Updated: Nov 17
Ever caught yourself viewing your child's world through a lens tinted with deficits rather than strengths? It's a common trap we fall into, especially when it comes to something like ADHD.
Society often stamps it as a 'disability', but guess what? Many successful folks with ADHD actually credit their unique brain wiring for their achievements. Check out what 23-time Olympic gold medalist, Michael Phelps says about his ADHD:
“It’s something that I’m thankful happened, and I’m thankful that I am how I am,” he says. “I look at myself everyday and I’m so proud and so happy of who I am and who I was able to become.”
This might make you wonder: 'Am I doing my child a disservice by not celebrating their unique qualities?' or 'Is my praise too hard to come by?'
Trust me, you're not alone.
In this article, I'm excited to walk you through a game-changing approach. It's not just about appreciating your child's special gifts (which is key), but also about rewiring how we, as parents, perceive and interact with our kids.
This little shift can do wonders — not just in strengthening your bond with your child but also in reshaping your approach to relationships in general.
Just give this a try and let me know how it goes -- send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org and share your experience with me.
Before we dive in
I was inspired to write this article after reading the book, "Fatherhood is Leadership" by Devon Bandison. I owe Devon credit because they say there is no manual on how to parent, but Devon wrote it!
Dads, if you are looking for inspiration on how to grow in your role, this book is filled with touching stories and helpful activities to support you.
Now that credit has been given where due, let's jump into the good stuff!
How do I show my child I appreciate them?
These three steps will improve your relationship with your child, help them feel appreciated, and create a new way to look at your child with ADHD. I've also found this technique to be helpful in improving other relationships in your life that may be tainted by the "deficit lens" that is easy to fall victim to.
What is the "deficit lens"?
The "deficit lens" refers to the tendency to focus predominantly on an individual's weaknesses or shortcomings, often overshadowing their strengths and potential.
This perspective, particularly in educational and developmental contexts, can negatively impact a child's self-esteem and motivation, leading to biased perceptions, reduced expectations, and ineffective learning strategies.
Research highlights the detrimental effects of this approach, including its potential to exacerbate mental health issues and perpetuate inequities, especially among marginalized groups.
It emphasizes the importance of adopting a balanced view that values and nurtures a child’s strengths and talents, alongside addressing areas needing support, for a more holistic and empowering approach to development and learning.
Step 1: Write down three things you love about your child with ADHD
Appreciating your child, especially when they have ADHD, can be incredibly affirming and transformative for both of you.
Start with a simple but powerful exercise: write down three things you genuinely admire about your child. These could range from their endless creativity, often a hallmark of ADHD, to their unique problem-solving skills, or even their infectious enthusiasm for topics they're passionate about.
For instance, you might appreciate:
Your child's imaginative storytelling
Their ability to think outside the box
Or the boundless energy that keeps them always on the move and exploring new things.
By focusing on these positive traits, you not only reinforce your child's self-esteem but also remind yourself of the wonderful aspects of their personality that might sometimes be overshadowed by the challenges of ADHD.
Step 2: Share these things with your child
Integrating appreciation into family dinners is a wonderful way to acknowledge the unique traits of your child with ADHD. Start by setting a positive tone during dinner, announcing that you have something special to share about your child. This creates an atmosphere of anticipation and warmth.
Both parents can take turns, with one beginning by expressing their admiration for a specific trait of the child. For example, one might say, 'I'm always amazed by your creativity, like when you came up with that story last week.' Be sure to provide specific examples to make your praise more tangible and meaningful.
After sharing, encourage your child to respond or share their feelings. This interaction not only validates their feelings but also strengthens family bonds.
Making this a regular part of your family dinners, where everyone gets appreciated for their unique qualities, builds a supportive and loving home environment.
By consistently practicing this exercise, you help nurture your child's self-esteem and reinforce the positive aspects of their ADHD, while also fostering a culture of open communication and mutual appreciation within the family.
Step 3: Have your child share three things they love about themselves
After you've shared what you love about your child, the next step is to encourage them to recognize and appreciate their own positive traits. This step is crucial for building self-esteem and self-awareness in children, especially those with ADHD.
Invite your child to think of three things they love about themselves. It could be during the same family dinner or a separate moment dedicated to this exercise. Encourage them to reflect on their own strengths and qualities they are proud of.
For instance, they might appreciate:
Their own sense of humor
Their ability to make friends easily
Or their persistence in solving challenging puzzles.
