ADHD and Your Child’s Self-Esteem

Devon P.’s son was around 5 when he discovered he had Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) in 2018. While in preschool, Devon said he showed many of the characteristic symptoms of ADHD, such as endless energy, hyperactivity, inattention and impulsivity. He also had a hard time learning.

But what caught Devon’s attention the most was when it took a toll on her young son’s self-esteem.

“He was having trouble making friends. He would say things like, “What’s wrong with me?” “Why am I still sent to the counselor all the time?” or “I just want to be in class with my friends,” said the social worker and Texas native who wanted to use only her last initial to protect her son’s identity.

The connection

ADHD can make it difficult to concentrate. So if your child has ADHD, they are more likely to have bad grades, detentions and suspensions. They can also have poor social skills and can be rejected by their peers.


Parents, friends and other authority figures such as teachers and caregivers may lose patience, become frustrated with them, and may try to criticize and “correct” their behavior.

“There’s a lot of negative feedback coming from all of these different directions, and they internalize that and start to feel really bad about themselves,” says Andrea Chronis-Tuscano, PhD, professor of psychology and director of the ADHD program at the University of Maryland.

Several studies show that as children with ADHD grow into adults, their self-esteem tends to drop over time due to increasing criticism and difficult life experiences.

In severe cases, according to Chronis-Tuscano, low self-esteem can make depression and suicide more likely.

But there are things you can do to intervene early and help build your child’s self-esteem.

Know what you are dealing with

Experts say learning the root cause of the behavior can be the first step in bringing a sense of relief to parents and children – and the sooner the better. In this way, parents and their children can overcome the challenges of living with ADHD and build on strategies to make things better.


Talk to a pediatrician or behavioral therapist about your child’s behavior. If they need specialist care, your medical team can point you in the right direction.

Devon says she waited about a year to try different strategies with the school to change her behavior. Some members of her family have told her that she worries too much and that “boys will be boys”. But eventually, she took him to a behavioral pediatrician who diagnosed him with ADHD.

Nicole Vredenburg heard similar words from family members when she tried to get help for her 5-year-old son. But Vredenburg, who has adult ADHD and has a brother with the disease, decided to trust his instincts.

“I feel like people are waiting too long,” she said. “I would always say if there is a question go for that first initial diagnosis. I’m so glad I did this so young.

ADHD can run in families. Research shows that you’re nine times more likely to get it if a loved one has it. Around the same time Vredenburg’s son was diagnosed, his 9-year-old daughter discovered that she also had ADHD.

What parents can do

If you have a child with ADHD and low self-esteem, experts say there are specific things you can do to boost your child’s self-esteem and confidence. Doctors call this “parental reflective functioning”.

Make sure you recognize, understand, and accommodate some of your child’s ADHD symptoms that could lead to low self-esteem.

For example:

Recognize your child’s successes, big or small. Chronis-Tuscano encourages parents and teachers to focus on the positive things instead of emphasizing what they are struggling with.

“[We] train them to look for the positives and even the effort – even small improvements – that are things that can be difficult for them. If you see them after school sitting down right away to do their homework, to say, “Well, you know, you did really well!” She said.

Give lots of praise. Giving credit and being specific about it can be positive reinforcement for your child. This can not only improve your child’s self-esteem, but it can also help them understand what it takes to complete basic tasks.


Vredenburg says she gives “tons of praise” and often does.

“I praise the smallest thing that can seem so slavish, like, ‘Wow, I love that you opened your book bag the first time I asked you.’ It’s small, but I want to build on something [they] did well. “

Identify their strengths. Focus on what your child is already good at and encourage them to do so. It can strengthen their pride and sense of accomplishment.

Parents can do this by helping their children with ADHD “find their niche,” says Chronis-Tuscano.

“Find a career and a path where they can really capitalize on their strengths and where their struggles aren’t too painful for them,” she says.

“A lot of adults with ADHD could be in these exciting careers where they’re not sitting at desks checking data entry or things that need a lot of attention. But they are on the move, like the emergency room doctors or they are consultants and contractors.


“It’s about finding the best match for them,” says Chronis-Tuscano.

Break down tasks and make them fun. If your child finds certain activities difficult to do, experts say it helps to break them down into small, manageable tasks. This way you can give them a chance to be successful. This can include a reward for doing things they don’t necessarily like.

“My son is a math genius,” says Devon. “But when it comes to reading, it’s the opposite. So if he’s got to do literature, I’d better make it interesting.

If her son has to read a list of books for school, she lets him alternate his readings with his favorite comic book.

Model of good behavior. To reduce the negative feedback your child might receive, you may need to show them what good behavior looks like.

“Basically, the adults around them have to show them how to regulate their own emotions,” says Chronis-Tuscano.

Find or ask for help if you need it. Children with ADHD may need help with school chores like homework and other chores around the house. You may not be able to provide all the support and help they need. If you can’t handle the requests, you can seek professional help.


“Even though I want to be the most informed person in their life, it’s really hard when you’re there and the emotions are invested,” says Vredenburg. “So I know I need other people like my village to help me do my best around the house.”

Vredenburg, who also had to deal with her own ADHD symptoms, opted to hire a professional to find ways to help her children with homework and learning.


In most cases, doctors tend to choose therapy over stimulant drugs as the first line of treatment for dealing with low self-esteem associated with ADHD. Your doctor can refer you to a therapist or child psychologists who specialize in ADHD-related problems. They may need organizational skills training and cognitive behavioral therapy.

“Often times, successful people with ADHD have used a number of different strategies, such as using a calendar system and a prioritized to-do list. And these are skills they will not learn through medication, ”says Chronis-Tuscano.


Navigating through the ups and downs of ADHD can wear you out. But parent training can help you develop skills and give you the right tools to give your child the best support.

You can learn to teach your child positive behaviors and skills at home. This can help them adjust to school and in their relationships with other children. It can also help them improve their self-esteem and self-control.

If training and therapy don’t work, your child’s doctor may prescribe medication. Those for ADHD, which you may hear your doctor call stimulants, can help your child focus and meet their goals. They might also help manage your child’s general behavior.

If you have any doubts or concerns about medication, talk to your doctor.

Ultimately, Vredenburg says it’s about reminding your child that he’s more than the condition.

“They need to know, ‘I’m not ADHD. I have ADHD. ‘And so, it’s about trying to give them the right tools so that they can do the job of raising their self-esteem.

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Jothi Venkat

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