Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hothouse Flowers

Children with ADHD are like hothouse flowers, and more than anything, they need someone who will protect and incubate them and shield them from the frost. They need someone who is not going to be judgmental – but understanding. Someone who can help “translate” the rest of the world to them and teach them day by day how to live in it.

You, as the parent, are that person. You can allow them to grow where they don’t have to be perfect, where they can make mistakes, where they don’t have to be like everyone else. The rest of the word is already so harsh, so unforgiving to their extraordinary sensibilities. You are going to give them the gift of time and nourishment – and the gift of unconditional love.

We’ve had our share of panics in our household. When Blake and Madison were younger, there were nights when I had to help them finish a math portfolio, due the next day, and mornings when I had to suddenly rifle through my clothes closet and old Halloween costumes to find an outfit for them to wear for a history report to be given that day. Blake once had to appear as Galileo and Madison, years later, as Caesar Augustus. Both had informed me only a short time before we had to leave for school that they had to deliver their report in historic costume. Talk about trying to be creative.

The panics don’t stop as they get older, either. En route to a major book signing and presentation in northern California for his book ADHD & Me, Blake lost his speech. Meanwhile, I was driving back to the San Francisco Bay Area with Madison and her close friend Margaret from a High School Band Festival in southern California when Blake called. “Please, you have to help me reconstruct my speech,” he pleaded. “Blake, I’m driving 75 miles an hour on Interstate 5,” I answered. But we brainstormed and recreated his talking points in time for him to deliver the speech.

At the time, you will feel like ranting and raving, but you shouldn’t. Remember two things:
1) Your son or daughter will not hear your lecture, because he or she is in panic mode because of not fully understanding an assignment or having lost something.
2) Lecturing is not going to solve the immediate problem.
Your best bet is to deal with the situation at hand, show them how to problem-solve, and be as effective as possible. At a later date, go through the scenario with your child and talk about what could have been done differently. How they could have planned better. Organized their things ahead of time, etc.

I have gotten a fair amount of criticism for my particular philosophy. People say, “Let them fail. Let them experience the consequences so they will learn. Don’t save them. Don’t be a safety net. They will depend too much on you. You will not always be there.”

But I am holding firm to my philosophy. Prepare them to face the outside world, while protecting them from it. Give them exposure to the world, while giving them the ability to adjust to it. I believe that children with ADHD have more than their share of criticism. I believe that it is my job as their parent to lighten the load and show them how to do things, how to navigate problems – without all the negative feedback. I don’t need to join the chorus that is already out there.

I believe – and have seen – that once they have that solid foundation, they grow and learn and take on more responsibilities. They will flourish and make choices. Things will backfire, but you will coach them through it, and next time they will know better. You can even laugh about it afterwards.

The night before he was to move into the TKE fraternity, last year, Blake said that he, ugh, forgot to mention that he needed a bed, desk, lamp and chair. “Blake, you didn’t know this before?” I was exasperated, but we ran off to IKEA the next day in Berkeley, bought what he needed and carted it back to his fraternity with the bed frames hanging out of the back of my packed SUV. Last December, Madison forgot. She forgot to tell me that she needed a particular double-barreled nerf gun and a pair of moccasins to contribute to a holiday party at school the next morning. “Where on earth do I find those things?” I asked. Soon, it was off to Toys"R"Us and Target. What can you do? They are young, and they have ADHD, and they are learning.

Oh, I forgot to mention: I used a peter pan collared blouse and a French beret for Galileo, and a gold wreath, sheet and palm frond for Caesar Augustus.

Read more about ADHD on the CHADD website and learn more about a young person’s experience growing up with ADHD on Blake’s website.



  1. Nadine, that's a beautiful sentiment! My hubby and son are AD/HD and I definitely agree yelling & lecturing when they are already in panic mode doesn't help. Working on strategies later on does.

    Thanks for a great blog entry.

  2. Hi Sapphyre,
    Thank you! I'm glad to hear that patience and problem solving are working.

  3. I appreciate your philosophy so much, Nadine, and your words give me faith and confidence in our choices to provide guidance and support for our son. It can be draining when for example, school staff looks at you like you're nuts. Your post has been refreshing!

    Your words also have reminded me that I could be more patient during difficult times and that expressing my own frustration is counterproductive. Thank you for reminding us that working on strategies after the chaos is perhaps a more productive way to live.