As they share, listen actively and validate their feelings. Show enthusiasm and interest in their thoughts.
This not only makes them feel valued but also reinforces the importance of self-love and acceptance. By practicing this exercise, you empower your child to embrace their unique qualities and build a positive self-image.
What are the benefits of focusing on what you appreciate about your child with ADHD?
Recognizing and appreciating a child's positive traits, especially in those with ADHD, can significantly boost their self-esteem. This approach is crucial for children who often face more challenges and negative feedback, as it helps counteract these negatives and reinforces a positive self-image.
Encouraging children to identify their own strengths leads to greater self-awareness. Research links this increased self-awareness to improved emotional regulation and coping strategies, essential for their overall emotional and social development.
Sharing positive attributes as a family activity also strengthens familial bonds. This practice of open and positive communication within the family builds trust and a sense of security, key elements in a healthy family dynamic.
Focusing on a child's strengths rather than deficits encourages a growth mindset, an approach developed by psychologist Carol Dweck.
This mindset helps children see challenges as opportunities for growth, a perspective particularly beneficial for those with ADHD who may frequently encounter academic or social hurdles.
Do's and Don'ts for praising your child
In line with Carol S. Dweck's philosophy, it's important for parents to navigate the balance between praise and fostering a growth mindset in their children.
Do focus on praising the process rather than just the outcome. This means appreciating the effort, perseverance, and strategies your child employs, rather than just celebrating their successes.
Don't give empty or false praise, as it can lead to a dependency on external validation rather than internal motivation.
Do encourage a love for learning and challenges. Show excitement for new opportunities and mistakes as they are avenues for growth.
Don't shy away from acknowledging mistakes or struggles; instead, use them as teachable moments to build resilience and problem-solving skills.
Do emphasize the value of continuous learning and improvement, teaching your child that skills and intelligence can be developed with time and effort. This approach helps children build a sturdy foundation of confidence that is self-generated and not solely reliant on external praise.
What does the research tell us about the impact of telling children we appreciate them?
Reduced Financial Burden and Stress
Focusing on the strengths of children with ADHD can alleviate the financial and emotional stress on families.
In the 2005 study "Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: A Selective Overview" highlights this by stating:
"Focusing on positive aspects can help reduce financial burden, stress to families, and adverse academic and vocational outcomes"
A positive approach in managing ADHD is beneficial for enhancing the self-regulation abilities of children.
The study "Self-Regulation Interventions for Children with Attention Deficit/hyperactivity Disorder" by R. Reid, A. Trout, and Michalla Schartz (2005) found:
"Focusing on positive aspects in children with ADHD can help them self-regulate their behavior and increase positive target behaviors"
Improved Academic and Social Outcomes
Positive reinforcement can lead to better academic and social outcomes for children with ADHD.
The study "ADHD: Clinical Practice Guideline for the Diagnosis, Evaluation, and Treatment of Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Adolescents" by M. Wolraich et al. (2011), notes:
"Focusing on positive aspects in children with ADHD can improve their academic achievement, well-being, and social interactions"
Better Management of ADHD
Emphasizing the positive aspects helps in the effective management of ADHD. E. Cormier (2008) in the study "Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder: a review and update," points out:
"Focusing on positive aspects in children with ADHD can help them manage their condition and improve their functioning"
Holistic and Hopeful Approach
A focus on the positives leads to a more holistic and optimistic perspective in dealing with ADHD.
Emma A. Climie and Sarah M. Mastoras (2015) in their study "ADHD in schools: Adopting a strengths-based perspective," state:
"Focusing on positive aspects in children with ADHD can lead to a more balanced, holistic, and hopeful approach"
As we wrap up this exploration into appreciating and empowering our children with ADHD, it's clear that this approach isn't just about making them feel good. It's about creating a foundational shift in how they view themselves and their abilities.
When we focus on their strengths and encourage them to do the same, we're not just boosting their confidence but equipping them with the tools to face life's challenges with resilience and a positive outlook.
If this resonates with you and you're seeking more strategies to support your child's growth and development, consider exploring executive function coaching.
It's a resource that can provide additional insights and techniques tailored to your child's unique needs and potential. To dive deeper into this topic and discover how executive function coaching can benefit your family, check out the resources below.
Your journey towards nurturing a thriving, confident child with ADHD is just a click away!
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About the author
Sean G. McCormick is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization, and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered. He also founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains special education teachers, school psychologists and other professionals to support students with ADHD and executive function challenges. He lives in Petaluma with his wife and two daughters.