My ADHD Son

Q: Our 10-year-old son has a lovely personality. He’s quite charming, and knows how to speak to adults. He has been diagnosed with ADHD, and has problems sitting still in class. He generally has a happy disposition, but I wonder sometimes if it’s a little bit artificial.

He gets along okay with his younger sister, but my husband often has little patience for this son’s hyperactive behavior. Though my son is very warm towards my husband, the feelings aren’t always returned. This son (let’s call him Yitzy) can ask the same question five times, with the sweetest smile on his face. My husband tries not to get annoyed with him (especially since he has this beautiful smile on his face), but most anyone would lose patience after a while.

My husband is a hard worker, and Yitzy is just too playful for him. When my husband comes home from work he wants to be left alone, but Yitzy wants to play with him, as there’s a limit to how much he can play with his sister.

I sometimes feel that Yitzy’s hyper behavior is aggravated by life in general, and that it’s not only a result of his ADHD. He’s the type of child who wants to whitewash everything, and to always be happy, but I sometimes wonder if it is real. What are your thoughts about this?

A: Whatever our physical or biological weaknesses may be, they definitely are exacerbated by life’s struggles and challenges. Many can testify how problems such as a propensity towards catching colds are increased when under pressure. The same clearly holds true with regard to psychological weaknesses.

The matter of a child having ADHD has gray areas. A child’s increased “hyper” behavior can be the result of a variety of causes, and if parents would always assume that such behavior is due to their child’s bio-chemical disposition, there are many aspects of the child that would go on unnoticed.

Many children feel uncomfortable verbalizing their feelings when something is bothering them. This may be because they feel that verbalizing feelings will just lead to judgmental responses from adults. Perhaps they feel guilty if they realize that they themselves are part of their present problematic situation. Many children can then appear “antsy” (to quote parents) and, finding it difficult to contain their feelings, they act out in a very disturbing manner. In such circumstances, their emotions are playing themselves out through their bodies.

Parents of an ADHD child have to work even harder to engage their child and to help them learn to express their emotions. Their child’s already hard-to-manage behavior can become aggravated if their emotional acting-out behavior is combined with their bio-chemical tendency.

The behavior of an ADHD child can be blamed on sugar consumption or too much food-coloring but, more often than not, other factors are coming into play.

As has been mentioned in previous columns, a parent’s being a role model in expressing emotions (both positive and negative) becomes an excellent tool for a child to feel comfortable in expressing emotion. Be it one’s frustration at someone else taking a parking space, or your concern about a loved one’s illness, fears and disappointments need to be seen as part and parcel of daily life.

When a child remains reticent about verbalizing emotion (and the parent has a sense of what their child’s concerns are), the parent can speak about similar situations that occurred to them when they were children, and this can be an opening to discuss the topic. A parent can even ask directly (depending on the child): “Is that a little bit of what is happening with you?”

It is difficult to know how much of your son’s positive attitude is truly internalized and part of his innate chen and how much is his learning how to-please adults and meet their expectations.

With regard to your husband, working with the reality of your husband’s and son’s conflicting needs, creative solutions need to be employed. Working with problem-solving techniques and mediation skills can bring very successful results. Honest — but sensitive! — dialogue between husband and son can strengthen the relationship. B’hatzlachah!