Guest Expert

Foster Self-Esteem in ADHD Girls in the Early Years

Patricia Quinn

The issues faced by girls with ADHD are clearly very different from those of typical elementary school-aged boys with the disorder. In order to help a girl with ADHD, it is critical to understand these issues. The key to successful outcomes is often found in the understanding and support girls receive at home. To better understand your daughter, and to learn what you can do to help her thrive despite her ADHD, read on.

Outlining the Issues

In addition to problems with attention and hyperactivity, ADHD may affect your daughter socially and emotionally.

  • The rapid “give and take” of group interactions may often prove difficult for her.
  • She may act shy or feel socially “out of it” except with one best friend (if she has one).
  • Life for these girls can be an emotional roller coaster.
  • She can be stubborn, angry, defiant and rebellious.
  • She can be hyper-reactive, as well as hyperemotional.
  • Her low frustration tolerance and disorganization can lead to a great deal of stress for herself and others.
  • A hypersensitivity to criticism from you and/or others may develop.
  • She may demonstrate a desire to conform to teacher expectations and not draw attention to herself. However, her distractibility or forgetfulness may result in teacher disapproval, embarrassment and humiliation in front of her classmates and friends.
  • Difficulty with attention and disorganization may affect her ability to follow directions or follow through on assignments or to do her chores.

As a consequence of these issues, she may be given less responsibility at home or underachieve academically. You may find yourself taking over many of her responsibilities in order to keep her organized and on track. Or, you may simply give up, allowing her to fail, further eroding her competence and self-esteem. How can you strike a balance and help your daughter succeed?

5 Ways to Help Your Daughter with ADHD

So, how can you help? Here are five things you can do:

 1Encourage your daughter to learn more about her ADHD and how it affects her

Learning about her ADHD and what she can do about it is a critical first step in the process of living successfully with the condition.  There are now books for girls with ADHD. These include my book, “Attention, Girls! A Guide to Learn All about Your ADHD” for ages 7 to 12 years; “Get Ready for Jetty: My Journal about ADHD and Me”  by Jeanne Kraus featuring a 4th grader with ADHD; and “The Girls' Guide to ADHD” by Beth Walker for older (middle school) girls.

2.  Provide a “safe” space to “time out,” relax, and regain control

Whether she is shy and withdrawn or “hyper” and impulsive, a girl with ADHD often feels emotionally overwhelmed. From an early age, you can teach her the value of taking an emotional “time out” -- not as a punishment, but as a way to regroup after an emotional upset. Help her set up a safe, quiet place within her room or your home that she can use as a retreat when things get difficult for her. Teach her to manage her emotions by recognizing what “pushes her buttons,” and to avoid these situations or people. In addition, she needs to become familiar with the signs of stress in her body and develop a set of stress management techniques. Encourage her to take steps to gain greater self-control over her emotions and ADHD.

3.  Minimize corrections and criticism 

Often in an attempt to “help” their daughter overcome her “disability,” parents fall into the trap of continually pointing out her failures. Girls with ADHD are usually in a great deal of pain, and burdened by shame as well. Correction and criticism only add to that burden. I'm not advocating a complete “hands off” approach. I am suggesting you be more empathetic and sensitive to your daughter's needs. A kind word at the end of a difficult day at school, or an understanding pat on the shoulder or hug when she knows she has made a mess of something, can often be more effective than pointing out what went wrong. Often by asking questions, rather than criticizing, you'll find you open up the lines of communication and provide opportunities for change.  An, “It must be difficult when … happens,” rather than a “You messed up again!” is so much more effective. It preserves, rather than erodes, her self-esteem.

4. Find her “islands of competence”

Girls with ADHD often feel that they are “not good at anything.” They tend to give up easily and may have difficulty developing their skills or focusing on their talents. By helping your daughter discover her strengths and establish an “island” or activity where she feels competent, you can help build her self-concept as well as improve self-esteem. By recognizing and praising her for her effort, not just her accomplishments, you will encourage her to attempt new activities and boost her self-confidence.

 5. Foster Independence

Work with your daughter to develop strategies and use tools to keep her organized and on track. This includes setting up schedules and routines in the morning (ways to wake up and get going independently each morning), after school (homework), and bedtime. Girls should also participate in school meetings (particularly 504 sessions) that discuss strategies and classroom adaptations to ensure academic success. In addition, it's never too early to work with your daughter on learning to problem-solve, and how to ask for help when she needs it -- two skills that will be critical to her success.

More From ADHD Blog