Taking a Whole-Child Approach to Treating ADHD

When parents seek out the help of a psychologist or meet with their child’s teacher, discussions typically focus on finding solutions for ADHD-related challenges. While these problem-focused conversations are necessary – and are often very helpful – they run the risk of being so ADHD-centric that a child’s strengths and positive qualities are overlooked. As a result, a child isn’t really discussed as a whole person, but is instead talked about only within the context of their ADHD. Ultimately, this focus does the child a disservice, because opportunities that capitalize on the child’s strengths are overlooked.


While it’s undeniably important for all kids to develop their strengths and talents, it would be hard to overstate just how important this is for the emotional health and well-being of kids with ADHD. Even in the most supportive school environments, kids with ADHD receive more negative feedback than kids without ADHD. Every day they are told that they need to be more focused, be more organized, or be less active. They repeatedly receive the message that they aren’t reaching their full potential because their ADHD symptoms are getting in the way. When these same kids are given the opportunity to engage in activities that capitalize on their strengths, they receive the opposite message. The pendulum shifts and they are suddenly the child in the room who is being called out for their positive qualities rather than their impairments. They stand out because they are doing so well, not because they are falling behind. Over time, these experiences build confidence and resilience, and help counteract the negative effects that ADHD can have on their self-esteem. A child’s inner dialogue can shift from, “I’m not as good as other kids.” to “School might be harder for me than it is for other kids, but when it comes to (sports or art or music) I’m really talented. That’s where I really shine!”


For many parents and teachers, finding the time to help a child develop their strengths can feel like a challenge. Fortunately, when a child is more engaged in activities that play to their strengths, managing their ADHD symptoms will become easier and less draining for everyone involved.


  1. Start by pointing out your child’s strengths on a daily basis. Every day there is at least one thing that your child does well. They may sound great when they’re singing along with the radio, or run really fast when they’re playing with their friends, or do an excellent job teaching a younger child a new skill. Pointing out these little things to your child reminds them that there are many things that they are doing well.


  1. Reflect on your child’s positive qualities. Block out 5 minutes of time to sit and reflect on your child. What are the things that you enjoy about them the most? What are their best qualities? If your child could be on summer vacation all year long, what athletic, creative, musical, technical, or artistic activities do you think they would enjoy the most? Are there things your child has expressed an interest in, but has not has an opportunity to try?


  1. Have a conversation with your child. Next spend a few minutes talking with your child. Ask them to imagine an endless summer vacation. What kinds of activities would they like to spend their time doing? You can help them brainstorm by doing some research online with your child. A good place to start is by looking at activities that are available at some summer camps, since these are naturally geared toward a variety of interests (check out a list of activities at http://www.ourkids.net/camp/types-of-camps.php).


  1. Talk to your child’s teacher and other staff at your child’s school. Meet with your child’s teacher, and with other supportive staff at the school, to talk about your child’s strengths and learn about relevant programs or activities that your child may be able to participate in during the school day or in their afterschool program.


  1. Look for outside resources and at-home activities. Be creative and look for activities your child can do at home or through programs in your community. When your child participates in these activities they may even be motivated to do their schoolwork quickly and do it well – since once their work is done they’ll have more time to spend on other activities that they enjoy!


Kids with ADHD thrive when they receive treatments and accommodations for their symptoms and are surrounded by people who help them recognize and develop their strengths. As kids grow into adults, this whole-person approach will guide them toward selecting work, activities, and social groups that capitalize on their strengths and minimize the impact of ADHD symptoms on their daily life.

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