Raising a kid with ADHD is hard. Raising any kid is hard, but when your child has ADHD it takes the struggles and kicks them up a notch… or eight. I struggled with my own ADHD growing up and became a classroom teacher. I’ve always wanted to help children with ADHD. Now, I’m a parent of children with ADHD and a parent educator, so I also want to help families experiencing the struggles that come with having a child with ADHD.
When I’m working with families considering medication for their child with ADHD, the majority of parents are hesitant to medicate their child, if not adamantly opposed to it. Every family has their own reasons for their hesitation. Some are afraid of long-term side effects. Others are afraid their child will become addicted. And many are afraid it will change their child’s personality.
I encourage you to talk to your child’s doctor about your concerns, but here are a few things to consider.
First of all, I think it’s important to understand what life is like for your child with ADHD. This is something I understand well, because I was a child with ADHD. Your child with ADHD struggles with impulse control. That means they often act before they think about it. Had your child actually thought first, they likely wouldn’t have made that bad choice that caused them problems and frustrated you. Organization is also hard for your child. Your child didn’t mean to forget their homework again or lose their third pair of mittens this winter. These things are just hard for them. Other things that may also be hard for your child are sitting still, being quiet, and knowing when it’s their turn to talk. Your child might be getting rejected or teased at school for these reasons. Friendships can be really hard for kids with ADHD. And your child may feel emotions extra strongly. When your child is having a complete meltdown over a small thing, it doesn’t feel like a small thing to your child. It feels every bit as huge as they are acting like it feels.
So what can you do to help your child? Should you try ADHD medication? Only you can answer that question. No one knows your child as well as you do. But, here are a few things that parents sometimes tell me and a few things to consider about them.
We’ll do therapy instead.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy and other accommodations can be beneficial for children, and I think they’re important. But if they aren’t working, it might be because a child’s brain is moving too fast for them to utilize the skills they’re learning or the accommodations that are made for them. If that’s the case, then, of course, they won’t be able to help them.
If we start medication, then they’ll need to be on it their whole life.
Sometimes if a medication can help slow the child’s brain down enough to use the skills they learn in therapy, they may eventually be able to use the skills without the medication.
I don’t want my child on medication at all.
If a child had diabetes, most parents wouldn’t think twice about medicating him against this life-threatening condition. But, in a way, ADHD is also life-threatening. Not usually to the child’s physical life, but certainly to the child’s quality of life.
Children with ADHD often start to feel like they can’t do anything right. This message may come from adults in their lives, but even a child surrounded by caring, supportive adults will often become frustrated with what feels like constant failures. Like I mentioned above, children don’t mean to forget things or interrupt. They often want to act differently than they find themselves acting.
Going through life with ADHD is really hard. Children with ADHD have to work much harder to do things that come more easily for other kids.
Making things even harder for these kids is that children with ADHD are more likely to be rejected or bullied at school because of the struggles they often have with friendships.
They will become addicted to their ADHD medication.
Some of the stimulants used to treat ADHD can be addictive if misused. But, sadly, there is a lot of evidence showing that teens with ADHD have a higher incidence of self-medicating with alcohol and other drugs.
It will change their personality.
I definitely don’t have all the answers, but every time a parent says this to me, I think the reverse might be the way to look at it.
The first time a child I worked with as they started medication for ADHD was a fifth-grade boy in my very first teaching assignment. The first few months I taught him, he was constantly interrupting in class, disrupting his classmates, and losing more homework than he turned in. He started medication and the change was immediate. He was no longer interrupted in class and got his homework done, but what really hit me was how this little guy beamed with pride. He felt so good about the changes he was making. I realized he’d been really unhappy before. He didn’t want to interrupt. He was sick of missing assignments.
He was finally able to be who he wanted to be. The medication hadn’t changed his personality. The ADHD had. When the medication allowed him the time to think of what he actually wanted to do instead of acting before he thought, then his real personality came through. When the medication allowed him to focus on his work, he could be successful like he had always wanted to be.
I started medication for my ADHD in my forties. So, I knew very well who I was; I’d had over 40 years to get to know myself. The medication doesn’t change who I am. It just settles down the things in my mind that are out of control; it enables my mind to work as it’s supposed to. It allows me to do the things I want to do, act the way I want to act, and be the person I want to be.