Labels are for jeans: Parenting kids with ADHD

Going to admit to something I’m not proud of. Most definitely a parenting fail.

My son text me from school one day to say one of his teachers asked for his parents phone number and I would be getting a call soon. My response:

‘What did you do?’

My son insisted he had not caused any problems, in fact, he was adamant about it. I should have believed him, but I wasn’t convinced. After all, what teacher asks for a parents phone number unless they want to voice a complaint? It’s not like teachers have the time to drop everything they’re doing to phone a mom or dad and brag about their kid. Right?


His teacher ended up texting instead of making a phone call, sending a whopping 3-paragraphs of glowing praise for what a great kid we were raising. That’s right, PRAISE. Not only was he not in trouble, he was being commended! What kind of message did I send my son in those four little words ‘What did you do?’ That he was ‘that kid.’ That kid who caused trouble. Here I was doubting his honesty over the reason behind the teacher’s message, yet he was busy making his father and I proud. As in, sobbing-Mom proud. His teacher used words like:

Fine young man
Excellent role model

Cue the tears rolling down my face. I read the message at least 12 times over. It’s what every parent wants to hear. We long for the day that someone who isn’t a blood relative tells us that our kid is going places. Pretty sure that means we didn’t totally screw up this thing called parenthood.

Still, my words were assuming and had poor timing.

This kid has come a long way since the days when his desk was shoved next to the chalkboard in first grade because he couldn’t stay on task. Since the time in 4th grade when I picked him up from a sleepover and thanked his friend’s mom with the usual ‘Hope he behaved for you,’ but was met with a blank stare because she was unable to agree. Since the time when we would literally trip over our own feet trying to get out of the mall because our son was overstimulated and melting down more than two pounds of butter on a 90-degree day.

My son is not THAT kid.

He is a leader, a fine young man, an excellent role model. He’s a kid who makes his parents proud, who learned how to present himself in public, how to invest in friendships, how to commit to hard work and enjoy the positive results. Struggles we endured early were no indication of what we could expect years down the road.

Learn from my mistakes, parents. Don’t believe the label. Because that’s all it is.

Your child is so much more. And if we box kids in and expect little from them due to a brain difference called ADHD, we limit their opportunities. Labels are for jeans, and even when those fit too snug, we can cut them off. No one knows a size 10 from a size 6, right? The kid who isn’t fitting a certain mold right now is certainly not destined to be the school dropout. Let me tell you why I know this to be true.

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3 years ago, my son’s 8th grade teacher saw in him something he didn’t see in himself . He invited my son and our family to breakfast at school where students would be recognized for contributions in the classroom. I still remember my son’s response:

‘Mom, I can’t believe I got invited. This is for the smart kids.’

You know, the kids who literally show up, eat a soggy chicken patty sandwich and get straight A’s. Not judging, but that’s not what life is like in our home. We struggled for As and Bs in junior high. In high school, we occasionally struggle for C’s. Yet, my son’s teacher wasn’t thinking about labels when he sent out those invites. He wasn’t solely thinking about the straight A students. He was thinking about the student who works hard, gives 100% and may need a pat on the back to keep making those efforts in his classroom. He was thinking about MY kid. He was letting him know his work was not going unnoticed. This teacher gets it, and I instantly got a kid who walked a little taller, a little more sure of himself.

The teacher who didn’t get my kid?

That would be my son’s first grade instructor, the one who moved his desk away from his classmates. While visiting his room one day, I witnessed a young girl in her room shouting and refusing to follow directions, and the teacher said to me in disgust: ‘That’s what you call a behavioral disorder.‘ I’m sure the girl’s mother would have appreciated (sarcasm alert) the sharing of private information and the teacher’s lack of empathy toward her child. It was one of many red flags in our communications.

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As parents, we must shatter those preconceived notions about kids with ADHD. They are smart. They are leaders. They are role models. They have a brain difference, and sometimes those differences will be what sparks their creativity and sets them apart from the norm. I have a feeling these kids just might be teaching their parents a thing or two. We’re raising some strong-willed kids, no doubt. Your role in shaping their minds into believing they are capable of more than criticism, timeouts and desks at the chalkboard will strongly determine their self-worth and grit on their journey. The attitude you portray during your child’s early years in the midst of ADHD will gauge how they define their abilities.

Be proud of your child and find the good. That good is buried under impulsive decisions and a need to feel accepted.

Be THAT parent.


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