react or respond to behavior. And again, this links right back to unintended messaging, being very intentional about your thoughts about

behavior or your response to behavior is going to help you be very intentional about the message that your child receives, when they hear you talk about behavior, or when they see sort of the disgust on your face, right. And it's really, really important that we're very, very aware and mindful, and intentional, we have to be purposeful, as parents, we have to be in control of ourselves, right? So that we can help our kids, because your child isn't giving you a hard time, your child's having a hard time. And it's very, very important to recognize that, so that you are very purposeful in your messaging to your child. And so again, you really have to be aware, think for a second, take a big, long, deep breath. And think for a moment about what you want to say, and how your child might receive it. Then another aspect that often comes into play here is rejection sensitive dysphoria, also known as our S, D, rejection sensitive dysphoria. And this is a term that Dr. William Dodson, came up with, who is an ADHD specialist, now retired. But there are many articles on attitude magazine, about rejection sensitive dysphoria. And so what happens as a person with RSD is very, very sensitive to judgment, criticism, and rejection. And it's not just actual judgment, criticism and rejection, it is perceived judgment, criticism, and rejection. So you may not intend for that message at all. But your child may receive that message, because they are extra sensitive to it. Because they are always on high alert for criticism. Often if your child has RSD, you are saying something, just to try to be helpful. But they're hearing criticism, they're hearing judgment. And they quickly put up a wall. And they're very defensive. And they get emotional, right? And it seems like, wow, where did this come from? We're totally blindsided by it often. But when you understand RSD, and you see that in your child, or maybe in yourself, then you can see more clearly what messaging might be coming through, right. So if I want to say to my son, maybe, you really should work this math problem out on your paper, you might get lost in the problem and working it out step by step, unless you write everything down. And he may hear, if he has rejection sensitive dysphoria, you suck at math, you don't know how to do this, your way is wrong. They're just hearing all of this criticism and judgment that isn't there and isn't intended. But because of that extreme sensitivity, their brain is creating it. And often we see this in kids with ADHD, and anxiety. Anxiety can create a very critical mind a very sensitive on high alert mind where you're always wondering, when the next time you're going to screw up is. And so you will often hear you screwed up in things that people are saying to you whether they've said it or meant it, or even thought it or not. And so being aware of RSD is really, really helpful for parents as well, to understand and to see maybe some of those pitfalls in your messaging to your kids. And I want to wrap up just by saying and reminding you that you are doing the best that you can. And sometimes we are going to send the wrong messages. I mean, look, I started out by telling you that I was sending this horrible message to my son unintentionally, all through his childhood and teen years, right all through school. And it wasn't intentional. It was done through the utmost love and support. And yet it felt bad to him on the receiving end of that. And we just have to be really careful that we're taking a breath.

And we're thinking during that breath, what am I going to say and what is my child going to hear? What is my child going to hear, and then modify what you're going to say before it comes out of your mouth. If you can see that it may be received in an unintended way because we

Want to have the best relationship possible with our kids, we want to support them in a way that makes them feel confident and competent. And we want to support them in a way that honors their neuro diversity and who they are and where they are. And we do that by really moving forward in our parenting with a lot of mindfulness and intention, and purpose. So really think about what is my child hearing when I say different things to them. And that's it for this episode. For the show notes go to parenting ADHDandautism.com/137. I will link up some other applicable podcast episodes there. And I will see everyone next time.

Thanks for joining me on the parenting ADHD podcast. If you enjoyed this episode, please subscribe and share. And don't forget to check out my online courses, parent coaching and Mama retreats at parentingADHDandautism.com

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Thank you!

If you enjoyed this episode, please share it. Have something to say, or a question to ask? Leave a comment below. I promise to answer every single one. **Also, please leave an honest review for the Beautifully Complex Podcast on iTunes. Ratings and reviews are extremely helpful and appreciated! That's what helps me reach and help more families like yours.

I'm Penny Williams.

I help stuck and struggling parents (educators, too) make the pivots necessary to unlock success and joy for neurodivergent kids and teens, themselves, and their families. I'm honored to be part of your journey!

Pinpoint the
Help You Need
right now

Take my free quiz to cut through the overwhelm and get focused on the information and resources that will help you and your child RIGHT NOW.

free video series
Quick Start: 3 High-Impact Actions to Transform Behavior

Transforming negative or unwanted behavior is a long and complex process. HOWEVER, there are a few actions you can take right now that will provide a big impact. These 3 high-impact strategies address foundational aspects of behavior, empowering you to help your child feel better so they can do better.



Makes time visual for those with time blindness.


Blends gaming with off-screen activities to teach coping skills through play.


Manage chores and routines while building self-confidence and independence.


A chair that gives kids a sensory hug.

About the show...

I'm your host, Penny.

Join me as I help parents, caregivers, and educators like you harness the realization that we are all beautifully complex and marvelously imperfect. Each week I deliver insights and actionable strategies on parenting neurodivergent kids — those with ADHD, autism, anxiety, learning disabilities…

My approach to decoding behavior while honoring neurodiversity and parenting the individual child you have will provide you with the tools to help you understand and transform behavior, reduce your own stress, increase parenting confidence, and create the joyful family life you crave. I am honored to have helped thousands of families worldwide to help their kids feel good so they can do good.

Listen on Apple Podcasts  |  Google Podcasts  |  Spotify  |  iHeart Radio

Share your thoughts.

Leave a Reply

Start Typing