Recently a boy in my class told me he is ADHD. That information is fine in and of itself, but since he offered it as the reason why he continued to throw pieces of paper across the art room instead of working on the project, I was not as sympathetic. That led me to wonder if all the labels being tossed about are not damaging a child’s potential.
It is one thing to give a child coping strategies, for example if they have dyslexia it can be helpful to learn how to handle learning situations. Not telling a child about dyslexia could cause them to feel stupid and not understand why they are struggling when everyone else is moving along fine.
Be careful how you talk about their problem though. I have known parents to completely excuse inappropriate behavior by offering a label as an excuse. Now, I am not expecting my girlfriend’s autistic son to join in conversations, but I am talking about the kids who are set loose to wreak havoc under a blanket diagnosis.
Advocate, don’t excuse
Sharing information about a learning disability or other problems a child is facing can be used to teach them how to advocate for themselves. If a child cannot focus when sitting in the back of a classroom, they should know to ask to be moved up front rather than telling the teacher they can’t pay attention because they are ADHD.
Correct bad attitudes
People across the world deal with difficulties everyday. Come alongside your child to help them see and understand the hurdles they have to face without falling into a victim mentality. If you find your child is succumbing to excuses, work on that even before dealing with the problems at hand.
Unfortunately the mother of the paper throwing boy did not see a problem with his excuse. Instead she suggested I put him near a trash can so he can toss the whole period. If he had a severe problem I could see how this solution might work, but this child plays organized sports and is simply allowed to misbehave when it suits him, using ADHD as an excuse.
Focus on strengths, not weaknesses
Avoid using their weaknesses as the main topic of conversation. Children are much more than their disability. If your child is a very slow reader, introduce books on tape. Help them focus on their own strengths not only so they can navigate through education, but manage socially as well. If they know they come on too strong, talk to close, they can work on positive baby steps.
Stop protecting and start preparing
Protecting a child from every social situation and letting them skip anything remotely difficult in order to keep them happy is not the best strategy in the long run. I do home-school, but not so that I can shield my children from people, but so I can prepare them to handle themselves in a wide variety of situations.
Keep talking, keep learning
Every child is different, not only should you have age-appropriate conversations with your children about their disability but keep it matter of fact. Kids process information differently and may blame themselves for not being perfect. Normalizing differences is better than treating your child as if she is “broken.”
Children with disabilities of all kinds should not be limited by their labels. Learn all you can about the problem at hand, but do not let that stop you from encouraging your child to go above and beyond “the label.”
More by Sylvie Branch:
7 Parenting Don’ts
Loud kids? Bring the noise level down
What to do when a child’s artwork is disturbing