Friday, April 7, 2017

What I Wish Teachers Knew about my ADHD Child

I have the benefit, and sometimes misfortune, of not only being mom to an ADHD child but also a teacher. So often, it puts me in between a rock and a hard place. I understand the frustration of having a difficult child in the classroom that is disruptive. I also understand the frustration and joy of loving a wiggly little boy that is full of energy and silliness. That being said, it also gives me a different perspective of both sides.  Here are a few things that I know parents would love to tell you if they could.

1. Telling me that my child needs to focus doesn't help anyone

Part of the definition of ADHD is the lack of focus. I know how much potential my child has "if only he would focus." He is, by definition, incapable. He is an 8 year old boy and has not yet learned how to cope with this disability. Rather than telling me at every conference and on every report card about how much better he could do, why don't we work on teaching him the strategies that he needs so that he actually WILL do better? Let's work together as a team to help him succeed rather than constantly reminding everyone of his downfalls.

2. Parents need to hear the positive too

Yes, we will support you in all of the discipline concerns that you have. Yes, we will be there for our child when he is having a meltdown. Yes, we know that he is going to get into trouble and we will be there. But getting into trouble is not the only thing that he is good at. He is also genuine. He is thoughtful. He is smart. He is kind. He is sensitive. Don't define him by his faults only. You wouldn't want someone to do that to you. Don't do it to a child. Look for the good. Tell us about the good in him too. Don't let us be the only ones that see the good in him. I don't need to hear about every time that he was off task or talking in line.

3. Many ADHD children are unaware of their actions

ADHD children are impulsive. They do things without even thinking about them. Sometimes their brains are spinning so fast that they can't keep up. They lack filters. So often, my child will do something and not even realize that he has done it. He will be talking in class or spinning his pencil or leaning back in his chair. When you correct him, he will say "no I didn't" even though you just saw him doing it. It isn't because he is trying to get out of trouble. It isn't because he is lying to you. It is because his body and brain moves so fast that he honestly doesn't realize that he was doing it. He is unaware of his actions and his surroundings. He doesn't know that he is doing these things. You have to work with him and help him to become more self aware. He can't fix something that he doesn't know he is doing. Don't punish him for lying to you on top of the punishment for talking out. You can't punish him for every little thing. Be understanding. Pick your battles.

4. Frustration is a huge deal!

Imagine that you are on the teacups at Disney and you are spinning and spinning. At the same time, someone is telling you all about multiplying fractions and you have to complete 20 problems before the ride stops. How well could you handle it?

This is the same for kids with ADHD. They are trying to concentrate but there is too much going on around them that they are unable to filter out. Their brains are working overtime and they can't keep up. Would you get mad if you got a bad grade on those 20 multiplication problems? Would you argue that it is unfair? Of course you would, and so do our children. They can't explain to you why it is so frustrating for them. They can't explain why it is unfair. They need you to understand and be their advocate. They need you to help them to get through this frustration.

We, as teachers, tend to see the frustration more than we see the reason for the frustration. We hear the child say "it's unfair" or huff and moan under his breath. We see him slump in his desk or roll his eyes. We see him hide his papers in the back of his desk or tear them up to make them "disappear." We tend to fuss at him for being disrespectful or for not trying. The fact is, he's not trying to be disrespectful. He IS trying to do his work and what you are asking. He is at his frustration point. As a child, he doesn't know how to tell you that he can't concentrate or that he can't do the work you are asking. It is up to you. You need to be aware of what is happening. You have a choice to make. You can either discipline him for being disrespectful and lose his trust in you... OR, you can choose to find the reason behind the behavior and help him through his frustration.

5. It's not always the parents' fault

Yes, there are those few parents that you get frustrated with because it seems that they never discipline their children. Their children get away with everything and sometimes even get rewarded for bad behavior. That doesn't mean that every parent with a "behavior" child is that way. You can not "cure" ADHD with good parenting. Good parenting will help the child learn to cope and use strategies to get them through it, but it will not fix everything. There will still be lots of bumps along the way. Don't judge us too harshly. It wasn't something that we did to make our child this way. We are battling many things on a daily basis and we don't need the teachers to be another battle we have to face. We don't need to feel like it is our fault. Work with us rather than playing the blame game!

6. We don't have all the answers

Just because we are the parents doesn't mean that we have all the answers. Yes, I know my child better than anyone else, but that doesn't mean that I will be able to fix every problem. I will do everything in my power but it will take time. If I had a magic answer, I would have already told you. I am not hiding any secrets from you. I am doing the best that I can. When you call me out of frustration with my child, I am not always going to have an answer for you. Sometimes, my answer is going to be "I don't know," because I truly don't know right now. Not because I am a bad parent.

7. Consistency is key!

If you make a promise to my child, keep it. If he needs a break, give him one (don't make him earn it because that will simply never happen). If he has earned a reward, give it to him. Don't wait until tomorrow. It loses all of its meaning by then. If he has a plan to help him through his day, then keep the plan. Stay on track. He needs you to be consistent. He needs you to be dependable.

8. He is still learning

He is a child. He is not going to be perfect. He is going to struggle with understanding why he is in trouble. He is going to have trouble "seeing" his actions. He is going to have trouble paying attention in class. He is going to have trouble with his peers. Help him. Teach him. Don't be on his case about every single thing. Cut him a break. Remember that he is only a child. Help him learn his strategies and coping skills. Yes, we know that he won't be able to behave this way in the real world.  That is why we are teaching him.  He isn't in the real world yet.  We have 13 years of school to teach him and give him the strategies that he needs to survive in the real world.  Help us.

9. He deserves to be heard

We have already talked about the frustrations that a child with ADHD endures. Part of those frustrations also come from not having a voice. It is hard for a child with ADHD to express themselves. He has hundreds of feelings running through him and no way to explain them. Give him a voice. Take the time to talk with him. Even if he struggles, give him a chance. Even if his opinions are wrong or his perception is completely skewed, let him talk. His opinion matters. His feelings matter.

Sometimes a child with ADHD has perception issues. He doesn't "see" what is happening around him the same way that we do. Just like he doesn't see his actions, he often doesn't see how he is effecting others. When he gets into trouble, he doesn't understand why. He needs to you to explain it to him. He needs you to hear his side of it. He needs you to believe him, even if it wasn't what really happened. Let him tell you his side. Then tell him what you saw. You might see that he is not being intentional and be able to help him through the situation rather than just making him feel like a failure yet again. Just because it doesn't always match up, doesn't mean that he is lying to you. He is telling you what he sees and he needs you to believe him. Explain it to him. Take the time. Don't dismiss him.

10. Help him to make friends

It is hard for kids with ADHD to make friends. They are seen as trouble makers. They make other children nervous because of their impulsiveness. They can be overwhelming. They will try to show off for others to make them laugh; thinking that is the way to make friends. Help them to make friends; good friends. Show them the way. Give them some strategies. Help us as parents, to encourage good friendships with their peers at school.

11. Someone loves him!

When it all comes down to it, the most important thing to remember is that someone loves this child. No matter how difficult he is, no matter how frustrating, he is important to someone. Someone out there loves this child more than life itself. That in itself deserves respect.