How To Build Self-Esteem In ADHD Kids

Boosting Self-Esteem In Children And Teens

This article might have been better titled; “How to build self-esteem in kids, whether ADHD or not.”  The reason is that it’s terribly important for parents and teachers to learn ways to build self-esteem and confidence in all children and teens, not just those kids with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.


build self-esteemMost children with ADHD suffer low confidence levels, poor self-image, and poor self-esteem as a result of their impulsive behavior and terrible communication and social skills. Therefore, building self-esteem and confidence in ADHD teens and children is often viewed as next to impossible and many teachers and parents become frustrated and give up too easily.

I know each and every one of you wants what’s best for their children, both parents, and teachers alike. Also, I know how frustrating it can be to deal with an ADHD child’s ups and downs as I have helped raise many of them, including one of my own.

Low-Esteem Facts in ADHD Kids

So, please let me help by sharing a few of the important things I’ve discovered about dealing with ADHD kids (and kids who are not ADHD) who are suffering low self-esteem:

  • 85% of children with ADHD behavior problems have a poor self-image and low self-esteem.
  • 25% of children who are not ADHD will suffer low self-esteem at one time or another between ages 5 and 19.
  • The worse a child’s impulsive or inattentive behavior, the more likely they have poor communication skills and therefore are prone to low self-esteem.
  • Likewise, any child who can’t communicate well is likely to have mild behavior problems and low self-esteem.
  • Just like non-ADHD kids, kids with ADHD are influenced by the behavior and opinions of those around him or her. We call this the “cohort effect”. For example, if your friend, mother, father, or teachers are generally happy in dealing with you, then you tend to be overall happier… If they treat you unfairly, then you tend to treat others unfairly.
  • ADHD children and teens are much more heavily influenced by those around them than are those children who are not ADHD. In some cases, even those kids misdiagnosed as ADHD fall into the same category.
  • It can take weeks, months or years to build confidence and a positive self-image and good self- esteem in a child with ADHD who is experiencing all of these negatives.
  • The more dysfunctional the family in which the child lives, the more likely attempts to improve confidence and self-esteem will fail or take very long times to accomplish. This includes kids suffering through their parent’s separation and divorce, the death of a loved one, severe illness in a teacher or family member, an abrupt move to a new town or school, family financial problems, and parent or sibling use of alcohol, drugs or promiscuous sex.

Tips To Build Self-Esteem

Here is the first couple of tips on how to build confidence and self-esteem in ADHD kids I’d like to share with you:

  • Firstly, try to figure out exactly what aspects of your child’s confidence and self-esteem are lacking or have been damaged. The fastest way to do so is to take a look at what his or her friends (cohorts) are doing. Are they primarily sports enthusiasts, musicians, the outdoor types or highly motivated to meet physical goals? If your child is trying to keep up with these guys and gals and can’t do so, he or she will suffer a lack of confidence and thus poor self-esteem.
  • Secondly, try to teach your ADHD child or teen at least one new skill per week that will help them deal with their shortcomings. Caution: Teaching them how to do chores is not the same as teaching skills that build confidence. After all, chores are just chores. Boys generally do better when taught something that has a little risk attached to it…like learning to crank a lawn mower or use a hand-held power tool.  Girls tend to adapt better when learning skills that deal with things that improve their physical appearance or personal communication skills or emotions.
  • Thirdly, spend one-on-one time each week doing a life-essential learning adventure. Some examples include hiking and learning how to survive in the wild. Starting a fire without matches. Color coordinating clothing during a shopping trip. Organizing and buying supplies for social events such as pajama parties. These should not be family events or outings, as they must be age appropriate and when taken along, younger children often disrupt the experience for the older child who needs it the most.

As you can see, the basics of building good self-esteem in children and teens are not very demanding, nor hard to implement. You just need to get started and remember; “Building confidence and good self-esteem in children aren’t magic and it doesn’t happen overnight”.

Finding A Great Coach For Your Child With ADHD

Finding the perfect lifestyles coach for your ADHD child or teen isn’t as easy a job as you might think…and at the same time, you’d be surprised at the people you already know that make great coaches.

As you read above, you’ll understand where to look for a coach and how to pick the best one for your child with ADHD.

adhd behavior coachBetween 14% and 17% of parents of ADHD behavior, disordered children will choose to treat their child’s behavior problem with ADHD lifestyles coaching instead of drugs or traditional cognitive behavioral training.

Why? Because parents are increasingly worried about putting their children on ADHD drugs that often have many side-effects and really don’t “cure anything!”  Like yourself, these parents believe that training a child to recognize and manage his own behavior without medications gives the child a chance “to grow out of” or at least develop skills that let them control their ADHD traits by their late teens or early adulthood.

You have to respect these parents, as they are in it for the “long haul”. They aren’t asking for the quick fix. You know…the give the kid a pill to control his or her behavior fix. Unfortunately, many parents and teachers wait until it’s too late to use behavior coaching to change a child with ADHD’s behavior. Often these kids are on the brink of failing a grade or are in legal trouble…and yes, their parents and teachers want the “quick fix” for their behavior. These are the ADHD kids that more often than not, end up on stimulant ADHD medications.