    With great respect,

  4. Nadine - thanks for this great post. I agree that letting ADHD children fail just doesn't work. My son would not "learn from his mistake" but rather, would just feel more disappointed.

  5. I couldn't agree more. (This comment belongs with this post.) I have ADD ( I didn't really know what to call my "differentness" until about six years ago). I'm in my early 40's now. I am married and my non-ADD husband is so fed up that he's talking about moving out and getting divorced, in order to reduce the chaos that stems from living and sharing finances with me. We have a 9-year-old daughter. I think she exhibits signs of ADD.

    She has a very strict teacher this year. She is about a quarter of the way through 4th grade. This teacher is fair - treats all the kids the same - but is VERY strict, very no-nonsense, and very willing to loudly correct, in front of the entire class, any of her students' misconduct. I'm worried that this teacher will do more harm than good. I'm worried about my daughter's self-esteem.

    Mama of Troy is right. Hugs work better than you'd expect. Positive reinforcement is the way to go.

    The more resistance/anger/frustration/intolerance I show my daughter, the more resistance she shows me. It's just in her nature. I witnessed this pattern with her when she was as young as three years old. It's just how she's wired. Tough love does not work. It just makes things worse. Kindness, patience, tenderness are the tools that get her to cooperate, that make her do her best, that melt her resistance.

    All that to say...I don't think a strict teacher is going to be good for her. Yes, she needs to work on being responsible for daily duties, yes it's time she started growing up a little, but embarrassing her when she stumbles is NOT the way to help her reach her goal of being more responsible. It's just going to introduce her to the world of feeling ashamed, of feeling less-than, of feeling like she just can't get her act together. I do not want to reinforce that in her. I think this is the year where her self-esteem is very vulnerable, with a teacher like this. I'm really worried about it. Plus, my daughter used to enjoy school. She had great teachers who were kind and nurturing. Now she does not want to go to school. She drags out the morning routine. She says she doesn't feel well. She says she hates her teacher. It tears at my heart to see her spiral downwards in her attitude.
    I asked her to name something that she really liked, that she could have as a treat when she gets home after school, something to brighten her day, something she could look forward to so that all the grief she was dealing with in the classroom day after day after day would be more tolerable, would be worth suffering through. So far, she has asked for ice cream cones. No problem! She plays soccer, she really hustles and tries her best, she is in dance...she is active enough that I'm willing to let her have an ice cream treat if it makes getting through the day a little more bearable.
    My husband thinks that having a strict teacher is good for her. A lot of people hold the opinion that this will help her learn how to deal with people she doesn't like. I'm not so sure. I'm worried that it will simply teach her to feel badly about herself. I'm worried she'll slip into a state of melancholy or depression. It definitely will not help her self-esteem. Even when she triumphs, the teacher is so luke-warm that I can see the disappointment in my daughter's face. I guess my position is that some of us DO need to hear "Atta-girl!" to keep going, and not having it doesn't teach you to not need it. I do MUCH BETTER at work (and I have a very strong work record and a very well-paid job and career path that I've been successful in for over thirteen years now) when I have someone willing to say "Atta-girl" to me. I just respond really well to positive feedback. Why is that such a bad thing? Why should it be good for to be deprived of a positive environment?
    I know I sound like a softie. Okay, I am a big ol' softie. But does that make me wrong? Maybe. My husband certainly thinks I'm wrong. But the truth is, for some people, pain does not guarantee gain. Pain just means...pain.

  6. We have a meeting with the school this morning. I'm holding tight to the words and thoughts shared on this blog. Again, thank you.

    Our son has recently exhibited simple vocal tics. So far it's only been noticed away from school. In the spirit of the philosophy that we need to prepare our children to face the outside world, I'd like to ask for suggestions as to strategy to help him cope. I'm looking for ideas for him to handle the situation when someone says something to him about them, either out of curiosity or unfortunately, to be mean. It seems that it would be easier for him if he has a prepared response.

    We are so grateful for this blog and for the CHADD community.

    Have a great day!

  7. Thank you,For making truly me laugh as you descripe my everyday life with 3 kids with ADHD ,because sometimes thats the only way to get through the day

  8. I have Been reading your article. and I am Absolutely agree That Children with ADHD are like hothouse flowers, and more than anything, they need someone who will protect and incubate them and shield them from the frost. They need someone who is not going to be judgmental – but understanding. Someone who can help “translate” the rest of the world to them and teach them day by day how to live in it.