ADHD can negatively affect kids’ self-esteem. But words of affirmation and encouragement can help boost their confidence.
Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) often have difficulty in many areas of their lives.
Mental health stigma could make them feel different from others, and they may experience difficulty forming friendships.
Understandably, these things may start to affect a child’s self-esteem. But there are things you can do as a parent that may limit how much ADHD affects your child.
In the research, ADHD has consistently shown a negative effect on self-esteem.
When ADHD is undiagnosed, it hurts self-esteem even more deeply. One 2019 Japanese study found that the presence of undiagnosed ADHD negatively impacted psychosocial functioning, including lower self-esteem.
A co-occurring condition, like social anxiety disorder, may also lower a child’s self-esteem.
Consider trying the strategies below to help build your child’s self-esteem.
Affirm and recognize efforts
Make sure you provide your child with plenty of affirmation and positive recognition. Instead of giving broad praise, such as “Good job!” try to make these affirmations as specific as possible.
Think about what your child did that was positive and what positive quality this demonstrates.
For example, you could say, “That math homework was hard, but you worked at it for 10 minutes. That shows a lot of determination!”
Build a connection with your child
Many experts say that having a strong connection with your child is one of the most important things you can do.
Try to reassure your child that you love and support them unconditionally. Reassurance may help them be able to handle other rejections they might experience.
Help them solve a problem
One of the best ways to teach your child that ADHD doesn’t have to keep them from success is to tell them and show them. Consider helping your kids take on challenges that require them to use problem-solving skills.
Allow them to take breaks, but encourage them to continue until they’ve solved the problem. Practicing problem-solving will give them confidence that they can tackle challenges in their own lives.
Practice social skills
Rejection by peers is one of the main reasons why kids with ADHD can have low self-esteem. Although you’re not responsible for your child’s peers’ behavior, try practicing social skills with your child.
Learning social skills may help them feel more comfortable in social settings with their peers.
You may also consider helping your child connect to a peer group outside school.
Get diagnosis and treatment
Receiving the correct diagnosis and professional treatment for your child is another strategy that can raise their self-esteem.
If your child doesn’t know that many of their challenges are due to ADHD (and not a personal “failure”), they may be more likely to think poorly of themselves.
Your child may verbally express that they don’t like certain aspects of themselves. They may insult themselves, saying something like, “I can never get anything right.”
Extreme sensitivity to criticism
Some children with low self-esteem may display extreme sensitivity to criticism and rejection. You might notice that they seem to consider even the slightest critical comment a severe insult.
Difficulty accepting praise
On the other hand, some kids with ADHD also have a hard time accepting compliments or praise. They could downplay compliments or even become uncomfortable when you praise them for positive efforts or qualities.
Comparison to others
You might notice that your child seems to compare themselves to others — and always comes out on the losing end.
For example, even if they’ve achieved second place in a contest, they might compare themselves to whoever got first place.
If your child tends to avoid or give up on tasks before even trying, this could signify that they’re afraid of failure.
It could be that they don’t feel like they can succeed at the task, which is often indicative of low self-esteem.
Sometimes, kids with low self-esteem blame external factors when they’re unsuccessful at things.
For example, your child might blame their teacher, or school in general, if they fail a test. They might also minimize how important things are to them, like “I don’t even care about school anyway.”
Low self-esteem in kids with ADHD could be due to a few different reasons, such as:
Kids and adults with ADHD often get criticized for symptoms out of their control.
People may criticize those living with ADHD for experiencing difficulties with the following:
- time management
- starting or finishing tasks
- inattention or distractedness
Try to practice compassion when offering your child constructive feedback. It may be helpful to provide space for them to reflect on their feedback and express how it made them feel.
Kids with ADHD tend to be less accepted by their peers than kids without ADHD. They may often have difficulty navigating friendships and other relationships.
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Stigma and self-stigma
Mental health conditions like ADHD are still highly stigmatized. Your child may experience judgment from peers and adults that may not understand the condition.
Young people with ADHD may also live with self-stigma. Self-stigma can cause them to feel different from their peers, possibly leading to low self-esteem.
Kids who don’t receive the correct diagnosis of ADHD have even more trouble with their self-esteem.
While kids diagnosed with ADHD face criticism for their symptoms, kids who don’t have a diagnosis may be more likely to blame themselves for these criticisms.
They might feel like things attributed to ADHD, like impulsive behaviors or disorganization, are reflections of their character.
If you suspect your child has ADHD, consider speaking with a professional for a diagnosis. A mental health professional can help your child receive treatment suited to their needs and accommodations that set them up for success.
ADHD understandably affects kids’ self-esteem. But with you (and other adults) on their side, it doesn’t have to.
Try to teach your child that ADHD doesn’t have to hold them back from doing the things they want to do in life. With effective treatment, this can be possible.