How To Identify A Great ADHD Behavior Coach?

For those of you who are willing to start earlier, when your ADHD child isn’t in trouble, isn’t on the verge of failing a grade, please, let me help you define what I consider the characteristics of a great ADHD behavior coach.

Your perfect ADHD coach is:

  • Someone your child can respect and confide in. That means your child’s coach should not be a parent, a teacher, a brother, a sister, or any close relative or close-frequently seen friend of the family.
  • A young adult or adult who has struggled with ADHD in the past and successfully defeated it or at least coped with it. This person may also have been the parent, grandparent, brother, or sister of an ADHD child who was successfully treated.
  • A person who has the time and resources to act as an ADHD coach in person. ADHD coaching over-the-internet or by phone is by far a second-best substitute for the “real thing!”
  • A person who excels in some facet of life in which your child is interested. For example, Boy Scout masters, Girl Scout leaders, football coaches, basketball coaches, coaches of most competitive sports, avid hunters, successful businesswomen and professional executives often make great coaches. It is really important that whoever coaches your child has skills to teach him or her something that can be used to gain confidence and self-esteem. While fathers and mothers can do this to a certain extent, I assure you the impact on the child’s life will fall very short of what happens when someone outside of the family shows interest in your ADHD child.
  • Someone who is willing to develop an individualized plan for helping your ADHD child or teen deal with the thoughts and emotions that are attached to specific behaviors. I advise parents to give this person a few ideas about their child’s strengths, weaknesses, and behavioral needs but avoid advising the coach on how to best do his or her job. I’ve discovered if an ADHD child suspects his or her parent is directing every aspect of the coaching experience, coaching will likely fail.

Using ADHD Medications To Build Self-Esteem In ADHD Children And Teens

It’s a simple fact: ADHD children and teens with ADHD cannot build self-esteem if they can’t concentrate on or pay attention to the visual, auditory and non-verbal cues that they must absorb in order to learn social skills and advance in academics. (Long sentence…but necessary to get it all out!)

adhd medicationsEveryone is quick to describe the child with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as impulsive, poorly focused, having poor social skills and possibly hyperactive-driven to distraction. But they often forget the single most consistently occurring core symptom of ADHD is poor attention span or inattentiveness, not hyperactivity or impulsivity.

In my experience, about 70% to 75% of kids with ADHD will need medication like Adderall pills to help them focus better, pay better attention and decrease their impulsivity and hyperactivity so that they can learn all of those things needed to build self-esteem.

The other 25% to 30% of ADHD children and teens will either get better with coaching or behavior training or will just go untreated. Once again I’d like to point out an untreated or undertreated child with ADHD will suffer multiple levels of failure in life. So, it’s very important that children with ADHD are adequately evaluated and properly treated.

Treating ADHD With Drugs

While you have these last two paragraphs fresh in your mind, let me share my rules of thumb about treating ADHD with medications. Use the least number of drugs to reach your desired target behavior; zero is the best, one the next best choice. Use the ADHD drug in the lowest dose possible to still achieve the desired results. Use the drug on the lowest dosing schedule possible with the least length of therapy time; one dose a day is the best schedule

  1. Use the drug that gives the least number of side effects; that means using non-stimulant type drugs as often as permitted
  2. ADHD children all respond differently to the same drug-what works for one child, may or may not work for another-each child’s metabolism is different
  3. Just because one child has side effects doesn’t mean another will
  4. When one drug is not working after a twelve-week trial, don’t add another-either increase the dose of that drug or switch to another altogether
  5. If a child’s ADHD behavior doesn’t respond to a methylphenidate stimulant, switch to another drug in the same class before jumping to a totally new type of drug. He or she may respond very well to the second ADHD medication-each ADHD drug is uniquely different and may work better or less well than its cousins
  6. Long-acting amphetamine-based ADHD drugs work better and of course last longer than short-acting medications for ADHD.
  7. It’s almost impossible for a parent, teacher, or doctor to see significant improvement in a child’s or teen’s ADHD behavior in less than one month on any ADHD drug.
  8. Remember, children and teens can become addicted to ADHD stimulants when not properly used and if you stop their medication abruptly, they may suffer severe withdrawal symptoms.
  9. All ADHD drugs can have serious side effects. You should always discuss any of your child’s previous health issues with your child’s ADHD doctor before he or she is started on any ADHD medication.

The best treatment for a child with ADHD is the one that suits his or her needs the best! (That’s one of my little pet sayings. Cute, but one I firmly believe in.)

In closing this series on building self-esteem in children and teens with ADHD, I’d like to once again remind you:

It is just as important not to fail to properly identify and treat a child who really has ADHD, as it is to avoid overdiagnosing or misdiagnosing a child with ADHD when he or she is not ADHD!

We should all strive for a truly accurate diagnosis before using ADHD medications to improve attention span and focus on building self-esteem in ADHD children and teens.

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