Raising a child or teen with ADHD/ADD can seem quite overwhelming, but when these conditions are combined with co-occurring mood disorders this can truly be a challenging situation for any parent. This, however, is a very real challenge for over half of the families of children with an ADHD diagnosis. Research studies show that as many as 60% of children and teens diagnosed with ADHD have one or more additional co-occurring mental health conditions, such as anxiety and/or depression.
The first challenge for any parent is to recognize the possibility that a co-occurring disorder is present. This is no easy task. Indeed, it will take the specialized skills of a qualified mental health professional familiar with both ADHA and anxiety/depression, to make the final determination. The diagnosis is complicated by the fact that many of the symptoms associated with ADHD are the same as those that are associated with other conditions, such as anxiety or depression. In children, for example, depression can often manifest as irritability, which might look like one of the characteristics of ADHD.
The relationship between ADHD and anxiety/depression can be a bit of a chicken and an egg dilemma. While there are clear neurological reasons for the occurrence of anxiety and depression, these two conditions can also be brought on by environmental situations. Think about it. You have watched your child and teen struggle with their ADHD and the pain it has caused them. You have watched their confidence being zapped away by continued failures. These repeated experiences of failure can take a toll that can result in depression and/ or anxiety. As parents, we try our best helping children build their self-esteem, but it is especially important for parents of ADHD children. Healthy self-esteem is one of the best remedies against anxiety and depression.
The testing process accompanying most educations environments in particular can condition anxiety. When a child or teen knows that even though they have studied twice as hard as anyone else, but they are likely to make critical mistakes during testing due to lack of attention to detail or an inability to focus, they are likely to develop anxiety prior to testing. The fear of impending doom will be compounded with the inattentiveness that accompanies ADHD to make matters even worse.
Depression can result from continued rejection by peers and continued failure to live up to the expectations that everyone seems to have for them. The isolation that often accompanies ADHD can contribute to a loss of self-esteem and a sense of hopelessness. The child or teen experiencing this kind of depression may withdraw and simply stop trying to improve him or herself.
This means that even if ADHD is treated by medications and instruction in organizational skills, the anxiety and depression may still remain as a result of a life history of disappointment. This is very important for a parent to be aware of. Medication alone will not be sufficient to help your child change the negative mindset resulted from years of discouragement.
Whether your child’s anxiety and/ or depression are the result of neurobiological condition, social conditioning or a combination of both really does not change how you will work with him or her to overcome these challenges. In addition to the support of a counselor or therapist who fully understands what your child is experiencing you will need to:
Praise your child– finding ways to compliment your child on a job well done can be an incredibly powerful tool.
Think about your child or teens strengths– what is it that they do well? Are they funny? Are they kind to their brother or sister? Do they have a particular passion? Too often parents in their desperation to improve ADHD behaviors use favorite activities as a bartering chip that can only increase depression and anxiety, instead whenever you see your child engaged in something that they love and are doing well, take the time to compliment them. Point out their strengths as a way to build up their damaged self-esteem.
Shift your expectations– remember that the ADHD brain is typically 3 to 5 yrs developmentally behind the brain of chronological peers. When you set tasks and expectations for your child remember to scale them accordingly.
Set your child up for success– minimize speech associated with short comings and avoid putting your child in situations where there is a high likelihood that they will in some way embarrass themselves.
Your job as a parent is to continually reinforce your child’s sense of their own value and worth as a unique individual deserving your love- as indeed they are.
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