As an ADHD Coach and Expressive Arts Therapist, parents often come to me feeling lost, confused and directionless. Sometimes they’re at their wit’s end, ready to explode if they get one more phone call from the school informing them their child has been suspended again. Other times they’re furious with their spouse, having clashed over how to discipline their child. Some have their heads hung low, embarrassed and defeated after another parent called to say they won’t allow their child to play with their own. Almost all say they feel alone and helpless.
But they're not. Countless other parents struggle with similar issues. In fact, many parents have a difficult time dealing with the emotional rollercoaster that often accompanies ADHD. Unfortunately, focus on the negative aspects of ADHD can result in a vicious cycle of blame and shame between parent and child. That's why it helps to reframe your attitude about ADHD, shifting your focus from your child's impairments onto their unique strengths (such as their creativity, imagination or energy).
I like to use an expressive art therapy exercise that I call “WHAT THE FUTURE HOLDS.” Want to give it a try? Begin by closing your eyes and clearing your mind. Now start to picture the future. It can be a few years ahead, or maybe 20 years into the future. Where do you see your child? Describe it. Don’t tell a story. Just take in the sights, sounds and smells, and say out loud what you see (like describing a scene in a motion picture).
Do you see your child’s graduation? Or perhaps they’re married with kids of their own? Maybe the future isn’t as bright. Whatever the case, don’t edit what you see. Allow your mind to explore your biggest hopes, dreams and fears for your child, without limitation.
Take a moment for a reality check. Do you see ADHD in your child’s future? More than likely it’s still there. How well is your child managing it? ADHD isn’t something you can run away from or erase. It rarely disappears. Imagine yourself embracing it as a lifelong journey, one that you walk together. Forge ahead towards the future, all the while emphasizing your child’s strengths, instilling greater confidence and empowering your child to leverage his or her impairments into unique assets.
The overall goal of the exercise is to shift your attitude about ADHD, so you can see your whole child, and beyond just his/her impairments. The key to reframing your outlook of ADHD is accepting your child’s uniqueness and choosing to focus on his/her strengths and talents. Once your attitude shifts, so can your child’s, and you can create a different kind of balance within your family.
What I really like about this exercise is that it not only raises your awareness of your child’s thoughts and feelings, but it also generates greater empathy for your child, allowing you to “walk a mile” in his or her shoes, so to speak. Better yet, it allows you to see the real dynamic that exists between you and your child, and not some cookie cutter version of what parenting “should” be. Most of all, you can see past the challenges and bring some of the lifelong benefits of ADHD into your vision of your child’s future.